Opinion

Trump's favorite foreign leader

Hint: It isn't David Cameron

Vladimir Putin is a thug. On this, I suspect, most people outside his country's borders would agree. In recent years, Russia's new czar has started a new Cold War, invaded and annexed Crimea, ignited a civil war in Ukraine, and propped up a genocidal dictator in Syria. At home, journalists and opposition leaders who've dared to criticize Putin have been beaten, jailed, shot, and poisoned. Now we've learned the lying dictator even rigged the Olympic Games in Sochi, turbocharging his athletes with steroids and substituting clean urine for their tainted samples. In a great irony, Putin has exploited the West's tradition of free speech by funding a TV network, RT — formerly called Russia Today — here and in Europe, spewing out a steady stream of pro-Russian, anti-American propaganda. On RT, there's just one American political leader who is routinely praised; his election, Putin's stooges say, may lead to "improved relations between the U.S. and Russia." Guess who?

The admiration goes both ways. Donald Trump has called Putin "a strong leader" and says it's "an honor" to receive his praise. Improved relations with Russia are "absolutely possible," Trump said in his recent policy speech. "This horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon." At the speech, Putin's beaming U.S. ambassador was seated in the front row. Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has specialized in giving political and tactical advice to foreign authoritarian leaders, including Phillipines strongman Ferdinand Marcos and Angola's Soviet-backed "freedom fighter'' Jonas Savimbi, and was chief adviser to former Ukranian president Victor Yanukovych — a Putin puppet — until a revolution forced Yanukovych to flee to Putin's protection in Russia. If elected president, it seems, Trump will not only turn Washington upside down — he'll turn American foreign policy on its head, too. Trump is feuding with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has criticized his proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. "Looks like we're not going to have a very good relationship," Trump said this week. He's also not fond of NATO, saying it may be "obsolete." It's an intriguing new worldview: The United Kingdom, a hostile nation. Europe, a parasite on U.S. military strength. Putin? A potential ally, and perhaps a role model.

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