It’s remarkable how the Trump-Ukraine story has reflexively been described as a case of Trump’s “courting Ukrainian interference in American politics” rather than as Trump’s interfering in Ukrainian politics, or even more precisely, as Trump’s abortive attempt to make an intervention into the Ukrainian criminal justice system. The latter strikes me as a more straightforward description of what actually happened.
DES MOINES — Allegations that President Trump courted foreign interference from Ukraine to hurt his leading Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., dominated presidential politics on Saturday, as Mr. Biden demanded a House investigation of Mr. Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s leader and as Mr. Trump lashed out, denying wrongdoing without releasing a transcript of the call.
I heard one pundit try to justify the “courting interference” description by claiming that in asking the Ukrainians to investigate Hunter Biden, Trump was legitimizing Ukraine’s sending covert operatives to the United States to circumvent the American criminal justice system–presumably to abduct Biden for trial (or worse) in the way that the Israeli Mossad abducted Adolph Eichmann in 1960. I guess that’s one interpretation–a highly speculative one that involves a gigantic leap beyond any evidence we have, but an interpretation nonetheless.
Another interpretation involving much less of a leap is that the “courting interference” interpretation allows us to focus narrowly on Trump while ignoring the fact that both Biden and Trump have made interventions in Ukrainian “politics.” Naturally, ignoring Biden helps Biden, which in turn facilitates “our” attempts to unseat the Tyrant Trump. It also allows us to avoid the broader question of when it is and when it isn’t legitimate for an American president or vice president to make demands of a foreign country’s judicial officers via demands made to its chief executive.
I can see why someone like Donna Brazile might prefer the narrower perspective that focuses entirely on Trump while relegating Biden’s doings to the margins of consciousness:
“We’re basically creating a political story, which right now is undermining Joe Biden, when I do believe the real focus should be getting the substance of the complaint out to the American people as soon as possible,” she said.
Donna Brazile gets paid to think like that–or put somewhat differently, to avoid the thoughts that permit her to think like that. Those of us who make our living in other ways might have a different focus. We might want to ask broader questions about the conduct of American foreign policy, among them why it is that those who run it, Democrat or Republican, operate on the hubristic premise that American interference in other countries is really foreign interference in America.
Interestingly enough, it isn’t–in case you were wondering. This fact, both elementary and elemental, serves as a useful starting point into what, in fairness, ought to be called the Trump-Biden-Ukraine controversy (the Bidens rather obviously being at the center of it). To what extent, if any, ought we to be interfering in the operation of other countries’ political systems? It’s a neutral question consistent with a wide variety of answers. Answering it is about as close as we’re ever going to come to blowing the whistle on American foreign policy–the only whistle in the vicinity worth blowing.