The continuing argument surrounding the sudden departure of Michael Flynn from the post of National Security Advisor has been painful to watch. It appears that Americans only see Vladimir Putin as the foreign guy who didn’t like Hillary Clinton, and are acting accordingly. It’s as if they see Putin as your typical GOP state legislator who said something stupid: Democrats register their outrage in social media, while Republicans try to change the subject.
In particular, Democrats are falling over themselves in a desperate attempt to find criminal behavior in the new Administration – almost ignoring the dangerous foreign policy implications of a White House that refuses to acknowledge how dangerous Putinism has become – while said White House and its defenders are increasingly deciding that the real “enemy” are the very men and women in American intelligence helping to keep Putinism at bay.
Let’s be clear what Vladimir Putin is doing around the world. He is supporting an irridentist movement in Eastern Ukraine that is not only looking to carve out parts of that troubled democracy, but shot down a Dutch civilian airplane in the process. He is supporting a mullahcracy in Iran whose antics and ambitions are so dangerous even Donald Trump has noticed. He is supporting a bloodthirsty regime in Syria that has killed thousands – if not tens of thousands – of its own people. It has repeatedly provided cover for the Kimist regime in North Korea so that the Chinese Communist Party can pretend to be upset at its de facto colony. He is engaged in hijinx against the Baltic states – NATO allies all, including one of the few willing to adhere to the alliance’s recommended defense spending level of 2% of GDP (Estonia). While the CCP deals with an ever increasing debt problem, Putin has taken upon himself the role of the leading anti-democratic power.
Yet somehow, none of this enters the discussion of the new Administration, or Flynn’s role within it.
For Democrats: focusing on legalities at the expense of policy is a losing argument, and for good reason. In the absence of all of issues listed above, most Americans will presume the only reason Democrats don’t like Putin is because Putin didn’t like Clinton. That argument will not win over any of the 52% of America that voted against her. Those of us who wish Trump defeated for re-election in 2020 have to stop relitigating 2016 and focus on what the Administration is doing in 2017: namely, giving Putin a free pass on Ukraine, Syria, and increasingly North Korea, while providing nothing more than lip service about the mullahcracy. The Trump policy on Russia is naive, weak, and overly conciliatory. Democrats should remember the words of Joseph Fouche (Napoleon’s police chief): “It was worse than a crime, it was a blunder.”
For Republicans: are you really telling me you don’t expect us to be surveilling Russian officials? The facade of naivete from my former party is sickening to behold. The idea that Flynn’s communications with the Russian Ambassador wouldn’t be noticed by our intelligence officials is either a symptom of deep denial or flat-out intellectual dishonesty. Lest we forget, this is the same IC that – practically by itself at the end – kept the Clinton email issue alive during last year’s campaign. The GOP may want to see this through a partisan lens, but the IC sure doesn’t.
That said, the burden of advancing the debate in the proper direction falls upon the opposition (indeed, that’s what a proper opposition does), and as an opposition, they (actually, we, as I am part of said opposition) have not done the job up to this point. We need to remind the American people – over and over and over again – why coziness to Putin’s regime is antithetical to American interests, self-determination of nation-states, and democracy in general around the world.
In short, what Putin has done to democracy is far more dangerous than what he has done to the Democratic Party, and we should act and speak accordingly.