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Posts published in “Day: November 21, 2017”

Enough sucking up to Putin

joneslogo1

During the President’s recent encounter with Vladimir Putin in Vietnam, he says he asked Putin whether Russia had meddled in the U.S. elections in 2016. He relates that Putin “is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. You have president Putin very strongly, vehemently, says he has nothing to do with that.”

The President also told reporters that Putin “said he absolutely did not meddle in our election” and that “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

My Vietnam experience was quite a bit different than the President’s. When I was in Vietnam in 1968-69, I represented defendants in about a dozen courts martial. My real job was coordinating artillery fire, but when the defendants learned I was a bono fide lawyer they often requested me as defense counsel. It did not take long to learn that accused individuals often lie about their guilt of wrongdoing.

And, it is not unusual for a guilty person to “vehemently” deny something. When dealing with an accomplished liar, like Putin, one should exercise great caution in believing anything he says.

Remember, President Putin denied having any involvement in the take-over of Crimea, the insurgency in Ukraine, and the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. All were gigantic whoppers. This former KGB officer is a master of deceit. Anyone who doubts it should read the meticulously documented book by Karen Dawisha, Putin’s Kleptocracy. It is hard to fathom the evil and dishonesty of this man.

It is also unwise to trust the protestations of a man who has been bent on challenging U.S. interests at practically every turn. He has worked very hard to break up a number of important western alliances, including NATO and the European Union. Mitt Romney correctly called Putin’s Russia our “number one geopolitical foe.” During my Vietnam service, I would not have been much inclined to trust the word of the Viet Cong and there is no reason to trust Putin. And, let’s not forget that Russia provided the sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons that shot down John McCain and so many other American pilots.

It is difficult to understand why one would place faith in the word of a known adversary, like Putin, that he did not meddle in our elections when our intelligence people caught him dead to rights. He has also done so in the elections of many of our allies. British Prime Minister Theresa May had the guts to call Putin out for spreading fake news and interfering in that country’s elections. She told Putin that Great Britain would “do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise.” I’m hoping she’ll help protect us because it does not appear we are doing much to protect ourselves.

The President says he needs to be nice to Putin to gain his help on various issues. Sucking up with an adversary in hopes of gaining favor is not a winning strategy. It is hard to picture Ronald Reagan meekly telling Gorbachev that, while your Berlin wall is attractive and quite effective in imprisoning millions of East Germans, wouldn’t you please consider some slight alterations? Instead, Reagan forcefully said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” President Reagan’s strength carried the day and the wall came down. We need that same kind of strength in dealing with Putin. Why ask Putin whether he did something we have proof that he did. Let’s follow the lead of PM May--tell Putin we have the goods on him and that he will rue the day if doesn’t bring it to a screeching halt.

Rather than disputing the indisputable, the U.S. should be vigorously building its cyber defenses and developing a tough offensive capability. We are at a juncture in the electronic era much like we found ourselves in during the infancy of the rocket age. The Russians caught our attention with the launch of the Sputnik, demonstrating they had the lead in a technology with military applications. We had to up our game in that arena.

Now, the Russians have shown their expertise in the offensive use of cyber systems and it is incumbent on this country to take steps to counter Russian cyber aggression, not to deny it.
 

Reasons for rejection

stapiluslogo1

The voter-elected official relationship is just another kind of relationship. And a lot of the same rules apply to it as to others. They're useful in considering questions like those emerging in recent days about what to do about people like Roy Moore (elect him? expel him?) or Al Franken (presumably, various options).

Consider romantic relationships. When dating, participants consider regularly whether this is something to continue or drop, and (cf. Seinfeld, for example) sometimes do that for very slight reasons. Once married, there's a tendency to cut a little more slack; promises for better and for worse were, after all, made, and the reality is that no one is perfect.

This actually relates to the Moore and Franken (and other) cases.

In the Alabama Senate election, Republican Moore has run into a swarm of charges related to his involvement with much younger women and girls; you've doubtless seen the reports so they won't be reiterated here. In this case, voters in a very Republican state are deciding between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones; the race is considered competitive in large part because of the recent charges.

Should they be a consideration? Of course they should. They relate to what kind of person this is who wants to represent a state in the United States Senate and become one of the highest-level elected officials in the country. (And to be clear, the accusations which are quite serious are more than just credible, and the news reports about them have been thoroughly sourced, and no meaningful rebuttal from the candidate or anyone else has appeared.) Is it the only reasonable consideration? Of course not. The consequences of such elections range far beyond the personal quirks and foibles of any one candidate - things like tax policy and health care, among many others, are in the balance - and the confliction of conservative Republican Alabamans is not in that sense unreasonable. (All of that is putting aside the merits of the policy and philosophical arguments involved, which is another story. In my view, on those grounds, the case against Moore was ironclad long before "the women" even were heard from.)

Suppose Moore is elected. Should he be expelled from the Senate, as some Republican senators have suggested? Sitting here now, I'd have to say no.

If the voters decide to elect a person, well informed of the case at stake, the Senate had better have an extremely high bar if it wants to overrule them. It had better have either important - shattering - evidence against Moore newly developed since the election, or else reason to believe the national or at least Capitol security would be put at serious risk if he stayed in the Senate, of which there's been no indication so far. After all, every Senator ever expelled in the nation's history, one in 1797 and the others in the Civil War, were ousted because of treason or rebellion against the nation. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has an excellent piece on the significance of expelling - and the dangers of opening the doors to it under any but the most extreme cases. The Moore case would be distasteful, ugly and politically embarrassing (and maybe harmful) for Republicans, but it doesn't seem likely to rise to the status of emergency.

In other words, once elected, an elected official has passed dating and gotten hitched. The standards for dissolution need to be a lot higher.

What to do about Franken, now involved in a sexual harassment case as well, then becomes a little clearer. It is true that the voters of Minnesota did not have the specifics of the newly-related harassment case, for which Franken has apologized, in front of them when they twice elected him to the Senate. But they had an ample opportunity to gauge what sort of person he was, and their choice should be given a good deal of deference.

But beyond that, Franken is - as Moore would be if elected - a member of the Senate, in effect "married", and the bar for a dissolution ought to be pretty high. In other words, as I said about Moore: Reason to believe the national or at least Capitol security would be put at serious risk if he stayed in the Senate. Of which there's no such evidence at hand.

That doesn't mean the Senate ethics panel shouldn't look into the case, or or decide that a reprimand of some kind shouldn't be handed out; maybe it should. But if (and I'd say this bearing in mind both Moore and Franken) that if we get into a practice of expelling or driving out of Congress every member who ever had a tawdry piece of their past exposed, we might soon be left with few members, and few really good members of the public who'd want to run for the job. Which already is something of a problem.

Yes, it'd worth knowing these things about our elected officials, and people who would become one of them. They're worth factoring into our decision-making. But as attention-getting as they are, and as character-insightful as they sometimes can be, they shouldn't overwhelm all else.