Russian President Vladimir Putin (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Had the Russians never hacked the Democratic National Committee or John Podesta, had WikiLeaks not strategically released Democrats’ emails to damage Hillary Clinton, had President-elect Donald Trump not surrounded himself with a host of Russophiles (e.g. Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Boris Epshteyn), had Trump not complimented Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign and defended him from charges that he murders journalists, had his campaign team not changed (then denied changing) the GOP platform on Ukraine and had Trump uttered a syllable of criticism of Putin, his interview with the Times of London would have been a surprise rather than a reaffirmation of Trump’s creepy favoritism toward America’s most formidable foe. Surely, had President Obama rather than Trump made the remarks, Republicans would be calling for him to resign, or at the very least, questioning his sanity and patriotism.

Trump labeled German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s acceptance of Syrian refugees a “catastrophic” mistake. The conversation went on like this:

Talking about Russia, you know that Angela Merkel understands Putin very well because he is fluent in German, she is fluent in Russian, and they have known each other for a long time — but who would you trust more, Angela Merkel or Vladimir Putin?

Well, I start off trusting both — but let’s see how long that lasts. It may not last long at all.

Can you understand why eastern Europeans fear Putin and Russia?

Sure. Oh sure, I know that. I mean, I understand what’s going on, I said a long time ago — that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was, you know, designed many, many years ago. Number two — the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay. I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right — and now — it was on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, they have a whole division devoted now to terror, which is good.

And the other thing is the countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect countries but a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States. With that being said, NATO is very important to me.  . . .

Do you support European sanctions against Russia?

Well, I think you know — people have to get together and people have to do what they have to do in terms of being fair. OK? They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But you do have sanctions and Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.

Former CIA and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden observed via email, “Surprising (or perhaps not) that he seems to want to pick a fight with our friends (Germany and NATO for example) and not with a clear adversary (Russia).”

Merkel responded today:

“We Europeans have our destiny in our own hands,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin.

“I will continue to work to ensure that the 27 member states work together effectively and, above all, in a forward-looking way,” she said, adding that Trump’s positions had “been known for a while.”

“My positions are also known,” she said.

Putin must be grinning like a Cheshire cat. For decades, Russia’s goal has been to split NATO, create fear among Europeans that the United States will not come to their rescue and set up a moral equivalence between Russia and Western democracies. “Trump is outdoing Vladimir Putin in his efforts to rip NATO apart. The comments weren’t so much new as gratuitous, and undercut the reassuring words that came from the testimony of his cabinet nominees last week,” said Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute. “It also reveals just how little Trump understands what American global strategy — since the founding — has been; the security of Central Europe is the first priority, and he’s damaging our interests there.”

Trump’s idea to lift sanctions with Russia still in Ukraine and Georgia would be precisely the sort of unilateral concession he would deplore had Obama proposed it. He is doing nothing less than attacking the foundation of the international order that has existed for 70 years. The Post reports: “The full ramifications of a breakdown in transatlantic relations are so extensive they are difficult to total. U.S. guarantees underpin European security. The United States and the European Union, with a population of 500 million, are each other’s most important trading partner. For decades, European nations and the United States have worked tightly together on issues of war, peace and trade.” One wonders what his hawkish apologists such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) must be thinking now.

Trump’s views contrast so sharply with those of nominees such as retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) that one has to question whether he intends them to actually do their jobs or simply act as seat-fillers as he sets U.S. alliances ablaze and boosts the United States’ most formidable adversary. Republicans in Congress have a clear choice: Putin/Trump or loyalty to their once strongly held principle that the United States must lead in the world to act as a check on malevolent forces.