Guest Opinion: The Trump-Putin affair is doomed

​Chicago Tribune
July 29
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All the talk of a Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin bromance has been pretty hard to stomach. Two self-aggrandizers with a penchant for intolerance and boorish behavior. Spasibo, nyet. And if the courtship of Vlad and Donald isn’t enough of an eye-roller, consider Contestant No. 3 in this Dating Game: Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Putin-Trump-Assange: Cue theme music to “Three’s Company.”

It’s a triad armed with untold bombast capability, and its connective tissue is a common enemy: Hillary Clinton. Trump’s opponent in the presidential election won’t be Putin’s vodka partner any time soon. Unlike George W. Bush, we haven’t looked into Putin’s eyes and seen his soul, so we can’t be sure what he thinks about a Hillary presidency. But we do know Russia’s Kremlin-controlled media churn out anti-Hillary messages by the bales. Commentary in one Russian pro-government tabloid, Komsolmolskaya Pravda, called the prospect of Clinton in the Oval Office “insanity, a deadly danger to all of humanity, which could threaten the very existence of our civilization.”

Hillary is just as radioactive for Assange. She hails from an administration that has been investigating him on espionage allegations stemming from an unauthorized release of classified information to WikiLeaks in 2010. In February, he wrote on WikiLeaks that “Hillary lacks judgment and will push the United States into endless, stupid wars which spread terrorism.”

So it’s no surprise that all three are central characters in the latest email scandal, the batch pilfered from Democratic National Committee computers and diverted to Assange’s WikiLeaks. Some of the emails suggest the DNC favored Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during the primaries. Democrats accuse Russia of hacking into the DNC in an attempt to meddle in the presidential campaign in Trump’s favor. Cyberexperts have also said they believe Russian intelligence agents are behind the hack, but that hasn’t been proved.

Assange is no fan of Trump, either. Asked by a British interviewer his preference between Trump and Clinton, Assange replied, “You’re asking me do I prefer cholera or gonorrhea? Personally, I’d prefer neither.” But he certainly has reasons to look upon Putin favorably. It was one of the Kremlin’s pet propaganda projects, the English-language, state-run Russia Today television network, that gave Assange airtime for a 10-part talk show series in 2012.

We’re not that worried about the Trump-Putin-Assange triad — common nemesis, but in the end, different agendas, different playbooks. What concerns us is the bromance.

Trump has made it increasingly clear that as president he would view Russia and Putin far differently than Obama, Clinton or even the rest of the Republican Party have. Putin’s commandeering of parts of Eastern Ukraine has made NATO more relevant than ever. Yet Trump has suggested he would condition coming to the defense of other NATO allies on whether they meet the alliance’s defense spending requisites — 2 percent of a member nation’s gross national product. The Kremlin sees NATO as one of the biggest threats to Russian security, and Trump’s stance plays perfectly into Putin’s playbook.

Trump has taken his flirtations with the Kremlin a step further, encouraging Russia to hack into Clinton’s emails in order to hurt her chances — in effect daring an adversarial nation to violate American law by breaking into a private computer network and committing cyberspying on the U.S. Trump now says he was being off-handed and sarcastic. Was he also riffing when, at the same press conference, he said he would consider recognizing Crimea as Russian territory? Does he disagree with the U.S., the Western world and his own Republican Party that the annexation amounted to an illegal seizure of another country’s territory?

It’s becoming clearer that a Trump White House could take a friendlier tack with Putin’s Kremlin. Trump has spoken admiringly of Putin, and has said that if elected, he would want to “get along with Russia.” It’s a tack that likely would backfire, and the consequences could prove disastrous. Putin has crafted a reputation as a ruthless pragmatist. Allies who no longer remain useful quickly morph into enemies. And his only rule is, there are no rules.

But Trump could end up being red meat for a Kremlin that, in many ways, has recoiled into a Cold War-like mindset. And there’s nothing sarcastic or off-handed about that.