Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Trump: Putin's Useful Fool

Like many others, I have been following tbe Trump-Russia story since last summer. There is still much that isn't known. However, the story just won't go away, despite the efforts of tbe Trump administration and Republicans on Capitol Hill to ignore it or bury it.

Most recently, it has been resurrected by a series of leaks from the intelligence community. These resulted in public reports that portions of the Steele dossier have been verified (though none specifically involving Trump), that national security advisor Michael Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador Kislyak before Inauguration day (culminating in Flynn's resignation) and that Trump associates Paul Manafort, Felix Sater and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a pro-Putin Ukranian legislator have hatched a Russian-Ukranian "peace plan" favorable to Putin.

In an effort to understand the story better, I recently read a book about it published last fall by career intelligence officer Malcolm Nance. He reached a similar conclusion (probably due to similar backgrounds and information) to those reached by former CIA head Michael Hayden in a Washington Post op-ed last fall.

Perhaps some of this is explained by the murky ties of some on team Trump to things Russian. There is certainly a history there, and perhaps a comfort level as well.
Former campaign manager Paul Manafort did consulting work for the now-discredited but decidedly pro-Russian regime of Viktor Yanokovych in Ukraine, and recent revelations in Kiev have stoked questions about whether Manafort should have registered here as working on behalf of a foreign power.
Manafort denies any role in July’s successful effort to suppress a Republican platform pledge to provide lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainians in their continuing battle against separatists and the Russian army. Although it’s clear that the suppression was initiated by Trump staffers, Trump has denied any personal responsibility for it. The whole episode was too quickly forgotten; it begs explanation.
Then there’s Carter Page, an adviser with intermittent contacts with the campaign, but with deep ties to Russian money, oil and gas, who has blamed aggressive Western policies for the mess in the Ukraine and what he describes as the “so-called annexation of Crimea.” So-called?
And what about the money? Although Trump has said, “I have zero investments in Russia,” his son Donald Jr. conceded in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets . . . we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Absent more detailed data (such as tax returns), who knows?
We have really never seen anything like this. Former acting CIA director Michael Morell says that Putin has cleverly recruited Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.
I’d prefer another term drawn from the arcana of the Soviet era: polezni durak. That’s the useful fool, some naif, manipulated by Moscow, secretly held in contempt, but whose blind support is happily accepted and exploited.
That’s a pretty harsh term, and Trump supporters will no doubt be offended. But, frankly, it’s the most benign interpretation of all this that I can come up with right now.
Nance reports that Trump has probably been cultivated over a period of years (as the Steele dossier alleges) as an unwitting Russian agent through techniques summed up with the acronym MICE. M is for money, which Trump was short of in the early 2000's after a series of bankruptcies. No American banks would provide financing for Trump's business ventures. Enter financing from Russian oligarchs in a number of Trump's real estate deals as summed up by his son's quote in the Hayden op-ed.
I is for ideology. As Hayden and Nance both point out, there is a strong ideological fit between Putin (and other authoritarian political figures) and Trump according to Trump's many public statements.
C is for coercion or compromise. Salacious bits of the Steele dossier allege this between Trump and Russia, none if which is proven. Even if none of this exists, the other three parts of the acronym seem very strong in their own right.
E is for ego. Putin has been very complimentary, stroking the Donald at every oppportunity. Putin apparently rolled out the red carpet in a big way when Trump the wanna-be oligarch took the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013. Trump seems to lap that up. Putin has used flattery to play Trump masterfully.

KGB defector Yuri Bezmenev has been a rich source of information for US intelligence on Russian intelligence practices. He describes what the Russians look for in a potential asset as follows:

"Ego-centric people who lack moral priciples--people who are too greedy or who suffer from exaggerated self-importance. These are the people the KGB wants and finds easiest to recruit."
Who does that sound like?

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