I remember being anxious before my first backstage hangout with Metallica. What would I wear? How would I fix my hair? Would I get to meet Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield?
All the details are important to a fan, so I can imagine Donald Trump’s giddy anticipation of a sidebar meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany, next month.
It’s not like they don’t have a lot to talk about, either.
According to a report in the Associated Press, Trump wants full press coverage and all the little extras that will make the meeting a splashy media event. His administration officials, however, are apparently experiencing small brain bleeds, as they try to convey that maybe now isn’t the time for him to put his man-crush on blast to the world.
But Trump and some others within his administration have been pressing for a full bilateral meeting. He’s calling for media access and all the typical protocol associated with such sessions, even as officials within the State Department and National Security Council urge more restraint, according to a current and a former administration official.
Some advisers have recommended that the president instead do either a quick, informal “pull-aside” on the sidelines of the summit, or that the U.S. and Russian delegations hold “strategic stability talks,” which typically don’t involve the presidents. The officials spoke anonymously to discuss private policy discussions.
The contrasting views underscore differing views within the administration on overall Russia policy, and Trump’s eagerness to develop a working relationship with Russia despite the ongoing investigations.
It’s inevitable that there will be some interaction between the two presidents, as is pointed out by Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. They’re going to be at the same meeting, so of course, they’ll meet. They’ll speak.
The AP article went on to explain that while there could be benefits to having the two leaders meet, such as working through a deal in handling the ongoing conflict in Syria, there could also be dangers. Putin has ulterior motives. He wants sanctions eased, and Russia’s interests in Syria have worked against America’s interests.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that as a former KGB agent, Putin knows how to manipulate, and Trump has neither the savvy, experience, or self-control to handle someone with Putin’s background.
Nina Khrushcheva, a Russian affairs professor at the New School, said Trump is in an “impossible position.”
“He can’t be too nice to Putin because it’s going to be interpreted in a way that suggests he has a special relationship with Russia,” she said. “He can’t be too mean because Putin has long arms and KGB thinking. So Trump needs to have a good relationship with him but he also needs to fulfill his campaign promises of establishing better relations with Russia.”
And Trump’s continuing attempts to downplay the seriousness of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is not the way a leader in control, or working for the best interest of his nation should be behaving, ahead of an important meeting that will be closely watched by the world.
As Jay Caruso pointed out earlier, Trump’s current whining deals with former President Obama’s handling of Russia’s election meddling, instead of just dealing with what we know happened. That doesn’t make him look like a leader.
The disconnect between Trump and his advisers in the State Department and National Security Council over Russia runs deeper than the debate over a G20 bilateral.
A former administration official who spoke anonymously to discuss classified information said that frustration is growing among foreign policy advisers over the failure of the White House to embrace a more cautious and critical approach to Russia. All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have agreed Russia was behind last year’s hack of Democratic email systems and tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump.
Trump has to directly “say to Putin, ’We’re not happy about you interfering in our election,’” said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. “If you don’t say that, you are going to get hammered by the press and Congress and you can guarantee Congress will pass sanctions legislation against Russia.”
“They also need to keep their expectations very, very modest,” added Pifer. “If they aim for a homerun in Hamburg, my guess is they’ll strike out.”
It won’t be a homerun, given Trump’s previous blunders, but if his advisers can get a firm handle on him ahead of time, any major gaffes may be avoided.
It’s really the most we can hope for.