Fresh off of its triumph in the Alabama Senate race, the Washington Post returns to its primary mission — taking down the President of the United States. It does so in a piece called (in the paper edition) “How Trump’s pursuit of Putin has left the U.S. vulnerable to the Russia threat.”
The hit piece, by Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe, and Phillip Rucker, takes up five pages in the front section of today’s Post. One searches in vain through the authors’ gossip and distortions for evidence of the article’s two themes: (1) that Trump is leaving the U.S. vulnerable to the Russian threat in question, cyber-attacks on our election process and (2) that Trump’s policies tilt in favor of Russia.
In support of its first theme, the Post notes that Trump hasn’t formed a task force to focus on election hacking or convened a Cabinet-level meeting on the subject. From this, it wants us to infer that little or nothing is being done to make such hacking more difficult. The inference is unreasonable. Task forces and Cabinet-level meetings are not the sine qua non of an effective approach to a problem.
The only other evidence the Post presents is this:
In congressional testimony in October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed on whether the administration had done enough to prevent Russian interference in the future. “Probably not,” Sessions said. “And the matter is so complex that for most of us we are not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there.”
But the fact that this very complex technical set of problems has not been solved, or fully grasped in all of its dimensions, doesn’t mean it’s being ignored or being given short shrift. I doubt we can ever prevent any sophisticated foreign power from interfering in our elections. In any event, the Post cites no technical danger our government is ignoring.
Instead, it talks about the need to sanction Russia in the hope of deterring future interference. But Russia has been sanctioned — once by Congress, with the president’s reluctant consent, and then by Trump himself when Russia retaliated for the sanctions. If there is anything more to be done on the sanctions front to “prevent Russian interference in the future,” the Post doesn’t describe it.
The Post cites intelligence reports that the Russians consider their efforts to interfere in our presidential election as “a resounding, if incomplete, success.” “U.S. officials” tell the Post that the Kremlin believes it got “a staggering return” on an operative thought to have cost less than $500,000 to execute.
Of course they believe this, and they are right. The “staggering return” consists of (1) the discrediting of our democracy caused by widespread claims that Trump and Putin stole the election from Hillary Clinton and (2) the enormous disruption caused by investigation of alleged collusion between Trump and Russia. The Washington Post has played a substantial role in both victories for Russia
The Post wants its readers to believe that the “return” for Russia also includes a pro-Russia tilt in U.S. foreign policy. This is the second theme of the article.
It’s a non-starter. The Post concedes:
The annexation of Crimea from Ukraine has not been recognized. Sanctions imposed for Russian intervention in Ukraine remain in place. Additional penalties have been mandated by Congress. And a wave of diplomatic retaliation [note: by Trump] has cost Russia access to additional diplomatic facilities, including its San Francisco consulate.
Against all of this, the Post moans that Trump has discussed the possibility of returning property to the Russians. But nothing has been returned. If anything is, surely it will be in exchange for Russian concessions. At that time, if it comes, we can assess who got the better of the deal.
The Post, though, seems unhappy that Trump wants to deal with the Russians at all. I believe Trump’s quest for Russian cooperation in solving world problems is misguided — a fool’s errand.
However, dealing with Russia isn’t the same thing as making concessions. The deals Trump reaches with Putin, if and when they occur, must be analyzed on their merits before Trump’s Russia policy can be condemned.
Moreover, Trump’s desire to make deals with Russia cannot fairly be attributed to “collusion” or to excess regard for Putin. Trump’s predecessors also wanted to make deals. The Obama administration made doing so a core element of its foreign policy, even though Putin had already invaded Georgia.
Obama’s conciliatory policy towards Russia drew fire from critics in the U.S. Obama shrugged it off by telling Russia’s president he could be more flexible after the 2012 election. He was.
Russia is probably the second most powerful nation in the world. Misguided or not, it’s natural for an American president to seek to improve relations with it.
Once the “Russia reset” exploded in his face, President Obama made dealing with Iran the centerpiece of his foreign policy. He received applause from the Washington Post and other stalwarts of the present anti-Trump resistance for doing so. At the time, no state was more hostile to the U.S. than Iran and none has inflicted more harm on us.
Why, in the Post’s view, was it okay for Obama to strike a major deal with Iran, but not okay for Trump to pursue major deals with Russia? Given all of Iran’s bad acts, including killing American soldiers in Iraq, the Post’s answer better not be that Putin was mean to Hillary Clinton.
It’s never surprising when the Washington Post resorts to dishonesty and distortion. Given the thinness of today’s five-page expose, dishonesty and distortion were almost inevitable.
Let’s take the two worst examples. The Post says that during the 2016 campaign, Trump “prodded the Kremlin to double down on its operation and unearth additional Clinton emails.” It’s referring to when Trump remarked that maybe the Russians could locate Hillary’s 30,000 missing emails. This was obviously sarcasm –a joke — not an invitation. No fair-minded person who heard the comment could conclude otherwise (you can listen to it here). It’s no accident that the Post strips it of all context.
In the same vein, there is this:
Rather than voice any support for the dozens of State Department and CIA employees being forced back to Washington [when Russia expelled them], Trump expressed gratitude to Putin.
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll,” Trump told reporters during an outing at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. — remarks his aides would later claim were meant as a joke. “We’ll save a lot of money.”
Again, no fair-minded person could believe that Trump’s remark was anything but sarcasm. As we noted at the time:
[W]e know [Trump] didn’t want our diplomatic presence in Russia slashed because (1) he could have cut it himself but didn’t and (2) following his election, he expressed satisfaction when Putin decided not to retaliate for Obama’s expulsion of Russian diplomats and seizure of property.
Clearly, the Post is grasping at straws. That’s what one does when one abandons honest journalism and joins “the resistance.”