President Donald Trump’s refusal to condemn Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has sparked renewed accusations from the usual liberal voices that Vladimir Putin must surely “have dirt” on the president. Leading this chorus was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who tweeted: “Seriously, what does Putin have on Trump that he’s so afraid?”
I’ll confess that I once parroted that same line. I was especially alarmed by reports of the Trump campaign working behind the scenes to ensure the Republican Party platform watered down support for Ukraine, specifically by removing a call to arm Ukrainian government forces in their fight against pro-Russian rebels. That, plus Trump’s refusal to criticize Putin, and my likely overconsumption of Russia-obsessed MSNBC pundits like Rachel Maddow, led me to the superficial conclusion that, to borrow from Shakespeare and my favorite movie “True Romance,” something was rotten in Denmark. Then I gave it some more thought.
Yes, Trump has steadfastly refused to criticize — and has even praised — Putin. But he’s also praised a host of far more brutal dictators and strongmen, from North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to the Islamic fundamentalist monarchs of Saudi Arabia. No one is suggesting any of these leaders “has dirt” on Trump, and besides, the United States has for generations supported some of the world’s most repressive regimes regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat occupies the White House.
More importantly, even a cursory look at Barack Obama’s policies and actions regarding Russia reveals an inarguably more accommodating stance toward Moscow than Trump’s. From the outset, conservatives derided Obama for his ridiculous “reset” button. Recall that during the 2012 presidential campaign Obama mocked Mitt Romney when the latter called Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” Obama scornfully retorted that “the 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” It was also during that campaign that Obama was caught on a hot mic suggestively promising then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to consider and presumably pursue pro-Moscow policies once he got reelected.
Even after Russia’s invasions of George and Crimea, and even after he was informed by U.S. intelligence officials that Russia was interfering in the 2016 election, Obama’s response was very measured. Yes, he expelled 35 Russian diplomats. So did Trump, following the alleged Russian bioweapon attack in Britain earlier this year — although Trump booted 25 more diplomats than Obama. Like Trump, Obama sought to publicly downplay the severity of Russia’s actions, reflecting years of general dismissiveness toward Moscow. Yes, Obama slapped sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its alleged election hacking. So did Trump, who not only upheld the previous administration’s Crimea sanctions but who also upped the ante by imposing strict new sanctions on Russian oligarchs and top government officials, all of them closely tied to Putin, in response to alleged election meddling.
On foreign policy, while it is true that Obama and Clinton infuriated Moscow by provocatively pushing missile “defense” and NATO expansion to include former Soviet republics and other “near abroad” nations, the Trump administration has taken bold if unadvisable steps that have brought the United States closer to war with Russia than it’s been since the Cold War. Where Obama went to great lengths to avoid killing Syrian government troops and infamously reneged on his “red line” threat there, Trump has escalated the war against Islamic State militants to include multiple bombings targeting large numbers of Assad’s troops, and Russians have been killed in combat by U.S. troops in Syria. Trump also blew up the Iran nuclear deal, which both Obama and Russia very much wanted to continue.
Let me be very clear: I am no Trump supporter. A quick Google search of my publishing history will likely infuriate many a reader of this website. But I also did not vote for Hillary Clinton because I could never endorse a blood-soaked corporatist. I proudly cast my vote for Jill Stein and was roundly ridiculed and lambasted, overwhelmingly by Clinton supporters. Like Trump, I’ve been called a “Russian stooge” and worse.
I assure you that Moscow has no dirt on me. There is also no evidence it has any on Trump. A sober and objective examination of his record beside that of his predecessor must surely lead any reasonable observer to conclude that Barack Obama’s policies and actions were more conciliatory toward Russia than Trump’s have been. Yes, I’ve got a gut feeling that something is amiss between Trump and Russia, probably regarding business affairs, if you ask. But nobody’s asking this relative nobody, and gut feelings shouldn’t form the basis of official declarations like Pelosi’s, let alone a well-informed blog post, if one wishes to be taken seriously. For a side that proudly touts its “fact-based” arguments, liberals like Pelosi would do well to look at the facts and ask if maybe it’s not Trump, but rather Obama, that Russia’s got the dirt on. That last bit might sound ridiculous, but so do public proclamations in the absence of facts.
Brett Wilkins is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist and editor-at-large for U.S. news at Digital Journal. His work is archived at www.brettwilkins.com
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.