Way back in 2003, before I was a blogger, I read George Crile’s book Charlie Wilson’s War and really enjoyed it. At this point, the specifics from the book are foggy even though they were refreshed somewhat when the movie came out in 2007. One thing I remember, though, is that Dana Rohrabacher had a big role in the narrative. The California congressman was a major booster of the mujahideen and completely gung-ho about using them to tear apart the Soviet Union. At the time, he was a speechwriter in the Reagan administration, but with some help from Ollie North he won his seat in Congress in 1988. Over the years since I read Charlie Wilson’s War, I haven’t thought too much about Rohrabacher but my impression of him as a rabid Russian-hater stuck with me.
Yet, I keep seeing him mentioned in the press as a Putin apologist, so I began to doubt my memory a bit. A quick search of Google brought up a speech Rohrabacher made on the House floor in 2009, and it confirmed that I’m not crazy. Here’s an excerpt from that speech:
So, our assistance to the Afghanistan resistance escalated, and as it did, I became more personally involved in this historic effort. In those days, Jack Wheeler would send us firsthand accounts of the frontline fight in Afghanistan . At times, he would bring Afghanistan warriors to my office in the White House. Other times, these rugged fighters–the Mujahedeen as they are called–would come to Washington for secret meetings, and I would end up taking them for lunch at the White House dining room or introducing them to specific people in the bureaucracy and in the power structure who could help them. So I got to know and admire these brave people.
He goes on to confirm that he’s proud of his role in promoting radical Wahhabism and anti-Western terrorism because it allowed us to bring down the Evil Empire, although he has a complicated and ahistorical way of explaining that the mujahideen were only radicalized against the West because we abandoned them. In his mind, the mujahideen and the Taliban are opposing forces, for example.
In any case, he certainly used to be anti-Russian in the extreme. And now he’s anything but.
Rohrabacher, a former Reagan speechwriter, is considered to be Putin’s top congressional ally.
Rohrabacher and Putin once arm-wrestled in an alcohol-fueled bout at an Irish pub in Washington, D.C. Putin won.
Plenty of conservative voices have noticed Rohrabacher’s turnabout, and there’s a lot of opposition on the right to the idea of Rohrabacher serving as Secretary of State. For one thing, people still remember that he was a bit of a rogue operator in the months before and after the 9/11 attacks.
Just months before the 9/11 attacks, Rohrabacher personally (and, arguably, illegally) engaged Taliban leaders and associates of Osama bin Laden, in Doha, Qatar.
According to a 2002 story from OC Weekly, Rohrabacher was accompanied by Republican strategist Grover Norquist and select other members of Congress in the Gulf state for a “Free Markets and Democracy” conference. Norquist’s now-defunct Islamic Institute paid for his travel expenses.
After meeting with the Taliban leaders, without any evidence of authorization from the president, Rohrabacher described his rogue discussions with the jihadis as “frank and open” and “thoughtful and inquisitive.” His engagement of the group was reported by AFP, Al-Jazeera, and several local outlets.
In Doha, he reportedly presented the Taliban with a “peace plan,” which they appeared to interpret back home in Afghanistan as a plot to undermine their power.
After 9/11, Rohrabacher appeared to conceal his past talks with the Taliban, and quickly labeled the group as evil as “a pack of dogs killing anyone.” However, his trips to Qatar did not stop. He visited the Gulf monarchy at least three times after the Sept. 11 attacks, on trips sponsored by the Islamic Institute. The California representative has continued over the years to shuttle back and forth between the U.S. and Qatar, for reasons that are unclear.
Later, his rogue diplomacy would continue getting him into hot water. In 2012, Afghan President Hamid Karzai banned him from entering the country.
More recently, Rohrabacher refused to condemn Russia’s de facto annexation of Crimea (voting “present“) and even defended Crimea’s right to separate from Ukraine. He’s scoffed at accusations that Putin’s Russia is a systemic and serious human rights violator.
There’s plenty more to say about Rohrabacher’s foreign policy adventures over the years, and we can get to that if and when he is actually nominated to be the next Secretary of State. What we can say for now is that his record is eclectic. He’s prone to making factually inaccurate statements and of being on both sides of various conflicts at various times. He tends to freelance, often making representations to foreign officials that he hasn’t been authorized to make or staking out territory that is in contradiction of the official policy of both Democratic and Republican administrations.
I think at times his iconoclasm has been justifiable if not clearly justified, but he definitely has not been a team player. There’s nothing in his record to suggest that he’d do well in a role where he’s expected to take his orders, salute, and do his best. And that’s precisely what a Secretary of State is expected to do when their advice is overruled.
Based on his coziness with Putin’s Russia, he’s probably exactly who Putin would select to run our State Department if he were authorized to make the nomination himself.
I’ve already written that having Michael Flynn serve as the National Security Adviser is a threat to our national security specifically because of Flynn’s close ties to Putin.
Were Rohrabacher to join the administration in a foreign policy role, especially as the head of the State Department, it would look to me like a simple takeover of our country by Vladimir Putin. I don’t know how else to put it.
And, of course, this is exactly what we’d expect from a president who owes his job to the intervention of Putin and his intelligence services.
We’ve seen plenty of evidence that this might be the case, from the selection of pro-Russian Paul Manafort as Trump’s initial campaign manager to the (admittedly controversial) story about a secret server in Trump tower that connects to Putin-aligned Alfa Bank. Back in August, Time did a deep-dive into a frankly staggering amount of connections Trump has to Russia, from organized crime figures to foreign investors.
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., said at a real estate conference in 2008, according to a trade publication, eTurboNews.
Trump even sold a mold-infested Palm Beach mansion to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for an absurdly marked up price of $95 million. And let’s not forget the pro-Russian planks that were mysteriously introduced into the Republican platform or the whole bizarre Carter Page incident (there’s that Alfa Bank, again!).
There’s so much smoke here that it shouldn’t even be controversial that Putin was working overtime to infiltrate and influence the Trump campaign. What’s odd is that the Trump campaign seemed such a willing participant and now is doing everything it can think of to pay back and reward Russia.
Everyone’s focused on the CIA’s conclusion that Putin sought to influence the election and swing it to Trump. This is far more serious than that. That Trump is even talking about Rohrabacher for State shows that Putin is the one who is calling the shots, and seems to have been calling the shots from the beginning.
When Elise Jordan looked at Russia’s influence over Trump back in July, she may not have realized that Trump was already so compromised that he would never even consider becoming a Putin-tamer. She got the rest right, though, since it turns out that Russia hacked the Republicans, too, and just didn’t use the material.
Trump certainly won’t be taking sides against Putin. Like so many naive candidates who strut their way into the ring, Trump is confident he will finally be the true Putin-tamer, that they like each other and that Putin thinks highly of him.
I wonder how Trump will feel when Putin releases Trump’s tax returns. That won’t come until long after the election—Putin understands when’s got an ace in his hand. It will certainly come if Trump makes it to the White House, and not at the moment of his choosing.
The Electoral College still has the option not to make Donald Trump (and therefore, Vladimir Putin) our president. They have nine days to figure this out.