A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Humpty-Trumpty bullies way through NATO, insults May on home turf, loves Putin more. . .

President Trump’s (OMG!) recently concluded European excursion was, by all estimates, a disaster, not to mention a public humiliation that seemingly eroded America’s once commanding presence on the international stage.

That is not a controversial sentiment. Republicans and Democrats, folks on the left, right and center, have spent the past few days assessing the damage perpetrated by a man who styles himself as “a very stable genius.’’ The once verboten word “treason’’ has been raised in reference to the man charged with preserving and protecting these United States.

During the jaunt to Brussels, London and Helsinki, Humpty-Trumpty was seen as ostensibly siding with Russia President Vladimir Putin over the U.S. intelligence community, bullying his way through a NATO session with little effect and insulting British Prime Minister Teresa May on her home turf.

“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,’’ said Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, who, as you probably know, is a member of the president’s own party.

Trump’s performance was so god-awful, so soul-sapping that it is impossible, simply impossible, to unearth anyone willing to step forward and offer the old boy a pat on the back.

Well, almost impossible.

“I think Trump is different, and he’s willing to meet with foreign leaders and, actually, I think you may get a breakthrough because of the meetings,’’ said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, referring to the Putin sit-down, during a farcical appearance on PBS NewsHour.

Paul attributed the president’s negative reviews to “Trump derangement syndrome,’’ asserting that any other chief executive who had undertaken this president’s itinerary – former President Barack Obama, for instance – would have undergone “a lovefest.”

It’s worth remembering here that during his trip Trump declared that the European Union, composed for the most part of America’s traditional allies, “is a foe.’’ He swaggered his way through Brussels at the NATO meeting, weakening the alliance while providing comfort once more to Putin by issuing perceived threats to withdraw if other members failed to increase their financial support.

And, of course, there was the meeting with Putin in Helsinki, where Humpty-Trumpy gave all indications that he embraced the Russian strongman’s assurances that the Kremlin didn’t meddle or engage in cyber-attacks in the 2016 presidential election, thus seeming to snub airtight findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that it most assuredly did. Trump tried to walk back those remarks a few days later but the backing and filling were met with more laughter than acceptance.

Those are the events Paul is defending.

“I would say that President Trump has a healthy dose of skepticism towards our intelligence community,’’ Paul told PBS, “and I — I share some of that.’’

He added, “…I think we have elevated this Russia thing to a degree that we are simply deranged by it. We are accusing President Trump of all kinds of things that I do not believe he’s guilty of.’’

Which, of course, will all come out in the investigation.

While everyone with any sense is running away from Humpty-Trumpy’s ridiculousness, it actually should come as no surprise that Paul is rushing in to support his new BFF.

When it comes to foreign affairs generally, Rand Paul, a non-interventionist with some libertarian leanings, was Trump before Trump. And he’s using the president’s albeit calamitous trip in an effort to advance his causes.

On July 11, just hours after Trump scolded NATO, the Senate passed a resolution 97-2 supporting the alliance. Paul was one of those two, Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, being the other.

Paul is a longtime critic of NATO, maintaining that it “already is too big and has added countries that never belonged in the alliance.” In a floor speech on March 17, 2017, he criticized NATO as “an organization where the U.S. disproportionately spends our blood and our treasure.”

“The other NATO countries have largely hitched a ride on a U.S. train that subsidizes their defenses and allows them to direct their revenues to their own domestic concerns,’’ he said.

Paul actively opposed bringing the tiny country of Montenegro into the alliance, arguing that, “Adding a country with fewer than 2,000 soldiers to NATO is not in our self-interest. There is no national security interest that an alliance with Montenegro will advance. If we invite Montenegro into NATO, it will be a one-way street with the U.S. committing to defend yet another country.”

Interestingly, on Wednesday, during an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, Trump also questioned the enlistment of Montenegro.

“Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people,” Trump said. “They’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and, congratulations, you’re in World War III.”

What goes unsaid by both Paul and Trump here is that Putin was and remains virulently opposed to Montenegro’s NATO entry. In fact, the Kremlin worked hard to keep it from happening. GRU, the Russian military intelligence unit – recently indicted for meddling in the 2016 election — sought to overthrow the government in Podgorica and assassinate the leadership. That effort was halted but Putin remains focused on the Balkan nation.

But Paul’s foreign policy association with Trump goes well beyond NATO. Both men are seeking stronger ties with Russia and are more than willing to overlook the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 election to achieve that end. Paul was one of two members of the upper chamber – Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, was the other – who opposed imposing economic sanctions on Russia in 2017 after it was essentially confirmed that the Bear operated in Trump’s behalf through cyber-attacks and other means, ultimately resulting in the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the mess.

Trump grumbled, as he so often does, over the sanctions bill but wound up signing it as a result of political pressure and the real chance that any veto would be overridden.

Trump has quite bitterly raged against the ongoing investigation to determine of his presidential campaign worked in some way with the Russians to sway the results. Paul has, as you might expect, joined in that criticism.

On Sunday, appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Paul said no one should be surprised that Russia is spying on the U.S. and characterized the probe, as Trump has in the past, as a “witch hunt.”

“If we have proof that they did it, we should spend our time protecting ourselves instead of having this witch hunt on the president,” Paul said. “I think we need to be done with this so we can protect our election.”

Paul is, in fact, making his own diplomatic journey to Russia within the next few weeks in what he characterized as “an attempt to discuss common ground with their leaders and help prevent further, unnecessary escalation of tensions.”

“I look forward to consulting with Trump between his visit and mine and to working with diplomats from both countries to have a successful trip and better relationships,” he said in a piece for Politico.

Consulting with Humpty-Trumpty on a foreign visit – that certainly should place the nation at ease.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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One Comment

  1. Marv Dunn says:

    I came to dislike George Bush because of Iraq, his handlers and the great recession. He drove me away from the Republican party. Nevertheless, I never questioned his loyalty, or any other President’s loyalty to the country. Our current President has destroyed that faith. He thinks only himself, his bank account and obviously puts our country in a subservient position. I think we will ultimately find that his whole real estate empire is built on laundered Russian money. Both our Kentucky Senators are his enablers. Remember in November! If either House can be flipped then that would go a long way to neutering the downward spiral our government is in. The Commonwealth won’t be of much help to accomplish that. Northern Kentucky seems pretty much ready to send the off-the-wall Libertarian back to Congress. On the other hand, I think McGrath has a pretty good chance of winning CD6. I wish she had retired back to our district.

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