In an interview with Bill O’Reilly set to air during the Super Bowl pregame show, Donald Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin when the host referred to him as a “killer.” The president responded: “You think our country’s so innocent?”
It goes without saying that opposing Vladimir Putin isn’t good for your health. Dozens of political opponents of the Russian dictator have been shot, suffered unlikely heart attacks, died in auto accidents, or, like human rights activist and fierce Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza, been poisoned. And while it’s probable that some of these deaths were from natural causes, is there anyone who seriously doubts that at least some of these prominent Putin critics were assassinated?
Apparently, the president is unconvinced. And while defending Putin, Trump aped his predecessor Barack Obama by saying America was just as bad.
President Donald Trump appeared to equate US actions with the authoritarian regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview released Saturday, saying, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”
Trump made the remark during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, saying he respected his Russian counterpart.
“But he’s a killer,” O’Reilly said to Trump.
“There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump replied.
A clip of the exchange was released Saturday and the full interview is scheduled to air Sunday.
It was an unusual assertion coming from the President of the United States. Trump himself, however, has made similar points before.
“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in December 2015.
He continued, “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity,” Trump said.
US Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, called Trump’s claim false.
“This is the second time Trump has defended Putin against the charge that he’s a killer by saying in effect that the US is no better or different,” Schiff told CNN. “This is as inexplicably bizarre as it is untrue. Does he not see the damage he does with comments like that, and the gift he gives to Russian propaganda?”
In the interview with O’Reilly, Trump noted that just because he respects someone “doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with them.”
“He’s a leader of his country and I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not, and if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world, a major fight — that’s a good thing. Will I get along with them? I have no idea,” Trump said.
Trump and Putin spoke on the phone last Saturday, and the two discussed cooperation in the fight against ISIS, among other areas.
American presidents are not in the habit of shooting or poisoning their political opponents, which makes Trump’s statement a horrendous exaggeration — at best.
In Trump’s defense, he is playing a realpolitik game and is refraining from criticizing Putin directly lest he derail the budding positive relationship he feels he is building with the Russian dictator.
Trump sees Putin as a partner in fighting the Islamic State as well as radical Islamic extremism worldwide. Putin has made the appropriate noises in agreement, but what he hasn’t done is tell the president what he wants in return for his cooperation. A free hand in Ukraine? At least a partial lifting of sanctions?
You know that Putin is going to push Trump to see how much he can get with little or no cost to his own position. No worries as long as Trump realizes that Putin has his own agenda to promote. So the question ultimately becomes how far Trump is willing to go to appease Putin to gain his cooperation in the war on terror. Small matters like refusing to call him a “killer” when he clearly is aren’t going to be enough. I think Trump can expect a slowly escalating series of tests to determine the limits of the president’s commitment to building a better relationship with the Russians. If Putin is sincere, he will recognize those limits and act accordingly.
If not, the world is in for a period of instability that would threaten the peace.