Vladimir Putin is doing so much winning, he must be getting tired of winning — to borrow a phrase from President Donald Trump.
Russia’s President has swept into the vacuum left by the US in northeast Syria. In just days, he has presided over a deal between US-allied- Kurds and his own ally Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, dispatched military police to the oil-rich region, and softened up Turkey’s President over the phone — all while completing a victory lap through the palaces of the Gulf.
Trump is trying to catch up, sending top-ranking officials to Ankara to demand a ceasefire in Syria. But the geopolitical horse has bolted. And Putin locked the stable door.
The former KGB major’s foreign policy gambits are all in the pursuit of restoring Russia’s lost post-Cold War influence and prestige, whether he’s interfering in the 2016 US election or playing chess in the Middle East. He detests NATO, and delights in peeling Turkey away from its fellow members, as he is beginning to do with weapons sales.
It must be especially satisfying to prove wrong America’s finger-wagging presidents. Barack Obama warned five years ago that Syria would be a “quagmire” for Russia, and Trump has implied Russia would bankrupt itself there, as the Soviets did in Afghanistan. But Putin keeps rolling on. Not bad for the man who once called the demise of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”
‘The biggest mistake of his presidency’
That’s Sen. Lindsey Graham saying Trump was making “the biggest mistake of his presidency” in Syria. Trump responded that the South Carolina Republican would like to stay in the Middle East “for a thousand years.”
More transcripts, please
The biggest surprise about the Ukraine scandal is that Trump thought he could make it go away by releasing this suspicion-raising rough transcript of his call with President Volodymyr Zelensky. It’s got us thinking about other transcripts of calls that might be stashed away in a top-secret Situation Room computer system — here are a few we’d love to see:
1- Any call with Vladimir Putin
Trump’s relationship with the Russian leader is one of the mysteries of his presidency. Judging by his simpering public appearances with Putin — including one where Trump dissed his own US intelligence agencies — these calls would be fascinating.
2- With Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Syria
Trump denies that he greenlit Turkey’s current offensive in northeastern Syria. But analysts speculate that he was out-maneuvered in a call with Turkish President Erdogan, leading him to suddenly withdraw troops from the sides of America’s Kurdish allies there.
3- With Mohammed bin Salman after Khashoggi’s death
Officials who ordinarily would get a rough transcript never saw oneafter the President and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman spoke following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year. And the administration never embraced its own intelligence suggesting that MBS was to blame. This chat could explain a lot. As could calls and texts between MBS and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser.
Barring a massive leak, transcripts of these calls are unlikely to see the light of day — at least while Trump is President. But you can check out POTUS in action on the phone in these annotated Washington Post transcripts of calls with the former leaders of Australia and Mexico.
And if telephone politics is your thing, check out this treasure trove of calls by the master of the art — the 36th US President, Lyndon Johnson.
Speaking to press after a meeting about Syria at the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump had “a meltdown” and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of calling Pelosi “a third-rate politician.” The White House counters that “the President was measured, factual and decisive.”
Number of the day: $5
That’s how much Wayne Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Florida, who is still technically a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, raised for his campaign between July and September. Don’t spend it all at once.