Okay, the Trump-Russia Thing is Getting Weird
I don’t like conspiracy theories. They require too many people to act too perfectly, and often mistakenly assume that whoever benefits from something caused it.
So I don’t buy that Trump is a Russian agent, a Manchurian candidate planted and backed by Vladimir Putin to manipulate the United States.
But still, Trump’s foreign policy ideas are surprisingly Russia-friendly. And the evidence is mounting that Russian agents hacked the Democratic National Committee, gave Wikileaks internal communications that make the DNC look bad, and timed their release to the Democratic convention.
To top it all off, Trump called on Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s communications from her time as Secretary of State.
“They probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do. They probably have her 33,000 emails that she lost and deleted because you’d see some beauties there,” he said, adding, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
A presidential nominee calling on a foreign power to conduct espionage against the United States to help him win is, to the best of my knowledge, unprecedented.
The Conspiracy Theory I Don’t Believe
Here’s what we know:
- Trump hired Paul Manafort to be his top adviser, and Manafort worked the same job for Viktor Yanukovych, the former leader of Ukraine widely derided as a Russian puppet.
- Trump has a history of financial difficulties, and after declaring bankruptcy and stiffing creditors so many times, he’s had to look abroad for financing.
- Russia provides financial assistance to far right parties in Europe, such as the National Front in France, the Northern League in Italy, Jobbik in Hungary, and Golden Dawn in Greece, as part of a strategy to weaken the EU and NATO.
- Trump’s said nice things about Vladimir Putin.
- Wealthy Russians have done a lot of business with Trump.
- Trump refuses to follow the decades-long tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns, even though political opponents allege that his returns would reveal financial ties to Russian oligarchs close to the Kremlin.
All that has led some commentators (invariably liberals) to allege, or at least strongly insinuate, a Trump-Putin partnership.
I don’t buy it, and I won’t without smoking gun evidence. It’s too circumstantial. But it doesn’t really matter, because Trump’s foreign policy ideas, and Russia meddling in an American election, are bad enough as it is.
Why Putin Wants Trump
One of Russia’s primary foreign policy goals is undermining NATO. The alliance remains the main counter to expanded Russian influence in Eastern Europe.
In 2008 Russia fought Georgia and annexed some territory. In 2014, Russia took Crimea and destabilized eastern Ukraine. In 2015, Turkey shot down Russian aircraft and Russia made a lot of noise but did nothing.
The difference, of course, is that Turkey is in NATO, while Georgia and Ukraine aren’t.
As small, former-Soviet states, the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) fear that they could suffer fates similar to Georgia and Ukraine. But they’re in NATO, which makes meddling riskier for Russia. However, if Russia backs separatists or launches an incursion and the United States does not respond, NATO members could lose confidence in the alliance, allowing Russia to dominate Eastern Europe once again. Poland appears especially wary.
In a July interview with the New York Times, Trump said he might not defend the Baltics from Russian attack.
In response to criticism that this would fail to uphold America’s alliance obligations, Trump’s defenders tried to spin it as strategic ambiguity.
But deterrence doesn’t work if others doubt the certainty of retaliatory threats, and alliances don’t work if allies doubt that members will honor their commitments. In this case, ambiguity is the exact opposite of useful.
Along with undermining confidence in NATO, Trump helped advance Russian interests by cutting calls to arm Ukraine from the Republican platform. It’s clear why Russia would prefer a Trump presidency.
So, no, I don’t think Donald Trump takes orders from the Kremlin. I just think his foreign policy ideas are terrible, and his election would undermine international stability, likely benefitting Russia at the expense of the United States and Europe.