Roger L. Simon

Memo to The Donald: Vladimir Is Not Your Friend

UPDATE FIRST:  As I was writing the below, the following came over the wire that directly refers to my article:

Russia has demanded that American warplanes exit Syrian airspace immediately, a US official told Fox News on Wednesday.

The official said that Russian diplomats sent an official message to the US ordering American planes out of Syria, adding that Russian fighter jets were now flying over Syrian territory, according to the report.

US military sources told the news outlet that US planes would not comply with the Russian demand.


I am not one of those who lives in panic of a Trump presidency.  On the economy, he’d be fine, maybe among the best.  (His tax proposals made sense.) And he’s no racist or sexist.  As a successful businessman he’s dealt with all kinds of people and very well, more so than almost anybody running.  Carson has obviously had to do the same and perhaps, to a lesser extent, Fiorina.  It’s in the nature of their backgrounds.

But… and you knew a but was coming… his naivete about foreign policy is highly disturbing.  Yes, yes, he goes on and on about how we’re going to have the best military, trust him, but on the Hugh Hewitt Show he seemed confused about the major players in the Middle East, indicating a certain lack of curiosity about what was going on in the most violent part of the world.  Excusing himself by saying that not knowing the leaders of terror outfits was irrelevant because they would be gone before he was president, was pretty, no irony intended, bush league.  Also, it was dead wrong. (Khaled Meshaal has led Hamas since 2004, Hassan Nasrallah Hezbollah since 1992 (!) – to pick two organizations Trump confused.)

Yes, you can play catchup, but there is still reason to worry.  On Tuesday’s O’Reilly Factor, Trump informed us he was ready to let Putin’s forces fight ISIS, to abandon the Middle East to Russia and Iran. At least I think that’s what he said.  It oddly mirrors the foreign policy of, of all people, Barack Obama, whom The Donald says he despises. After all, Obama is Hell bent on abandoning the Middle East, so much so he’s giving Iran $150 billion, in what Trump called the worst deal ever, so we can get out.  Talk about inconsistency.  But here’s The Donald:

O’Reilly stated, “Once Putin gets in and fights ISIS on behalf of Assad, Putin runs Syria. He owns it. He’ll never get out, never.” Trump said, “Alright, okay, fine. I mean, you know, we can be in Syria. Do you want to run Syria? Do you want to own Syria? I want to rebuild our country.”

Trump concluded, by agreeing with O’Reilly that Putin wants to run the Middle East, adding “you have huge oil reserves. You have huge — you have tremendous wealth in the Middle East that people don’t even know about. And by the way, forget about Putin. You have Iran is going to take over Iraq. I called that many years ago, on your show. I said we should have never gone into Iraq, which I should be given a little credit for vision, because I’m the only one running that said that, but we should have never, because you totally destabilize the Middle East. But the fact is that Putin now — well, that’s what happened. you destabilized, and by the way. Iran is going to be be taking over Iraq, including their vast oil reserves, and the leftovers are taken over by ISIS. So, what have we done with our incompetent leadership?”

After O’Reilly stated, “We have given the Middle East primarily to Putin and Iran, and they will run it for the foreseeable future.” Trump responded, “I believe that’s true.”

Well, that’s pretty bad, but it omits what’s even worse, as we’ll see after the page break.

It’s not just what Gary Kasparov writes in Wednesday’s WSJ —  “Putin Takes a Victory Lap While Obama Watches” — about Russia and Iran colluding to push up oil prices.  That’s obvious.  There is no reason for Vladimir (or Iran, for that matter) to stop at the Middle East.  Putin has already demonstrated this in Eastern Europe, overrunning the Crimea and other parts of Ukraine with no pushback whatsoever  You don’t have to be a foreign policy genius to know what he wants — the reconstituting of some kleptocratic version of the Soviet Union and ultimately global hegemony.  The ayatollahs are quite willing to cooperate in this hegemonic goal, at least for now.  It fits hand-and-glove with their Shia eschatology. At some point, they and the Russians may have their own disagreements, but we are far from there. (Those paying more attention than Trump know all about the supposedly-illegal visits of Iranian Quds Force leader Omar Suleimani to Moscow.)

Trump’s trusting Putin at all is bizarre.  Didn’t we learn our lesson with the “reset button”?  Marco Rubio was spot on at the Reagan Library debate when he called Putin a “gangster” and an “organized crime figure.”   Putin, of course, denied that on Charlie Rose’s show, but I have seen such behavior up close and personal working in Hollywood with Russian oligarchs.  You don’t have to have read The Gulag Archipelago to know the Russians don’t play by our rules.

Of all the myriad horrors of the Obama administration, the most dangerous ultimately for our country and the world has been the American global disengagement.  There’s still time for Donald, in case he’s president, to get his head on straight about this.  He has to expand his knowledge base.  This is not just about building hotels in Sochi or Saint Petersburg. Other skills are needed.  He should spend more time listening to people like chess champion Kasparov and less bloviating on TV.   Donald has to know more to be ready.  As Kasparov writes, “In world affairs, as in chess, you have to play the position that’s on the board when you sit down.” And to do that, you’ve got to know it.

ONE LAST THING TO THINK ABOUT:  If supporters of Trump are never critical of Trump, they’re not really his supporters.