Putin’s Shadow

Let’s get this straight. Donald Trump’s daughter is, at the moment, vacationing in Croatia with Rupert Murdoch’s fourth ex-wife, who is now romantically involved with Vladimir Putin. This is no big deal, but who the hell is running Trump’s campaign? Someone might have advised against this:

This weekend, Ivanka Trump and Wendi Deng Murdoch went “sightseeing” in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Deng Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife, is reportedly dating Vladimir Putin.

Trump and Deng Murdoch have been friends for years – according to People, Deng Murdoch set up Trump with her husband Jared Kushner. Trump and Kushner apparently traveled to Croatia together without their three children.

The timing of the women’s meeting is notable because Trump’s father, the Republican nominee for president, has courted Putin’s affections and expressed his admiration for the Russian autocrat. Numerous advisers to his campaign have ties to Russia, and speculation abounds that Trump’s unreleased tax returns would reveal heavy debts owed to Russian business interests.

Susan Wright has more here:

Things just keep popping up and at some point, if you’re smart, you have to stop what you’re doing and give more than a sideways glance at the evidence.

So we’ll put aside the information we already have about Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his alleged connections to pro-Russian figures in the Ukraine (including the recent report that he’s received money from Ukrainian sources).

We’ll put aside Trump’s casual call for Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails…

Since becoming the ex-Mrs. Murdoch, what has Wendi Deng Murdoch been up to? Well, after Murdoch, she was connected to British Prime Minister Tony Blair (which he denies), may have had a few dalliances with Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt, and if some of the tabloid reports from earlier in 2016 can be believed, she’s acting as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s love interest.

It’s as if the universe is screaming for me to become a conspiracy theorist.

Oh, it’s more than that. Rupert Murdoch created Fox News twenty years ago and hired Roger Ailes to run it – Ailes had been Nixon’s media advisor in 1968 and 1972 and later, with Lee Atwater, created the Willie Horton ad that sank Michael Dukakis and gave us the first President Bush. Ailes was Fox News, but Rupert Murdoch finally had to let Ailes go last week – the sexual harassment suits were piling up – but Trump and Ailes had been friends for those twenty years. When asked what his daughter would do if she were sexually harassed by someone like Roger Ailes, Trump said she’d just quit or maybe find a new career – she certainly wouldn’t sue – and he said Ailes was a good man. Now his daughter is vacationing with the ex-wife of the man who fired his good friend, the ex-wife who is also Putin’s main squeeze. The universe is screaming for all of us to become conspiracy theorists. Now all we have to do is come up with a theory that untangles all of this. Fox News and Trump and Putin have a plan to take over the world? Sure. Why not?

That other matter, however, is a bit more substantial:

Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has been named in a corruption investigation in Ukraine, where officials are trying to track illegal payments from a pro-Russian political party that once hired the Washington-based political consultant.

More than $12 million in undisclosed cash payments were earmarked for Manafort by the party of Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, who fled Ukraine for Moscow after being ousted in 2014, according to a statement released Monday by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.

Manafort denied receiving any improper payments, saying in a prepared statement Monday that he has “never received a single ‘off-the-books’ cash payment.”

Maybe so, but people do wonder what’s going on:

Manafort’s role in the Ukraine inquiry, first reported by the New York Times, serves as a reminder that Trump, who has faced bipartisan criticism for unusually friendly views toward Russia and has sought real estate deals there, has relied on advisers with personal and financial ties to Moscow and the former Soviet Union.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former military officer whom Trump briefly considered naming as a running mate, was paid to give a speech and attend a lavish party with Russian President Vladimir Putin honoring the Kremlin-funded media company, RT Television. Another foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, has said he holds stock in Gazprom, the Russian energy firm, whose stock price has stumbled since the imposition of U.S. sanctions following the Russian invasion of Crimea.

Manafort’s Ukraine connections drew scrutiny during last month’s Republican convention, when the party platform committee weakened language that would have called for U.S. military support of Ukraine. Manafort has denied that the campaign played a role, but committee members told The Washington Post that Trump aides were involved.

Trump did choose an odd guy to help him win the presidency:

His lobbying clientele included two corrupt dictators, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, both of whom stole billions of dollars from their countries. And Manafort has parlayed political relationships around the world into an array of intricate financial transactions with billionaire oligarchs and other controversial investors that have at times spurred legal disputes. In one case, reported by the Washington Post in April, Manafort tried unsuccessfully to build a luxury high-rise in Manhattan with money from Dmitry Firtash, a billionaire backer of Yanukovych.

The universe really is screaming for all of us to become conspiracy theorists, and the Clinton campaign spokesman responded quickly:

“We have learned of more troubling connections between Donald Trump’s team and pro-Kremlin elements in Ukraine,” [Robby] Mook said in the statement. “Given the pro-Putin policy stances adopted by Donald Trump and the recent Russian government hacking and disclosure of Democratic Party records, Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort’s and all other campaign employees’ and advisers’ ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump’s employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them.”

David Atkins adds this:

How much does Trump and his team need to do before we start asking serious questions about whether they’re a Manchurian Candidate campaign actively working on behalf of a foreign nation? Trump’s campaign manager is deep in with Putin cronies, the Putin regime is very likely behind the hacking on Democratic organizations to benefit Trump, his campaign worked to soften anti-Putin and anti-Russia language in the GOP platform, and his finances and investments are enmeshed with Russian cronies – which may be a key reason why he refuses to release his tax returns.

Can you imagine what Fox News and Rush Limbaugh would be saying if these things were true of a Democratic candidate for president? They would be openly demanding a trial for treason and using “Rosenberg” as a nickname.

Yeah, but they’re stuck with this guy. He knows it, they know it, but at least they finally got the guy to give a rip-roaring foreign policy speech:

Donald Trump called Monday for a Cold War-style mobilization against “radical Islamic terror,” repeating and repackaging calls for strict immigration controls – including a new ideological litmus test for Muslim visitors and migrants – and blaming the current level of worldwide terrorist attacks on President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

In a grab bag of promises to battle the Islamic State organization together with Russia and anyone else who wants to join the fight, the Republican nominee underlined the need to improve intelligence and shut down militant propaganda, recruiting and financing.

But he provided few specifics on how he would expand such efforts beyond those already underway.

Actually, the speech was a bit of a letdown:

Reading directly from a TelePrompTer, a subdued Trump rarely departed from his script.

The principal new initiative was what Trump called “extreme vetting” for “any hostile attitude towards our country or its principles, or who believed sharia law should supplant American law. … Those who did not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred will not be admitted for immigration into our country.”

“In the Cold War,” he said, “we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today. … I call it extreme, extreme vetting.”

We’ll ask them if they respect minorities and gays and whatnot. He didn’t mention if he’d ask them if they consider abortion murder. But this was a pivot:

In a semantic softening of his previous position restricting immigrants or visitors from Muslim-majority countries, Trump said he would “temporarily suspend immigration from some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism.”

And there was this:

As he has in the past, Trump said he would keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that Obama has unsuccessfully tried to close for more than seven years. “Drone strikes will remain part of our strategy, but we will also seek to capture high-value targets to gain needed information to dismantle their organizations. Foreign combatants will be tried in military commissions,” he said.

Obama initially did away with the commissions, and then reauthorized them during his administration, but they have been rarely used. In an interview last week with the Miami Herald, Trump said he would also use the commissions to try U.S. citizens, which is currently prohibited under law. He did not mention that possibility in his speech.

He was being careful, and he would of course form committees:

Listing two other early initiatives of a Trump presidency, he said he would establish “a commission on radical Islam which will include reformist voices in the Muslim community who will hopefully work with us. We want to build bridges and erase divisions.” The commission’s goal, he said, “will be to identify and explain to the American public the core convictions and beliefs of radical Islam” and develop “new protocols” for law enforcement.

At the same time, Trump said he would “call for an international conference” to “halt the spread of radical Islam,” partnering with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, among others.

“I also believe that we could find common ground with Russia in a fight against ISIS,” Trump said. “Wouldn’t that be a good thing?”

Note:

The Obama administration has made a similar proposal to join forces with Russia. But it has made it contingent on Moscow’s restraining Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from bombing civilians and opposition groups that are party to a cease-fire in Syria that both Assad and Moscow signed.

Yeah, we already did that, but Trump did play nice this time:

Trump softened the tone of previous comments on a number of things, including his description of NATO as “obsolete” and filled with members who don’t pay their fair share for U.S. “protection.” He said the United States would work closely with NATO on counterterrorism, and he congratulated the alliance for establishing a new division to handle the threat “since my comments.”

NATO first committed to increased counterterrorism activities at its summit in Wales in 2012.

Yeah, he lied about that, but that’s what he does:

Trump made a number of false or misleading claims in his speech, including his long-discredited claim to have opposed the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, which Clinton voted to support. A number of the terrorist attacks he listed, and the plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, occurred under Bush.

Referring to the 2011 U.S. military action in Libya, Trump said Obama “regards Libya as his worst mistake.” Obama has said that “failing to plan for the day after” the intervention was probably his worse mistake.

Noting media reports that the Islamic State has made substantial profits selling oil in land that it occupies to fund terrorism, Trump said that “we could have prevented the rise of ISIS in Iraq” by claiming control of its oil.

“I was saying this constantly and consistently to whomever would listen. I said, ‘Keep the oil. Keep the oil. Keep the oil. Don’t let somebody else get it.’ ”

But all of the oil sold by the militants has come from fields they occupy in Syria. They have never controlled oil-rich territory in Iraq, where oil provides about 99 percent of government revenue, according to the United Nations.

The man is not big on details, and we have been doing what he says we’re not doing but should be doing, as Peter Bergen notes here:

– Partnering with Jordan and Egypt? Check

– Working with NATO? Check

– Cutting off ISIS funding? Check

– Cyber warfare against ISIS? Check

– Decimating al Qaeda? Check

Trump also said, “The era of nation building will be brought to a very swift and decisive end.” This is a straw man, because no one is calling for nation building in the American body politic, including Hillary Clinton, who in her own campaign appearance in Scranton, Pennsylvania, specifically said that American ground troops were “off the table” in Syria.

No one knew what was new here, and the rest seems to have been nonsense too:

Trump called for a new kind of ideological test on immigrants from areas where terrorism is a problem. This seems unworkable. For example, would anyone sitting for these tests volunteer that they had secret proclivities for jihadist terrorism?

Also, Trump didn’t specify what countries would be affected by this new test. But France has a serious domestic terrorism problem – would French citizens be subjected to this kind of test? Or is he concerned about Syrian refugees, which the United States has taken only 10,000 of the millions who have fled the civil war in their country (and only 2% of whom are single, military-age males, according to the U.S. State Department).

In short, Trump didn’t say who would be targeted for these ideological tests, saying only that he would consult the State Department about how to approach this issue. Yet this had once been one of Trump’s signature political ideas: the banning of Muslim immigration, which then became a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, which, in turn, became a ban on immigration from countries with a terrorism problem, and now in Monday’s speech has become a policy idea that is as murky as Trump’s tax returns.

Details do matter:

The reality is that Trump’s focus on immigrants is to misconceive of the terrorist problem that exists in the United States. Every lethal terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11 has been carried out by an American citizen or a legal permanent resident, not by recent immigrants or by refugees. So tamping down immigration won’t fix the real issue, which is “homegrown” terrorism.

Further, the terrorist attacks and plots in the United States have in recent years been influenced by ISIS’s online propaganda, which clearly isn’t being brought into the country by immigrants, but instead can enter any American home via the internet.

And there’s this:

Trump also claimed that Clinton lacks the “mental and physical stamina” to take on ISIS. Really? This seems not only like a thinly veiled sexist observation, but it also happens to be completely wrong. Remember, it was Clinton who was the most forward leaning of Obama’s Cabinet officials when it came to ordering the U.S. Navy SEAL operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Bergan was not impressed, and there was this:

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) thinks Donald Trump needs to take a test before he is elected president.

In a press release Monday afternoon, Reid called on Trump to take the U.S. naturalization test – the test that immigrants must pass to become citizens of the United States. The test includes questions about the country’s history, founding, laws and Constitution.

“Since Donald Trump wants to impose new tests on immigrants, he should take the one test every immigrant has to pass to become a United States citizen. He would almost certainly fail, given his general ignorance and weak grasp of basic facts about American history, principles and functioning of our government,” Reid said. “The fact is, Donald Trump is nothing more than a spoiled, unpatriotic drain on society who has earned nothing and helped no one.”

Reid said that unlike immigrants, “Donald Trump represents none of the qualities that make America great.”

“Immigrants work hard to get here and become Americans, while Trump inherited everything from his father and works hardest at Tweeting insults and ripping off hard-working people with two-bit scams,” Reid said.

Reid also claimed that while immigrants must denounce loyalties to foreign governments to become citizens, Trump “plays footsie with Putin and invites the Russian government to launch cyberattacks against our country.”

That wasn’t very nice, but the current test for immigrants who want to become citizens, on what the constitution actually says and how the three branches of government work, probably would stymie Donald Trump. The president never gets to say “You’re fired!” He seems to think that’s unfair.

Slate’s Isaac Chotiner also points out the obvious:

The main body of Trump’s speech was organized around the theme of, as he put it, halting “the spread of radical Islam.”

“All actions,” he said, “should be oriented around this goal.”

Trump then called for restricting immigration from countries that he deemed threatening, and applying an ideological test that would forbid people from entering whom he considered bigoted or un-American. Given that Trump spent a good chunk of time talking about Islam’s supposed hatred of women and gay people one can only ask if Trump would deport people in his own party who share similarly retrograde views.

Oops. He should have read his party’s platform, but Chotiner says that hardly matters:

The reason that it’s not worth focusing too closely on the content of Trump’s speech – its place in our intellectual debates on foreign policy, its variety of “realism,” the ways in which it represented a tweaking of earlier policy positions – isn’t just that Trump is very, very unlikely to be president. It’s also that no one has any clue what sort of policies this obviously unstable and vindictive and impatient man would actually pursue in office…

He has also changed the formula for proper journalistic coverage of a candidate. It was silly to focus on Al Gore’s outfits or Hillary Clinton’s tone of voice. But it isn’t silly to focus on how stable Trump seems during a certain speech – he was stable on Monday, for the record, which means he’ll have broken free of his moorings by Friday – or the precise way in which his campaign is trying to keep a lid on its candidate’s volatile id. And in Trump’s case, the reverse is true as well: While it is important and urgent to keep in mind that he is a racist and an authoritarian, it is silly to think too hard about the specifics of a foreign policy he put forth on Monday that could all easily change in an off-the-cuff moment on CNN on Tuesday.

Trump’s policies may loosely cohere into some sort of familiar ideology, but his campaign and his ideas all basically exist within his head.

Chotiner argues that Trump doesn’t have policies – he has moods.

Don’t we all? But the rest of us aren’t running for president, are we? Trump seems to be in the Putin mood at the moment. Forget the conspiracy theories. Trump doesn’t seem to have thought through the Putin thing at all. It’s his moods that everyone needs to worry about.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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