President Donald Trump just removed any question that might have remained about his foreign policy prowess, while also reviving serious concerns about his attitude toward Moscow.
In an interview with Axios, released on Wednesday, in which he uttered what sounded like a combination of a child s analysis of history and uncle-in-the-attic rantings, Trump confirmed that there is practically nothing that can move him to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.And, as if to underscore the point, the world also learned Wednesday that the Trump administration is moving forward with plans to move 12,000 troops out of Germany, a decision strongly opposed not only by America s NATO allies, but also by Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
The move would "damage US national security as well as strengthen the position of Russia to our detriment," Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee wrote to Trump last month.
The troops are there to defend European allies from Russia. But what about defending American soldiers, who have been getting killed in Afghanistan?
Trump admitted during the Axios interview without equivocation that he has "never" spoken to Putin about reports from US intelligence agencies that Russia has been paying bounties to the Taliban in Afghanistan, to encourage them to kill Americans.
Trump didn t bring it up the last time he talked to Putin, last week, and he didn t bring it up in at least eight phone calls since Trump was reportedly informed of the bounties in his written intelligence briefing in February.
Why not? "Many people said it was fake news," he told Axios reporter Jonathan Swan.
"You don t believe the intelligence?," Swan asked. Trump responded, "Nobody ever brings up China; they always bring Russia, Russia, Russia."
When asked if he reads his written intelligence briefing--the President s Daily Brief -- Trump, who has been boasting of passing a cognitive screening test for early dementia, declared, "I read a lot. I comprehend extraordinarily well, probably better than anyone you ve interviewed in a long time," and added that he goes to a lot of meetings, "talking about India, talking about [the] problems with China... talking about so many elements of the world. The world is a very angry place if you look all over the world. We call up, I get, I see 22 soldiers were killed in India with China fighting over the border; it s been raging for many, many decades and they ve been fighting back and forth, I have so many briefings..."."Swan, to his credit (take note, White House press corps), stuck with the topic. He pointed out that Russia has been supplying weapons to the Taliban. Even if Trump doesn t believe the bounties, the weapons are killing Americans..
Perhaps that was reason enough to bring it up with Putin?
But Trump immediately jumped to Russia s defense. He drew a false equivalency with the Cold War days, when the two systems were confronting each other across the world. "We supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia too," the Commander-in-Chief said, as if to excuse Moscow arming the people killing Americans.
It was reminiscent of Trump s repeated defense of Putin against claims that he was having his critics assassinated. Trump flippantly dismissed it in 2017, with a dig at his own country. "There are a lot of killers. Your think our country s so innocent?"Now, more than three years into the presidency, he provided an eye-poppingly childish (and inaccurate) history lesson. "Russia," he explained, "used to be a thing called the Soviet Union. Because of Afghanistan they went bankrupt. They became Russia, just so you do understand."
From that, he concluded, "the last thing that Russia wants is to get too much involved with Afghanistan."
That may be what Putin taught him, neglecting to explain that Russia would be thrilled to see the US leave Afghanistan, humiliated, with a power vacuum filled by local powers backed by and indebted to Moscow.
By the way, why is Trump talking to Putin so often? Former President Barack Obama spoke to Putin nine times in his last 24 months in office. Trump has spoken to him about as many times in five months.
His talks with world leaders, especially those with Putin, have raised the alarm of people inside the administration.
A CNN investigation that covered months and included interviews more than a dozen administration officials who listened in on the calls, found that Trump was "consistently unprepared," and "often outplayed," particularly by strongmen like Putin, or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Trump believed he was brilliant, according to sources, who said he often pursued goals suitable more to his personal benefit than the country s. Sources said the calls led top officials, including former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former Chief of Staff John Kelly, to conclude Trump was often, "delusional."The mystery of why Trump, normally the bully, turns into a pussycat on all things Putin, will likely be unraveled only after he leaves office. His claims that he has imposed harsh sentences on Russia, incidentally, ignores that Trump did it angrily and reluctantly, when he had no choice.
What is more disturbing, one may wonder after Trump s bonkers statements: a President who speaks -- and perhaps reasons -- in such utterly incoherent terms; one who has such a shallow, inaccurate grasp of world affairs; or one who behaves as if he is beholden to the leader of an adversarial country?
Don t bother choosing. This new interview confirms that Trump is all of the above.