Wednesday, December 14th, 2016...10:17 am

Editorial: Did Russia stage a coup d’état?

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There now seems to be more to the bromance between President-elect Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation.

Last week, the Central Intelligence Agency reported to lawmakers that the Russian government hacked Democratic Party computer systems, and made documents available to WikiLeaks, in an attempt to harm Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning the election.

A man wears his support for Donald Trump on his kipa at Trump’s election night event in New York City. The C.I.A. reported to lawmakers last week that hackers working on behalf of the Russian government tried to tip the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“The C.I.A.’s conclusion does not appear to be the product of specific new intelligence obtained since the election, several American officials, including some who had read the agency’s briefing, said on Sunday,” according to the New York Times. “Rather, it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments — that the Russians put a thumb on the scale for Mr. Trump, and got their desired outcome.”

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump expressed his admiration for Putin, while deriding Pres. Barack Obama.

“I’ve already said he is very much of a leader. The man has very strong control over his country,” said Trump, regarding the Russian ruler, at a national security forum this past September.

“You can say, ‘Oh, isn’t that a terrible thing,’ I mean, the man has very strong control over his country. Now it’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system, but certainly in that system he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”

Of course, Trump does not buy the C.I.A.’s conclusions about Russian hacking the Democrats to aid his presidential campaign. And Trump’s conflict with the C.I.A. has sparked controversy in the press about how exactly he will negotiate relations with U.S. intelligence agencies during his presidency. The president-elect has derided these agencies, and suggested that their reports have been skewed to advance certain political agendas — for example, the faulty intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, in the run-up to the U.S.-led Iraq War, in 2003.

(Trump also expressed disdain for the daily presidential intelligence briefing. He told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace: “You know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years — but eight years. I don’t need that.”)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Trump emerged as an ignoramus in the area of foreign affairs during the presidential campaign. His freestyle analysis of global crises was often incoherent, or he was plainly confused about who was who and what was what. Readers might recall that Trump said he would know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah “at the appropriate time.”

In a July 31 interview with George Stephanopoulos, Trump asserted that Putin was “not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?” Stephanopoulos replied that Russia had already gone into Ukraine; Russian-backed separatist rebels took the Ukrainian city of Donetsk; shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, killing 298 passengers and crew members; and Russia annexed Crimea.

You could fill a large book with all that Trump doesn’t know about the world beyond his gilded apartment on Fifth Avenue. If anybody needs remedial help in the area of foreign developments that impact our national security, it is Donald Trump. However, there is no reason to hope that he will realize the limits of his knowledge and apply himself to the issues. He’s not that guy.

Getting back to what appears to be a Russian stealth coup, Tony Schwartz, who wrote Trump’s best-selling business book The Art of the Deal, and has been sounding the warning about the real estate developer’s lack of fitness for the presidency, tweeted last week: “I have said many times that Trump is deeply attracted to authoritarian strongmen like Putin. This is a nightmare scenario for ALL Americans.”

Further evidence of how Russia has exerted its influence on the U.S. government in formation, apart from Putin’s cheerleader-in-chief, can be seen in some of Trump’s key nominations for executive posts.

For example, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security advisor, was paid for a speech by RT, the Kremlin-run Russian Television. Flynn also was seated next to Putin at a dinner in Moscow; he told the Washington Post that he learned that “Putin has no respect for the United States leadership.”

And then there is Rex Tillerson, CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil, who is actually admired by Putin, to the extent that the Russian leader presented him with the “Order of Friendship” medal, in 2013. This week Trump named Tillerson as his choice for secretary of state, the nation’s top diplomatic post, although the oil man has no diplomatic or government experience.

On Tuesday, the New York Times published an editorial deploring the choice of Tillerson, and that of John Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations under Pres. George W. Bush, for deputy secretary of state.

In reference to Tillerson, the Times editorial page writers asked, “Why would Mr. Trump choose as his top diplomat a man whose every decision or action would be tainted by suspicion that he’s capitulating to Russian interests or those of the oil industry, having spent his entire career at Exxon Mobil?

“Mr. Trump seems impervious to ethical standards. By naming Mr. Tillerson, he risks burdening his administration with another appointee likely to ensure endless controversy.

“Mr. Tillerson has no background in diplomacy beyond corporate deal making. And his relationship with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s authoritarian leader, raises serious questions about whether he could manage Russia policy in a way that advances America’s national interests.”

On Tuesday, JTA reported that Tillerson will face a “tough nomination fight” because of his relationship with Putin: “Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told NPR on Tuesday that he was withholding judgment on Tillerson. Calling Putin a ‘thug’ for his expansionism in Ukraine and his human rights abuses, McCain, who will be key to getting Tillerson confirmed, said in the interview, ‘Did he ever raise those issues with Mr. Putin? Is it strictly business?’”

The JTA story also noted, vis-à-vis Tillerson’s nomination, that multinational oil companies “have in the past clashed with the pro-Israel lobby, in the 1970s over the Arab boycott of Israel and in the 1990s over the imposition of sanctions on Iran.”

And it should be mentioned that other Trump advisers — including Carter Page and Paul Manafort — have had business dealings in Russia. Putin must be pleased with the shape of the incoming Trump administration. He really hated Hillary Clinton, and America is going his way.

Pres. Obama and congressional committees will be investigating the C.I.A. report on Russian hacking of the Democrats. In the meantime, we all should be vigilant about the horrific news coming out of Trump Tower on a daily basis. The Trump team is preparing an assault on the social safety net, the environment, women’s rights, civil rights and on the lives of undocumented immigrants to this country. Trump’s generals also might like to start a war pretty soon.

The news is grim, but we still have the Festival of Lights to cheer us up. Enjoy your latkes with sour cream and applesauce, according to your taste.

The editors and staff of the American Jewish World wish all of our readers a Happy Hanuka.

— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com

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