The presidents efforts in Ukraine break Watergates record for presidential stupidity. What was the point?
A puffed-up Donald Trump on Wednesday peddled his latest Syrian retreat as if his ability as a presidential peacemaker eclipsed Teddy Roosevelt, who won the 1906 Nobel prize for negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese war, and Jimmy Carter, who helped broker the lasting Israeli-Egyptian accord.
Trump has probably never heard of the swords-into-plowshares accomplishments of his predecessors. But even if Trump has noticed the Nobel prize in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, he probably would have dismissed it as a minor artifact compared with his strategic genius in bequeathing the Kurds to the tender mercies of Turkey and Russia.
As the president boasted, complete with a dollop of false modesty: Todays announcement validates our course of action with Turkey that only a couple of weeks ago were scorned. And now people are saying: Wow, what a great outcome. Congratulations. Its too early [for] me to be congratulated. Weve done a great job. Weve saved a lot of lives.
From the phantom peace in Syria to the phantom wall on the Mexican border, the Trump presidency is based on the theory that reality is created by mere assertion. The scariest interpretation of the torrent of Trump lies is that the president actually believes the words that he is saying each time his lips move.
If truth is this malleable, why did Trump go to such lengths to delve for actual evidence in Ukraine about Hunter Bidens finances and the 2016 DNC hacking?
Without a shred of proof, Trump has been trumpeting for months such debunked claims as: When [Joe] Bidens son walks out of China with $1.5bn in a fund and hes there for one quick meeting and he flies in on Air Force Two, I think thats a horrible thing.
Up until now, the failed 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate held the record for presidential stupidity in the quest for re-election.
As John A Farrell tells it in his acclaimed 2017 Richard Nixon biography, the DNC was a backup site after Gordon Liddy had failed four times to break into the George McGovern campaign. As Farrell recounts: Bugs planted in the DNC headquarters could provide a wealth of information of all kinds, Liddy believed.
By any rational measure, the Watergate break-in was dangerously unnecessary since Nixon would go on to carry 49 states against the hapless McGovern, even without planted microphones at Democratic headquarters.
But at least Watergate, at the beginning, was a tight-lipped conspiracy with the burglars, CIA-trained veterans of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. In contrast, everyone from career diplomats like William Taylor to the government in Kyiv seemed to know about Trumps plotting in Ukraine.
Taylors explosive closed-door testimony on Tuesday captured the dimensions of the shakedown of the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Taylor, who temporarily heads the embassy in Kyiv, said that Gordon Sondland a hotel executive turned ambassador told him: President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something the businessman asks that person pay up.
The check was $390m in military aid to Ukraine that Congress had appropriated and the White House was withholding to pressure Zelenskiy. What Trump claimed he was owed was dirt on Hunter Biden and some sort of evidence buttressing the bizarre rightwing conspiracy theory that Ukraine had framed Russia for the 2016 hacking.
Imagine, if you will, that the desperate Ukrainian had concocted a paper trail to please Trump. It almost certainly would not have made a difference in an election campaign that will mostly be a referendum on Trump. There is no guarantee that Biden will even win the Democratic nomination and it seems ludicrous to believe that serious journalists would accept fabricated evidence about Hunter Biden.
Like Watergate, Trumps Pain in Ukraine threatens to bring down his presidency.
Nothing better illustrates the increasing desperation of Trumps hardcore defenders on Capitol Hill than the efforts on Wednesday of two dozen Republican congressmen (and, yes, they were all male) to disrupt the impeachment depositions in a secure room of the House intelligence committee.
The Republican protest was nominally over the lack of public hearings on impeachment. But the enduring Washington truth is that when you are arguing process, you are losing.
Taylors written statement ended with an earnest plea: We must support Ukraine in its fight against its bullying neighbor. Russian aggression cannot stand. Sadly, the same thing can be said about the Kurds, whom Trump also cynically and willfully abandoned.