Fiona Hill and the two presidents

Fiona Hill’s new book, There Is Nothing for You Here, went on sale last week – five and a half years after Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin had been published (co-authored with Clifford Gaddy).

Hill served as the national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council in 2006-09, under Bush II and Obama. In 2017-19, she was a senior member of President Trump’s National Security Council, focusing on Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Lynn Berry and Calvin Woodward provide an intriguing introduction into Hill’s latest work:

Hill describes Putin manipulating Trump by offering or withholding compliments, a maneuver she said was more effective with this president than getting dirt and blackmailing him would have been…

Any good operative would exploit the emotional vulnerabilities of a person he is seeking to recruit or manipulate. The operative in the Kremlin shouldn’t be an exception to this rule.

Yet in Trump she saw a rare if ultimately wasted talent. He spoke the language of many average people, disdained the same things, operated without a filter, liked the same food and gleefully shredded the tiresome norms of the elite…

A rare talent among politicians coming from a background of privilege and relative wealth. Putin, in contrast, hails from humble beginnings. His appeal to Russia’s “forgotten men” and especially women is at least somewhat understandable.

In Hill’s words, “the Russians were just exploiting everything” while “actually the problem was the United States.” Sure – but the Soviets also tried to “exploit everything” in their own day, including the 1940s when Americans seemed to flock in droves to spy for the Communist Paradise. Nothing new about it.

What I’d really like to hear from Hill today is her assessment of Putin’s recent public appearances.

While President Biden’s haters caricature him as an incoherent old man, it’s obviously an exaggeration. On the other hand, every time Putin responds to questions or makes comments without a prepared script, the less deceived members of audience cannot help but question his grip on logic and common sense. I’m not suggesting we’re in Brezhnev territory but I believe that my July observations were neither a one-time anomaly nor a wishful thinker’s hallucination.

I’m not so much thinking about obvious blunders. Factual errors, however laughable, can sometimes be forgivable lapses of memory. For more troubling is a president’s apparent regression from mature behavior to adolescent reactions and outbursts.

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