by Josh Manning
Josh Manning is a combat veteran and serves on the leadership team of Common Defense, a group of progressive veterans joining together to affect political change. You can follow him on Twitter @joshuamanning23.
Counterterrorism analysts shorthand a grouping of terrorists from different groups or skillsets as a “nexus.” There is no better term for what has become a solidifying linkage between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, and our lone Congressman, Ryan Zinke. Together this trinity of hate spreads policies based on authoritarian rule, dominance politics, and crony capitalism.
Last week, intelligence officials broadcast their concerns regarding a Trump foreign policy advisor meeting with the same members of the Russian security services who are attempting influence the 2016 presidential election. If you have not heard, the Russian security services are attempting to sway the election toward Trump. It was already concerning enough that this advisor, Carter Page, has connections to Russian companies and oligarchs close to Putin’s inner circle, to include monolithic energy power Gazprom. People who run afoul of Gazprom end up dead or in prison. You do not get close to that group unless your aim is empower Russia at any means necessary.
Like Putin, a beloved figure among the European right and now American white power movements because of his strongman leadership, Trump practices “dominance politics.” You saw that recently when Ted Cruz turned tail to endorse Trump despite Trump making slanderous personal attacks against him, his wife, and his family. It’s why Trump has to aggressively respond to every perceived slight, even it comes from a family who lost their heroic son in Iraq.
It should come as no surprise that our lone Congressman has fallen into this circle. He ran and continues to run on his past a Navy SEAL and many from that group are known for swagger and braggadocio. Sometimes that is well-earned, but if you look closely (and I did two years ago) at Ryan Zinke’s military record you can see the swagger covers an overstated past. Like Putin and Trump, Zinke uses this arrogance to compensate for his weakness.
Zinke continues to double down on his support for Trump and recently made comments about Russia that should disqualify him from being considered any sort of national security expert. Zinke praised Putin’s “successes annexing Crimea, spreading Russian influence in Ukraine and planting the Russian flag at the North Pole, claiming sovereignty over a large portion of the Arctic Ocean.” He made this comment to the Washington Times, a newspaper with a conservative slant, so there is no chance of liberal bias at-play here. Zinke also complimented Putin’s leadership style and abilities. Reminder: Putin’s leadership style is to wink when his minions gun down journalists and opposition figures in the Moscow streets and enrich himself at the expense of the Russian people.
If praising Putin’s “leadership” was not disqualifying enough on its own, unpacking Zinke’s comments regarding Russia’s moves against its near abroad demonstrates how little he understands national security and foreign policy. In characterizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea as brilliant, Zinke has put himself at the opposite end of policy adopted by NATO, our most important ally in the region. He cannot talk about how he supports NATO one year then praise Putin to gain an electoral edge. Further, these approvals give Putin room to amplify military actions against the Baltic and Central Asian states that are trying to develop democracies outside of Russian interference and break away from the Soviet model. If Zinke wants a new Cold War—with he and the GOP oddly on the side of Russians—then this is the way to start it.
His comment about Russia’s intent toward the Arctic counters United States policy. As the Arctic continues to melt away as the oceans warm, the Russians have been planting their flag (literally) on certain sections. By doing so, the Russians will gain access to sea lanes where they can prevent access or use it to more easily sell their goods and arms around the world. Most democracies want to stop Russia from gaining from such an advantage. Our lone Congressman is apparently okay with abandoning that policy to favor a foreign power trying to influence this election cycle. Yet not a question from the national or local press.
There are growing, unanswered questions about Trump’s financial and political connections to the Kremlin. Based on Zinke’s comments appealing to the Russian government, you wonder what his connections are or what support he hopes to gain by appealing to their vicious desires. Congressman, you owe Montanans and Americans a response to this. But like your backing of Trump’s comments against a Gold Star family I am sure we will be met with silence and your smug smile. But behind that there is scheming going on and Zinke is playing with a dangerous foe.