Everything you always wanted to know about Russia and Trump but were afraid to ask( like, when's World War III ?)– Part I.”>

This is the first of a series of articles examining all facets of Donald Trumps alleged ties or political sympathies with the Russian government. In this installment, Daily Beast Senior Editor Michael Weiss looks at the route Trump has refashioned Ronald Reagans Republican Party, largely out of his own sentence, into a helpmeet of the Kremlin. Read portions two, three, and four.

Michael Morrell, a former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, broke dramatically with the protocol of most ex-spies when he employed scare parlance to describe Republican nominee Donald Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation, albeit in the course of endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.

The colloquial term for the sort of person Morrell was talking about is useful idiot, person enlisted in the Kremlins cause through empathy, or shared interests, or, indeed, ignorance, without actually intending to be a pawn. But, as Putin certainly knows, the problem with useful morons is that they tend to be insecure and erratic, whereas witting agents are tutored in how to be disciplined and self-controlled.

Trump is too illogical and self-contradictory to be of much use to a hostile foreign power except as a naturally occurring battering ram against the very institutions and beliefs that power would like to see weakened or destroyed. Trumps opponent( whom Putin assuredly does not want to see inhabit the White House) and U.S. democracy at large are the truer objects of a Russian state-run information and cyber-espionage program. That Trumps vulgar and demoralizing campaign is ripping apart America on the path to building it great again is simply an added bonus for the former KGB colonel.

Without dismissing the severity of the Trump-Putin alignment, what our reporting made very clear is that the Republican does genuinely admire the Russian, but the impression is not inevitably reciprocal. Putin has been discreet, if not cryptic, in his characterization of Trump.( Insure the next installing in this series for more .) One might say the relationship between the two is that of an amateur authoritarian taking cues from an aloof and bemused professional, but the performance delivered, to any outside observer, appears more like an oblivious travesty than a credible imitation.

What is remarkable, however, is how consistent Trumps most illiberal, and seemingly pro-Russian, posture on Americas undergirding of postwar European security has been, dating back to before Putin was even master of the Kremlin.

NATO R.I.P.

In his book The America We Deserve, published in 2000, the first year of Putins presidency, Trump( or his ghost writer) wrote, America has no vital interest in choosing between warring cliques whose animosities go back centuries in Eastern Europe. Their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually. The cost of stationing NATO troops in Europe is enormous. And these are clearly monies that can be put to better employ. We pay for the defense of France and yet they vote against us at the United Nations and prefer the side of the Northern korean, the Libyans, and other rogue nations.( This was in 2000, years before the French were enjoined in the New York Posts Axis of Weasel because they tried to prevent the ill-fated intrusion of Iraq, and more than a decade before French President Nicolas Sarkozy agitated for intervention in Libya to protect rebels from Muammar Gaddafis depredations .)

Such vague, amorphous isolationism may well have been noted by interested parties in Moscow at the time, only to be filed away for later employ. But the military confederation that has more or less underwritten European peace for 70 years, and whose steadfast resistance helped is carrying out the collapse of the Soviet Union, has always been a bugbear for Trump. He genuinely believes in upending the postwar security establishment, and this just so happens to dovetail neatly with what Putin now wants.

But that wasnt always the case.

There was a day, in the early 2000 s, when Putin earnestly sought Russias accession to NATO, much to NATOs astonishmentironically, just as Trump was vilifying the alliance in book-length form.

Even before being elected president, Mikhail Zygar writes in his recent history of the Russian presidents longtime cabal, All the Kremlins Men, Putin asked NATO Secretary General George Robertson at their first session, in February 2000, when Russia would be able to join the alliance. Robertson was not prepared for the question and answered routinely that every country that wanted to join should apply according to the established procedure. Putin was irked, writes Zygar. He was convinced that Russia should not have to wait in line like other countries; to the contrary, it should be invited to join.

Putin has grown more irked since, especially given the enlistment, in 2004, of 7 former Soviet-occupied nations: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Since then, NATO has come to inhabit, in his imagination, a dark specter spreading across the continent right up to Russias vulnerable doorstep. He ensure it as driven by the United States rather than out of any intrinsic popular passion on the part of it its national constituents.

In the last decade or so, it is Russian officials who have voiced an awful plenty like Donald Trump back in 2000 rather than the other way around. Putin said in 2014 that NATO, as part of the bloc system of the world, has outlived itself.

In his first foreign policy interview with The New York Timess David Sanger and Maggie Haberman, published on March 26, 2016, Trump similarly described NATO as obsolete. Since its founding in 1949 , no major presidential candidate from either party has in the past treated the alliance as anything other than sacrosanct. Trump also seemed confused by its most recent activities, telling Sanger and Haberman that NATOs remit should be altered to include terror. Never intellect that the first and only day Article 5 of the Atlantic Charterthe collective defense clausewas ever invoked was on Sept. 12, 2001, to move to every member states participation in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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