ASHBURN, Virginia -- The mounting concern among foreign policy experts about Donald Trump’s apparent affinity for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin does not appear to be much of a concern to the Republican presidential nominee, who used a speech here to reiterate his hope to improve US-Russia relations and to compare the US military unfavorably to Russia’s.
In the midst of remarks about China and trade policy, Trump suddenly veered into a discussion of the relationship between the US and Moscow.
“By the way, wouldn’t it be great if we got along with Russia?” he asked to huge applause. “If we had a relationship with Russia? Instead of all the fighting and the money and the problems if we could get Russia and others to partner up and go and knock the hell out of ISIS?”
Again, huge applause.
“These people are so obsolete,” he said, talking about the United States’ current foreign policy establishment that has balked at the idea of cozying up to Putin. He did not mention that their reluctance stems from the fact that Putin recently invaded a sovereign country in Eastern Europe, is supporting an armed rebellion against the government of that same country, and has for the past several years engaged in dangerous military gamesmanship with other nations, including the US.
But to Trump, an adversarial relationship with Putin, even as his forces occupy Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, is one of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s great failings. “She has terrible relationships with Putin,” he said.
“This is a nuclear country we’re talking about. Russia,” he continued. “Strong nuclear country. And so are we. But their stuff is newer. Their stuff is newer.”
“And they have more!” someone shouted from the crowd.
“And they have more,” Trump quickly agreed. “I didn’t want to say. They have a lot more.”
He continued, “Look at Russia, how they’ve built up their military. Look at what they’ve done. Look at what they’ve done on the nuclear weapons front. How they’ve built up their military and how we’re so far behind. And our equipment is obsolete in many cases. And we have jet fighters that are so old that they have to go to graveyards -- airplane graveyards and museums to get parts for current jet fighters. And we have pilots, our wonderful incredible pilots saying, it didn’t used to be this way.
“We’ve got to get smart, folks. We’ve got to get smart. We’re falling way behind.”
But as is often the case at political rallies, the actual truth of Trump’s claims about Russian military superiority was unimportant. What mattered was their usefulness in painting a picture of a United States in decline -- a decline that Trump insists at every opportunity that only he can reverse.