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Lest there be any doubt as to where the future national security adviser stood, Flynn went on to stress that Vladimir Putin “has done a lot for the Khamenei regime”; that Russia and Iran were “the two most active and powerful members of the enemy alliance”; and that the Russian president’s deep intention was to “pursue the war against us.”
All this was true. Yet by the end of the year, Flynn would be courting Russia’s ambassador to Washington and hinting at swift relief from sanctions. What gave?
What gave, it seems, was some combination of financial motives — at least $65,000 in payments by Russian-linked companies — and political ones — a new master in the person of Donald Trump, who took precisely the same gauzy view of Russia that Flynn had rejected in his book.
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What about Trump’s motives? In The Washington Post on Thursday, reporters Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker offer a stunning description of the president’s curious incuriousness when it comes to the question of Russian interference in our elections. That’s followed by a catalog of all the many ways in which the American president sought to appease the Russian dictator.
Cases in point: The president still does not fully accept the verdict of his intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the election. He told Bill O’Reilly that America’s behavior was no better than Putin’s. His attorney general admitted to Congress that the administration had “probably not” taken sufficient measures to prevent future Russian meddling in elections. He explored ways to return two Russian diplomatic compounds in the United States long used for spying until they were seized by the Obama administration.
It continues: He spent the first five months in office resisting efforts to get him to publicly avow NATO’s mutual-defense commitments. He sought an “impenetrable cybersecurity unit” with Moscow until Lindsey Graham dismissed it as “pretty close” to “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” He fiercely resisted congressional efforts to impose additional sanctions on Russia; was “apoplectic” when they passed; and would have vetoed the legislation if it weren’t certain he’d be overridden. He ended American support for anti-regime moderates in Syria, paving the way for the Assad regime — and thus its Russian helpers — to consolidate their grip.
Presented with this list, the president’s craven apologists insist he’s right to try to find common ground with Russia. These are the same people who until recently were in full throat against Barack Obama for his overtures to Putin. More measured apologists say he’s merely naïve, just as Obama and Bush were at the beginning of their terms. Yet the alleged naïveté never quits: Just this week, he asked for Putin’s help on North Korea.
The better explanations are: (a) the president is infatuated with authoritarians, at least those who flatter him; (b) he’s neurotically neuralgic when it comes to the subject of his election; (c) he’s ideologically sympathetic to Putinism, with its combination of economic corporatism, foreign-policy cynicism, and violent hostility to critics; (d) he’s stupid; or (e) he’s vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
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Each explanation is compatible with all the others. For my part, I choose all of the above — the first four points being demonstrable while the last is logical. But let’s have that conversation at another time. There’s no need to obsess about electoral collusion when the real issue is moral capitulation. ☐