Cheryl did us all a service with her post, and especially her tables, that compare and contrast the timelines in the two New York Times stories she wanted to juxtapose. I think there is, however, a bigger and more important issue, really a question, that has been lingering over the investigation into the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign and what connections, if any, the President; his campaign; his business; his associates that existed around, but not in, his business and his campaign; and his surrogates had with the Russian government; Russian intelligence; and/or Russian organized crime in regard to the active measures and cyberwarfare campaign against the US. And this question is not groundbreaking or earth shattering. I’ve asked it here before. Others have asked it on twitter, other blogs, etc. The real question is what, if anything, would the President be doing differently if we knew for certain that he was a Russian asset or agent?
Vladimir Putin, despite being not the greatest strategic thinker in history, has a very specific set of goals. Some are US specific. Some are EU and NATO specific. Some are regional. And some are global. As we’ve covered here over and over since the late spring of 2016 is that Putin wants to roll back US power by weakening the US and by demonstrating that the liberal democracy and attendant values that the US promotes globally is no better, and may in fact be worse, than the managed democracy he’s created in Russia around his authoritarian rule. In regards to the US, Putin specifically wants to enflame political, social, religious, and ethnic grievances, which is why his cyber enabled information warfare targeted very specific groups over very specific issues. Often playing groups on both sides of an issue off against each other. He also wants to rollback US power projection. Specifically he wants the US military and defense posture to stop being expeditionary. Regionally in Europe he wants NATO weakened so he can reestablish the historic near abroad and sphere of influence that he believes are Russia’s due, including his claims on Crimea and Ukraine. And regionally in the Middle East and Central Asia (the Central Command Area of Responsibility) he wants the US out of Syria and, if possible, out of Iraq and Afghanistan – areas that he now perceives as part of Russia’s sphere of influence. Finally, he wants sanctions lifted so that he can leverage Russia’s petroleum wealth, as well as the wealth generated by the various oligarchs that he protects, to further stabilize his managed democracy and coup proof himself so he can remain in power.
And here’s where the key question – what, if anything, would the President be doing differently if we knew for certain that he was a Russian asset or agent? – comes in.
- At the GOP convention in the summer of 2016, the President’s campaign changed the Republican platform regarding support to Ukraine by watering it down. This change supports Putin’s regional objectives in Crimea and in regard to Ukraine.
- Prior to the vote on Brexit the President promoted Brexit from one of his golf properties in Scotland.
- Two months before the convention the President gave his first major foreign policy address at a Washington think tank that is alleged to have curiously strange ties to Russia. In that address the President, as he’s done reliably since shortly after he returned from a Roger Stone organized, KGB coordinated visit to Soviet Russia, discounted the importance of all of America’s alliances, and placing special emphasis on his mistaken belief that our NATO allies, as well as Japan and South Korea, are ripping us off and taking advantage of the US.
- Since being elected the President has routinely slammed NATO, Japan, and South Korea as ripping off and taking advantage of the US and has repeatedly demanded they pay up the arrears that he believes they owe the US.
- The President kicked off his campaign in 2015 with a racist, xenophobic, and nativist screed against immigrants. Throughout his campaign and now his presidency, he has built on this to the delight of his base and is, essentially, promoting a white supremacist, if not an outright white Christian herrenvolk vision for America. This vileness has now bloomed into the separation of children from parents attempting to enter the US to seek asylum, the internment of children, the loss of interred children, and the deaths, in US custody, of children who came here with at least one parent to seek asylum.
- The President has been trying for over a year to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan and Syria. Despite Secretary Pompeo’s address in Cairo this week, as well as Ambassador Bolton’s statements, the US has already begun withdrawing military personnel from Syria and the planning has begun for the drawn down in Afghanistan. In fact the Pentagon, when asked about Ambassador Bolton’s statements regarding US actions in Syria, responded with: “we don’t take orders from Bolton”.
- Secretary Pompeo’s speech in Cairo was also notable for what he did not note: anything pertaining to the promotion of liberal democracy or human rights or civil liberties in Egypt, in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world. This follows on the US abandoning the UN Human Rights Council (probably because it abbreviates as HRC).
- The President, supported by a trio of the kookiest economic advisors in Hassett, Kudlow, and Navarro, and in conjunction with congressional Republicans whose only consistent strategy is to always cut taxes regardless of what is actually happening in the economy, has managed to overheat the economy. He has started trade wars with both allies and competitors, which includes both imposing sanctions and having sanctions imposed on the US. As a result of this bizarre combination of mercantilism, protectionism, and supply side economics (itself a retread of a long discounted 19th century economic theory) , has spooked the markets causing a functioning economy to sputter.
- The US government is now in shutdown. There is no indication that it will end any time soon as the Senate Major Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has abdicated his authority and ceded his power to the President in an attempt to avoid any blame or fallout for the ongoing shutdown. While this too will have significant economic effects because no one in the administration actually planned for a shutdown and what it meant even as they were threatening one, it further enflames the political, social, economic, and religious divisions within the US causing more political, social, and economic discord.
I could keep adding bullets to this list all night, but I think the point is made: the President’s positions during the campaign and the actions he’s taken, in regards to domestic, foreign, national security, and economic affairs, have given Putin almost everything he wanted. The only thing he hasn’t gotten yet is the lifting of sanctions, but there have been efforts within the administration to chip away at and/or redefine them in the favor of Putin and the oligarchs he protects.
And this brings us back to the question: what, if anything, would the President be doing differently if we knew for certain that he was a Russian asset or agent?
And the answer I keep coming back to, every time I ask it of myself or discuss it with those who I’ve been collaborating with on tracking the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign through open sources, is nothing. There is nothing the President would be doing differently. And that conclusion is one of the most disturbing I’ve ever come to in my professional career.