Speed Reads

Trump-Russia

CNN's Fareed Zakaria tackles a key mystery about Trump: 'Why is he so nice to the Russians?'

On Monday night, CNN's Don Lemon asked Fareed Zakaria what he makes of the reports that President Trump disclosed highly classified and sensitive intelligence to Russia's foreign minister and ambassador. In this case, "you almost have to hope for incompetence, because the alternative is so dark," Zakaria said, hours before Trump said he shared "facts" with Russia for "humanitarian reasons." Trump "does not seem to either understand or care about the structures and processes of high government office," he added. The U.S. spends $70 billion a year on intelligence, and "these are the crown jewels," so to just give them away, "without really having thought it through, seems incredibly careless."

The "less benign interpretation" is that Trump "was helping the Russians out," Zakaria said, but "I'm sticking with the incompetence rather than venality theory." Then he stepped back to a larger question.

"The central puzzle of Trump's worldview and foreign policy, from the start of the campaign to now, has been very simple: Why is he so nice to the Russians?" Zakaria asked. Trump's whole foreign policy, dating back to the 1980s with Japan and NATO, can be summed up as "everybody screws the Americans," he said. "We always lose, they always win, I'm going to get tough on the rest of the world." The one exception is Russia. "Even today we discover, he spills the beans not to the Brits, not to the Germans, not to the French, but to the Russians," Zakaria noted.

Lemon asked if Trump understands that he's being played by the Russians, and Zakaria didn't guess at Trump's self-knowledge. But when he looks at how other leaders are handling Trump, he said, Vladimir Putin "is running circles around us," China's Xi Jinping is playing Trump like a fiddle, and other world leaders are "playing at a high level of sophistication, carrots and sticks." America, he added, is still waiting to start winning, much less tiring of all the victories. Peter Weber