Trump's (and Clinton's) Big Mistake(s) On Russia

Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

President-elect Donald Trump has spent so much energy in strenuous gymnastics to avoid acknowledging the Russian hack of the Clinton machine -- which obviously included the leadership of the Democratic National Committee -- that it is downright comical. Indeed, it's that comic opera quality to the incoming regime that I find even more heartening than the hopeful presence of Ivanka Trump. As sinister as Trump too often sounds with his know-nothing, neo-fascist tendencies, he is still the same guy who nearly blew the election to Hillary Clinton's disastrous campaign.

Instead of the constant denials of the Russian role in providing useful cut-out Wikileaks with its material, which Trump finally seems to have dropped after hearing directly from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency -- all of which only served to make the Russian issue bigger -- Trump should have acknowledged the most likely scenario from the beginning. Yes, he should have said, it may well have been the Russians. And then gone on to point out that the release of information was so haphazard, and the information itself largely dismissed by most of the media at the time as not especially consequential, that it was clear there was no truly serious foreign effort to win his election.

Instead, he's reduced to ridiculous misdirection: The Russians didn't hack the actual voting, which no serious person ever claimed they had. And to even more ridiculous bragging: "I won more counties than Ronald Reagan!" Those would be depopulated counties, that is, in the course of losing the popular vote by 3 million votes!

As usual Trump errs in imagining that it all about him, his "brand," and his colossal and fatefully fragile ego.

Obviously the Kremlin was out to do harm to the Clintons, as I noted from the beginning. In July I laid out why.

Russian enmity toward the Clintons goes back more than 20 years, to the scheme during the Bill Clinton administration to expand NATO to the very borders of oft-invaded, then flat on her back post-Soviet Russia. While the even then clueless American media portrayed Bill Clinton as a good friend to then President Boris Yeltsin, I noticed as an advisor to the Dem Russia network that even pro-Western liberal reformers were fed up and disillusioned with the US.

Vladimir Putin, not incidentally, presented himself in those days as being in alignment with such reformers, whom he later of course squashed. Putin had recast his role in life by dramatically resigning from the KGB in the midst of the 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev. It's called getting ahead of the curve.

But when I encountered the future president in the late '90s, he was Yeltsin's new head of the KGB successor agency, the FSB. And his supposed democratic reformer aura was already fading in favor of order and suspicion. (One of Putin's guys accused me of being CIA. I've never been a member of the CIA, and was there in my usual loss-leader/fascinating experience mode.)

Where George W. Bush rather infamously saw the career intelligence officer's "soul" when he looked at Putin's eyes, I saw a blizzard, with kindly old Ded Moroz nowhere in sight.

Putin is certainly not one of us, at least not who we are supposed to be. But America has done and still does, even in our supposedly Augustan Obama era, business with folks who are much more questionable than Vladimir Putin.

Such as the military dictators of Egypt that Hillary Clinton has been all too happy to embrace. That includes the latest one, who overthrew and imprisoned that country's only democratically-elected president and has busily rounded up democratic dissenters.

The Clintons compounded their fundamental error of bear-baiting in the '90s, which only turned most Russians into even more nationalistic types than they naturally were, by doubling down during Hillary Clinton's stint as secretary of state, as I discussed last summer. Certainly the spectacle of Hillary's State Department spokesperson, a veteran Bill Clinton aide now assistant secretary of state for Europe, showing up in Kiev to urge the ouster of Ukraine's Russia-friendly, democratically-elected president made, I'm told, quite an impression on Putin. As did Russian intelligence intercepting the longtime Clinton associate's phone conversations about who should be Ukraine's president once regime change was effected.

Hillary's gloating over the death of old Russian ally Moammar Gadaffi ("We came, we saw, he died") as a result of our backfiring intervention in Libya, as well as her repeated advocacy of much greater intervention in the Syrian civil war -- including a "no-fly zone" over the entire country -- against longtime Russian ally President Assad only furthered Putin's obvious desire to delegitimize any future Clinton administration.

It would be wise to assume that Russia has much more on the Clintons than has been revealed via Wikileaks and its famous proprietor, onetime Russia Today host Julian Assange. After all, Hillary's communication security procedures as secretary of state were really secure only against the American press and public as I noted just before Labor Day after spending more than a year defending Hillary on the e-mail issue. Frankly, Hillary's most sensitive communications would have been safer had I been carrying her personal BlackBerry while falling down drunk in a Tijuana strip club.

It's a very good thing that Hillary's clearly hoped-for new cold war against Russia -- I was in the audience for her $300K UCLA lecture at which she absurdly compared Putin to Adolf Hitler -- was blocked by the advent of Trump.

But Trump looks to be right about Russia, to whatever extent that turns out to be, for the wrong reasons. One can recognize Putin's evident intelligence and sophistication without fanboyishly applauding his authoritarianism.

Now, because of Trump's odd quirks around this, everything he does with Russia -- and there are certain areas in which the two countries can find common ground without compromising core American values and interests -- will be suspect.

But that was our choice in the election just past: A candidate who sounds like a Russian dupe vs. a candidate whose operation was thoroughly penetrated by Russian intelligence. Such is the state of our political culture so far in the 21st century.

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