Trump’s Confusing Behavior Toward NATO

On Tuesday night the White House confirmed that President Trump will attend May’s NATO summit, which is set to take place in Brussels.

Trump will participate in the meetings on May 25, press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement, adding that the president “looks forward to meeting with his NATO counterparts to reaffirm our strong commitment to NATO, and to discuss issues critical to the alliance, especially allied responsibility-sharing and NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism.”

Spicer also said that Trump will welcome NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the White House on April 12 to “talk about how to strengthen the alliance to cope with challenges to national and international security.”

The announcement, which follows NATO’s announcement last month that Trump was set to attend, eases the worries of some who had expressed concern over Trump’s commitment to NATO.

During the campaign, Trump declared NATO “obsolete” and made other statements that suggested he wanted to reassess the United States’ participation in the organization.

His more recent statements seem to have allayed some of the fears that he might back off from NATO, while other statements still raise red flags. For instance, he voiced his “strong support” for NATO during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this month, while at the same time repeating some of his concerns that some of the organization’s members do not pay their fair share in dues.

On Monday, the White House announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is skipping this month’s meeting of NATO foreign ministers in order to take part in a meeting between Trump and China’s president the same week. What’s more, Tillerson is planning a tête-à-tête with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a notorious critic of NATO, in April.

What do we make of Trump’s confusing, seemingly schizophrenic actions and statements toward NATO? It’s tough to discern any pattern to this behavior at all, so I suppose time will tell.

MSNBC Anchor Forgets Obama’s Remark About ‘Flexibility’ with Russia

Say what you want about the mainstream media, but there was a time when journalists and anchors did their homework in preparation for an interview or covering a story. Those days must be in the past, at least for MSNBC’s Katy Tur, who recently revealed either her ignorance or forgetfulness when it comes to Barack Obama’s 2012 promises to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

Tur pressed Florida Representative Francis Rooney about the number of Donald Trump advisors with close tie to Russia. “I see a lot of folks within Donald Trump’s administration who have a friendlier view of Russia than maybe past administrations did,” she noted.

“Well, I think it was Obama that leaned over to Putin and said, ‘I’ll have a little more flexibility to give you what you want after the re-election,’” Rooney responded.

Tur paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re referring to, Congressman,” she said.

“Remember when he leaned over at a panel discussion or in a meeting, and he said, ‘I’ll have more flexibility after the election’?” Rooney asked. “No one pushed the president on what he meant by that, but I can only assume for a thug like Putin that it would embolden him,” which gave Tur pause, again.

Rooney’s recollection is a bit off: Obama spoke to Medvedev rather than directly to Putin, telling the Russian president to tell Putin, “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” The comment was meant to be off the record, but a hot mic caught Obama, and the story made headlines.

Tur took to Twitter to explain herself.

Sorry Katy, I was writing almost exclusively about culture at the time, and I remember the situation all too well. I know plenty of people who weren’t journalists or freelance writers who recall it too.

Could Tur and MSNBC’s desire to go after Trump be coloring her commitment to fair coverage, or did she just fail to prepare for an interview? You be the judge.

The Kremlin Says Bill O’Reilly Owes Vladimir Putin an Apology, But Does He?

I haven’t watched any Fox News program in full since the election.

With that being said, if Bill O’Reilly will look into the camera and say, “…And people in Hell want Slurpees,” I will be a devoted watcher of “The O’Reilly Factor” for as long as it exists or I have sight. This I promise.

In a Fox News interview with President Trump, O’Reilly attempted to clear the air, as far as Trump’s seeming admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

O’Reilly described Putin as a “killer,” and he pretty much is.

The ex-KGB agent has been linked to the poisoning of political opponents, and some 30-plus journalists who were critical of Putin’s administration have been killed.

Today, the Kremlin is responding, and they are quite indignant.

“We consider such words from the Fox TV company to be unacceptable and insulting, and honestly speaking, we would prefer to get an apology from such a respected TV company,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

I don’t know if they actually expect an apology or if they’re simply trolling.

So far, no word from Fox or O’Reilly, in reference to an apology or Slurpees.

Trump, when commenting on the allegations against Putin in the same interview, questioned how “innocent” the United States itself was, saying it had made a lot of its own mistakes. That irritated some congressional Republicans who said there was no comparison between how Russian and U.S. politicians behaved.

Asked in an interview on Sunday to clarify those comments, Trump told Westwood One Sports Radio: “Well, I don’t have to clarify it. The question was do you respect him — he’s a head of a major country.”

There’s a difference between giving someone the respect due any human being and in drawing a moral equivalence between a brutal despot and the nation you were elected to lead.

I actually don’t believe Trump is oblivious to what has so many citizens, journos, and House Republicans upset about his comments.

He just doesn’t care.

Trump has long harbored a textbook-level man-crush on Putin.

In January last year, after a British judge ruled that Putin had “probably” authorized the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, Trump said he saw no evidence the Russian president was guilty.

“First of all, he says he didn’t do it. Many people say it wasn’t him. So who knows who did it?” Trump said.

His defense of Putin is one of only a handful of things Trump is consistent about.

Don’t cave, O’Reilly. You were right.

Republicans – Including Mitch McConnell – Are Breaking With Trump

As President Trump’s missteps mount, some Republicans are starting to distance themselves from the two-week-old administration. The president has made many controversial moves including the temporary immigration ban, the newly contentious relationships with Mexico and Australia, Trump’s defense of Vladimir Putin and, not least of all, his attacks on the judges who ruled against his immigration Executive Order. One of the most high-profile Republicans to break with President Trump is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Over the weekend, McConnell told CNN, a network that Trump Administration officials no longer appear on, that he disagreed with the president on several important points. McConnell said that he didn’t want to “critique the president’s every utterance,” but then offered his critique on several recent utterances.

Responding to Mr. Trump’s defense of Vladimir Putin, Sen. McConnell offered unequivocal condemnation of the Russian president. “He [Putin] is a thug. He was not elected in a way that most people would consider a credible election,” McConnell said. “I don’t think there’s any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.”

McConnell also disagreed with Trump’s angry tweets attacking judges who overruled his immigration ban. “I think it’s best not to single out judges for criticism,” McConnell said. “We all get disappointed from time to time…  but I think it’s best to avoid criticizing judges individually.”

Mr. McConnell also expressed a lack of support for President Trump’s call for an investigation of alleged voter fraud during last year’s election. “I don’t think we ought to spend any federal money investigating that,’’ McConnell said. “We ought to leave that at the state level.”

State elections officials have found no evidence of massive fraud in the election. Even the White House seems to be quietly allowing the voter fraud claim to die without President Trump’s promised investigation.

Some Republicans started to break with Trump after his immigration ban was unveiled. Representatives Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) took issue with the Executive Order’s broad reach that prevented legal residents and green card holders from reentering the United States. In Politico, Rep. Dent described a family of Syrian Christians in his district who had immigrated legally, “yet were detained at the Philadelphia International Airport and then forced to leave the country as a result of the Executive Order. This family now faces the uncertain prospect of being sent back to Syria.”

President Trump’s minimizing of Vladimir Putin’s murderous history has inspired more Republicans to take a stand as well. Senators Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) condemned Trump’s comment that, “We have a lot of killers… You think our country is so innocent?”

Not all Republicans are breaking with the president though. On CBS, Vice President Mike Pence denied that Trump had established a moral equivalency between Russian authoritarianism and the United States. ““I simply don’t accept that there was any moral equivalency in the president’s comments,” Pence said. “Look, President Trump throughout his life, his campaign, and in this administration has never hesitated to be critical of government policies by the United States in the past. But there was no moral equivalency.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has also been hesitant to directly criticize President Trump since the election. In spite of their policy differences, Ryan has taken the middle road by couching his criticism of the president is very specific, factual terms.

Speaker Ryan told NBC, “This president is hardly the first one to express frustration with the judicial branch. What’s important is his administration is complying with the ruling and taking the proper steps to resolve the issue quickly. This is our system of divided government, and I’m confident that when the process runs its course the order will be upheld.”

Mr. President, You Were Wrong to Say That

“If you continue to engage in moral equivalence, you will find that you shed your Presidency of any ability to rally this nation’s people to a higher, greater purpose in the name of freedom.”

The lowest point of my online career came in 2009, and it also happened to be one of the most important moments in my career. I tweeted a pretty nasty statement about then Justice David Souter. A friend had said it, and I was the bold, stupid one to put it on Twitter. It was just us guys — my friends and me. No one reacted to it, so I made sure to tweet it again with the “ICYMI” prefix for “in case you missed it.” That did the trick.

It was terrible, I was wrong, I found that I had cut my credibility right out from under me, and I am very glad I went through that experience. Had I not done it then, I would have eventually done it. And by so doing I finally had the swift kick in the ass I needed to realize that it was not just my friends and me anymore. It was others listening to me, paying attention to what I said, and it impacted my family.

My wife got ambushed in grocery stories by people wanting to know what I was thinking. They never approached me. For the first time, I realized just how much others in my family could be burdened by what I do and say. But my first reaction was to double down and dig in my heels. It was only when a prominent friend ran into some trouble that I realized any claim to moral authority I had was now gone. I could not speak up to defend my friend who really had done nothing wrong because I had not only done something very wrong but had not even apologized for it. To defend her, I had to acknowledge I really had done wrong.

I was wrong, it was awful of me, and I am grateful for the lesson. I am also mindful how people still trot out that eight-year-old tweet to discredit me. When I said Mr. Trump should be ashamed of his statement about grabbing women you know where, several people I had once considered friends made sure everyone knew eight years ago I had said something terrible. When I uninvited him from the RedState Gathering in 2015, his campaign made sure everyone knew I had tweeted that. Apologies never live on the internet, just sins. It is times like that you get clarity about who your real friends are.

I bring this up because I often think Donald Trump is in somewhat of the same situation I was in back then. It has not yet penetrated to him that others listen to him and his words affect others. I suspect Donald Trump remains clueless that his blasting me on Twitter inspired people to show up to my home and threaten my family. I really do not think these things penetrate. I think he lives in an isolated bubble surrounded by people scared to disagree with him. They affirm everything he says and does. The few who speak up are ostracized, and Mr. Trump looks on the approving majority and concludes the disapproving minority in his circle must be wrong.

He is not helped by his sycophants either. If Donald Trump said tomorrow that God is bad and the Devil is his hero, a sizable portion of the Christian population in this country and many others would be lining up to join the Church of Satan. Tribalism can be poisonous and often the poison kills the connection with reality that the leader of the tribe once possessed.

Thus the President of the United States, who for eight years joined Republicans in criticizing Barack Obama for engaging in moral equivalence between the United States and other countries went on Bill O’Reilly’s program and behaved no better.

Between Russia and the United States, Donald Trump said, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?” This is not the first time he has engaged in such moral equivalence.

As Jay Nordlinger noted at National Review,

During the campaign, Joe Scarborough asked Trump about Vladimir Putin — particularly Putin’s killing of political opponents. “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also,” said Trump.

Like the earnest internet trolls who, eight years later, dwell on my oft apologized for tweet, Donald Trump hangs on the imperfections of our country to reduce us to the level of Russia. His twice repeated moral equivalence sounds like a statement said among yes men who nod approvingly without ever correcting the sentiment.

The United States shed a lot of blood for its sin, but laying Lincoln in his grave, we began moving beyond that sin toward a renewed dedication to freedom. The Russians have still never accounted for the genocide in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin murders dissidents. The Russian autocrats behave in a ruthless, immoral manner.

The United States is not perfect — a nation of sinners cannot be perfect. But let’s not claim the United States is worse than or even equal to Russia.

For eight years, Republicans litigated the case that President Obama privately rejected American exceptionalism. They highlighted his false moral equivalence in speeches in Cairo and elsewhere. Dinesh D’Souza cornered the market on peddling tales of President Obama’s latent hatred for the country. The conservative book market filled with tales of Barack Obama betraying the country.

What Donald Trump said is just as bad. He equates the United States with a murderous regime that stifles dissent, kills the opposition, and relentlessly covets an era of Soviet expansion.

President Trump’s staff would be wise to call him to account. The President would be wise to learn his words and deeds do now affect others and the President of the United States should never, ever suggest we are something we are not — guilty of being killers.

Mr. President, your staff may not tell you, your sycophants by nod along with you, and your champions on television may just sweep it all under the rug as if it never happened. But I will tell you, sir, that you were wrong. It is the second time you have said this and you were wrong both times and should apologize. If you continue to engage in moral equivalence, you will find that you shed your Presidency of any ability to rally this nation’s people to a higher, greater purpose in the name of freedom. One day you will be tested in your office and you will need people of good will to support you. But if you believe we are no better than a regime that wantonly murders its citizens, you will be hard pressed to define any cause as righteous.

Trump’s Fox News Interview Reveals a Troubling Attitude Towards the Nation He Was Elected to Lead

And these are the kinds of statements that raise the eyebrows of onlookers, cause knowing nods from his detractors, conservatives drop their faces into their hands, and his devotees desperately try to spin it to mean something other than what he plainly said.

It is interviews like the one President Trump just had with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that settle into the bones, like a deep, wet, cold, of every NeverTrumper who may have been willing to let bygones be bygones, and at least give the man a chance to prove himself.

In an interview that’s set to air on Super Bowl Sunday, O’Reilly questioned Trump about his seeming admiration for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Fox released a clip of the interview and it is depressing.

As O’Reilly attempted to point out, Putin is a Killer. Scores of journalists and dissidents have been killed or imprisoned under Putin.

The U.S. has its problems. They are nothing like that of Russia.

Putin is not an honorable man, or a leader to emulate.

No free country, with a free people should look to Putin’s Russia and speak of them in terms of admiration.

But Trump does.

I’m sure there is more to the interview, but is there any way to make that statement seem less – awful?

No.

If Trump wants to win over those who have doubts about him, there are no executive orders, no Supreme Court picks, nothing that will allay the fears of those who have maintained skepticism about a Trump presidency, unless he learns the difference between those who are our allies and those who are exactly the kind of leaders we do not want our president admiring.

Samantha Power Reads News, Suddenly Discovers Russia is a Major Threat

In her farewell address, Samantha Power, outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, characterized the present Russian regime under Vladimir Putin as a “major threat,” adding:

Having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism.

Given that Power will be leaving office as the Trump administration takes over, it is odd timing for her – and the Obama administration – to decide now that Russia is a threat which must be combated.  They allowed Russia to annex the Crimea from Ukraine and exercise control over parts of eastern Ukraine (a region heavily populated by ethnic Russians).  As Russia worked on expanding its power and influence over the past eight years, the Obama administration allowed it to happen.  Now, just before Trump takes office they have cast Russia as the next great threat which the U.S. must counter and left the problem to the incoming administration to deal with.

Trump has nominated South Carolina governor Nikki Haley to succeed Power as the U.N. ambassador.  In her confirmation hearings she expressed concern at Russia’s actions in Eastern Europe, but also the need to work with Russia on issues such as fighting ISIS.  For the outgoing administration to cast Russia in the same light as fascism and communism puts Haley and Trump in a difficult position.  They must attempt to work with Russia on problems which affect both countries (such as terrorism) while resisting Russian attempts at territorial expansion (particularly in the Ukraine) while also avoiding a direct conflict.  At the same time, any attempt to work with Russia will be seen by Trump’s detractors as evidence of Russian influence over him.

It seems that the stage has been set for U.S. – Russian relations to assume increased importance over the next few years.  It will be interesting to see how Trump’s foreign policy team navigates the hazards which await them.

‘Kompromat’ Is The New Buzzword, But What Is It?

There is a new Russian word that is suddenly in vogue. If you haven’t heard it yet… Well, you’re about to. “Kompromat” may be destined to be one of 2017’s words of the year.

Russian words have entered the English vernacular in the past. Beyond “vodka,” there were “glasnost” and “perestroika” from the days Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, for example. The Russian words for “openness” and “restructuring” were buzzwords during Gorbachev’s attempt during the 1980s to remake the Soviet Union in order to save it. Students of military history know the word “maskirovka,” the Russian term for a military deception. “Kompromat” is a word that may contain elements of all three of these familiar words. It might also include vodka.

Kompromat is defined by NPR as “compromising material used to discredit rivals in politics or business or just settle personal scores.” In English, the term is roughly equivalent to “getting the dirt” on someone or “blackmail materials.” In the Russian usage, kompromat could be used for blackmail or it could simply be released to destroy someone’s reputation and career.

One example of the use of kompromat is the 1999 scandal involving Yuri Skuratov. Skuratov, Russia’s top prosecutor, had started an investigation of corruption in the Kremlin when a video showing him in a naked romp with two equally naked young women, neither of which was his wife, was broadcast on Russian television and eventually cost Skuratov his job. NPR notes that the scandal included a press conference by the man who was then head of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, Vladimir Putin.

This brings us to an English slang phrase: the “honey trap.” If you’ve ever read spy novels, you may be familiar with the term for using an attractive woman of loose morals to compromise a man who is the target of an intelligence agency. The “honey” typically seduces her target while her colleagues gather embarrassing pictures and videos to use for blackmail.

According to the Irish Times, during the Soviet era, most Eastern bloc hotels that catered to foreign travelers were equipped with rooms that were bugged to capture guests in compromising situations. One former Cold War hotel that was operated by Intourist, the Soviet tourism agency, in Estonia has even set up a museum that shows how the KGB spied on guests.

One such guest was Joseph Alsop, an American newspaper columnist who visited Moscow in 1957. Alsop became the victim of a gay honey trap after meeting a man at a party. The man turned out to be a KGB operative. After the pair had sex, the KGB blackmailed Alsop by threatening to release pictures of the act and ruining Alsop’s reputation if he didn’t cooperate by becoming an “agent of influence” for the Soviets. Instead, Alsop told the story to the US Embassy and hastily left the country.

One of the many former Intourist hotels is now the Moscow Ritz Carlton. This is the same hotel that Donald Trump stayed at in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant and where he allegedly met with Russian prostitutes. It is safe to assume that if Mr. Trump engaged in any sexual hijinks while in Moscow that the FSB has photographic record.

With numerous sexual scandals and rumors already released about Donald Trump, it’s impossible to know what the effect of using an embarrassing video to blackmail or discredit him would be. It’s also impossible to say how holding back such a video while releasing Democrat emails would have affected the election.

There are certain to be further revelations in the unfolding scandal of Russia’s interference with the election. Given the close ties of many Trump appointees to Russia, there may be salacious kompromat on other members of new administration as well.