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Putin Plays a Trump

Donald Trump, making friends worldwide.

By Petrarch  |  December 20, 2015

In normal elections, candidates seek endorsements from almost anywhere they can be found - usually courting celebrities, other politicians, local business leaders, unions, and political organizations of various stripes.  In the big leagues, presidential contenders may try to garner support from overseas - we remember Senator Obama's pre-victory tour of Europe, where he was treated as if he were already the President.

Then there are endorsements a would-be president doesn't really want to get, such as David Duke, Fidel Castro or Kim Jong Un.

Or... Vladimir Putin?

Putin offered high praise for the billionaire businessman-turned-Republican presidential front-runner on Thursday during an annual news conference with reporters.

"He is a bright and talented person without any doubt," Putin said, adding that Trump is "an outstanding and talented personality."

And in remarks closely mirroring Trump's assessment of the campaign, the Russian leader called Trump "the absolute leader of the presidential race."

Considering that we haven't been getting on well with Russia of late, and most Republicans are happy to throw rocks at Putin, one wouldn't think that an endorsement from the man in the Kremlin would be helpful.  The Donald, however, seems to feel otherwise:

"It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond," Trump said in a statement released by campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks. "I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect."

Best Frenemies?

There are almost too many possibilities here to keep track of.

Putin may not be an expert on American politics but he has plenty of staff who are.  He is no doubt well aware of American unhappiness with his interventions in Syria; for sure he remembers (fondly) the days when America and the USSR were enemies locked in a cold war.

One of Donald Trump's key selling points is that he, unlike the current occupant of the Oval Office, is not a man to be pushed around.  It's conceivable that Vladimir Putin thinks so too, and is doing his bit to perhaps make it that little bit less likely he'll have to deal with a President Trump who is prepared to go mano a mano with him by giving people second thoughts about that idea.

Then again, maybe Putin, like the media, thinks Trump is a whackjob who'll do an even more incompetent job at the helm of the United States than we've had up until now, so he wants us to vote for him.

There's one other possibility though - one which might even be optimistic.  The fact is, for all Putin's bravado and dictatorial tendencies, modern Russia is a far cry from the Evil Empire of yore.  There are no longer millions in the gulags; Russia no longer fields a blue-water navy that can even pretend to stand up to our fleet, diminished though it be; and there are no longer vast hordes of highly trained soldiers poised to pour through the Fulda Gap into Western Europe.

This is not to say that Russia is a weakling: it has one of the world's best air forces, which we're getting to see in action in Syria.  It still has a more than adequate nuclear arsenal to turn the world into glass, and a submarine navy which makes it a force to be reckoned with.

And yes, it has an army large enough to make nearby small weak countries nervous with good cause.

But it is inconceivable that Putin will do anything that would seriously risk leading to war with the United States, and next to no chance we'd go to war with him.  Putin may be an autocrat but he doesn't have anything like the power of life and death that, say, Stalin did; he has to keep his economy growing and share the wealth with his people, which is becoming more and more difficult in an era of low fuel prices.  No, there won't be that sort of World War III any time soon.

This doesn't mean Putin isn't preparing for war, though.  Unlike the United States, Russia has had Muslim residents for centuries and has been invaded by Muslims many times.  The government of Russia knows very well that Islam means violence and trouble of all sorts.

A glance at a globe reveals the stark truth: the stakes of the global war on jihad are far higher for Russia than for us.  Even with Mr. Obama welcoming terrorists with open arms, we have to put up with only a tiny fraction of the vast numbers who can simply hoof it into Russia to join entire provinces of Muslims who're already there.

What's more, even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the men in the Kremlin never sent suicide bombers to blow up our shopping malls or randomly gun down Americans at Christmas parties.  By and large, they played by the rules: military targets only, and only with good military reason.  As Ronald Reagan discovered, they were people we could deal with, and the world survived to fight over something else.

Not so the messianic apocalyptics of Islam!

Putin understands the threat; Donald Trump, with his call to halt Muslim immigration to the United States, is fast figuring it out.

Could it be that Putin is seeking, not a patsy, nor a rival, nor even a competent negotiating partner, but a forceful ally in the war for Western civilization?  The way things are going, both of our countries - and all of Europe in between - will need all the help we can get.