Over at Hot Air, my favorite blogger Allahpundit notes yesterday’s strong response from the Trump administration against Russia’s use of a nerve agent on a man and his daughter on British soil. The White House put out a strongly worded statement! Nikki Haley took to the floor of the U.N. and blasted Russia (as Caleb Howe noted here)! These statements have to have been approved by Trump, Allahpundit notes, saying: “I don’t know what else hardcore Trump critics could want rhetorically than what Haley serves up here.”
I’ll tell you what we want. We want to hear it from Trump himself.
And we’re not, as noted by a New York Times article titled Trump, Pressured to Criticize Russia for Poisoning, Leaves Comment to Aides:
Mr. Trump, who was visiting Missouri on Wednesday, has not personally addressed the attack since London assigned blame to Russia and left it instead to aides to express public solidarity with Prime Minister Theresa May after she expelled 23 Russian diplomats, canceled high-level contacts and vowed to impose more sanctions.
. . . .
[F]or whatever reason, Mr. Trump avoided saying so personally in public, much as he has generally avoided condemning Russia for its election meddling. He has allowed top advisers to denounce Moscow for its interference in American democracy, but when it comes to his own Twitter posts or comments, he has largely stuck to equivocal language, seemingly reluctant to accept the consensus conclusion of his intelligence agencies and intent on voicing no outrage or criticism of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, for whom he has expressed admiration.
And I’ll remind you, as I said yesterday: what Trump himself says is really all that matters, as Garry Kasparov explains:
Honestly, Pompeo, Tillerson, whatever. Putin is a mafia boss and only cares about what another boss has to say. Anything Trump's admin says about Putin is nearly irrelevant as long as Trump himself refuses to stand up to Putin.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) March 13, 2018
The key words there are “Trump himself.” Trump himself still hasn’t unequivocally accused Putin, using his own words coming from his own wordhole. And that is what matters to Putin. Not what his administration says. What HE says.
As, as I write this, he’s yammering on Twitter about a trade deficit with Canada or some other idiotic nonsense like that.
Let me say it now: I will not be particularly impressed should we get a TelePrompTerized statement, read in that sing-song “someone else wrote this for me” voice . . . and later undercut by off-the-cuff remarks that show he doesn’t believe it. You know: kind of like the way Trump has handled accusations that Putin was behind the hacking of the DNC. There’s the official message — but then there’s the casual “I told Vlad I believed him when he said he didn’t do the hacking” undercutting of that official message.
Somehow, I doubt very sincerely that we will ever get a toughly-worded, unequivocal finger pointed personally by Donald Trump at Vladimir Putin. About this — or anything else, for that matter.
BY THE WAY: It’s been taken as an article of faith among the Trump-supporting right that you are clinically insane if you happened to notice that Rex Tillerson was fired right after taking a harder line on Russia than the rest of the Trump administration. Why, it was all about Iran! The Free Beacon tells us so! Sure, it happened right in the middle of Tillerson’s “sorry my boss called y’all s***holes, Africa!” apology tour, and cut that planned trip short. But anyone who thought that sudden timing odd, and notes that it sends a message of weakness to Putin, needs a stay in a mental hospital!
And yet . . .
. . . and yet there is this, from the New York Times two days ago:
At times, White House officials said, Mr. Tillerson’s behavior verged on insubordination. The administration, for example, was extremely cautious in responding to reports that Russia was behind the deadly nerve-gas attack in Britain. But when Mr. Tillerson was asked about it in Africa, he said, “It appears that it clearly came from Russia.”
His statement infuriated the White House, which had crafted its talking points with lawyers at the State Department to keep the United States in lock step with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain. Instead, an official said, Mr. Tillerson made the White House look like it was soft on Mr. Putin, which he insisted was not the intention.
So, you see, the White House was, in fact, upset with Tillerson over his Russia statements — just as I have been saying. But their defense is that the White House wanted to be in lockstep with the U.K. Okayyy . . . well, the leader of the U.K. just stood up in front of the world and accused the Russian state of being behind this crime, with no ifs, ands, or buts. You can watch the video of it here.
And the fact that Trump hasn’t similarly pointed the finger at Putin personally (and probably won’t) means that being in lockstep with our ally isn’t really that important to Trump. Which means the administration was not telling the truth in citing the need to be in lockstep. Which means something else was going on.
Of course, Tillerson’s head was on the chopping block for a long time. Iran was part of the reason. But the timing was a smooch to Vladimir Putin. And I think it was meant to be.
Finally: to those who say that Trump is just being diplomatic in refusing to personally criticize Putin, I ask: why doesn’t he have the same compunctions about criticizing the head of state in our closest ally: the United Kingdom? Trump has had no problem personally saying that he would have been tougher than Theresa May on Brexit negotiations, or implying through Twitter that she is insufficiently tough on terrorism. So please: save your “Donald Trump, Master Diplomat” defenses for some chump who’ll buy them. No sale here.
If we’re going to be in lockstep with our ally, Trump needs to call out Putin — directly, personally, without caveat, and in his own words.
Outsourcing it to Nikki Haley is not good enough.
UPDATE: He sounds like a wind-up toy reciting memorized lines because he’s forced to, but this is still a good thing to see:
Trump is asked about the spy poisoning: “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it” https://t.co/Pqv6MBMT28
— Meg Wagner (@megwagner) March 15, 2018
I guess it’s asking too much for him to sound as upset about it as, say, black football players taking a knee. But hey. Baby steps.