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Pollak: Media Let Obama Alums off the Hook on Russia

Obama Putin bros (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
Evan Vucci / Associated Press

Several Obama administration alumni have attacked President Donald Trump in the past few days, following his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last Monday.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who led the Russian “reset” under President Barack Obama, told an audience in New York at the OZY Fest Saturday: “[I]t doesn’t seem like our president cares. He wants to be friends with Putin for reasons that we’re all still trying to figure out.” She criticized Trump for meeting alone with Putin without a “note-taker.” And she slammed him for considering Putin’s proposal to question former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul (the White House later rejected the idea).

Her successor, John Kerry, criticized Trump on CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday from the elite confines of Martha’s Vineyard, where the show made a special trip to interview him. Kerry said Trump’s press conference with Putin was “shocking”: “I found it to be one of the most disgraceful, remarkable moments of kowtowing to a foreign leader by an American president that anyone has ever witnessed.” (President Obama, notoriously, “kowtowed” to the Saudi king and the Japanese emperor.)

And former Obama official Susan Rice told George Stephanolpoulos on ABC News’ This Week on Sunday that Trump’s meeting with Putin was “a historic mistake” She accused Trump of “sycophancy” in Helsinki, and argued that “[Trump] has taken a series of steps that had Vladimir Putin dictated him, he couldn’t have mirrored more effectively.” She added that the idea that Trump was being manipulated by Putin because the Russian leader had “compromising” material on him was “a legitimate question.”

None of these former Obama officials has ever been held to account for their handling of Russia, and for the record of the president whom they served.

Obama came to office promising to meet America’s enemies “without preconditions” — a pledge that Rice later tried to pretend never happened. Once installed, Hillary Clinton rushed to deliver an actual red “reset” button to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov — though, as Lavrov pointed out, the word “reset” had been mistranslated into “overcharge” in Russian.

Having promised the Czech Republic and Poland in April 2009 that he would “go forward” with a missile defense agreement that had been signed by his predecessor, Obama suddenly canceled the agreement that September — doing so on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland in World War Two.

He then negotiated the New START treaty in 2010, a one-sided agreement on nuclear arms reductions that favored Russia heavily. In March 2012, Obama was caught on an open microphone asking outgoing Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to tell Putin: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” The following year, Obama proposed further nuclear reductions with Russia, even though he knew by then that Russia had cheated on a past treaty. He mocked Republican opponent Mitt Romney in a 2012 election debate for focusing on Russia: “You said Russia, in the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

In 2013, after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on civilians and crossed Obama’s “red line” without penalty, Kerry proposed — and Putin immediately accepted — an agreement under which Russia would supervise the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile. Predictably, Syria used chemical weapons again — and broke the agreement.

Russia, sensing American weakness, invaded Crimea, prompting the feeble protest from Kerry that Putin was playing by “19th century” rules. The Obama administration failed to provide Ukraine with military aid, sending ” hot blankets and canned goods” instead. And dragged his feet on applying human rights sanctions to Russia, after trying to stop sanctions legislation.

The only time Obama ever snapped into action against Russia was after Trump won the 2016 election, and Democrats demanded a scapegoat.

Yet the media have ignored these facts, while allowing Obama’s cronies to take potshots at Trump’s Russia policy. Stephanopoulos came closest to offering a challenge when he asked Rice to respond to President Trump’s claim that Obama had been a “patsy” for Russia. She disagreed, but all she could offer in Obama’s defense were his sanctions on Russia over Crimea — too little, too late.

If, as Rice suggests, Trump is carrying out Putin’s wishes, it is difficult to explain why he launched air strikes on Assad, Russia’s client, twice; why U.S. troops killed hundreds of Russian military contractors in Syria this year, with no U.S. casualties; why Trump signed new sanctions against Russia in 2017; why Trump boosted U.S. military spending and just announced the  “Space Force” — an indirect challenge to both Russia and China; and why Trump withdrew from the Iran deal, which Russia supports.

Trump’s meeting with Putin fulfilled a promise he made in a Republican primary debate in 2015. Ironically, it mirrored Obama’s failed policy, which relied on charisma to change Russia’s behavior. The difference is that Trump arrived in Helsinki having demonstrated a willingness to use military force, and having restored U.S. credibility by carrying out diplomatic threats as well.

Trump’s detractors have failed to show any way in which he may have damaged the country by accepting, in public, Putin’s denials of election interference — especially when Putin himself said Trump raised the issue in private. They have also failed to show how confronting Putin in Helsinki would have served any real U.S. interest.

Arguably, the goals of avoiding war in the Middle East, denuclearizing North Korea; and using Russia to isolate China and Iran are higher priorities than bickering over the 2016 election.

But the media simply allow Clinton, Kerry, Rice, and other Obama alumni to attack the president without explaining how their own actions toward Russia put America in a position of strategic disadvantage from which Trump is attempting to extricate us. Nor do they show any interest in lingering Russia scandals — such as how Hillary Clinton approved the sale of Uranium One, which let a Kremlin-controlled company take over 20 percent of U.S. uranium, while donors poured money into the Clinton Foundation.

The media are not interested in Russia. They are only interested in taking down Trump. Hence the free pass for Obama and friends.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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