In 2008, we all had a lot of fun with Sarah Palin’s dippy argument that she knew about Putin and Russia because of geographic proximity. It was Tina Fey’s Palin who said “I can see Russia from my house” but it might as well have been the real deal. She *could* have said it, after all.
We return to the scene of the Crimea in 2016. Donald Trump has never said he’s seen Russia from his Trump branded plane or helicopter but he maintained that he’d met Putin for years until changing his story. He’s threatened to turn NATO into a protection racket and withdraw support from the Baltic states if they don’t pay up when Paulie Walnuts comes to collect. He’s urged Russia to hack into his opponent’s computer servers and forgotten or never knew that Russia seized the Crimea in 2014. He’s back tracked on the latter two comments but the flow of gaffes has continued unabated.
Josh Marshall has been all over Trump’s ties to Russia for months now. Here’s an excerpt from a post from 8/2:
Since Trump’s worldview is rooted in dominance, he is incapable of seeing international treaties or security alliances as anything other than protection rackets. He seems inclined to act on that notion. He’s also surrounded by people who have a pro-Putin orientation, which is in turn cemented by money. He has deep financial ties to Russians who’ve invested in his various business ventures. All of this might not be quite so worrisome if Trump had well-formed and half-reasonable foreign policy views or advisors with the same. But again, over the weekend he wasn’t aware that Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula two years ago. He wasn’t clear that Russia is already operating, half by proxies, half not, in eastern Ukraine. And this is a country where his top advisor worked for years and an issue that has come up a number of times in the campaign.
This is just an illustration of what should be obvious: Trump knows virtually nothing about the issues he would be called on to contend with as President. He is not only ignorant, he is militantly ignorant. So he has extensive financial ties to Russia, a curiously fawning attitude toward Putin, a mix of at best shady advisors who have long histories of pro-Putin orientations and a character defect which makes him gravitate toward attacking friends/allies as much or more than actual enemies. You don’t have to think Trump is a Russian agent or that Putin controls him financially (I think neither) to find this a highly ominous confluence of realities.
There’s some dispute over who coined the term useful idiot, the smart money is on Lenin, but it could have been his sidekick and successor Stalin or somebody the latter had whacked. It is, however, of Russian origin and that’s what Trump is to his little buddy Putin: a useful idiot. He admires the Russian dictator and advanced his cause in the Republican platform. In turn, Putin looks favorably upon the Trump candidacy, which is what he does. He backs right-wing nationalist candidates in Western democracies to sow chaos and confusion; most notably in France with the Le Pen’s National Front party.
The term unwitting agent (I prefer dupe because it’s more insulting) popped up in a NYT op-ed endorsing Hillary Clinton by former CIA big shot Michael Morell:
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.
In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.
In short, the con man has gotten conned by a more accomplished grifter. If Trump ever figures out that he’s been had, he’ll turn on Putin big time. I guess I should answer the post title’s rhetorical question at this point: Useful Idiot or Unwitting Dupe? The answer is both. It’s what happens when an ignorant narcissist thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. As a candidate, the Insult Comedian has turned out to be a useless idiot for the GOP.
It’s a good thing that he won’t be in a position to go to war with Russia over being played for a sucker by Putin. Repeat after me: Donald Trump will not be the first Insult Comedian elected President.