Mitch McConnell, in an interview with Jake Tapper this morning, called Vladimir Putin a “thug,” contradicting President Trump’s apologia for Vladimir Putin’s murderous regime:
JAKE TAPPER: Let’s start right there. Are you comfortable with the President of the United States seeming to equate U.S. actions with those of Putin’s authoritarian regime?
McCONNELL: Well, look: Putin’s a former KGB agent. He’s a thug. He was not elected in a way that most people would consider a credible election. The Russians annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, and messed around in our elections. No, I don’t think there’s any equivalency between the way that the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.
This is quite a different attitude than that shown by President Trump in his interview with Bill O’Reilly, set to air today. Jay Caruso mentioned that interview here (and Marco Rubio’s criticism of it here), but I don’t think we’ve shown you the video yet — so here is the relevant portion of Trump’s interview, taken from the clip of Tapper’s interview with McConnell:
TRUMP: I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not, and if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world —
TRUMP: — major fight, that’s a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea. It’s very possible —
O’REILLY: But he’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer.
TRUMP: A lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?
Let’s put aside the screaming hypocrisy of every person who pissed and moaned about Obama’s apology tour, but defends Trump on this. It’s said that money is the mother’s milk of politics, but I submit that’s wrong: the real mother’s milk is the willingness to engage in absurd, laughable hypocrisy. If Obama had said something like this, the right would have lost its collective you-know-what over it. But as I said, let’s put that aside.
This is an outrageous and unacceptable comment coming from the President of the United States. Some will no doubt argue that a comment like this is necessary for diplomacy. That is hogwash. Not only is it unnecessary, it’s counterproductive. In his book Winter Is Coming, Garry Kasparov made the following observation:
Totalitarian regimes everywhere love to tell their citizens that for all their professed interest in democracy and human rights, Americans and Western Europeans are just as corrupt as their own leaders.
Donald Trump is confirming that exact false claim — and he is doing so as President of the United States. This is not the tradition of American presidents. As Kasparov observes:
Ronald Reagan would talk with his Soviet counterparts but, as Václav Havel once told me, Reagan would also toss the list of political prisoners on the table first!
So. It’s nice to see McConnell telling the truth about Putin, while Trump is doing nothing but justifying Putin’s murderous dictatorship.
Why, then, do I say McConnell shows only “slightly” more cojones than Trump? Because he still won’t criticize Trump:
TAPPER: Does it trouble you that he said this? I mean, I’m trying to imagine your response if President Obama had defended the murderous regime of Putin by saying: “You think our country’s so innocent?”
McCONNELL: Well, look. I’m not going to critique the President’s every utterance, but I do think America’s exceptional, America is different. We don’t operate in any way the way the Russians do. I think there’s a clear distinction here that all Americans understand, and no, I would not have characterized it that way.
McConnell says there’s “a clear distinction here that all Americans understand” — and Tapper wonders whether that is true of our President . . . to which McConnell gives the same bland sort of answer.
It’s not enough for Mitch McConnell to call Putin a thug. He should be calling out Trump, too.
Finally, a word about the possibility of a strategic alliance with Putin to fight terrorism. Is that a good idea? It’s not impossible. We need partners to fight terror. As the right constantly points out, we allied with Stalin in World War II. Nixon reached out to Mao, the greatest mass murderer in human history.
But any such cooperation has to be done with open eyes. A responsible president has to consider more than simply how to achieve the immediate goal in front of his face. He also has to consider how his cooperation with bad people in that effort will strengthen those bad people. America’s persistent engagement in what Thomas Sowell called “Stage One thinking” has caused it to arm Islamic terrorists, and to create and strengthen new enemies, for decades.
In determining whether to engage in a cooperative effort with Putin, we must assess the entire expected result of the cooperative effort — including the extra legitimacy and power it gives Putin.
But any way you slice it, Trump’s comments are a huge and unnecessary propaganda bonanza for Putin and every other state killer across the globe.