There is an expression that Russian operatives have for describing human assets who don’t grasp all the assistance they’re providing Russia and don’t recognize that they are being valuable assets for Russia. It’s “Useful idiot.”
The Republican Party is full of “Useful idiots” these days, from Ron Johnson, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham on down through all those in the GOP who have been supporting the insurrection to overthrow democracy, whether party officials or just members.
But a troika of “Useful idiots” reared their heads the last few days, lead by Trump, as always, while Russian openly prepared to invade a democratic nation against all international law. And now has done so.
This will be long. As long as it is, it is also much shorter than what I want to write and is flowing out of my fingertips. Because this deserves to be long. And everything about it, from all people writing and talking on the subject, deserves to be remembered. Eternally.
We know that Trump has been lovingly supporting Vladmir Putin since his “Russia, if you’re listening…” plea for them to hack U.S. government servers when he ran for president in 2016, as well as his insertion into the 2016 GOP platform of Putin’s wish list that the U.S. wouldn’t supply any weapons to Ukraine (which wasn’t changed in 2020)– and through his infamous Helsinki defense of Putin, saying that he trusted what the autocratic Russian dictator told him and didn’t trust all the U.S. intelligence service – and beyond, including his continual failed-efforts to achieve one of the top items on Putin’s wish list, dismantling NATO. But Trump may have reached on Tuesday when he gave a full-throated love fest to Putin on the eve of Russia’s attack to bring down a democracy.
Keep in mind that Trump is no longer president. That we are dealing with foreign affairs. That there is a war involved. And there is citizen Trump trying to undermine the U.S. president in this foreign war on behalf of the autocratic dictator of one of his longest enemies.
I’m tempted to pull out the highlights of Trump’s comments because that would make the worst things he said stand out even more. But I think that reading his words in full give an even better sense of how near-treasonous this “Useful Idiot” was in his breathtaking treachery. With Russia poised to invade a democratic nation. As if he’s a lovestruck teenager in the Spring, letting the words in his heart pour out and unable to stop the flow of adoration.
Speaking to a conservative podcaster, and keep in mind that now, Russian tanks are rolling into Ukraine, heading for the capital and major cities, bombs falling, 137 dead and over 316 injured after just the first hours, with tens of thousands (if not hundred thousand or more) expected dead, overtaking electric power plants and nuclear power centers, Trump said –
"I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, 'This is genius.' Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,.
"So, Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, 'How smart is that?' And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force….We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re going to keep peace, all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy.
“I know him very well. Very, very well. By the way, this never would have happened with us. Had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened.
“But here’s a guy that says, you know, ‘I’m gonna to declare a big portion of Ukraine independent, he used the word ‘independent,’ – ‘and we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna keep peace.’ You gotta say that’s pretty savvy. And you know what the response was from Biden? There was no response. They didn’t have one for that. No, it’s very sad. Very sad. I knew Putin very well. I got along with him great. He liked me. I liked him. I mean, you know, he’s a tough cookie, got a lot of the great charm and a lot of pride. But the way he — and he loves his country, you know? He loves his country."
Words like “genius,” “savvy,” “smart,” “I liked him” and “We could use that on our southern border” leap out, of course. But there’s so much here that’s transcends sick and enters the world of delusional.
That delusion comes when he says – and I suspect he believes it -- “This never would have happened with us. Had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened.” And he says this while not only saying in total support how “genius” and “savvy” it was of Putin to do, but says that he wishes he himself had done it, on the Mexican border! Not only would Putin have done it if Trump had been re-elected, Trump opened the door for this to happen – making it the 2016 and 2020 GOP platforms not to arm Ukraine, shredding our NATO alliances, trying to extort Ukraine president Zelensky, withholding almost $400 million of Congress-approved aid to Ukraine and more. All the while saying he wishes we’d done the same thing at the Mexican border. Not have happened if Trump was still in office?? Of course Putin would have done it, he’s been waiting 20 years to do it! He even said so in his speech! And knowing how Trump had splintered NATO whose leaders mostly hated him, and wouldn't ever unite to sanction and act against Putin like they are now, Putin not only have done it, he would have Kalinka-danced in while thumbing his nose at the U.S. -- and then invited Trump to tea, and Trump would have gone. But there is the mad, delusional, demented Trump playing the “Useful idiot” with a “Kick me!” sign taped to his back.
And for Trump to think that “He loves his country” is an excuse for illegally invading a democratic nation is just so mind-numbing, but pure Trump. Of course Putin “loves his country” – it’s just everyone else in the West he hates. Hitler loved his country, that’s one reason he tried to take over the world and exterminate those he hated. Trump creepily hugs the American flag and tries to say how much he too loves his country. He just doesn’t understand it. And hates all those who oppose him.
But the worst thing about Trump’s Putin Love speech is not what we heard…but rather what Russia will heard. Because as political analyst Ben Rhodes said later that day -- you know they are playing Trump’s quote all over Russian media. Hearing the former American president defending the Russian dictator as a “genius,” “savvy” and “smart” for invading Ukraine on a supposed “peacekeeping” mission – such a brilliant plan that Trump wishes he could have done it, too. And they’ll play it over and over and over.
More on this in a moment. But first –
Let’s go to the next “Useful idiot” in the troika. That would be former Secretary of State under Trump, and no-chance presidential hopeful Mike Pompeo. Just to refresh your memory, he’s the guy who posed for pictures with the co-founder of the Afghanistan Taliban before helping hand over the country to him with pretty much no concessions.
Pompeo actually has a long history of adoring Putin Praise.
Last month, on Fox “News,” for instance, he said about Putin that "He is a very talented statesman. He has lots of gifts. He was a KGB agent, for goodness sakes. He knows how to use power. We should respect that."
Because, yeah, being a KGB agent – for goodness sake (though, as Mae West’s line goes, goodness had nothing to do with it). And when a brutal dictator’s “knowing how to use power” manifests itself by imprisoning his enemies, killing journalists, stamping out democracy, subjugating his people reason and repeatedly invading other countries, that’s not why he should be respected. It’s why he’s an vicious enemy and should be guarded against. Those aren’t “gifts,” those are abilities. And killing and jailing those who oppose you, and continuing to start wars is not being a “statesman.” And fun fact: all autocratic dictators know how to use power – Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-Un, Erdogan, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Pinochet, Mussolini, Franco, Genghis Khan…
And then just last week on February 18, as Russian troops were amassing at the Ukraine border, with U.S. intelligence saying an invasion was imminent, Pompeo said of Putin that he was "Very shrewd, very capable. I have enormous respect for him – I've been criticized for saying that. No, I have enormous respect for him."
Well…yes, he was criticized for saying that. Because Putin is an autocratic dictator who kills his enemies and was at the time on the verge of invading a democratic nation.
By the way, it’s not just liberals and the non-far right who think this about Putin. Even George B. Bushes’ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called Putin "megalomaniacal." But not Mike Pompeo – he thinks Putin has gifts, is a statesman, knows how to use power and respects him – for goodness sake.
Oh, and you know that how, “Just because he says it here doesn’t mean it will stay here, because the footage of it will likely end up on Russian state TV” thing? Here’s former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying all those wonderful things about Vladimir Putin’s gifts, for goodness sake, on Russian state TV, for goodness sake, with the translation underneath. As Russia invades democratic Ukraine – for goodness sake.
Which brings us to the third member of the GOP troika, Tucker Carlson.
I tend to try not to use snarky nicknames for people. But I must admit, sometimes those nicknames fit like the most elegant glove. And when national security expert Malcolm Nance said that many people in his field now refer to Tucker Carlson as “Tuckyo Rose” – it fits much too well.
Carlson has long been at the autocratic forefront and supporting Putin and Russia, but he really outdid himself this week on Tuesday when it presented his inexplicable, even by Carlson standards, ghastly love letter to Vladmir Putin. Keep in mind, he said this as Putin had send massive Russian troops to the Ukraine border on the verge of invading democratic Ukraine…the very next day. And so Tucker Carlson what it was about liberals that made them hate an autocratic dictator trying to overthrow a democratic country –
“It may be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked my business and kept me indoors for two years?
"Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination? Is he making fentanyl? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity? Does he eat dogs?”
In reality, no, that’s not the question which may be worth asking. The actual question is why do Tucker Carlson and far-right Republicans want you to support autocratic Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, who is invading a democratic country and trying to overthrow its government and freedom in Ukraine?
That Tucker Carlson wants you to think that because an autocratic despot didn’t do a grocery list of minor problems – like name-calling or merely threatening that someone should be fired – means they’re off the hook for all the ghastly things they did do is infantile and intentionally deceptive. “Well, yeah, Ted Bundy killed all those women…but he didn’t call me a racist!”
What Carlson conveniently leaves out is Putin killing his opponents, suppressing freedom and invading a democratic nation. (And by the way, as for “What did he ever do to meeeee?,” if Tucker Carlson was Russian and kept saying something on TV that Putin didn’t like – not likely, I know, but if – Putin might have him killed.)
I will guess that "eat dogs" is Tucker Carlson’s idea of humor. Which explains him wearing that bow tie for all those years.
And by the way, change the name for a moment of the person saying all those meaningless, childish, insignificant things Vladimir Putin didn’t do him or her personally which is why you too should love the murderous despot. Instead of Tucker Carlson, put in the name "Barack Obama" or "Joe Biden" or "Nancy Pelosi" or "Hillary Clinton" explaining why you should like Vladimir Putin as he was invading a democratic, freedom-loving nation. Imagine the HORRIFIED OUTAGE from Fox "News."
Keep in mind that once upon a time Republicans were twisted in knots by anyone even semi-liberal saying something remotely half-positive about Russia. They were branded "Commies" and "Reds" by Republicans and actually, quite-literally blacklisted. Some even jailed. Republicans were the party of Joe McCarthy. The party mantra was "Better dead than Red" -- for goodness sake. In fact, this isn’t just history: Democrats are still regularly called "socialists" by the GOP. Yet here is this on Fox "News."
Oh, and back to that whole, “Just because he says it here doesn’t mean it will stay here, because the footage of it will likely end up on Russian state TV” thing, here is the video of Tucker Carlson praising Vladimir shown again on…yes, Russian state TV, with Russian subtitles.
Again, horrible as all these quotes from the Trump-Pompeo-Carlson troika and more, it’s Trump who stands out above them all. Because this perspective has to be continually kept in mind – this is a former president, criticizing U.S. foreign policy against out top adversary during a time of war when a democratic nation was being invaded.
Republicans hated FDR. And before WWII broke out, there were a few on the far-right actually defending Hitler. But not many, even as much as they hated FDR. And once war did break out, while there might have been disagreements on the running of the war, there weren’t leading GOP voices praising Hitler and the Nazis over the American president. No, we’re not at war. We’re just at the center of trying to stop one.
There’s even more perspective that must be remembered. Trump was impeached for trying to extort President Zelensky of Ukraine – and held up sending $391 million in defense aid to Ukraine that Congress had approved. And Trump continually tried to break up NATO – which today, thanks to President Biden’s leadership, is intensely united and the frontline guard against Putin’s war, united in its massive sanctions, all without hopefully having to fire a shot.
By the way, a few weeks ago, I wrote that it could be great if the White House declassified and released the transcript of Trump's phone call to extort Ukraine President Zelensky, which is what got Trump impeached (the first time). A call in which he threatened to withhold that $391 million in defensive security aid from Ukraine authorized by Congress unless Ukraine did him a favor, “though.” Now, might be an especially-good time to do so...
But like Most Things Trump, this isn’t really about Trump or even the troika. We know who they are. This is about the attacks on the U.S. president by some Republican leaders as if he was the one at wrong here, rather than the autocratic dictator who invaded a democratic nation. And it’s about the greater silence by Republican members of Congress who have ignored Trump calling Putin "genius" and "savvy," a silence that is even more deafening today. And will get even more deafening as the body count rises to sickening numbers.
It's also about the far-right media. Fox "News," after all, hasn't reprimanded Tucker Carlson let alone even asked him to tone it down. He's just the loudest voice there, not the only one. And it's the same for places like Newsmax and OANN and others. It's the party line. President Biden beat their God Trump, he must has stolen the election because their God Trump says it, so the President of the United States is their enemy, and the enemy of their enemy is their friend. So, if that's murderous despot Vladimir Putin trying to bring down democracy and destroy NATO, then hugs and kisses to him.
And it’s also about the rank-and-file of the Republican Party who actually have greater support for the leader of our nation’s enemy than for the U.S. president.
Lest one think that is hyperbole, a Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that 62% of Republicans and GOP-leading independents say they believe Russian autocratic dictator Putin is “a stronger leader” than President Biden. Never mind that any U.S. president is required to do pesky things like follow all laws, adhere to the U.S. Constitution, deal with an opposition party, and respect international law. Never mind that when you're a dictator you get to do pretty much whatever you want, including jail dissidents, kill journalists and your opponents, and declare yourself president for life. Whereas in a democracy, if someone doesn't want to, oh, let's say, wear a facemask during an infectious pandemic or ignore a government mandate to get vaccinated, they have the "personal choice"™ not to. Seriously, imagine trying to do that in Russia, China or North Korea, where they have especially "strong" leaders. Decrying your supposed lack of freedom doesn’t travel as well in countries that like.
(Given the shockingly massive protests across Russia yesterday with 1,500 announced arrests -- likely far more -- with many of the arrests brutal, since such public protests is illegal in Russia without permission and risks not only arrest but also beating, then comparing that to the 62% GOP admiration of Putin it almost seems like there is more support for Putin by the Republican Party today than in Russia. No, not fully, of course, but it certainly has the appearance of it.)
To be clear, none of this is about praising President Biden or not. It’s fair to think he’s handling things very well or not. Personally, I think he’s done a remarkable job keeping the world informed by every step Russia would be taking, creating a deeply-united NATO, and putting forth remarkably strong sanctions against Russia, with no commitment of U.S. troops going to Ukraine. But if people want stronger sanctions – or, for some reason, less. Or feel he could have acted to stop Putin better, despite it being clear Putin was going to invade, period, that’s fair, too. But that’s another discussion, another matter entirely. This is about Trump, Pompeo, Carlson and all the other "Useful Idiots" on the far-right attacking a U.S. president as being in the wrong, rather than the megalomaniacal despot invading a democratic nation where masses will die, as an invasion was mounting and then taking place. And twice as many Republicans thinking this Russian murderous dictator was a “stronger leader” than the U.S. president. And providing video fodder for Russian state TV. That’s what this is about.
A friend asked me what he was missing about all the Republican support for Trump and Putin.
What he was missing, I said, is that he wasn’t thinking like a fascist.
The sense I get is that these on the far-right think anything critical of Biden will be good for them. And maybe they think that some of the sanctions will bring, in return, Russian sanctions that will hurt the public here, and that’s good for them because maybe people will be mad at President Biden, and not Vladimir Putin who is the one invading a democratic nation. Mind you, it’s horrible, anti-American thinking when it comes to foreign policy and a war, but “horrible thinking” is today’s GOP brand.
I also said that in the short run there might possibly, maybe be an approval hit on Joe Biden because all this with Russia and Ukraine is still sort of, kind of in the early stage. But as the reality of what Russia is doing, and that a democracy in Ukraine is fighting for its life in a war where tens of thousands, maybe a hundred thousand people are dying, and all the NATO allies are closely united, then (I think, and hope) that what Trump and Republicans and right-wing will come back to haunt them profoundly. I think.
But whatever happens, this Republican love of Putin is sick, reprehensible and fascist.
But that’s so much of today’s Republican Party leadership, the far-right media and the base of the party, as well. Whether they're "Useful idiots"...or just the normal kind.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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