There was a time within my living memory when the virtual endorsement of a candidate for US president by an autocratic, anti-American leader in the Kremlin– and kind words by that candidate in return– would have killed off his candidacy for good.
We live in strange times.
So it will be interesting to see if the latest exchange of compliments between Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has any effect on his fervent support among a large share of the GOP electorate.
The budding bromance between two of the world’s brashest figures inched forward Thursday when Putin called Trump “very talented” and the “absolute leader” in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
“He’s a very lively man, talented without doubt,” Putin said after a three-hour news conference, according to the Interfax news service. He also described Trump as someone he could “get along with” and a “bright and talented” man, while welcoming the American billionaire’s commitment to deeper relations with Russia.
Trump, who never could resist flattery, responded in kind:
— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) December 17, 2015
Is anyone even mildly surprised?
If Trump’s candidacy ever suffers its long-predicted collapse (and time is getting short), it appears Texas Senator Ted Cruz is waiting to pick up the pieces.
This would be the Senator Cruz who said in Tuesday’s Republican debate that moderate Syrian rebels are “mythical” and “it’s like a purple unicorn—they never exist.”
This earned him a shout-out from the egregious “antiwar” Code Pink:
Left-right convergence. pic.twitter.com/0nisx3zTU2
— Adam Holland (@ad_holland) December 16, 2015
This widespread belief– that the choice in Syria is now one between the Assad regime and the radical Islamist abyss– is a great propaganda victory for Bashar al-Assad and his friend and ally Putin. Not only has Cruz bought into it, but so have George Galloway and John Wight. Of course they are on Putin’s payroll.
The Obama administration’s unfortunate retreat from it long-standing rhetorical position that Assad must go before a political settlement can be reached in Syria and its acceptance of Russia’s position that the Syrian dictator can stay in power for now is yet another victory for Putin. A Washington Post editorial gets it right.
Cruz does, however, advocate “carpet bombing” the Islamic State, without apparently understanding what carpet bombing actually is.
[D]uring the CNN-sponsored debate in Las Vegas, moderator Wolf Blitzer tried to pin Cruz down on his “carpet bombing” proposal.
“To be clear, Sen. Cruz, would you carpet-bomb Raqqa, the ISIS capital, where there are a lot of civilians? Yes or no?”
Cruz responded, “You would carpet bomb where ISIS is — not a city, but the location of the troops. You use air power directed — and you have embedded special forces to direction the air power. But the object isn’t to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists.”
But there’s a problem: What Cruz described isn’t carpet bombing. What he described is actually the opposite of carpet bombing.
Carpet bombing was what the allied air forces did to German and Japanese cities during World War II– essentially leveling them and killing and wounding hundreds of thousands of civilians. There was nothing “directed” about it.
In many ways, as Ruth Marcus wrote in The Washington Post, the prospect of a Cruz presidency is even more frightening than a Trump presidency. That some people look on Cruz as a more reasonable candidate than Trump is the scariest thing of all.