Analysis

If Putin-Trump wins Tuesday, here are the scary realities

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If Donald Trump wins the presidency on Nov. 8th, his victory would be celebrated as much in the Kremlin as in Trump Tower. An alliance between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin that blossomed on the campaign trail could become a full working partnership between the Russian strongman and the American wanna-be.

While there are many potential policies of a Trump Administration that would have distressing effects – 25 million people losing their health insurance, for example – for PutinTrump.org, the biggest concerns center around what a Putin-Trump world might look like starting in January 2017. It is not too far-fetched to suppose that a President Trump and Russian President Putin will continue their mutual praise – an unwavering part of the recent campaign. So, what could this relationship mean for national security and traditional U.S. alliances?

Based on Trump’s and Putin’s words and actions, these could be the scary realities of a Putin-Trump world. No one voting for Trump can say they were not warned.

A weakened NATO alliance between U.S. and traditional allies: Trump has called NATO obsolete and implied that if its members don’t pay more for their own defense, the U.S. will not defend them from attack. This is in direct conflict with the NATO charter. NATO has been the lynchpin of American foreign policy since the end of World War II, and is detested by Putin, who would like nothing better than see the alliance collapse. Since 2008, Russia has moved troops into the former Soviet republics of Georgia and the Ukraine, and now Russia is making military moves that look like preparations to attack the small, independent Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – all members of NATO. A President Trump, based on his statements of support for Putin, is unlikely to commit U.S. troops for the Baltic States’ defense, undermining NATO’s central tenet that an attack against one member is considered an attack against all. NATO would be unlikely to survive such a demonstration of its own futility.

The NATO alliance has kept peace among the great powers in Europe for 70 years, warding off most Russian aggression. Without a robust NATO, an expansionist Russia may be emboldened to act even more aggressively. Without the United States’ protection, some allies may be more likely to seek accommodation with such a powerful state on the march – a recipe for “peace in our time” but paving the way for more war in the future.

No sanctions for Ukraine invasion, and a freer hand for Russia worldwide: On the campaign trail, Trump has said he sees no need for sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion and takeover of the Crimea region. Without U.S. leadership, America’s European allies are not likely to keep the sanctions on their own – giving Putin a freer hand for Russian expansionism, as well as more money flowing into Russia. In the interest of what Trump has called “getting along” with Russia, there could there be a dramatic U-turn in other U.S foreign policies, aligning the U.S. more with Russia in the Middle East, as well?  In Syria, that might mean joining Russia in effectively supporting the Assad regime, which has been attacking civilians in a brutal war. It is not hard to picture a crumbling of American alliances and policies around the world that have been in place for decades.

More nuclear weapons: As President, Trump has said he would end the Iran nuclear agreement, which will have the effect of immediately allowing Iran to resume its nuclear program, adding greater instability to the already unstable Middle East. Trump has also called on Japan and South Korea to get their own nuclear weapons, which could lead to greater global proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Propaganda as policy: Donald Trump’s rhetoric has regularly repeated the same lines spouted by Russian propagandists:

  • That Hillary Clinton will start World War 3
  • That Russia didn’t hack into the Democratic National Committee emails and is not interfering in the American election
  • That democratic elections are rigged
  • That unlike President Obama, Vladimir Putin is a strong and popular leader supported by 80% of the Russian public
  • That President Barack Obama started ISIS

None of these statements is true. Why should we think a President Trump would stop spouting false Russian propaganda once elected?

Donald Trump and his aides have clearly adopted the disorienting propaganda technique wielded by Putin that was characterized as a “firehose of falsehoods” in a recent RAND Corporation study. Throughout his campaign Trump has consistently repeated known lies and half-truths, from the charge that Obama was not born in the United States to the claim that most Mexican immigrants are rapists and thieves. This overwhelming deluge of misinformation leaves many unable to discern fact from fiction – and even the most robust fact-checking by the media is never able to fully catch up with the lie-a-minute flood that Trump has unleashed in his campaign.

A U.S. administration that employs similar propaganda techniques would undermine democratic governance and institutions that depend on facts – and dialogue and policies based on those facts. The overall effect would be to undermine public trust in all American governments and institutions, as well as the media reporting on them.

Foreign election interference becomes the norm: Trump has never condemned Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee and interference in U.S. electoral politics, even when informed about it by top-ranking intelligence officials. Like propaganda campaigns, hacking and sabotaging the internet infrastructure could undermine faith in American democracy by compromising independent American elections and calling into question the results. Many believe that this has been Putin’s goal in interfering in this election all along.

Authoritarian rule: Trump has threatened to jail his political opponent, to sue women who accuse him of sexual assault, to limit reporters’ access to him and his events, and to change libel laws to make it easier to punish news organizations that report facts about him that he doesn’t like. These are the policies of someone, like Putin, who wants to control his constituency rather than protect a democracy.

If American voters elect a President Trump on Tuesday, this nation will have set itself on a dangerous path – one that would embolden Russian expansionism and erode American strength and cooperation among allies around the world. With all these real concerns about national security and the U.S. position in the world, the biggest danger is at home: This country would find its cherished democratic values weakened. In this election, American democracy really is on the line.

(Sources noted inline. Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Trump’s praise for Putin gets no defense from Pence

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Russian leader Vladimir Putin may not literally be on the U.S. presidential ticket, but he was on stage over and over in Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate. Democrat Tim Kaine raised the issue of Donald Trump’s praise for Putin early on, and questioned whether Trump’s tax returns would reveal compromising business interests tied to Russia.

Throughout the debate, Kaine challenged Republican Mike Pence to defend Trump’s words on Putin, as well as other policy positions. Pence didn’t do it.

Instead, Pence sidestepped the Putin-Trump connection, choosing to reinforce traditional Republican Party foreign policy values. He even vowed that a President Trump would show “strength” in response to an aggressive Russia. Here are highlights from the debate on the critical foreign policy and national security issues we’re watching at putintrump.org.

PUTIN’S INVASION OF UKRAINE:

What was said in the debate:

Kaine: Hillary Clinton has gone toe-to-toe with Russia. … She went toe-to-toe with Russia and lodged protests when they went into Georgia. And we’ve done the same thing about Ukraine, but more than launching protests, we’ve put punishing economic sanctions on Russia that we need to continue.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, didn’t know that Russia had invaded the Crimea.

Pence: Oh, that’s nonsense.

What the record shows: In August, Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?”

NATO:

What was said in the debate:

Kaine: … Donald Trump’s claim … that NATO is obsolete and that we need to get rid of NATO is so dangerous.

Pence: That’s not his plan.

What the record shows: Trump has criticized the 28-nation-strong North Atlantic Treaty Organization for months, telling The New York Times in July that he was “prepared to walk” away from treaties like NATO if other nations didn’t increase their payments – a position that is very much in Putin’s interests. Pence contradicted Trump in July, and by the first presidential debate, Trump was changing his tune and saying he was “all for NATO.”

HARD LINE OR SOFT LINE ON PUTIN?

What was said in the debate:

Kaine brought up Trump’s praise for Putin over and over, to which Pence muttered “Oh, come on.” When Pence finally mentioned Putin directly, his words were in sharp contrast to his running mate’s:

Pence: And the small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States to the point where all the United States of America — the greatest nation on Earth – just withdraws from talks about a cease-fire while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria …. We’ve just got to have American strength on the world stage. When Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, the Russians and other countries in the world will know they’re dealing with a strong American president.

What the record shows: Trump’s flattery for Putin is well-documented. On Pence’s point specifically – that Trump would be a tougher on Russia – Trump said exactly the opposite in his July 28 news conference: “Why do I have to get tough on Putin? I don’t know anything other than that he doesn’t respect our country.”

So, how did Pence do?

Even as he contradicted Trump’s words on Putin’s interests, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza notes that Pence looked extremely comfortable in the debate spotlight, perhaps making a case for himself as a GOP presidential contender in 2020 or 2024. “Win or lose in 24 days, Pence did himself real good in the eyes of the Republican world on Tuesday night.’

Next up:

Trump and Clinton face off again Sunday, Oct. 9 – this time in a town-hall-style debate. Will Trump attempt to back away from more of his pro-Russian statements, as he did with NATO in the first debate? We’ll be watching.

Sources: The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN

(Photo: Voice of America)

NATO, no … NATO, yes: Trump’s reversals only confuse

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Because Donald Trump’s campaign brand is based on his saying whatever he wants whenever he wants, regardless of facts, he changes his tune with abandon. This was clear in the first presidential debate when 84 million viewers saw him get outfoxed by a more fact-based opponent.

Switching positions or softening rhetoric is a hallmark of Trump’s campaign. As NBC has pointed out, he mixes facts with exaggerations and outright falsehoods so many times it’s hard to keep track. NBC created a list that “features 124 distinct policy shifts on 20 major issues, tracking only his stated views since he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015.”

Perhaps nowhere is this all-over-the-map style more troubling than in Trump’s statements about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which he has repeatedly denigrated in interviews.  During the debate, however, he seemed to make a U-turn on support for NATO – at first repeating his notion that America’s bedrock alliance might be “obsolete.” Later, he shifted, saying he is “all for NATO,” much to the relief, if not the continued confusion, of U.S. allies in Europe.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton said, “ I want to assure our allies that we have mutual defense treaties. The U.S. would honor its commitments to U.S. treaties and allies.”

Trump has said America’s NATO allies have to meet a 2 percent GDP threshold for defense spending, or he suggested the U.S. might not come to their aid when attacked, and he alluded to this again during the debate. (NATO’s Article V says an attack against one member is an attack against all, and members have an obligation to defend each NATO member whatever their level of defense spending).

Trump’s skepticism about NATO and his reversals have raised alarms in the former Eastern Europe, countries that border an increasingly aggressive Russian Federation. Trump’s remarks are “both dangerous and irresponsible,” said Ojars Kalnins, who chairs the foreign affairs committee in Latvia’s parliament. “This won’t be good for NATO unity or the security situation. In principle, he is saying the U.S. will not fulfill its promises or obligations.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reacted to Trump’s comments in the first debate, telling the Wall Street Journal (paywall): “NATO has played a key role in the fight against terrorism for many, many years,” despite Trump’s criticism that such action only came after Trump raised this issue. “To share intelligence among allies is one of the tools we use in the fight against terror,” Stoltenberg said. “But this is something planned and discussed for along time and is not a result of the U.S. election campaign.”

Republican stalwarts like former Virginia Senator John Warner – a World War II veteran and past chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee – are deeply concerned that the next president “have a very firm and fundamental understanding” about America’s responsibilities in the world. “We are, like it or not, the leader of the free world,” Warner, who has endorsed Clinton, was quoted as saying in the Washington Post.  “You don’t pull up a quick text like National Security for Dummies …”

“When I recall what the opponent [Trump] has said about the military, I shake my head,” Warner said, recalling the placard on the wall in Marine boot camp in 1945: “Loose lips sink ships. Got that Trump? Loose lips sink ships.”

Trump’s Loose Lips can undermine alliances, frighten allies and embolden adversaries. It is worth noting that even with all of his many policy reversals, Trump continues to be a staunch admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he has throughout his campaign. That bromance and his business dealings in Russia are despite Putin’s recent aggressive military and political activity: annexing the Crimea, bombing in Syria, and threatening to take over more of the Ukraine. Are the Baltic States next?

No, NATO is not obsolete. And a strategic alliance is more than a business deal.

Sources: NBC, The Washington Post, The Independent, Business Insider, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal (paywall), New York Magazine

 

RUSSIAN MEDDLING IN U.S. ELECTION ALARMS VOTERS

Donald Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin, and Putin’s clear preference for Trump in the U.S. Presidential election, is setting off alarms with American voters of Eastern European ancestry, according to the Washington Post. This is especially critical in and around Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Detroit and all of Wisconsin, areas Trump needs to win. Voters there and elsewhere are worried, the Post says, because:

  • Trump has suggested that America will only conditionally live up to its obligations under the NATO charter and questioned the value of the alliance.
  • He’s said he’ll look into whether Putin should be allowed to keep Crimea, which he annexed with complete disregard for international law. “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said this month.
  • Just three weeks ago, Trump pleaded directly with the Russian government to find and release tens of thousands of Clinton’s private emails. Asked whether Russian espionage into the former secretary of state’s correspondence would concern him, he replied: “No, it gives me no pause.
  • Trump’s campaign chairman until last Friday, Paul Manafort, orchestrated the ill-fated political comeback of Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine and is closely linked with other Putin cronies.
  • At the Republican National Convention last month, the Trump campaign stripped the party platform of language calling for the United States to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine to resist Russian belligerence.

Sources: Washington Post