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“They Threw Russia Out”: On Trump’s Understanding of Recent History


Before leaving for the G7 meeting in Quebec, President Trump made this off-hand, unexpected, ungrammatical statement to reporters: “You know, whether you like it or not – and it may not be politically correct – but we have a world to run and in the G7, which used to be the G8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in.”

They?

Um… Donald, it wasn’t them that done it in the first place.

Let me make this simple. The U.S. itself led the expulsion of Russia from the G-8 in 2014 to punish it for annexing Crimea.

First, in a regime-change operation costing some $ 5 billion, the U.S. backed and funded a bloody putsch spearheaded by neo-fascists in Kiev in February 2014. It toppled a democratically elected president, replacing him with a right-wing regime committed to NATO membership and the expulsion of the Russians from bases in Crimea. These are bases Russia had held since the 1770s and retained by long-term agreement with Ukraine following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Donald, if you don’t know any of this stuff I don’t blame you. It wasn’t well covered on the news channels you watch. And I hear you don’t read much.

You should know however that Russia annexed Crimea to prevent the expulsion of its Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol and the transfer of Russian facilities to NATO. The mostly ethnic Russian population of the peninsula voted overwhelmingly for reunification with Mother Russia. The Obama administration treated this as comparable to Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland in 1938; Hillary Clinton compared Vladimir Putin to Hitler. (No wonder that the Russian press favored you over Clinton., like CNN preferred Hillary over you.) Washington further vilified Russia and urged its expulsion from the G8 until it returned Crimea to Ukraine. Like that’s ever gonna happen.

Similarly the EU sanctions against Russia were adopted under U.S. pressure, producing ongoing hardship not only for Russia but for EU countries that (unlike the U.S.) have deep trade ties with Russia. Polish apple growers, Greek peach growers, Spanish tomato farmers have lost hundreds of millions in profits. They want sanctions lifted. Many Europeans regard the U.S. response to the Ukrainian events inappropriate, excessive or hypocritical. The new Italian prime minister agrees Russia should be readmitted to the G7/G8.

So many will welcome your sudden suggestion. At the same time they must note how it distances you from the U.S. itself.  Your “they” refers not just to the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada but also to Obama’s U.S.  You’re dissociating himself from the original decision to expel Russia in 2014 which you see as part of the Obama/Clinton legacy.

They did it, you say. Leave me out of it. (Good, Donald! Good to detach yourself from the ugly past. Please keep it up.)

Of course the cable pundits have found in your latest statement further evidence for your fondness for Russia, inexplicable unless it reflects some sort of leverage Putin holds over you. They dismiss it as absurd, reminding and lecturing the viewers that Russia invaded Ukraine and occupied Crimea and obviously should be punished. Your startling remark thus becomes a teaching moment, but to teach the wrong thing: that the expulsion of Russia from the G8 was justified to begin with, and that you as president are over the top in implying otherwise.

Mr. President, you are a buffoon, an airhead, a bully, an embarrassment. You are incoherent, contradictory, impulsive, unpredictable. You know nothing of history and say stupid things about Canadians burning down the White House in 1812 or Andrew Jackson in the Civil War or Korea once being part of China.

But sometimes for your own unknown reasons you say something intelligent, like “Why can’t we be friends with Russia?” Your decision to accept Kim Jong Un’s invitation to talks in the face of your national security advisor’s opposition was positive. Your bold suggestion that the G7 readmit Russia is also positive.

By all means, rock the boat. Provoke conflict with allies. “We have a world to run,” you say, although your “we” is as vague as your “they.” Who is running the world? You and the other G7 leaders, all of whom fear your unstable personality? If you’re saying that “we” should include Russia (the better to run the world), push your position, by all means.  Destroy the Obama legacy of new Cold War-like relations with Russia. As you anticipate impeachment, please further weaken the Atlantic Alliance—never a good thing in the first place—and stop the provocations of Russia through NATO expansion and “color revolutions.”

Blame all that on them. Break with that past. Seek rapprochement with Russia. Shift to neutral on Crimea.

Donald, I don’t care what happened in that Moscow hotel room. I’ve never myself seen prostitutes pee and don’t even have much interest in that activity. But I suppose if I had your money and leisure time I might, just as an educational experience, commission a performance. If Vlad is holding this little thing over your head, just tell him it won’t matter if the video appears on Youtube. It won’t faze your base, which no doubt includes evangelicals secretly into watersports too. And anything can be forgiven.

Just be clear, as you endeavor to improve Russia ties, about the history. The U.S. led Russia sanctions. The U.S. has for decades led its allies.  It’s not “they” who should let Russia back in, but you and them, if you’re serious. But how can you lead when they all hold you in contempt?

Your sometimes-buddy Emmanuel Macron was not touchy-feely with you Friday in Quebec. The body language was uncomfortable for all present. It was painful to watch. Quelque chose a changé.

“Maybe the American president doesn’t care about being isolated today, but we don’t mind being six, if needs be,” said the French president gravely. “Because these six represent values, represent an economic market, and more than anything, represent a real force at the international level today.” (Again, we’re talking Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada, and Japan who comprise 2/3 the U.S. GDP.)

Donald, how can you from such a position of weakness, isolation and frankly international disdain persuade the G7 to admit anybody? That you want to reconcile with Russia is good. That you provoke trade wars and generally by your racism, misogyny, and general rudeness and ignorance, alienate allies may be less good. Rather than help you run the world, they just might throw you out.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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