Donald Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin during the recent televised commander-in-chief forum has come in for widespread scorn, especially on the left, but also from some conservatives. The comments were perhaps politically ill-advised as they distracted attention from Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses and Trump’s better messages. But objectively, Trump’s observations, particularly his comparison of the relative effectiveness of Putin’s leadership to Barack Obama, are not obviously incorrect. Putin may be a ruthless, autocratic dictator, but he acts in ways that are clearly intended to promote Russia’s national interests. Obama on the other hand has consistently acted, and continues to act, in a manner that, by any traditional measure, undermines this country’s national interests.
Obama’s destructive policies are not the result of a Democratic leader hamstrung by the sluggish and frustrating workings of a complex constitutional republic. Though Obama has done plenty of harm, and done so in ways that mocked and undermined those democratic processes, at least his worst inclinations have occasionally been delayed or frustrated by a Republican dominated Congress and a divided Senate. Had Obama Putin’s powers, something he and some supporterspretty obviously crave, we would really be in a fix.
At a purely personal level, it is not entirely clear why Trump esteems Putin. It could be an appreciation for Putin’s very real international accomplishments on his country’s behalf, or the Russian’s more obvious possible blandishments to which Trump is particularly susceptible. But even if Trump’s admiration is based primarily on the latter, that doesn’t diminish the former as a matter of fact.
During Obama’s presidency Putin reclaimed Russian imperial territory in Ukraine, forestalled NATO missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, rebuilt Russia’s military, effectively demonstrated its military capabilities in several settings (Including by harassing American planes and ships), reestablished a Russian military presence in the Middle East, helped weaken American ties with Israel, Egypt, and Turkey, formed a strong alliance with a resurgent and still solidly anti-American Iran, gained political and economic leverage against Western Europe, and convincingly restored Russia’s status as a great power to be reckoned with.
To be sure, Putin was aided in all this by the utterly ineffectual, confused, and lazy policies of the Obama administration, starting with the disastrous Russian “reset” during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. International politics is not always a zero sum game, but each one of Putin’s accomplishments in the laundry list above came at American expense. One need go no further to conclude that Trump was absolutely correct in his observation that Putin’s leadership is superior to Obama’s.
Much of the media issued typically hysterical responses to Trump’s observation, with lazy corresponding tut-tutting about it by many conservatives. These reactions are a function not only of a general dislike for Trump among elite political circles, but the way Obama’s office and unique personal background protect him from a rational evaluation of his actions, and most importantly his motivations.
Obama is a terrible leader on the international stage not so much because of negligence, but as the deliberate result of policies that he embraces and his most ardent supporters admire. These policies are by any reasonable historical standard antithetical to the interests of his country. While Putin is a traditional leader who has sought to strengthen Russia and advance its political, military and economic interests, Obama has deliberately sought to weaken the United States in all these areas. It is no wonder Putin has run circles around him. In as sense they are both playing for the same objective -- the diminishment of American power.
Frank acknowledgement of this obvious truth is hampered not only by Obama’s status as the first African-American president, but the office of the presidency itself, which makes Obama not only the head of government but also the head of state with all the symbolic power and authority that entails. In a parliamentary system or constitutional monarchy, where the head of state is an apolitical man or women of stature or a king/queen, attacking the motivations, ideologies, and even patriotism of the head of government is easier, producing the sometimes lusty parliamentary disputes that occur in those systems.
The American left takes full advantage of this fact, wrapping itself in the flag when it’s expedient, even as its minions despise their own country. Coincidentally we see some of this dynamic in the Colin Kaepernick brouhaha, where the left conveniently confuses assertion of a constitutional right with patriotism. Thus, Kaepernick is lauded as a patriot for doing an obviously unpatriotic thing. But if asserting one’s constitutional rights is patriotic, then our prisons are filled with patriots.
The Reverend Jeramiah Wright had a constitutional right to declaim “Goddamn America!” in his church, where Obama sat in the pews for twenty years, but that was not patriotism. Likewise, unrepentant America-hating terrorist Bill Ayers (Obama’s Chicago neighbor and likely ghost writer) has a right to spout his anti-America nonsense but few would call Ayers a patriot.
It’s often been observed that electing Obama was akin to promoting a typical leftist academic to president. Many of us know such people, who share Obama’s world view of American misdeeds and guilt. They are not all necessarily unpatriotic, but also don’t usually attend church with blisteringly anti-American preachers, or hang out with known terrorists. Some of these people probably really believed that doing the things that Obama has done would redound to the country’s benefit. That experiment has now lasted nearly eight years and we can objectively judge that it has failed.
By any traditional and rational standard of evaluation, decreasing a county’s international prestige, power, and influence is a bad thing. Obama has done all three.
Vladimir Putin for all his faults is a Russian patriot. His effectiveness is due in large part to that fact. By any reasonable historical model Obama is not an American patriot, a fact reflected in his serial failures. That is the truth that Trump got at and which so disturbs the left.