The Amend Corner

Can we trust the ex-KGB officer Putin?

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It seems like only yesterday that critics were taking aim at President Barack Obama for something he said to other world leaders. Supposedly, he had been traveling around the world, blaming the U.S. for all the bad stuff that was happening to them and apologizing abjectly for our country’s misdeeds.

The accusations came from Republicans as part of their attempt to end the Obama presidency with the 2012 election. Their nominee, Mitt Romney, even wrote a book about what he called President Obama’s “Apology Tour” through Europe and Middle East, and offered it as proof that Obama was blaming his own country for terrorism and other difficulties the world was dealing with.

But the president had done no such thing. Yes, he had visited a number of nations early in his presidency, and yes, he had addressed difficulties in our relationships with those nations. But characterizing his words as blaming America was a distortion. In reality, what the president had done was present an honest assessment of attitudes and actions on both sides of our relationships with other nations and how they were hindering cooperative action that would benefit both sides.

In his speech to European leaders, for example, he spoke about “honest disagreements over policy,” and “something more that has crept into our relationship.” He said that America has sometimes ignored Europeans instead of cooperating with them to deal with challenges. Then he went on to speak of “an anti-Americanism that can be insidious” in Europe. He faulted Europeans for failing to recognize the good we do in the world while choosing to blame America for what’s bad.

Rather than apologizing, Obama was, in fact, challenging leaders in Europe and the Middle East to cooperate in response to terrorism and other issues by developing solutions rather than fixing blame for the problems.

Those who continue to think the worst of Obama and his administration won’t believe that, of course. They will retain the vision of an American president groveling before a string of Middle Eastern despots and delivering abject apologies for our behavior.

I thought about this bit of history last week following the press conference held by President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the aftermath, many Republicans joined Democrats in criticizing the president’s responses to questions and his demeanor while delivering them. Even some Fox News commentators, normally part of a cheerleading squad for Trump, fired some sharp arrows at his performance — including one who called Trump’s performance “disgusting.”

At the center of the controversy was Trump’s handling of questions about Russia’s electronic interference in the 2016 election. The nation’s intelligence is unanimous in their opinion that Russia did meddle in the election in an attempt to support Trump. Just recently, Robert Mueller, the independent counsel investigating the case, issued indictments against 12 Russians for hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s communications.

Trump, however, despite the intelligence findings of Russian involvement, said Putin had given “a strong denial” that the Russian government had been involved and he believed what Putin said. The result was a storm of criticism, much of it angry.

As he usually does when faced with criticism, Trump complained that he was the victim and dragged out his often-used “fake news” defense. He said he was only trying to build a good relationship with Russia, and American news media was creating phony stories to prevent him from building that better relationship. In other words, all the trouble over the meddling in our election is our fault, not Putin’s.

Think about this for a minute: Trump chose to take the word of a man who is, for all practical purposes, a dictator, despite the findings of his own government. Why does he trust Putin? After all, Russia has been known to meddle in other countries as well, and since he is a dictator, it’s hard to imagine that he was unaware of the cyber attacks originating in Russia during the 2016 election.

Trump has issued a number of clarifications and corrections about what he said and did last week, but he has never backed off his contention that he believes Putin when he says he had nothing to do with the attacks on our election process. As a result, Russia can now use Trump’s own words in their propaganda. That’s very disturbing.

If you doubt any of that, try doing this: Imagine that it had been Obama there with Putin, and he had talked and acted as Trump did last week. What would you be saying about him right now?

The Amend Corner

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