On 15 March, the United Kingdom, together with allies Germany, France and the United States, issued a collective statement regarding the allegation that the assassination attempt on ex-spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were orchestrated by agencies in the Russian Federation:
— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) March 15, 2018
This looks like a united front, but in reality, as regards the American president, this is not quite the case.
According to the New York Times, Mr. Trump has actually been under pressure by the usual suspects for not being fiercely vocal about this matter. He has been quiet about it on his legendary Twitter feed, and has instead talked about other issues. In fact, the New York Times noted that the US President left this matter to his aides to express public solidarity with Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and the others.
Under the direction of his aides, the White House released this statement:
This latest action by Russia fits into a pattern of behavior in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes. The United States is working together with our allies and partners to ensure that this kind of abhorrent attack does not happen again.”
One interesting point about this is that a search on the whitehouse.gov site does not reveal this above statement, but instead presently only reveals the joint statement.
Later, while speaking to the press during a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a member of the press corps did ask Mr. Trump if he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the attack, and he responded “It looks like it.” – He also said more:
I’ve spoken with the [British] prime minister and we are in deep discussions. It’s a very sad situation… It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it. Something that should never, ever happen and we’re taking it very seriously as, I think, are many others.”
However, this is quite far from the bellicose statements made by Prime Minister Theresa May about this situation, even more so very different than Piers Morgan’s outright accusation that President Putin kills journalists. Mr. Trump has been toeing a line that would be rather difficult for a politician to do. That line is the position of simply not going with the crowd, but thoughtfully acknowledging what is true, while steering clear of emotional rhetoric.
President Trump, however, is not a politician – at least, not in the career sense.
It is perfectly plain and right to express sorry and outrage for the attack on these two Russian people itself. It is further right because the attack also seriously sickened a police officer, who was by all counts innocent of anything other than trying to help. And further, a total of 38 people were seen by doctors in relation to this incident, including the Skripals, and one of those remains under observation as an outpatient. A lot of people got hurt by this attack, and that is indeed outrageous.
It is also fair enough to proceed on the finding that the poison used was indeed Novichok, an agent that was developed in the Soviet Union.
But after that there really is nothing that is based in cold hard proven fact for anyone to say.
Since there is a common basis to speak out against the incident itself, it is certainly easy for Mr. Trump or anyone who wishes to express solidarity on that point, without buying the whole package that is built up on top of that, and it appears from Mr. Trump’s silence on this matter outside this tweet above that he is not getting himself involved in anything that is dubious beyond expressing what an ally should express – alliance with other allies.
Now, of course, this matter of taking a position against “evil Russia” is politically popular for some amazing and unclear reason (my opinion), but a lot of US politicians are highly invested in bellicose rhetoric against “the Russians.” Among this number include Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer, Republican Senator Ben Sasse, former Pentagon official Evelyn Farkas (who oversaw Russia policy under President Obama), and no doubt, plenty of others. Russia is a popular foil to beat, though for reasons explained elsewhere here on The Duran, it is certainly a foolish one.
Although Mr. Trump’s silence is subtle to many people, it has not gone unnoticed by these people listed above. But it probably has also not gone unnoticed by the Russian government itself. Ever since before the election victory went to the Donald, the drumbeat allegation that he was somehow complicit with the Russians to “steal” the election away from its “rightful” victor has bedeviled the President’s ability to conduct an effective rapprochement with the Russian government that would actually work. Obvious moves would be interpreted as proof that President Trump is a Putin operative and a stooge, and this would have galvanized that part of the establishment politicians in the US to oppose or even create reasons to try to try the president for treason or any sort of impeachable offense. As it stands, the court of public opinion was manipulated to some degree for some time, and this is only now slowly dissipating as RussiaGate is revealed to be the sham it always was.
There are many places that one could speculate about this event and others like it in terms of “what is really going on.” But speculation is rife with risk and intrigue, and in the present situation we can see what that is producing. It is producing hysteria on the scale of governments. Not to sound overly alarmist, but it is producing hysteria in governments who have nuclear weapons and very powerful conventional armed forces. There are precedents to what is happening now, and some of them are evocative of the events that set up the start of the First World War. It would seem therefore to be the safest course to do what Mr. Trump appears to be doing – to not go for the rampant bellicose speculation of PM May, and to not move in any manner without careful consideration.
Why all this is happening is probably well explained by others who are better at geopolitical speculation than I am. But my own caution is that, here, it seems that speculation, circumstantial evidence, and the court of public (or at least political figure) opinion are not to be trusted. Any time someone becomes a hothead, it is very dangerous for that person to act in their hotheadedness.
Oddly enough, it seems like in the West, the US President has the coolest head in the room.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.