An American presidential candidate has offered an open invitation to a foreign government to conduct cyber espionage operations against a former Secretary of State. Let that sink in before identifying the actors involved because it's not the plot of a Netflix political thriller.
That candidate is Donald Trump. The foreign government is Russia, a country with whom the U.S. has a tenuous relationship. And the former Secretary of State is, of course, his political rival, Hillary Clinton, whose email scandal raised alarm about the possibility that sensitive national security secrets could have been compromised. So what exactly did Trump do? He explicitly invited Russia to breach American national security to spite his opponent. The irony is sensational.
The danger and thoughtlessness of such an invitation cannot possibly be overstated. Warming relations with Russia is fine. Opening personal channels of communication with Putin is fine. Encouraging the Kremlin to hack an American official's emails is not fine. At all. Ever.
This is not to pardon Clinton's mistakes. She was in fact careless in the handling of email. But the levels of culpability between Clinton and Trump are incomparable. Using a private email server for official duties and deleting emails is irresponsible. Cheering for a foreign government to hack and potentially compromise state secrets is treasonous.
And this comes on the heels of a number of alarming statements equivocating on the American commitment to NATO. Foreign policy experts were shocked when Trump openly declared that, under his presidency, the U.S. might not come to the defense of some NATO allies. Even if it is time for America to reconsider its role in NATO, it is imprudent and tactless to make such a claim publicly at a time when Russia has assumed an offensive posture.
If it wasn't obvious already, these developments regarding Russia and NATO reveal that Donald Trump is stunningly uninformed on foreign policy, wholly oblivious to geopolitics, and either ill-advised or unadvisable. When Mike Pence, Trump's VP running mate, spoke at the Republican National Convention, he warned against "four more years of apologizing to our enemies and abandoning our friends." Whether this actually captures Obama's foreign policy is dubious, but not the point.
Trump is going well beyond apologizing to enemies and abandoning friends. He has threatened to forsake an alliance that the United States has worked tirelessly to uphold under both Democratic and Republican administrations. NATO has been a critical partner in American counterterrorism operations, including the War in Afghanistan, and still acts as a counterbalance to Russia, particularly in light of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Trump's is the most blatant, preemptive call to "abandon allies" in recent memory. In so doing, and coupled with his support for Russian cyber espionage, he is going much further than apologizing to an enemy. He is encouraging Russia to compromise American national security at a time when the Kremlin is challenging U.S. interests.
Any American who finds Trump's invitation to Russia acceptable is in a state of denial. If any U.S. politician, Republican or Democrat, called on a foreign government to hack into emails tied to the State Department, it would be an epic scandal. And it should be. Let's not pretend that this is just another silly Trumpism or allow him and his surrogates to absolve him on the grounds of defying "political correctness" or analogizing it Nixon's opening to China. Both would be comically off base. What Trump did is unacceptable and subversive, and it displays him as nothing short of a reckless, duplicitous, unqualified candidate who is a better fit for a mediocre TV drama.