Let’s set aside the unanimous conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Vladimir Putin tried to aid the election of Donald Trump. Just wipe it from your minds.
For the sake of discussion, let’s also set aside the decades of business ties between Trump and Russian oligarchs. Ignore the Trump campaign’s repeated, impassioned claims of no contact with Russian nationals, and the fact that dozens of such contacts that since been thoroughly documented.
Ignore Trump’s hiring of campaign manager Paul Manafort, a man in the pocket of Russian oligarchs who had previously worked as campaign manager for pro-Putin candidates in Ukraine. Put aside the fact that Manafort had been paid millions of dollars by Russians to carry out an public-relations program aimed at the United States that “can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” as Manafort himself described his effort in an email.
Ignore the fact that Manafort, a man who grubbed a dollar wherever he might find one, supposedly volunteered to work for Trump, without payment, out of the goodness of his heart.
Do the same for Mike Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, who took money from Putin, appeared with him in Moscow and failed to report the payoff as required, and for Carter Page, the longtime suspected Russian agent who miraculously appeared as a Trump foreign policy adviser.
Pretend all stuff and more never happened, including things like this:
I’m going to ask you to wipe all that from the record -- I know it sounds difficult, but millions of our fellow Americans have already managed the feat quite well. Instead, focus solely on Trump’s own words and actions as president.
Look at the excuses that Trump has made for Putin’s military invasion of Crimea. Look at how easily he brushed away Putin’s record of murder perpetrated against political opponents and journalists. "There are a lot of killers,” the American president said on Fox News. “You think our country's so innocent?"
Look at Trump’s studied avoidance of Russia’s use of deadly nerve agents on the soil of Great Britain, one of our closest allies. Look at how Trump has raised doubts about U.S. commitments under Article 5 of NATO, which pledges that an attack on one member is an attack against all. Look at how he has undermined the European Union, trying to break it up, and how he continues to undermine NATO itself.
The U.S. Senate -- the Republican-run U.S. Senate -- is so alarmed by Trump’s words and actions that this week it allowed a resolution to come to a vote on the Senate floor, reiterating U.S. support for NATO as a bulwark against Russian expansion.
“No one should ever doubt the United States’ resolve in meeting its commitments to the mutual defense of the NATO alliance,” said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, who wrote and sponsored the resolution. “Unfortunately, this motion has become necessary because some of our closest allies have come to question the U.S. commitment to collective self-defense. President Trump has at times called the alliance ‘obsolete.’ Our allies are starting to wonder whether they can rely on the United States to come to their defense in a crisis.”
That resolution, clearly targeted at Trump, passed by a bipartisan vote of 97-2. House Republicans intend to propose a similar resolution. Unfortunately, these nonbinding statements have had no tangible impact on the president’s behavior at the NATO summit. In an appearance Tuesday night, Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt predicted that Trump “is going to fly into Brussels like a seagull. He is going to defecate all over everything — squawk and fly away is what he’s going to do in Brussels. And the Europeans are going to continue to say to each other, ‘We don’t have a reliable partner in the U.S. government right now.’”
Which is exactly what Trump has now done.
OK, remember all those things I asked you to set aside? Let’s bring them back into the picture, because try as some people might, they really can’t be and shouldn’t be forgotten. They happened and they matter. They provide the context and the background for all that has happened since and that continues to happen. Even if you want to ascribe Trump’s behavior to the most innocent of motives, whatever they might be, the bottom line is that he has seriously and perhaps permanently and fatally damaged the most important military alliance that the U.S. has enjoyed since the Revolutionary War and the days of Lafayette and Rochambeau1.
And for what? What have we gained as a result? I can sit here and tell you what Putin has gained by the weakening of NATO, which is a lot, but I cannot think of a single solitary thing that the United States of America has gained or might gain as a result of this.
1Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago to this day, on July 11, 1780, Rochambeau and his French army arrived by ship and set foot on U.S. soil. From there, the march to Yorktown began.