False Choice: Lick Putin’s Boots or Go to War
You know it’s an especially bad day for Donald Trump when even some of the president’s most loyal and notable sycophants feel compelled to publicly condemn his conduct. And it didn’t take long, after Trump embarrassed our nation in Helsinki by seemingly siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies (and their findings that the Russian government unequivocally interfered our 2016 election), to realize it was going to be one of those days.
“It was probably the low point of the presidency so far,” said Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo.
“Hint: Don’t use ‘strong and powerful’ to describe Putin’s denial re. election meddling,” Fox News’s Laura Ingraham tweeted. “Use words ‘predictable and damaging to US-Russian relations’ to describe Russian meddling.”
Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, tweeted, “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—immediately.”
On CNN, Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci said, “Any time somebody puts their ego and their pride in the situation, they can get emotionally charged and they can make tactical and strategic mistakes and I believe [Trump] did that in Helsinki.”
Former Trump national security advisor, Michael Anton, reportedly even cancelled a national television appearance because he couldn’t defend the president’s performance. And trust me, that’s really saying something. I listened to Anton speak at length at a political event back in May, and he left a ballroom full of attendees with the impression that there was nothing about Trump that he wasn’t prepared to defend.
There’s no two ways about it (at least from an American perspective): Trump’s joint press conference with Putin was an absolute disgrace.
Our president undermined months and months of work (along with a subsequent indictment) from American intelligence services — and by extension those agencies themselves — to the benefit of a murderous regime that has attacked (and continues to attack) our nation. He not only refused to condemn Russia’s election interference and destabilization methods, but went as far as to provide Putin with an alibi of sorts by suggesting that it wouldn’t have been in his interest to ever engage in such an act.
And don’t even get me started on Trump once again entertaining the insane idea of forming a cyber-security partnership with Russia.
Our president’s fixation with Vladimir Putin (and Putin liking him) pre-dates Trump’s entrance into politics, and it has always been weird. It may have started out as a creepy strong-man man-crush, but with Trump now the leader of the free world, it’s damaging our stature and credibility as a nation. It’s making our country look weak and servile in front of allies and foes alike. It’s stoking doubt in our foreign intelligence findings, which provides our enemies with numerous propaganda opportunities. And it’s potentially opening up vulnerabilities in areas of our national security.
Simply put, it’s indefensible.
Still, there are plenty of Trump enthusiasts out there who are more than willing to take a stab at rationalizing Trump’s decision to kneel before Zod. And among all of the expected whataboutism in regard to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, a notable defense tactic has emerged.
Well, “emerged” might not be the right word. The method has been around for a few years now, starting out as a popular defense of Obama’s policies in the Middle East, and later adopted by Trump supporters as a tool for covering for Trump’s foreign policy flops.
I’m talking about the painfully false narrative that the only alternative to the U.S. capitulating to a foreign foe is full-scale war with that foe.
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden (along with other prominent Democrats and members of the liberal media) played this card time after time whenever critics accused their administration of not acting sufficiently against foreign threats, or giving up too much leverage in our dealings with hostile countries.
“What are you — you’re going to go to war? Is that what you want to do?” Biden memorably asked of Paul Ryan in their 2012 Vice Presidential debate.
Biden was referring to presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s assertion that more than sanctions may be needed to deal with the Iran threat. The theme became much more prominent when Obama was selling the Iran Deal. The administration and the Democratic Party defined only two possible alternatives: Obama’s way or war.
This of course laid the groundwork for defining anyone opposed to the Iran Deal as a war-monger. The false ultimatum drove Republicans and conservatives nuts at the time, but some of these folks clearly took note of its effectiveness, because they’re now using the same argument to defend Trump.
“Do you want us to nuke Moscow? Is that what you want?” Fox News’s Greg Gutfeld asked on yesterday’s The Five, of those who were criticizing Trump’s words in Helsinki.
“The US media, perhaps the most threatened of all the swamp parasites, are melting down because President Trump didn’t start a war with Russia,” wrote a conservative blogger whose column The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway touted as an “outside-the-beltway” view.
Senator Rand Paul commended President Trump for trying “to prevent us from having World War 3.”
My personal favorite came from Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro, who asked, “What was [Trump] supposed to do, take a gun out and shoot Putin?”
Of course, the notion that the only alternative to licking Vladimir’s boots is to nuke Moscow or shoot Putin is breathtakingly stupid. Yet, that became a highly popular straw-man rebuke from lots of Trump supporters on social media yesterday, which compelled a number of sane conservative commentators to weigh in on the ridiculousness:
“Embrace what POTUS did OR CHOOSE WAR!” is rather reminiscent of the demagogic Ben Rhodesian false choice that conservatives deeply resented not too long ago. Really weak sauce in response to criticism of Trump today.
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) July 16, 2018
Whenever Trump really steps in it in the foreign policy sphere, you can count on his staunchest defenders to immediately fall back on the lie that the only two options are a) whatever Trump is doing or b) an actual shooting war with Russia/North Korea/China/whoever
— Leon Wolf (@LeonHWolf) July 16, 2018
Don’t fall for the straw men. Nobody’s demanding Trump declare war on Russia, or refuse to work with them. They just want to him to acknowledge a threat, and stand up for the US against it. Not be BFF with the guy who’s threatening us, while constantly slamming our friends.
— Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) July 17, 2018
What makes this situation even sadder is that the same people who’ve been defending Trump over the past 24 hours and pushing this dopey mantra would have been among the first to demand President Obama’s impeachment had he said the same things under similar circumstances.
Team over country. That’s how we roll these days.