Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.
Now that the initial reactions to Trump’s meeting with Putin and- more importantly- press conference is over and all the righteous indignation expressed, perhaps we can move onto sanity in this area. Admittedly, there were times during that press conference when Trump was answering questions, Putin must have thought the interpreter in his ear piece was messing with him.
Many warned against this meeting, especially a private one-on-one with Putin that lasted two hours. Many of those doing the armchair advising were former foreign relations officials who still don’t seem to understand that Trump does not do things the way they were done in the past. The purported purpose was to open a dialogue with Russia and thaw current relations between the two countries. Others thought it should be a clearing of the air event. Suggestions of topics of discussion were, among others, Syria, the Crimea, Ukraine, a gas pipeline, Russian interference in the 2016 election, extradition of 12 recently indicted Russian intelligence operatives, and Edward Snowden.
If this was a clearing of the air event, then the press conference sheds some light on the subject. Apparently they did discuss Syria since it was the topic of a question asked. The talk turned into one of eventual humanitarian efforts although this writer would not trust Putin in this area since Russia’s actions in Syria have helped create the humanitarian crisis. Regarding the Crimea, Putin was rather blunt on this subject stating that Trump’s views were rather clear- he believes the annexation of Crimea to be illegal. Putin had a different view citing the UN Charter and a referendum in Crimea.
We have to assume Ukraine was discussed since Putin suggested that the United States put pressure on the government of Ukraine to abide by the Minsk agreement. Likewise, the Nordstream 2 pipeline was the subject of a question given Trump’s assessment at the Brussels NATO meeting which led to talk of Russia and the United States being energy competitors. Further, during the question and answer period, there was extended talk of Russian election meddling and extradition of the twelve people recently indicted. Hence, other than Edward Snowden, we have to assume that in that two hour personal meeting and during the working lunch the subjects suggested by many were brought up and discussed by Trump and Putin.
What has everyone’s knickers twisted is Trump’s reluctance to call out Putin to his face at a press conference in front of 1,400 reporters and millions of viewers for any of these transgressions. When asked whether Trump held Russia accountable for anything, Trump responded, “Yes, I do.” But then he continued, “I hold both countries responsible” before saying the US has acted “foolishly.” Being Trump, he then went off the rails and on a rant reliving the 2016 campaign. Even in the next question, which was directed to Putin, Trump jumped in and again talked about 2016, legitimately winning, and invoking the Electoral College which, by the way, his math was off by six (guess he forgot a state).
Putin’s follow-up was expected- denial of collusion and interference before offering up a solution by having Mueller’s team go to Russia to be present for interviews with the 12 indicted individuals. Here, he hid behind a treaty of mutual assistance on criminal matters. It should be noted that Putin acknowledged that Trump mentioned this issue during their meeting. However, his idea, which Trump thought a “good one,” was some form of quid pro quo. This is sort of like inviting the burglar to investigate the burglary.
It was the last question and the response that has drawn the most fire from both sides of the aisle. That dealt with, given Putin’s denial of interference in the election, basically who did Trump believe: his own intelligence services or Vladimir Putin? After a rant about the DNC server and Clinton’s 33,000 missing e-mails, the following words are what has exacted the rage from many:
I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer.
He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. Ok? Thank you.
To many, this seemed like a refutation of the US intelligence community in favor of Putin’s word. If recent memory serves us correct, Putin’s word is not worth much. If Trump had said the above statement and left everything after the word “but” out, we would not be talking about impeachment, treason, “traitors,” appeasement, boot-licking, “surreal moments,” or “turning points in American history.” As it is, I don’t think saying you have great confidence in your intelligence people while also noting that Putin’s denials were strong even rises to the level of throwing the intelligence community “under the bus,” as some have suggested. However, read on.
No one ever accused or praised Trump for being Ronald Reagan when it came to communication skills. When he goes off script, he can be an embarrassment at times. For example, his announcement when he introduced Brett Kavanaugh sounded presidential because he did not go off-script. His ranting and reliving the 2016 campaign is when he goes off script.
Are his complaints about the Russian collusion delusion valid? Absolutely! Should he just sit back and take it? Absolutely not (and he hasn’t)! But, there is a time and a place for it and standing next to Putin was not one of those times. So, should we accept this as the “new normal” as one CNN analyst said grasping for an explanation?
I believe that after a campaign that was unorthodox and the likes of which we haven’t seen, to ask Trump to be any different now that he occupies the Oval Office may be asking too much. He has said things that (maybe!) may have been said in private or kept in one’s mind by Presidents in the past. But, Trump is not like any President of the past, nor was his pathway to the top. I believe that once people realize this, then they should make the choice of supporting or not supporting him should he run in 2020. But, one would hope that his tenure be analyzed in its totality with the thumb on the “actions” side of the scale, not the “rhetoric/style” side.