Monday, March 12, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He gave the Putin regime a much-needed propaganda victory.

Both the United States and British governments issued statements today on the nerve gas attack carried out in Salisbury, England against Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal. The elder Skripal is a former Russian intelligence officer who spied for Britain and later moved to the UK as part of a spy exchange. The agent used was developed by the Russian military and left both Skripals and a policeman who helped them in critical condition.

Speaking for an irate Parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May said the attack was typical of "Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations" and that "Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations." She said that "This was not just a crime against the Skripals, it was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk." 

By contrast, the Trump administration went out of its way to avoid specifically accusing the Putin regime of having carried out the murder. At today's press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders expressed sympathy for the victims of the nerve gas attack but ignored a question about whether the United States agreed with Britain's assessment that Russia was behind it. Repeated follow-up attempts to get her to address the question of Russia's culpability were no more successful.
Q: So you’re not saying that Russia was behind this act?

SANDERS: Right now, we are standing with our UK ally. I think they’re still working through even some of the details of that. And we’re going to continue to work with the UK, and we certainly stand with them throughout this process.

Q: Theresa May said it was either Russia using it themselves or that it had given its chemical weapons to a third party to murder a British citizen, the latter being highly unlikely, given the nature of this weapon. So —

MS. SANDERS: Like I just said, Zeke, we stand with our ally.
Russian media immediately seized on the Trump administration's refusal to blame Russia for the attack as evidence of its innocence. 

Later in the day, after the Trump Administration's failure to support the British government became a diplomatic problem in and of itself, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a different statement in which he promised "a response," although no details about the nature of that response were given. (UPDATE, 3/13: it now seems likely that making such a direct statement against the Putin regime is part of why Trump so abruptly fired Tillerson this morning.)

To date, Trump has refused to impose legally mandated sanctions on Russia for its attack on the integrity the 2016 elections.

Why is this a problem?

  • A president who cannot bring himself to speak out against an attack on a close military ally is unfit for office.
  • A president who can't bring himself to ever speak out against a particular hostile foreign power is either compromised or fatally weak.