At the moment, it appears that Donald Trump’s attention is focussed on two subjects: his “wall” and the latest installment of the Mueller probe. Nonetheless, in the background, the Trump Administration continues to engage in acts that jeopardize our security; such as lifting sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Imagine that Trump is, in fact, a Russian asset. Does that explain his treacherous behavior?
Russia: It’s generally agreed that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. (Although not everyone agrees that Trump was involved in this meddling.) Trump has never acknowledged this fact; he says he accepts Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere.
Even though Congress has levied sanctions against Russia, the Trump Administration has resisted these. For example, Newsweek reported, “Trump’s administration has neglected for nearly three months to implement required sanctions targeting Russia that were intended to punish Moscow for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom last year.”
National Security Establishment: To an extent not seen in previous Administrations, Trump has disparaged the FBI, Justice Department, CIA, NSA, and the national security establishment, in general. (He called the FBI “a cancer in our country.” As a result, public confidence in the FBI is eroding (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/fbi-support-is-eroding-but-most-americans-still-back-bureau-poll-says ).)
Of course, the U.S. national security establishment is responsible for protecting us from Russian interference in our elections. (By the way, Trump has yet to call for a government-wide investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and seems unfazed by the fact that this interference continues.)
Strategic Alliances: One of Russia’s foreign-policy objectives is to weaken US alliances. When Barack Obama left office, these alliances were strong; two years later they are in disarray. For example, Trump has consistently disparaged NATO. (And, randomly tells his aides to move the U.S. out of NATO (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/us/politics/nato-president-trump.html ).)
As another example, the European Union has been weakened by the pending departure of Great Britain and the rise of right-wing populists. In the latter part of 2018, the Trump Administration downgraded the EU’s diplomatic status ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2019/01/08/the-trump-administration-is-downgrading-the-e-u-s-diplomatic-status-in-washington-thats-going-to-hurt/?).
After Great Britain, the U.S.’s closest ally has been Canada. That’s no longer the case. Trump has disparaged Prime Minister Trudeau and Canada, in general. That’s severely damaged the relationship (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/03/world/canada/trudeau-trump-nafta.html ).
In fact, it’s difficult to think of any strategic relationship that Trump has strengthened — except that with Russia.
National Unity: In order to stand up to a strong adversary, such as Russia, the United States must be unified. But since entering the White House, Trump has been an incredibly divisive figure. The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/wrong-track-public-sours-nation-s-direction-after-shutdown-n963051 ) found that 63 percent of respondents believed that the nation is headed in the wrong direction. (In the same poll, 58 percent do not believe that Trump is “honest and trustworthy.”)
There’s no doubt that trump has fomented racial and ethnic animosity. Many Americans feel that the U.S. is more divided than at any time in recent memory (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/11/01/poll-more-voters-say-media-divide-country-than-trump-952209 ).
National Security Assessment: On Tuesday, January 29, Trump’s Intelligence Chiefs appeared before Congress and Presented a National Security Assessment (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/01/30/us-intelligence-chiefs-de-facto-message-allies-around-world-youre-right-trump-is-wrong/?) that disagreed with Trump’s assertions. For example, while Trump has a benign assessment of Russia, the Intelligence Chiefs reported, “Moscow continues to be a highly capable and effective adversary, integrating cyber espionage, attack, and influence operations to achieve its political and military objectives.”
The Intelligence chiefs also disagreed with Trump on Iran, ISIS, and North Korea. Although Trump insists that immigration across the U.S. southern border is our number one security issue, and demands that a wall be built, this was not mentioned in the National Security Assessment.
On January 30, Trump pushed back against his Intelligence chiefs (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/30/us/politics/trump-intelligence-agencies.html ). He said their assessment was “wrong” and called them “passive and naive.” (This public split between the White House and the Intelligence community was unprecedented.)
Conversations with Putin: Since entering the White House, Trump has had extended conversations with Putin on at least five occasions and has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the record of these conversations from being made public ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-has-concealed-details-of-his-face-to-face-encounters-with-putin-from-senior-officials-in-administration/2019/01/12/65f6686c-1434-11e9-b6ad-9cfd62dbb0a8_story.html?) : “U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader.” (We have no way of knowing if Trump talks to Putin on the phone.)
The Washington Post reports that during the Trump presidential campaign there were, “101 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives [and] the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them.” ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/here-are-18-reasons-why-trump-could-be-a-russian-asset/2019/01/13/45b1b250-174f-11e9-88fe-f9f77a3bcb6c_story.html?)
Summary: As time passes, there’s increasing evidence that Trump has an unsavory relationship with Russia. Given how unpleasant Trump is, it’s easy for those of us on the left to conclude that Donald is a Russian asset. As long as we only talk to each other, this position isn’t a problem. But as soon as we talk to Trump supporters, it raises a big barrier — Trump advocates accuse us of “Trump derangement syndrome” and shut down.
A more measured stance is to say that whether Trump is a Russian asset, or just a “useful fool” being managed by Putin, the results are the same: Donald Trump is a grave national security threat.