Streetwise Professor

July 17, 2018

In Helsinki, Trump Declares That This Is War to the Knife–Against His Domestic Enemies

Filed under: China,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:04 pm

Even by the standards of the last two years, the hysteria that erupted over Trump’s statements in the press conference with Putin in Helsinki were off the charts.  Benedict Arnold! Treason! Traitor! Impeachment! On CNN some supposed ex-Watergate lawyer compared it to Kristillnacht. I suppose if we wait a few hours it will become the latter-day equivalent of Auschwitz.  I’m only surprised that I haven’t seen it compared to the Hitler-Stalin Pact.  Give it time!

The most disgusting comparisons in my mind were to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, suggesting that what Trump did would have been analogous to sitting down with Tojo after Pearl Harbor or Osama after the Twin Towers went down.

Reality check.  Pearl Harbor death toll: 2403. 9/11 death toll: 2996. 11/8/16 death toll: zero.  1,117 American sailors were vaporized, drowned, or incinerated on the USS Arizona alone on 12/7/41.  Anyone comparing Russian hacking to those catastrophes is completing lacking in perspective, not to say mental balance, and is willing to make the most outlandish comparisons out of partisan spite.  Especially inasmuch as spy games have been going on since time immemorial, and between the US and Russia/USSR for decades.  What transpired in 2016 is par for the course. Where’s the outrage been all these years?

And is the US supposed to go to war with a nuclear power over hacking? For that is the implication of the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 analogies.  That is not just lacking in perspective–that is utterly deranged.

And what is the hysteria about, in the end?: mere words.  Nothing of substance transpired at the summit–as could have been expected.  The overwrought fears that Trump would totally capitulate on Syria, or recognize the Russian seizure of Crimea, or sell Ukraine down the river turned out to be imaginary.  There were just anodyne statements about working toward common goals, which will likely result in nothing.

How would things have been different, or be different today, or tomorrow, or next year, had Trump aggressively chastised Putin publicly about the alleged interference in the 2016 election?  No different at all, except that the hysterics would have had to find something to be hysterical about.   And I guarantee you: they would have.

What would Putin have done had Trump called him out?  First, he would have denied.  As he apparently did when Trump brought it up.  Second, he would have responded with a litany of sins that the US has committed against Russia, in which he would no doubt include the 2011 elections in Russia. After all, the man is the master of whataboutism and bald face denials of the obvious.  Why would you expect any different yesterday?

“Did so!”  “Uh-uh.” “Stay out of our politics!” “You did it first!”

That would have been edifying.

Which would leave us where, exactly? Right where we are today.

And if the failure to say sufficiently condemnatory words about Russian interference is treasonous, what is the failure to do anything about it when it was happening, in full knowledge that it was happening?  Which is exactly what the Obama administration did–by its own admission.  Would the hysterics have given Trump a pass if he had imitated Obama and told Putin to “cut it out”?  Yeah.  Right.  This also suggests an utter lack of seriousness.

What I find most deeply disturbing about this is that the Russia/Putin fetish is distracting attention from a real strategic threat.  By every measure–economic, military, geopolitical–China is a more dangerous power than Russia.  Indeed, even if you emphasize cyberattacks as the primary threat, China is likely far more dangerous than Russia, although amnesia about things like massive penetration of the F-35 program or the OPM hack (which compromised the personnel records of every federal employee) seems to be epidemic.  And it is not as if China does not, and has not, attempted to interfere in US elections.  (Johnny Chung, anybody? Maria Hsia? Buddhist Temples?)

Chairman Xi must be beside himself in glee that the US is tearing itself apart over Russia, a declining power, to the neglect of China, a rising one.

Perhaps Trump could have spared himself some of the attacks had he been more critical–though I am doubtful that he could have done anything short of killing Putin that would have placated the critics.  But no doubt Trump knew that.  No doubt he knew that having a summit at all would put him in a vulnerable situation.  Certainly he was aware that the indictment of the 12 Russian GRU personnel was a trap set by elements in his own Justice Department.

Yet Trump had the summit, and indeed pushed to have it, and said what he did at the press conference, knowing the likely fallout.  Why?

Of course the anti-Trump theory is that he is in Putin’s thrall, either because of genuine admiration or blackmail.  But this does not comport with much of his actual behavior in office, which includes killing hundreds of Russians in Syria, opening declaring an energy war, browbeating Nato to spend more on defense directed at Russia specifically, blasting the Germans about NordStream II, and on and on.  Further, what is the likelihood that there is some deep dark secret that only a few Russians know?

I think the more likely explanation is that Trump deliberately provoked his frenzy in full knowledge of the consequences, to prove that he will not back down, and that he will not validate his critics by acquiescing to their demands.  It was a typically Trumpian in-your-face-what-are-you-gonna-do-about-it moment.

The only other person I have seen with a similar take is James S. Robbins:

The easiest thing to do politically would be to avoid Russia. The president did not have to attend this summit meeting, especially with the midterm elections months away and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s expected report looming. He could have simply avoided both the issue and the optics.

But Donald Trump did not become president by doing the easy or expected thing. His political M.O. is to disrupt the opposition by owning the downside. A summit with Vladimir Putin is the perfect Trumpian way to say to his frantic critics that he couldn’t care less what they think. And it may force some of the more thoughtful ones to begin to consider the possibility that President Trump is right, and the entire Russian collusion narrative has been a lie.

I seriously doubt the last sentence.  Or at least, I doubt that there are any critics who are both frantic and thoughtful (and the former greatly outnumber the latter).  But it is pretty clear that Trump has signaled that this is war to the knife–against his domestic political enemies–and he is not capitulating.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Craig: How do you square your “this is war to the knife–against his domestic political enemies–and he is not capitulating” analysis with today’s “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia'” instead of “why it would” statement from Trump today?

    Comment by Phil Rothman — July 17, 2018 @ 7:59 pm

  2. Would just like to amend that domestic progressives are the greatest “real strategic threat” the US faces.

    They own K-12 and the universities, all the MSM, and most of the monied foundations and NGOs. They are well-organized, propagandize relentlessly and corrosively, are zealous for violence, detest the US, and hate President DJT.

    They have taken over the Democratic party and have transformed it (and the MSM) into a disloyal opposition.

    China is dangerous but manageable. Absent American progressives, Islam is easily defeated.

    But domestic progressives now command a large fraction of the population. They intend subversion. They are a truly mortal threat.

    Comment by Pat Frank — July 17, 2018 @ 8:34 pm

  3. This whole thing got me stymied for the first time in a while. I get what he did with NATO, but I don’t get what he was trying to do with Putin. Was the whole thing necessary at all? I’ve accepted the fact that he trolls the Left. I even enjoy it. But this one didn’t seem to advance anything. I know he’s fighting asymmetric warfare, but wow.

    It looks like he’s spent today digging out of it. I hope he does better next time, frankly. However, I don’t even know what we should do about Russia nowadays anyway except to strangle their energy cash cow. They’ll never leave Crimea and eastern Ukraine is nearly hopeless. I don’t even know what the hell Ukraine could do with it if they got it back. It would bankrupt them (I know, they already are). Russia is fine with where they are until their money dries up. Trump’s shot over the bow about Germany and Gazprom was a good start.

    Comment by Howard Roark — July 17, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

  4. “massive penetration of the F-35 program”: at last, a rational explanation of why the US set out to build such a remarkably lousy aeroplane. It was so that the Chinese would copy it. Those subtle, inscrutable occidentals, eh?

    Comment by dearieme — July 18, 2018 @ 4:04 am

  5. Ask yourself a question if you are an investor? Would you invest in Russia? Would you invest in China? Would you set up shop there as an American company if you could? (China prohibits it unless you have a Chinese escort)

    No rule of law in either country.

    Why are the Germans capitulating to the Russians? If the West wanted to bring Putin down, all they have to do is stop buying his energy. Produce more of it and increase the supply and totally crush the price of fossil fuels.

    What I love about the enemies of Trump is they consistently underestimate his intelligence. The schmucks on the left are used to dealing with a politician. Trump isn’t a politician. He’s a business guy that gets shit done. Maybe he was playing Putin in public and cutting his legs out from under him in private. After all, the policies he has initiated aren’t exactly pro-Putin or Russia.

    Actions speak louder than words.

    Comment by jeff — July 18, 2018 @ 8:28 am

  6. Putin is cunning and looks pretty pleased with himself. But Trump won out in an even murkier world than the KGB, viz. New York real estate. So I wonder who’s the smart one here. It’s said that if you can’t ID the mug at the table, then it’s you. Trump may simply be playing nice with Putin to get at China. (A kind of reverse Nixon, if you like.)

    As that fine political philosopher V I Lenin said: “The capitalists will sell us the rope we’ll trip over.”

    Comment by london calling — July 18, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

  7. It’s sad (but admittedly funny) how the Deep State is going after Russian proponents of 2nd Amendment values.

    Comment by S/O — July 18, 2018 @ 4:42 pm

  8. Note that previous comment got swallowed by spam filter; feel free to delete this one.

    Comment by S/O — July 18, 2018 @ 4:56 pm

  9. Dont worry Pat Frank, Trump has this, the Progs have been unmasked and are right out in the open now.

    They will be destroyed in the mid terms, annihilated.

    Comment by Joe Walker — July 18, 2018 @ 8:59 pm

  10. I think you credit Trump with far too much intelligence and insight – witness his flip-flopping over what he did or didn’t say over the past few days.

    Also, his obsequiousness to Putin was telling. If he’d approached the meeting like he did with almost any other leader of note he’s met over the past 18 months i.e. the boorish American abroad, he might of dispelled many of the criticisms regarding Russia he’s facing. Why so meek? Sheesh, even the Russian media were baffled by his behaviour.

    FYI It was reported that the White House had been consulted by the Justice Dept prior to the indictment of the Russian intelligence officers, save it queer Trump’s upcoming meeting with Putin. The White House reportedly consented to them going ahead on the Friday. So no Justice Dept trap.

    Final point – was Trump actually in the loop during the attack on those Russian mercs in Syria? I seriously doubt it. As you yourself noted, the Russian military washed their hands of them, effectively giving the US military carte blanche to engage. The decision to engage was probably taken by commanders in theatre, the action falling within their RoE.

    Comment by David Mercer — July 19, 2018 @ 4:06 am

  11. The Brennan-et-al group has some sort of agenda regarding Russia.

    They are beside themselves that Putin upset their games in Ukraine and Syria.

    And now the man who pushed them out of the White House is further undermining their games by making nice with that same Putin!

    Having failed with Plan A (install Hillary or at worst ‘Heb Arbusto’ in the White House) they at least find it easy to play their Plan B ‘Trump’s a traitor’ game when the media is content to repeat and amplify their message uncritically.

    Trump must be feeling very confident: what does he have on them, and what cards does he hold, to make him so sure he can beat these swamp creatures, who are masters of the darkest arts and utterly unprincipled and ruthless? I hope it starts getting leaked soon! Popcorn ready.

    Black humour moment: I had to chuckle at Brennan calling someone else a traitor. ‘Dude, WTF??’

    Comment by Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — July 19, 2018 @ 7:37 am

  12. Note that Browder is back lurking around.

    Unfinished business aplenty in the murkier spaces of both the intel and ‘finance’ communities. All beneath the rug; the bought, compromised media won’t tell you about any of it. And Trump is a threat to all of it.

    They can’t get more shrill than they are. What could possibly be next?

    Comment by Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — July 19, 2018 @ 7:56 am

  13. re: “the Brenna group has some sort of agenda”

    Limbaugh continued: “When did the Russians interfere in our elections? Can somebody tell me the year? What year are we talking about? Come on. It’s real simple. What year did the Russians tamper in our elections? What’s the allegation? Very good, 2016. That was the election they tampered in. Who was president in 2016. Barack Hussein O. Who was head of the CIA in 2016? John Brennan. Who was the director national intelligence in 2016? That would be James Clapper. Who was head of the FBI in 2016? Comey. Preceded by Robert Mueller.

    “So now it’s two years later, it’s 2018, and all of those people are blaming who for all of this? Donald Trump. Obama was president. Brennan was at the CIA. Clapper, director national intelligence. Mueller and Comey at the FBI. That’s when the Russians were supposedly meddling and tampering. That’s supposedly where the collusion was going on. They were all in power letting the Russians get away with it. They knew it. Clapper just said Obama tasked us with finding this out. Obama told his cyber chief to stand down when they found out about the Russians meddling. How is any of this Donald Trump’s fault?”

    Limbaugh explained that what’s happening in the United States is part of a plan.

    “If the losers think they were cheated, then you have an ongoing complaint about the electoral system and its integrity, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. The Democrat Party is personally doing more to attack the integrity and honor of our elections than anything Vladimir Putin could have dreamed of while riding around shirtless on one of his horses on the way to one of the oligarchs’ yachts for a Fourth of July fireworks celebration. And that’s just the way it is.”

    Comment by elmer — July 20, 2018 @ 7:53 am

  14. @Global–Brennan is a master of projection. Pretty much anything he says about Trump holds double for him. He’s also pretty ignorant. He butchered a quote from Lincoln’s Lyceum address (1838) to the effect that if America fails, it will not be due to external enemies but internal problems. But worse, he certainly had no idea what Lincoln was talking about–mob rule. So a guy who is rabble rousing on Twitter quotes Lincoln’s criticism of violent rabbles, and has no clue.

    @David–Well, yesterday, it was reported that Trump had extended an invitation to Putin to meet in DC. So, he backtracked on his backtracking.

    As I said the day he was elected–his main attribute is volatility, so it’s good to be long gamma.

    Insofar as the DOJ is concerned–please. What was Trump supposed to do? If he had instructed the DOJ not to proceed with the indictment, that would have been leaked instantaneously, resulting in headlines like “TRUMP DERAILS RUSSIA HACKING INVESTIGATION”, or, “TRUMP INTERFERES WITH DOJ INVESTIGATION OF RUSSIAN ELECTION MEDDLING.” Either way, DOJ plays gotcha. Trump chose the lesser of two evils. So it was a trap. No doubt.

    Please try harder.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 20, 2018 @ 5:53 pm

  15. @elmer–Rush is saying today what I’ve been saying basically since before inauguration day, when the Russia hysteria started.

    They said that Gore was a sore loser. He’s a piker compared to Hillary.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 20, 2018 @ 5:59 pm

  16. @elmer–Further my last, for all of their shrieking, neither Gore nor the Democrats circa 2001-2003 attempted to salve their anger and disappointment by attempting to foment a superpower confrontation.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 20, 2018 @ 6:11 pm

  17. Trump said some things he probably ought not to at Helsinki, but a dampening of tensions with Russia is a good thing to do. Crimea and Ukraine are quite obviously not reason enough to destroy any possibility of good relations – and both sides have tried to influence each other’s domestic politics for years now. What I cannot understand is why people are not more upset at the unethical behaviour of the Democratic leadership that was revealed through the hacking.

    Anyhow, the problem is not what happened at the summit. It is the Democrats’ refusal to accept that they lost the election for whatever reason, and I suspect that there might be some skeletons that their leadership is desperate to hide. (So far, at least, Rand Paul is bang on about who colluded with Russia – the old witch and her husband the sexual predator.) So, as long as the Mueller sham show continues, nothing Trump does will be free from the sort of nonsense that we saw post-Helsinki. The problem is that the Democrats and the insane left (I think the label applies) are seriously damaging the US democratic system, not just hindering the Trump admin, and as someone who deeply admires the US that bothers me a great deal.

    Mueller’s investigation must be brought to a close. It is infecting all the work that the admin is trying to do, and what it was elected to do, and it is undermining public discourse in the US.

    Comment by Ben in Ottawa — July 21, 2018 @ 7:51 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress