What Can We Think of Trump’s Summit with Putin?

What Can We Think of Trump’s Summit with Putin? July 18, 2018

After shredding NATO and the Western alliance, President Trump staged what looked to be a lovefest with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

In their talks, President Trump had nothing but good things to say about Russia, not mentioning Putin’s practice of invading neighboring countries, assassinating his enemies (including on foreign soil, as he has done in the U.K.), and running roughshod over any kind of human rights.

President Trump even seemed to accept Putin’s word that Russia did not interfere in U.S. elections, even though the summit was held immediately after the indictment of 12 agents of Russian military intelligence.  President Trump later backtracked that statement.  And yet, he tweeted this:

Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!

Here he blames our previously poor relations with Russia on the United States!  America is foolish and stupid.  And, of course, he sees all of this through his own problems with the Mueller investigation (a.k.a., “the Rigged Witch hunt”).  This doesn’t sound like “putting America first.”

Now the Russians are crowing.  “The West has failed!”

What happened?

Is Donald Trump a Russian agent?  So argues this article, written before the summit.

This article, written afterwards, says that he might as well be.  After all, he keeps giving the Russians everything they want.  (Weakening NATO and sowing discord in the Western alliance has been Russia’s dream for decades, and look what Trump’s meeting with NATO accomplished.)

Has President Trump committed treason?  That’s what former CIA director John Brennan is saying, among others.  According to this thinking, the president has given “aid and comfort to the enemy,” which is the definition of treason.  Though I’m not aware that we are in a state of war with Russia.  But, as conservative Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama) pointed out, Russia is at least an “adversary.”

Does Putin “have something” on Trump?  That’s what some are saying, an allusion either to the scandalous sexual escapades cited in the discredited Steele memo or to evidence that Trump did, in fact, collude with the Russian election tamperers.

These are mostly what Democrats are saying, but even Republicans are being critical.

So are a number of  Trump loyalists who have supported him through other controversies.  Trump’s former communications director Anthony Scaramucci says that loyalty to Trump requires truth-telling.

But let’s put the best construction on this.

Might President Trump be attempting to create a new world order with a U.S./Russia alliance?  Nixon made a de facto alliance with China that helped isolate Russia when it was the Soviet Union.  Then again, who would be triangulating against this time?  The European Union?

Might a Trump/Putin accord represent an alliance of social conservatives against Western style liberalism?  Some conservatives hail Putin’s rejection of homosexuality and his courting of the Orthodox Church.  Then again, President Trump tends to be supportive of gay rights, and his evangelical allies don’t appreciate how Putin has basically outlawed their counterparts in Russia, at the behest of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Or might President Trump’s rapprochement with President Putin be an act of peacemaking?  Making an “adversary” into ally, thus making any kind of future armed conflict more unlikely?

Any other ways to construe what happened?

What I think is that President Trump did not know what he was doing.  He is not a diplomat, that’s for sure.  He has no experience in government, which accounts for many of his other seeming bloopers.  He is a bull in a china cabinet.  The realm of diplomacy is so delicate, so subtle, in which every statement gets parsed a hundred ways, that of course a careless talker who speaks his mind off the top of his head is going to make a diplomatic gaffe.

It’s good for a president to have diplomatic skills, but not having them is not necessarily a sign of treason or collusion or other nefarious conspiracies.  This does not invalidate Trump’s presidency or negate his other accomplishments, such as Supreme Court nominations.

That’s about as good a construction that I can put on this.

How else might we construe what happened?

 

Photograph of President Trump and President Putin at the Helsinki summit.  Website of the President of Russia.   “All materials from the Russian President’s website may be reproduced in any media outlets, on Internet servers or on any other information supports without restriction on the amount of material or time of publication.”  Creative Commons 4.0 International.

 

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