The Insanity of a Cyber-Partnership With Russia
In 2014, in a move that stunned many, a United Nations vote led to Iran being appointed to several human rights committees, including one that oversaw the protection of women's rights. Having led the world in public executions, and having just sentenced a 26-year-old rape victim to death, the advancement of Iranian influence in the human-rights arena earned quick condemnation from the West — most notably the United States.
Both sides of political aisle voiced outrage over the farce. The issue became a big topic in the media (especially the conservative media), and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power released a statement on behalf of the United States, saying, "The unopposed candidacy of Iran, where authorities regularly detain human rights defenders, subjecting many to torture, abuse and violations of due process, is a particularly troubling outcome of today’s election.”
It was a clear and outrageous case of the fox guarding the hen house, but because of the way many U.N. committees are set up by regions, there was nothing the United States could have done about it.
Sadly, we've come to expect such travesties from the United Nations. International positions of influence are sometimes granted to the world's worst possible actors — oppressive governments that will assuredly exploit such power. One would like to think that if American leaders had a say on such matters, transparently damaging conflicts of interest wouldn't be given so much as a serious thought.
Well, not so fast.
Last Sunday, when President Trump tweeted details from his G20-summit discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin, they included this gem:
"Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded ... and safe."
One could quickly visualize the few thousand spit-takes that assuredly took place in U.S. and allied intelligence agencies across the world.
Yes, our president was actually entertaining (and later communicated) the idea of forming a cyber-security unit, for the benefit of democratic elections, with the foreign leader who led an unprecedented, cyber-warfare effort to meddle with our country's national election.
You can't make this stuff up, folks.
U.S. lawmakers and other political figures quickly weighed in on the suggestion, including some strong statements from leaders within Trump's own party.
Senator Marco Rubio took to Twitter, saying, "Partnering with Putin on a 'Cyber Security Unit' is akin to partnering with Assad on a 'Chemical Weapons Unit'.
"It's not the dumbest idea I've ever heard, but its pretty close," Senator Lindsey Graham told NBC News's Chuck Todd.
Congressman Adam Kinzinger tweeted, "Working with #Putin to combat cyber hacking & letting him take the lead in #Syria is letting the fox guard the henhouse..."
Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska tweeted, "This obviously should not happen--& obviously will not happen. Why the President of the United States would tweet it is inexplicably bizarre."
The backlash led to President Trump getting back on Twitter later that night, seemingly in attempt to tamp down his earlier remark. He tweeted, "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't-but a ceasefire can,& did!"
Both Sasse and Trump are right, of course, in their assertion that a "cyber security unit" with Russia will not happen. A U.S. president doesn't have the power to make such a decision on his own, and congress would never support something so potentially catastrophic to our national security.
What's troubling, however, is the notion that if the decision were left solely to Trump, he would move forward with it. Otherwise, why would he have publicly touted the idea of this type of partnership in the first place? The fact that he didn't immediately recognize the perverse nature of the proposal should simultaneously scare the heck out of Americans, and instill a deeper appreciation for our nation's constitutional separation of powers.
Longstanding, unproven charges of Russian collusion aside, President Trump's well-documented affinity for Vladmir Putin has always been perplexing and of concern. His inclination to dismiss and even excuse Putin's atrocities (whether it be the invasion of other countries or the permanent silencing of reporters) seems to stem from a deep, high-schoolish yearning for Putin to like him.
It bears repeating time after time: Russia's interests are almost never America's interests. Trump would clearly love to believe otherwise, but he would be wrong.
That's not to say that our president has been a total push-over when it comes to Russia. He of course hasn't, as we saw with his authorization of missile strikes in Syria back in April. Fortunately, Trump has surrounded himself with some strong national security advisors who have steered him away from positions of weakness when it comes to dealing with Putin. That's a good thing.
Based on Trump's weak G20 meeting, however, where our president (as suggested even by Secretary of State Tillerson) gave Putin a virtual pass on denials that Russia interfered with our election, the job of Trump's inner circle will be even more important in the years to come.