ON THE ISSUES | Circling back to foreign policy for a moment: How do you deal with a resurgent Russia wreaking havoc in Syria and Ukraine? Donald Trump seemed to say earlier tonight he would kind of just let Putin do his thing.
“If Putin wants to go knock the hell out of ISIS, I would be all for it,” Trump said. “They blew up a Russian airplane, they cannot be in love with these people.”
Republicans have, as a party, had a rather wary approach to Russia and its campaign in Iraq and Syria. Though Putin claims to be in Syria to fight the Islamic State, Russian warplanes have also been targeting rebel forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally. The GOP continues to be circumspect about Russia’s involvement in the fight, even as last week’s explosion of the Russian jetliner over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula drives Moscow to focus their fight more closely against the Islamic State.
But that wasn’t even Trump’s most controversial statement. He also advocated, as he has in the past, steering clear of the conflict in the Ukraine.
“Why are we always doing the work?” Trump asked, criticizing European nations like Germany for, as he saw it, egging on the Ukrainian army.
“They say keep going, keep going you dummies,” Trump said. “We have to get smart, we can’t continue to be the policemen of the world.”
The United States is hardly getting into the ground fight against Russian-backed separatist rebels in Ukraine. But the National Defense Authorization Act that Congress passed today does begin to supply the Ukrainian military with some lethal military aid for which Kiev has long been clamoring.
Trump didn’t say he’d entirely pull the plug on U.S. military aid headed to these conflicts. But he’s not very interested in keeping the money flowing – not to Ukraine or to our potential allies in Syria.
And the argument he’s making about why sounds a lot like the one Putin makes — at least in the Middle East, where the Russian leader has argued that leaving Syria in the hands of the rebel groups opposed to Assad’s regime would be worse than the current situation.
“Assad is a bad guy but we have no idea who the so-called rebels…nobody even knows who they are,” Trump said, complaining of the “hundreds of millions of dollars” being sent to help rebels. “I don’t like Assad – who’s going to like Assad? But we have no idea who these people are, who they’re going to be and what they represent – they could be far worse than Assad.”
Trump’s views didn’t find many fans on the stage, but most of his critics, like Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina, tried to make a strategic argument, questioning why Trump would negotiate from a position of weakness with someone like Putin, who only responds to strength.
But Trump thinks he gets Putin. They hung out together in a 60 Minutes green room once, Trump said. Plus American and Russian media have compared the similarities of the two figures, even suggesting that Trump is American Putin.
And like Putin would, Trump would like to solve some of the nation’s problems with oil money. If only we’d kept control of it in the Middle East.
“We should have kept the oil, believe me,” Trump said. “And you know what? We should have given the oil, given big chunks, to the people who lost their arms and legs” in the Middle East wars.
He didn’t get much applause.