Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Existential Threat Trump Poses to the Western Alliance

A piece in the New York Times lays out the threat Donald Trump poses to NATO and the Western Alliance that has maintained peace in Europe since 1945 as he insanely succumbs to Vladimir Putin's flattery - or perhaps more likely blackmail as further elaborated in a Washington Post piece.  What is frightening is that the always self-absorbed Trump is seemingly oblivious to the manner in which he is being played by Putin, a former head of the Soviet Union's KGB, an organization that specialized in assassinations, torture and, of course, blackmail and intimidation.  First these highlights from the Times column:
There’s a mood of confidence in Moscow bordering on triumphalism. Russia is dictating the grim outcome in Syria. It has annexed with impunity part of Ukraine and set limits on the country’s Westernizing ambitions. It has influenced through hacking the outcome of the American election. It has fostered the fracture of the European Union.
In addition, whether or not Donald Trump was ever lured into some Moscow honey trap (the oldest trick in town for Vladimir Putin’s intelligence services), Russia has reason to regard with satisfaction the coming presidency. Trump has called Putin “very smart” and “very much of a leader” (more than Obama); he has cheered on a British exit from the European Union; he has signaled deep skepticism of NATO; he has, in short, intimated that he may be ready to be complicit with Putin in the dismemberment of the Western alliance.
America’s European allies are in a state of high anxiety. For the first time in decades there seems to be a possibility that the White House will deal with Moscow at Europe’s expense.
No more important challenge awaits Trump than clarifying where he stands on Putin’s threat to the West. Hurtling into some macho love fest with Vlad based on the vague shared aim of smashing ISIS would be calamitous. Trump said that if Putin likes him, “That’s called an asset, not a liability.” Wrong. It’s a liability if Trump is so susceptible to being liked he forgets to be tough.
Trump must make clear soon after Jan. 20 that the United States stands by its NATO allies in the Baltics and that Article 5 of the NATO treaty guaranteeing collective defense is sacrosanct. Trump must leave no doubt that sanctions imposed on Russia for the annexation of Crimea and for interference in the American election will stand. He must warn Putin against attempts, in a reprise of the American operation, to sway the French and German elections through hacking and fake news.
Putin believes the way to restore Russia’s great power status is at the expense of an American-led order, particularly in Europe, but also in the Middle East,” William Burns, a former deputy secretary of state and the president of the Carnegie Endowment, told me. “Trump must recognize this without any illusions.”
I don’t know if he can. Dispensing with illusions means curtailing impulsiveness and the gut instincts that constitute Trump’s worldview, such as it is. Trump is drawn to Putin’s authoritarianism, toughness and embodiment of white Christian resolve against threatening (read Muslim) hordes. He needs to get over these inclinations fast and get on with defending the free world.
Trump’s approach to Russia is “a travesty” and has “raised more questions about our leadership than at any time since the 1920s,” Nicholas Burns, a Harvard professor, told me. More alpha-dog Trump-Putin connivance will endanger the world.
It is said that a century ago, Czar Nicholas II of Russia wrote in his diary, “The year 1916 was cursed; 1917 will surely be better!” Illusion is the mother of disaster, as Trump will learn if he does not change course on Russia.
For those, including Trump and his sycophants and propagandists who down play the likelihood that Russia has blackmail information on Trump, the Washington Post piece should be an eye opener. Here are highlights:
In 1999, Russia’s prosecutor general — the rough equivalent of a U.S. attorney general — vowed to investigate corruption allegations involving the family of then-President Boris Yeltsin.
Then a funny thing happened. Russian TV began showing grainy video footage of the prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov, cavorting in the nude with two young women. Some observers expressed skepticism that the man in the video was actually Skuratov. But any doubts were put to rest by the head of Russia’s internal security service, who declared that his agency’s experts had confirmed the prosecutor’s identity. The man who made the statement was Vladimir Putin, and his words sealed Skuratov’s political fate. 
Blackmail exists everywhere, of course. But nowhere else has it become such a prominent part of political life as in post-Soviet Russia. . . . . Putin learned well. As president he soon cracked down on both the freelance spies and the journalists, but he never forgot his early lessons about the uses of kompromat, from the Russian for “compromising material.” Discrediting an enemy, he realized, can be far more effective than throwing them in jail, so the culture of kompromat has continued to thrive under his rule — though it’s now primarily deployed in the services of the Russian state.
A liberal political rival wants to be president? Have the evening news show an interview with members of a gay club singing his praises (a great way to discredit him in the eyes of a homophobic public). A billionaire oligarch challenges your power? Dig into his seamy financial dealings and share them with muckrakers. An elderly dissident criticizes you from the safety of British exile? Have your hackers covertly plant child pornography on his computer and notify the relevant authorities. As these examples show, kompromat is best viewed as a form of information warfare, sometimes true, sometimes not. More often it’s an artful mixture — all the better to intimidate and confuse.
Donald Trump actually seems to know all this quite well. . . . . If he knows the place so well, though, he must realize that, when it comes to the business of blackmail and intimidation, Russia is indeed in a class of its own. Only Moscow has transformed the principle of kompromat into a major component of its foreign policy. Europeans both East and West witness daily how the Kremlin deploys information against the people and institutions it wants to destroy or control. In places such as Sweden and the Czech Republic, Moscow operates dozens of websites purveying conspiracy theories and falsified news, all aimed at discrediting its myriad enemies. The Russian hand has made itself felt in the outcomes of last year’s British vote to leave the E.U. and a Dutch referendum on relations with Ukraine. No other country has been doing anything like this on a comparable scale.
The recipe in each case may differ, but the objective is always the same: to weaken Western institutions, such as NATO and the E.U., that are capable of offering a united front against Russian designs. This strategy should tell you everything you need to know about Putin’s plans and the nature of the system that he runs.
[W]hy does he [Trump] continue to preach the need for a friendlier relationship with Russia? Is a government that operates the way that Putin’s does — spreading lies in the shadows — really the one that you want as an ally? One can’t help but wonder.

I think the answer to this last question is that Putin has information on Trump and Trump knows this. The question then becomes one of how willing is Trump to throw the American people and America's allies under the bus to keep a lid on the blackmail materials Putin is holding?  Be very afraid. 

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