Soviet tank graveyard and derelict Red Army barracks east of Kabul, Afghanistan.
That Chinese restaurant joke with the fortune cookie? The one where you read aloud the fortune and add "in bed" to the end? Donald Trump's foreign policy sounds like that joke, only ending with "in Russia."
During his cabinet meeting that wasn't a meeting on Wednesday, the sitting president rambled incoherently before cameras on multiple topics, including telling Iran’s leaders they “can do what they want” in Syria:
With a stray remark, Trump snuffed out a plan from his national security adviser, John Bolton, who this fall vowed that the United States would not leave Syria “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders.”
The president’s statement offered the latest illustration of the dramatic gyrations that have characterized his foreign policy and fueled questions about whether his senior advisers are implementing his policies or pursuing their own agendas.
Or maybe someone else's agenda, the Washington Post's coverage suggests:
Critics say the shifting plan, which has rattled key U.S. allies, will embolden Russia and Iran, the Syrian government’s main foreign supporters. It also sets the stage for a confrontation between NATO ally Turkey and Kurdish-dominated Syrian forces that have been the chief U.S. partner against the Islamic State.
Trump also excused Russian intervention in Afghanistan, saying, "The reason Russia was in Afghanistan is because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there." In Simi Valley, CA, President Ronald Reagan rolled over in his grave.
Trump: "Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia."
Trump's comments echoed recent efforts by Vladimir Putin to rehabilitate the image of the USSR and rewrite the history of its invasion of Afghanistan:
Last month, Russian lawmakers took another big step in the same direction by approving a draft resolution that seeks to justify the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. The formal vote on the measure — proposed jointly by lawmakers from the United Russia and Communist parties — will be held before the 30th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops on Feb. 15. Hailing the decision, Communist lawmaker Nikolai Kharitonov called it a victory for “historical truth.”
The real historical truth — without quotation marks — was made public with the partial declassification of Soviet archives after 1991. The decision to invade Afghanistan was taken by the Politburo in December 1979; the measure was euphemistically titled “On the situation in ‘A.’ ” The first contingent of the USSR’s 40th Army crossed the Amu Darya River into Afghanistan on Dec. 25. Two days later, the Afghan dictator Hafizullah Amin – whose request for assistance served as the pretext for the invasion — was murdered by Soviet special forces in Tajbeg Palace.
Rachel Maddow's MSNBC coverage Thursday night recalled an incident early in the Trump presidency, citing this Associated Press report from February 2017:
According to one U.S. official, national security aides have sought information about Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request because little evidence of such activities appears to exist. Poland is among the Eastern European nations worried about Trump’s friendlier tone on Russia.
Nobody was talking about this, Maddow observed. The concern existed nowhere except as part of a Russian "military intelligence disinformation campaign" to influence Belarus. Yet somehow it was an agenda item for the new Trump White House.
Last summer in an interview with Fox News, Trump blurted out that the people of Montenegro (a new NATO ally) "are a very aggressive people." Trump adds, "They may get aggressive and, congratulations, you're in World War 3." What?
As it happened, in 2016 there was almost a coup in Montenegro backed by Russian military intelligence, as reported again last week in Time. Those "aggressive" Montenegrans were about to approve a referendum to join NATO in the fall of 2016, the middle of the U.S. presidential campaign. Russia was not pleased. Fresh off the Trump campaign and owing millions to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Paul Manafort became involved:
In more than a dozen interviews that TIME conducted this year, officials and political leaders in Montenegro confirmed that Deripaska and one other Russian oligarch bankrolled the pro-Russian opposition in 2016. Two of them said they heard Manafort’s name come up in strategy meetings for that opposition movement.
When asked about Manafort’s role, Medojevic, one of the leaders of this movement, confirmed that he had met with Manafort to discuss a potential partnership in the fall of 2016. He added that the meeting was a disappointment, and that no deal came out of it. In several follow-up conversations, however, he refused to talk about the meeting, saying that his contacts in the West were legitimate and urging reporters not to publish his initial comments.
For Medojevic and the rest of the opposition, the elections in Montenegro did not go smoothly. The day before the vote, a group of men was arrested and charged with plotting to overthrow the government of Montenegro, assassinate its leader and seize power by force – all with abundant help from Moscow. The Montenegrin authorities later charged two agents of Russia’s military intelligence service with masterminding the alleged coup. Several of the leaders of the opposition in that country, including Medojevic, are currently on trial for charges that stem from the alleged coup attempt.
Maddow pointed out that at his first NATO summit, Trump went out of his way to physically thrust aside the Montenegran prime minister.
Perhaps it was simply Trump being a pompous boor. But where does a deeply incurious, under-informed man such as Trump glean obscure tidbits on foreign policy that parrot propaganda from Russian intelligence? Trump famously repeats what he has heard from the last person(s) who spoke with him. Who might that be?