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Friday, July 13, 2018

The NATO-Strzok Circus

by digby

My Salon column today on the shitshow abroad and at home:

After all the fireworks at the NATO meeting on Wednesday, I assumed they would wind down on Thursday and President Trump would head off to jolly old England with a smile on his face for a nice visit with the Queen and a few rounds of golf in Scotland. By acting like a crazed, unpredictable imbecile he had made his point: he's got the biggest swinging hands in the free world and there's nothing these pip squeak allies can do about it.

Unfortunately, he wasn't finished. He showed up late for another meeting, took it over and started browbeating everyone again about spending and trade demanding they embark on a massive military build-up and insisting they spend that money on American equipment because it's the best. Then he held a press conference and much like the one he held after the Singapore pageant it was delusional. He declared himself a hero for getting the allies to agree to spend more (he didn't) saying “If you ask Secretary General Stoltenberg, he gives me total credit.” He said NATO is much stronger than it was two days before.

When asked if he would contradict any of these statements in a tweet after the meeting he actually repeated one of the most absurd comments he's ever made, and that's saying something. He said:

That's other people that do that. I don't. I'm very consistent. I'm a very stable genius.
Fact check: False.

He's not just unstable, he seems to be coming apart at the seams. Politico reported that the NATO allies have concluded, in so many words,that the president of the United States is nuts.

British Prime Minister Teresa May might have thought her conversations with Trump were confidential, what with the "special relationship" between the two countries and all but she got a big surprise after the big state dinner with Trump in London last night:

Trump told the tabloid that he threatened May that if she followed through with her soft-Brexit plan the US would not make a bilateral trade deal and would go with the EU instead. I think we know that's fatuous nonsense but he wanted to make sure it was public because May's job is very tenuous and it's pretty clear that Trump wants to help topple her, apparently in order to install his pal Boris Johnson. This would be unusual for any other president, but Trump is a big fan of foreign interference in the democratic process on his behalf so he just went for it.

He also said that he told May how to do Brexit right but she wouldn't listen. Sure he did ...

The Brits were not amused:

By the time you read this, we'll probably know just how bad it is.

Meanwhile, back in the States my hoped for congressional counter-balance took a hard right turn and went over the cliff. While the Senate earlier in the week had taken some symbolic bipartisan votes about NATO and trade to send a message that Trump's diplomatic misconduct was not reflective of the entire US government, the Republicans in the House of Representatives said,"you want crazy? We'll give you crazy."

The all day House oversight and judiciary committees grilling of Peter Strzok, the top counter-intelligence FBI agent who had been involved in both the Clinton email case and the early months of the Russia investigation until he was found to have texted rude remarks about Trump to his girlfriend was a three ring circus. The Republicans were the clowns.

Apparently believing that their best chance of deflecting whatever the special prosecutor finds out about the Russian interference is to destroy the reputation of the FBI and the Department of Justice, they decided to become the human version of Donald Trump's twitter feed. It wasn't pretty.

Strzok's monumental bad judgment in using a government phone to insult Donald Trump has landed him in this hot water and will probably end his career. But he was effective as a witness and it's unlikely the Republican clown show played very well outside the Fox News Big Top. He was straightforward about his contempt for Trump but made a sound case for why that not only didn't but couldn't interfere in his investigation. He was passionate in his defense of the FBI and was not intimidated by the Trumpian insults and browbeating from the Republicans.

His testimony once more showed the deeply illogical nature of their "counter-narrative" that the FBI was out to get Trump and help Clinton. They insist that Strzok's "bias" tainted the investigation but they cannot explain how it is that he never said a word in advance of the election. Indeed, the FBI put reporters off the scent rather than confirm information they'd obtained elsewhere. Hillary Clinton was the person sabotaged by the FBI director, not Trump.

At one point, Congressman Darrell Issa R-CA asked Strzok about a text in which he wrote that Trump would have "no idea how destabilizing his presidency will be." Issa seemed to think this was some sort of a threat from the "deep state" but Strzok explained that it came on the heels o fcomments by then candidate Trump who said he didn't know whether or not the United States should honor its commitments under NATO, that it would depend on whether he believed a particular ally had been good to the US. That's not how it works.

Strzok was right about all that as we've seen this week in Europe. Politico's Michael Crowley aptly described Trump's dealings with foreign leaders on MSNBC by quoting some lines from Apocalypse Now:

Capt. Benjamin Willard [the allies]: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

Colonel Kurtz [Trump]: Are my methods unsound?

Capt. Benjamin Willard: I don't see any method at all, sir.

There is no method. But there is a pattern to his madness, which foreign leaders are starting to understand. He creates a phony crisis, then sweeps in, puts on a show insulting and bullying everyone and declares he's fixed the crisis that never existed in the first place. In the meantime he's destroyed America's reputation and turned the world upside down, creating chaos for no end other than TV ratings and pleasing his rabid followers.

The allies can only try to contain the damage. After all, they are seeking stability and predictability. But adversaries do have much to gain by the US self-destructing this way and are figuring out how to take advantage of this ill-equipped man for their own ends. We'll see how that plays out next week in Helsinki.