“Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!”
This Thursday-morning tweet didn’t come from an anonymous Twitter account with 15 followers. It didn’t come from some crotchety retiree with too much time on his hands, a Russian bot, or even a clueless Hollywood actor. It came from the President of the United States, Donald Trump. And it was one of the most troubling foreign-policy statements we’ve heard from him since taking office.
The tweet stemmed from Trump’s frustration over a bill that recently passed through the House and Senate with overwhelming margins and bipartisan support. Designed as retribution for Putin’s interference in last year’s U.S. election, the bill proposed new sanctions against Russia, while restricting the president’s ability to lift current sanctions.
President Trump wasn’t a fan of the legislation. He didn’t like that it placed limits on his executive power, and he questioned its constitutionality. Still, after a delay of several days, he signed it into law on Wednesday, saying that he did so for “the sake of national unity.”
In reality, Trump didn’t have much of a choice. Due to the bill’s sky-high level of congressional support, it was impervious to a presidential veto. In other words, the law was coming regardless of what Trump wanted, so he put his stamp on it, in order to save face.
As Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News’s Special Report, “[Trump] did this in the name of not being humiliated…”
But Trump clearly was humiliated, as evidenced by his tweet, where he blamed Congress for our country’s problems with Russia. That “national unity,” as he had put it, didn’t last 24 hours.
Even if you put aside the appalling ignorance of world history it takes for someone to believe that our current relations with Russia are at their “all-time” worst, Trump’s indictment of American leadership was nothing short of perverse.
Our problem with Russia isn’t the U.S. Congress. Our problem is with years of Russian aggression. Putin has invaded neighboring countries, threatened our allies, interfered with our operations in Syria (resulting in thousands of deaths), and meddled in our national election. In one tweet, Trump managed to excuse all of that, in order to alleviate some damage caused to his pride.
Trump’s long-time affinity for Vladimir Putin has always been perplexing, but it’s even more so now that we’re in the midst of a federal investigation into the extent of Russia’s involvement in our democratic process (including possible ties to the Trump campaign). The fact that our president is willing to throw American leaders under the bus to absolve a hostile foreign entity of its sins is almost unimaginable.
Nearly as striking is the deafening silence from Trump supporters (most notably those in the conservative media) who continue to gloss over the Russian threat and Trump’s reluctance to call it out. Just a few years ago, the Right was unified in denouncing a U.S. president for “blaming America first” and mocking Mitt Romney for identifying Russia as our “number one geopolitical foe.” Today, nearly one-third of Republicans have a favorable view of Putin. That number has tripled since 2015, and it’s not because Putin has ingratiated himself to America. It’s because Trump has tried to ingratiate himself to Putin.
There’s something desperately wrong with this picture — and it goes well beyond partisan hypocrisy. It has to do with breathtakingly poor executive leadership and inexplicable devotion to a cult of personality.
Russia’s interests are very different than those of the United States. If there are times when we can find common ground to work together in a legitimately productive way, we should be open to it. But laying blame on an entire branch of the U.S. government, for an environment caused by Russia’s atrocities, is not only unpresidential…it’s also unpatriotic.