But Trump has only himself to blame for this. At precisely the moment he’s defending his Syria moves, the unfolding Ukraine scandal is showcasing in vivid detail that Trump is perfectly willing to sell out our foreign policy for profoundly corrupt, self-interested reasons.
The confluence of these two narratives has left Trump with an unusually depleted store of credibility as he demands the benefit of the doubt on Syria. Why would anyone assume he’s operating in the national interest on that front, when he’s completely betraying it on another before all the world to see?
Trump’s Syria decision is coming under heavy fire from Republicans and Democrats, and according to emerging reports, he staged a spectacular meltdown in a meeting with lawmakers. Trump ripped House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a “third-grade politician,” while she pointedly noted that he’s enabling the Russian president’s designs on the region: “All roads with you lead to Putin.”
Trump seemed particularly irked after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that recently departed defense secretary Jim Mattis has warned that leaving Syria is helping the Islamic State rebuild.
“He wasn’t tough enough,” Trump seethed about Mattis. “I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.”
After boasting of his supreme military toughness, Trump also cast his decision as a dovish one, tweeting angrily about the meeting that Democrats should support his effort to end “ridiculous & costly Endless Wars.” And his spokeswoman suggested that unlike Democrats, who left the meeting, Trump and Republicans “stayed to work on behalf of the country.”
The big lie at the core of all of this — that Trump is operating out of any devotion to the national interest — is getting harder to sustain, precisely because of what’s about to unfold in the Ukraine scandal that’s consuming Trump’s presidency.
Gordon Sondland will testify
On Thursday, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a ringleader of Trump’s corrupt scheme to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help him rig the next U.S. election, will testify in the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Sondland is expected to say that Trump used the prospect of a much-coveted White House meeting to leverage Zelensky into launching “investigations” undercutting the fact of 2016 Russian electoral sabotage and smearing potential campaign opponent Joe Biden.
And Sondland will testify that he thought it was “wrong” to invite a foreign government to launch investigations for the purposes of influencing a U.S. election, according to his opening statement. That, of course, raises questions as to why he participated in the plot to do just this, but at least Sondland will be confirming that this was the express purpose of Trump’s scheme.
Sondland will also testify about that exchange of texts, in which William Taylor, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Ukraine, twice objected to a quid pro quo that dangled frozen military aid to Ukraine, to get Zelensky to do Trump’s sordid political bidding. Sondland answered in lawyered-up language that Trump intended no quid pro quo.
Sondland will likely confirm that Trump told him to tell Taylor that there wasn’t any such quid pro quo, while trying to evade the core question of whether there actually was one or not. But Sondland was involved in months of plotting over how to get Ukraine to give Trump what he wanted, and it’s hard to imagine that the military aid — which was frozen just before the July 25 call in which Trump pressured Zelensky — never came up in that context.
Regardless, at a minimum, what will likely be established is that there was a clear quid pro quo for the meeting, and that he only texted that there wasn’t one for the military aid after Trump directed him to — leaving that still in doubt.
That’s where Taylor comes in. Democrats have invited Taylor to testify, and he might be able to clarify why he believed there was a direct quid pro quo involving the military aid as well — what he learned, saw or knows that led him to place his objections on the record so plainly.
The overall point here is that upcoming events are likely to showcase with even greater clarity that Trump sold out our foreign policy in order to corrupt our coming election, a profound betrayal of our country on two fronts.
Trump can’t keep the truth buried forever
Similarly, on Syria, the strange circumstances surrounding Trump’s decision to pull out render it impossible to discern any conception of the national interest animating it. After President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey informed Trump that he was set to launch an operation targeting the Kurds in Syria, Trump abruptly issued a statement nominally claiming not to support the attack, but also cryptically suggesting U.S. forces would be removed and making it overwhelmingly clear that he wouldn’t stand in Erdogan’s way.
Now Trump adamantly but absurdly denies that he greenlighted the attack, to distance himself from the catastrophe that’s now unfolding as a result — and that his administration is scrambling to try to contain.
Which raises the question: Why did Trump initially do the very thing he is now trying to claim he didn’t actually do, now that it’s producing the disastrous consequences that everyone knew it would?
We might learn the real rationale soon enough — just as Trump’s stonewalling is not preventing us from learning that on the Ukraine front, Trump is selling out our foreign policy toward thoroughly corrupt and self-serving ends.