“You think our country’s so innocent?” President Donald Trump responded with a rhetorical question. Bill (allegedly “no spin”) O’Reilly had challenged the president’s seeming amiability toward Vladimir Vladimirovich (he doesn’t use his middle name) Putin.
O’Reilly then seemed patronizing, he apparently wanted to tutor President Trump: “Putin’s a killer.” Here is the exchange:
O’Reilly: Do you respect Putin?
POTUS: I do respect him.
O’Reilly: Do you? Why?
POTUS: I respect a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world — that’s a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea. It’s very possible. I don’t know.
O’Reilly: He’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer.
POTUS: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What… you think our country’s so innocent?
President Trump could have said, simply: “Bill, President Franklin Roosevelt dealt with Stalin, 50 million, President Richard Nixon dealt with Mao, another 50 million. That’s 100 million, and I don’t mean accidental deaths.”
Putin is playing a strange poker game, and his pile of chips depends on variables like the price of oil. When I was in the former Soviet Union in November 1979 at the time of the Islamist revolution in Iran, the Communists feared its spread to Muslims in the Soviet periphery. Now, nearly forty years later, ironically Putin plays the Iran (fundamentalist) card against the United States. And he seems to have nostalgic attachment to the days when the Soviets were giving MIG fighters to Syria to use against Israel. But the Syrian pilots were not competent. And then years later when Soviet technicians departed, the aircraft that had not been shot down deteriorated to junk. The Soviet forays in the Middle East, beginning with the Aswan Dam and Nasser, always seemed to end in humiliating failure. In the 1967 war, their intelligence service confirmed the Egyptian air force was secure, when it had literally been entirely wiped out by a surprise Israeli attack. The Soviets in the Mideast were literally the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
Yet this same Putin, once an operative in the Jew-hating KGB, has an affinity for Jews and even Israel. And last year Bibi Netanyahu visited Putin in Moscow while Israeli military leaders met with their Soviet counterparts to establish protocols to avoid a Soviet-Israeli clash in the skies over Syria. Who would have thought that an Israeli prime minister would get along better with a Russian leader (“once KGB, always KGB”) in Moscow than with an American President (“hope and change”) in Washington?
Barack (“red line in Syria”) Obama is finally gone.
Perhaps as many as a half million civilians died in Syria, arguably because Sheriff Obama failed to act decisively, early. In Syria, better late than never would not have worked. No matter what your view of the Syrian civil war and whether the U.S. had a stake here, Obama’s policy was incoherent. This also is the same president who encouraged the radical Muslim Brotherhood to take over Egypt, now back in the hands of pro-U.S. leaders, no thanks to him and John Kerry. The Obama-Kerry tag team also refused to support the embryonic uprising in Iran; instead they signed a sell-out nuclear deal, part of Obama’s obsession to elevate Iran, along with Islam.
There is, as they say, a new sheriff in town: President Trump is properly weary of nation building, especially among tribal societies, notably in the contentious Middle East. He does not seek to enforce democracy in this bad neighborhood, where only Israel is, shall we say, Western. But he does not look at sunk costs, only the costs and benefits of the decision at hand. And he has a reputation for hiring good people and following their counsel. Therefore, despite misgivings about the Iraq war, he would have listened to the generals and not have fled Iraq impetuously, effectively creating ISIS.
A pragmatic deal breaker, Donald Trump sees Russia expediently as an ally in the destruction of ISIS. Yet his UN Ambassador Nikki Haley last week publicly took a hard line against Russia’s military adventurism, such as Ukraine. This is Trump’s classic negotiating — good cop/bad cop; he can have it both ways. Trump has shown he wants strong leaders around him, even if, or because they challenge him. He already had enabled Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to operate independently, with Trump then able to validate or demur.
President Trump’s rejoinder to O’Reilly was not, shall we say, a killer response. Credit the president for his blunt, signature authenticity. Many will applaud his candor. Yes, the United States has “killed” people, through its operatives and subcontractors abroad or sublets to foreign services. And there are the drones that Obama used promiscuously to “murder” terrorists, rather than take them to Guantanamo for enhanced interrogation that might yield useful information. But the waterboarding would be “torture” (it is not), so we kill them to avoid torturing them.
Anyway, let’s not miss the point — prudence would have dictated that President Donald Trump give some variation of the Stalin/Mao response.
Here’s why. The Left inculcates moral relativism: no culture is better than another. We can’t judge Islamists stoning a woman to death because she dated a man; after all, some women lawyers in big law firms in the U.S. may make less than their male counterparts. How can we condemn Islamists for throwing homosexuals off a roof, when we might allow a religious baker to follow his conscience and refuse a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage? Multiculturalism and diversity require us, then, to eschew value judgments; we’re no better, who are we to judge?
President Trump implied precisely the moral equivalency that the Left proclaims, that there are no Good Guys and Bad Guys, that we’re all equally immoral and violent. This is the way the Left, for example, depicts an Israeli attack on terrorists, the “cycle of violence” that depreciates the virtue and necessity of self-defense.
Unintentionally, the president has gone back to the future, notably Barack Obama’s rejection of American exceptionalism. But in his heart he knows for sure — We are the Good Guys.
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