The Establishment, Russia, and Trump by David Montgomery

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President Trump’s critics were beside themselves in the days before his meeting with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin. A campaign to smear the President for his relations with Russia was in full swing, with writers calling him a traitor and “bought and sold” by Putin. The campaign rolled out speculations, accusations, rhetorical inventions and outright prevarications, but was remarkably short on specifics.

What most clearly disproves these deranged claims is the fact that the sanctions imposed and continued by Trump are doing serious damage to the Russian economy. That, to me, is far more important than the verbal denunciations or personal cold-shoulders that his critics seem to believe that Trump should be directing at Putin. As if Putin would care.

After the news conference, the President’s detractors really hit their stride, without any idea of what was actually said in the one-on-one meeting. They ignored all the potentially real progress that was made on other important issues in order to focus their bile on the President’s refusal to harangue his counterpart in public over election meddling.

The prejudgment of Trump’s performance at the meeting is exemplified by the thoroughly wacky claim by the avatar of the foreign policy establishment David Rothkopf that “the way Trump and the GOP deal with Russian attacks is ‘textbook treason.’’ To get there Rothkopf redefines acts of war to include snooping into electoral campaign emails, then calls the President a traitor for failing to denounce the perpetrators as stridently as Rothkopf would like. His evidence of this is the “ill-considered and unnecessary private meeting with Vladimir Putin” coming up this month.

Normally writing for a house organ of the deranged left like the Daily Beast, where this appeared, would be beneath an establishment type like Rothkopf. His willingness to do so just demonstrates how deeply that establishment is opposed to Donald Trump, and how far it is willing to debase itself in order to get him out of office.

Rothkopf’s indictment is summed up in his underlined statement that: “A hostile foreign power intervened in our election to help elect a man president who has since actively served their interests and has defended them at every turn.” With the last clause, Rothkopf switched from wackiness to out and out falsehood.

Then there is the Never-Trump Republican Michael Gerson who claims that Trump “acts precisely as though he has been bought and sold by a strategic rival.” Ignoring the reality of President Trump’s actions, Gerson sails off into fantasy with speculations about President Trump’s motivations:

Does it come from Trump’s bad case of authoritarianism envy? A fundamental sympathy with European right-wing, anti-democratic populism? An exposure to pressure from his checkered financial history? There are no benign explanations, and the worst ones seem the most plausible.

With this warmup, it was clear that anything Trump said or did after the meeting would be leapt upon by those whose prejudice had already been made clear. But the facts about actions taken by the President give the lie to any claim that he has been “bought and sold” or has “defended [Russia] at every turn.”

These are some of President Trump’s actions toward Russia:

Since 2017, he has applied additional and more onerous sanctions to the Russian energy sector and to key members of the criminal gang that Putin depends on for survival. These sanctions have been serious and effective. The Russian ruble and stock market dropped by 10% after the last round of sanctions were announced on April 6, and have since recovered only because of rising oil prices that would otherwise have driven them far higher.

Independent sources estimate that isolating and weakening Russia’s energy sector – its only globally viable industry – and restricting Russia’s access to the global financial sector will reduce Russian GDP by over 10%. Those are not slaps on the wrist and not what a President in the pocket of foreign interests would do.

He expelled an unprecedented number of Russian “diplomats” and orchestrated parallel actions by U.S. allies in response to Russian poisoning of a former KGB agent and his daughter.

He authorized calculated and effective air strikes to punish Assad’s poison gas attacks in Syria, and in an even more “in your face” move authorized attacks that succeeded in killing 200 Russian military personnel posing as “military contractors.”

At the European summit, he put pressure on those countries to abandon their planned investments in a natural gas pipeline that would benefit the Russian natural gas industry and harm European energy security. For this he was criticized by the same pundits who claim he is soft on Russia.

Going back to 2017, President Trump reversed Obama’s military abandonment of Poland, ignoring Russian saber-rattling. He approved the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine — Javelin missiles effective against Russian tanks — something else Obama could not bring himself to do.

Just as increased military spending under President Trump shifts the power balance in US favor vis a vis Russia, his insistence that other NATO members pay their promised share will ultimately strengthen the alliance. Every President since George H.W. Bush has tried to accomplish the same, so that the idea that Trump is “destroying NATO” by demanding an end to free-riding by countries well able to pay is ludicrous.

Finally, he appointed Michael Bolton, the strongest hawk on Russia to be found, to be his national security advisor, and Mike Pompeo, his current Secretary of State, has consistently spoken out against Russian aggression. They were present in Helsinki.

The anti-Trump bandwagon never mentioned these facts in its attacks.

After the press conference, it just got worse. Anderson Cooper became the hero of the anti-Trump bandwagon by calling it “the most disgraceful performance by an American President” – though as usual what he had in mind was far from clear.

What no one mentioned is that both Trump and Putin made clear in the press conference that all issues of concern were discussed. They mentioned Syria and cooperation on terrorism explicitly, and that they had a long discussion of Russian interference in the last election.

No other result should have been expected. Abject apologies were not going to be offered by Putin, and no President would be foolish enough to attempt to extract them. Nor was there any reason for Trump to imitate the buffoons who ran the Soviet Union before its collapse by pounding his shoe on the table and haranguing his counterpart in public.

How this adds up the most disgraceful performance by a President is unfathomable. Diplomacy done well is not done for an audience of reporters. For all we know, Trump’s conversation with Putin could have been a strong – and even vulgar – explanation of the consequences if there were any future Russian meddling in our elections.

Thus all there was for the press to latch on to was the President’s unfortunate mention of the Mueller investigation and his statement that there was “no collusion.” The President’s use of the word “collusion” seems to have strained the vocabulary of his critics. They twisted his words to make it appear that he exonerated Russia from the charge of meddling in our elections: based on President Trump’s past usage of the word, it is clear that he was only reiterating that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian hackers. Indeed, by putting it that way he implicitly acknowledged that some parties in Russia did interfere with the election.

The concentration of the press on this topic seems planned. From Schumer to Rothkopf, his critics attacked the President for failing to cancel the meeting in light of the indictment of 26 Russian spies.

This elevation of the importance of those indictments is particularly disingenuous.

The public announcement of the indictments makes it certain that the culprits will never be caught and punished.

Friends who have done this themselves tell me that the normal tactic of a serious prosecutor would be to obtain sealed indictments and then lure the suspects to a country where they could be detained and extradited. The failure of the Mueller team to do this suggests that the indictments were a political stunt from the very beginning. If so, Trump wisely did not take the bait.

The smoke screen laid down by Trump’s critics over this issue – no doubt aided by some of his more unfortunate ways of communicating – obscures the potential good outcomes of his meeting with Putin. No meeting addressing so many topics could possibly reach final agreement on any. The outcome to hope for is that it will identify and start a process on some. It did. The topic that stands out to me is Syria. Any reports of these promising results were drowned out by the howls over the President’s failure to castigate Putin in public.

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu also visited Putin recently, and Haaretz, the Israeli equivalent of the Washington Post, speculated that his goal was a deal with Putin to get Iran out of Syria and to guarantee a return to the pre-civil war status quo with Assad. That would not be a bad thing. Getting rid of Assad is likely to make circumstances worse in Syria, if primary goals are toleration for minorities, ending fighting and repatriating refugees. Even if there is no way for the good guys to finally win, sometimes we can keep them from losing.

President Trump’s intervention may be encouraging Putin to work toward Netanyahu’s proposal, according to their statements in the press conference. That outcome would simultaneously end fighting and protect Israel’s security. If it happens, Trump would have accomplished far more by pretending to be friendly than he could have by adopting the grandstanding tactics his hypocritical opponents wanted.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy. He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America, David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Tom Steele says

    This is a truly pathetic rationalization. Republicans of all stripes have roundly condemned Trump’s performance in Helsinki.

  2. Briggs Cunningham says

    Putin is a criminal. Yet you believe him over our national security institutions. To wit:

    The sad truth is that it’s just more evidence of what we’ve known for years: Online, Russia is increasingly a rogue state, a country that plays by its own rules in cyberspace and today stands as the world’s largest safe haven for cybercriminals — not just protected but also aided and abetted by the state.
    Recent headlines have focused on the attacks of the 2016 election, but every day Russian crooks inflict immense harm on real victims across our country and around the world, causing billions of dollars in losses.

    Why won’t President Trump call out Mr. Putin for Russia’s rogue behavior in cyberspace?

    Russia today hosts a “who’s who” of the world’s most wanted hackers, and the list grows almost monthly. The scale of their theft and damage is staggering. In February, the United States indicted 36 individuals for running Infraud, an online criminal enterprise whose brazen name made clear its intentions: “In fraud we trust.” The Infraud website, which trafficked in stolen identities, financial information and malware, facilitated more than $530 million in losses over its seven years in operation; its ringleader, a Russian named Sergei Medvedev, was arrested in Thailand.

    Because Russia shields and supports the thugocracy operating within its borders, in order for law enforcement to capture them, they have no choice but to wait for the hackers and criminals to travel overseas. Even then, the Russian state fights tooth and nail to protect crooks.

    President Trump has been silent on the issue, but not the rest of his administration, including his own White House. In February, Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement attributing the “NotPetya” ransomware attack in June 2017 to Russia, saying, “The Russian military launched the most destructive and costly cyberattack in history,” which caused “billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia and the Americas.”

    Damage from that cyberattack alone stretched into the billions; FedEx reported that it suffered more than $300 million in damage. Merck, which had to replace more than 45,000 computers and 4,000 servers after being hit by the ransomware, suffered about $310 million in damage.

    If Russia physically attacked the corporate headquarters of either Merck or FedEx, causing an equivalent amount of damage, the president would not remain silent. In the past week, Mr. Trump has called out countries including China, Canada and our closest NATO allies for actions that he believes harm United States businesses and interests. So it’s inexplicable that the president has remained silent in the face of Russian actions to enable actors who prey on the very American companies and their employees and customers whom the administration claims to champion.

    Who’s your champion, Mr. Montgomery?

  3. Jamie Kirkpatrick says

    Even Mr. Trump is now declaiming his own performance. According to him, he “misspoke.” He sure did and so do you.

  4. Carla Massoni says

    What is your favorite flavor of Kool-Aid?

  5. Deirdre LaMotte says

    This is an insulting piece. I do not care how many angles Mr. Montgomery takes to try and explain what we all know is treason, he fails.

    He not only insults Mr. Mueller (I know how you want everyone to be impressed with your CV, but: were you in the Marines during Vietnam Nam, as Mr. Mueller, or did you conveniently get the “Chaney deferments” or perhaps bone spurs like your guy?)

    Anyhoo, you can pontificate as much as you want but, sorry to say, this lacks integrity.

    • Frances Reed says

      Being so rude is uncivil. It’s also equivalent to being six years old and sticking your tongue out because you can’t think of any cogent arguments.

      • Deirdre LaMotte says

        Having a President who is an obvious tool for Putin, whether for personal or financial reasons, is treason.
        I love your deflection, as well as others, who choose to avoid this obvious fiasco in the Oval Office. How amusing
        you support this unhinged,pathetic man who is a debasement to our country, who is distroying the soul of
        what our founders invisioned….to call me rude? Not only are you quite deluded but obviously one who loves
        “Party” over her country. Enjoying your life, I am sure, down the rabbit hole. And don’t forget to keep drinking that kool aid.

        • Frances Reed says

          For your information I’m a registered Independent who was a Democrat for forty five years, I voted in every primary and election during that time. I voted for Hilary in the 2008 primary. When Trump announced he was running for President, I laughed at him. I was an avid CNN viewer, loathed Fox News. I tuned into the debates to be entertained, I was thinking I would probably vote for Clinton but wasn’t particularly impressed – it was going to be an “I guess” vote. Then I started listening to what Trump said, the commitments he made, his analysis of the current state of America. I was still watching CNN but started to watch some Fox News and I saw CNN slide into tabloid reporting and doing everything possible to denigrate Trump. I started to watch more Fox News, who criticized Trump but were much more even handed in their reporting (A Harvard report on the news organizations at the time showed 93% of their context was Trump negative, Fox News was a more fair 52/48%) Trump impressed me in that he put up his own money for his election, spent one tenth of what Hillary did, worked his axx off, called a spade a spade and never gave up. I had been aware for a long time that our government had slid into a bunch of “Lifer” politicians —not what our founding fathers envisioned.

          Every one of our founders was a business man, with another job to do besides governing. They had estates to manage, printing presses to run, silversmithing to do – away from government they worked hard. I think their big mistake was not to make a law where no one could be a member of Congress for more than two terms. But I digress. Trump is not a polished politician, he’s a street fighter, he doesn’t give up even against overwhelming odds (ask Hilary!) I don’t always agree with how he says things but I do agree with his basic principles. He’s done more for this country in 18 months than the last four presidents combined. He does what he says he’s going to do (Israel – at least 3 presidents, as a campaign promise said they would move our Embassy to Jerusalem, not one of them did) I honor him for his guts, work ethic (are you frothing at the mouth over him playing golf? He’s allowed, and he’s taking no pay) and his love for this Country and it’s many overlooked citizens.

          By the way “Treason” is only applicable in a declared war.

          • Deirdre LaMotte says

            “I do agree with his basic principles”

            Wow

            Trump has no basic principles other than lining his own pocket and giving a voice to racist, bigots,and misogynist.
            And yes, our country is at “war”and he is a traitor .

          • Frances Reed says

            I’m curious as to how you think Trump is “lining his pockets,” and specifically how is he racist, bigoted and misogynistic?
            All you have provided so far is the standard rhetoric that Trump haters sing over and over – You will be more believable if you make your own cogent arguments and provide actual facts instead.
            Here are a few definitions.
            Bigot— A person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions (I think that many Democrats AND Republicans could fit this description!)
            Misogynist: (usually) A man who hates women. Much to everyone’s chagrin and annoyance, Trump likes women. It got him into trouble!
            Racist:A person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice agains people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another (clarification: “Muslim” is not a race, it is a religious belief held by more than five billion people all over the world, blocking people from certain countries, where the majority of the population is muslim, because of that countries inability to vet their own citizens is not a racist act. Trying to ensure immigrants come into this country legally and according to our laws, is not a racist act)
            War: Armed conflict, usually between nations, involving military action and causing the death of many.

  6. James Nick says

    Define schadenfreude: Reading an all-in Cult45 apologist squirm trying to deflect and defend the indefensible while, at the same time, watching trump being forced to read a childish and transparent “I misspoke” dodge from a text prepared for him by his damage control team. This was Charlottesville all over again except on the world stage. trump’s entire foreign trip was an embarrassment of epic proportions from beginning to end

    Mr Montgomery doesn’t seem to get it. Thanks to people like him and his tribe, we now firmly live a post-factual world. No one cares about Mr Montgomery’s list of supposed sanctions against the Russia. Yes siree bob, those hard-hitting sanctions are surely bringing Russia to its knees and any day now Putin will be begging to be reintegrated into the civilized world of great nations. That must be why the Russian foreign minister proclaimed that the Helsinki talks were “Magnificent… Better than super” and a member of Russian parliament reacted by saying “It’s funny to recall the nonsense from Obama et al about Russian being a weak regional power”. Somehow Russia seems to be thinking in terms of Mission Accomplished.

    Sorry Mr Montgomery, mere facts just don’t cut it anymore. Today, it’s all about gaining advantage through manufactured grievance, ad hominem attacks, name calling, and smearing the other side by blowing everything totally out of proportion. Take for example the attempt by Mr Montgomery’s side to extrapolate from a single, solitary instance of two FBI agents sharing their own private political views as proof-positive that the whole of the Mueller probe is not just corrupt witch hunt and rigged but that there is a deep state conspiracy by the FBI, if not the entire US Justice Department, to overthrow trump in a palace coup.

    We all saw what we saw and heard what we heard coming out of trump’s mouth at the Helsinki summit. And it goes beyond just words. There was the obsequiousness and body language of trump’s poodle deference to a KGB thug. Why on earth shouldn’t the Resistance be shouting from the rooftops with megaphones that trump is a traitor. Does Mr Montgomery really expect that the Resistance would let a golden opportunity like this slide by? Would the Republicans? It’s not even worth posing that question.

    I’ll give you a fact Mr Montgomery. Your president folded in the face of a determined, ruthless adversary intent on destroying the western world as well as democracy itself and in the process failed to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. If President Obama had done this, the tiki-torch mob would be in the streets.

    We often use epochal terms to demarcate significant periods in US history, eg, “Pre-revolutionary”, “Pre- and Post Industrial”, “Pre- and Post-War, etc. There is no doubt that we are living witnesses to a period that will forevermore define another dividing line in US history: “Pre- and Post Trump”. Future political scientist, historians, economists, legal scholars, military scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, students of mass media and communication, and climate scientists will all make reference to the time when the US and even the world changed… and not for the better. The words “antebellum” and “reconstruction” will be dusted off and repurposed to explain the destruction and recovery from the plague that is a modern day Caligula.

    • Frances Reed says

      “Mere facts just don’t cut it anymore. Today, it’s all about gaining advantage through manufactured grievance, ad hominem attacks, name calling, and smearing the other side by blowing everything totally out of proportion.”
      This sounds like you are writing about today”s Democrats. Facts don’t count! Manufactured grievances! Ad hominem attacks! Name calling! Smearing the other side! All your words Sir, and every one of them applicable to yourself and others who hate Trump. Where did fairness go? This huge moral outrage is so sad.

  7. Frances Reed says

    This is the most thoughtful, sensible and honest examination of the Trump/Putin news debacle. Silly name calling and hysteria by the press and others is so sad. To all the naysayers —do you think, for a minute, that we don’t do the exact same thing in trying to disrupt elections elsewhere? Obama himself did it with Israel (he authorized the expenditure of some $350,000 in an attempt to prevent the reelection of Netanyahu, considerably more than the estimated $100,000 spent of Facebook by the Russians!) Obama was caught on a hot mic asking the Russian he was talking to to let Putin know “After I win my re-election I will have more flexibility, let Mr Putin know.” Obama was also the person who laughed at Romney for saying Russia was our biggest enemy and also did nothing, although he was told the Russians were attempting to hack the 2016 election. Where is/was the outrage about that?
    I would also point out that Trump calling out Putin in a press conference in front of the whole world doesn’t advance any agenda that is beneficial to the United States. If he had done so, the anti-trumpers would be slamming him for non-diplomacy and ending any possibility for detente between the US and Russia. Joseph Stalin was a despot but the US tried to work with him after World War Two without confrontation despite his dreadful record of killing millions. Obama didn’t call out the Castro’s in Cuba for their behavior and civil rights record, he fawned over them. Did the press say anything negative?
    Giving one President a free pass on just about everything (The mess in Syria and the refugee crisis was caused by Obama putting a red line in the sand and then not doing anything when it was crossed for instance) and slamming Trump at every turn is counter productive.
    Other things I would ask you, and these are important questions. Do you think that Obama knew exactly what his FBI and DOJ was doing in July of 2016 against Trump? Do you think that he knew what his CIA and others were doing with Russia? If Obama was asked would he deny it? Even if it were true? Do you think that ONE SINGLE reporter would even ask him that question at a World Press conference and in front of Putin? And then ask Putin if he believed him?
    Leadership isn’t pretty words, being charismatic and making everyone happy by making nice, working hard to make everyone like you, smoothing everything over. Leadership is facing problems head on, not kicking the unpleasant or difficult bits down the road for others to deal with. It’s making the tough decisions in the face of unbelievable odds. It’s doing what one believes is right, not what is expedient or politically correct. We have that leader and I for one am grateful to him.

    • Briggs Cunningham says

      To Frances Reed,

      Comparing djt’s actions and words to those of other leaders is simple deflection and ignoring the facts. Look at what he did and said, and then ask yourself if he is doing his job. Remember, he swore the following: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Most of the intelligent world agrees that djt was defending a sworn enemy of the United States, perhaps the most classless act ever committed by a U.S. President.

      • Frances Reed says

        To: Briggs Cunningham
        Hmm — that’s the first time I have heard true facts supporting an argument being brushed aside as deflections. I suspect a serious case of “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” A specious argument at best!
        If you think that ” DJT was defending a sworn enemy of the United States, perhaps the most classless act ever committed by a US President” then surely Obama’s not calling out (EVER, then or since) the Ayatollah of Iran for his “Death to all Americans” must rank right up there as an equally egregious classless act. Especially as he went on, almost immediately, to sign a deal that gave Iran billions of dollars (and skated the law in doing so) Giving billions to those who want to kill all your citizens is, of course, diplomacy at its finest. Far better than an uncouth upstart who slaps on Russia some of the stiffest sanctions ever. Does anyone else see the irony here?

  8. Steve Payne says

    Trump authorized the public release of the indictments prior to his trip.

  9. Deirdre LaMotte says

    George Will, the Conservative commentator, nailed it in his column titled: This Sad, Embarrassing Wreck of a Man.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/this-sad-embarrassing-wreck-of-a-man/2018/07/17/d06de8ea-89e8-11e8-a345-a1bf7847b375_story.html?utm_term=.26cab70000cd

  10. Joe Wiedemann says

    I enjoy the responses your articles generate. Keep it up and share your opinion with us. So far, your comments have shown greater thoughtfulness and style then those made by individuals disagreeing with you.

  11. Deirdre LaMotte says

    I have now a first hand account of people who are totally delusional and have extraordinary ethical elasticity.

    • Frances Reed says

      This is a total non-sequitur unless you explain your meaning, or are you, perhaps, referring to yourself? Perhaps describing your delusions will make you feel a bit better especially as ethical elasticity sounds a bit like an old pair of knickers that have lost their support!
      I must confess— It’s no fun trying to debate someone who is mostly incoherent, apoplectic, and has no arguments other than mud slinging and unsupported generalities.
      Time for me to bring my part of this particular Trump thread to a close. So, I’ll sign out with this quote from Chadwick Moore: “I began to realize that maybe my opinions just didn’t fit in with the liberal status quo, which seems to mean that you must absolutely hate Trump, his supporters and everything they believe. If you dare not to protest or boycott Trump you are a traitor. If you dare to question liberal stances or make an effort toward understanding why conservatives think the way they do, you are a traitor. It can seem like liberals are actually against free speech if it fails to conform with the way they think. And I don’t want to be a part of that club anymore.”

      • Deirdre LaMotte says

        You know, Ms. Reed, I realize how scary people are who turn all facts before our eyes upside down; gaslighting. There is a job in this White House for you, I’m sure.

        In the meantime, I and the majority of Americans are working to bring honor back to this nation. It is called getting the vote out in order to drown out the hate and restore freedom and rights for all Americans.

  12. Steve Payne says

    Trump expelled Russian diplomats after the European countries did that. Then he got upset because the total we expelled matched the EU total rather any individual EU country.
    Trump got the NATO countries to continue to pay their previously agreed to percentage to defense spending. They did not agree to increase it.
    He did hit Syria but one only hit an empty runway and he warned Russia in advance and targeted them so as no Russians or Russian planes etc. wouldn’t be hit.

    As to the sanctions:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/02/22/trumps-claim-that-hes-been-much-tougher-on-russia-than-obama/?utm_term=.3f8f0e0a742f

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  1. […] The Establishment, Russia, and Trump by David Montgomery – What most clearly disproves these deranged claims is the fact that the sanctions imposed and continued by Trump are doing serious damage to the Russian. […]

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