Putin Summit May Prove to Be Trump's Finest Hour
What? Did you just read that headline correctly?
Yes, you did. Writing it I assumed people's heads would explode. It's about as far as you can can get from today's conventional wisdom (i.e. what David Gergen thinks). Virtually every member of the smart set from Pelosi to McCain to some ninety-five percent of the media, including several cowards on Fox News, to, alas, Lindsey Graham (who should know better) are going out of their minds excoriating Trump for being soft on Putin, even for being "owned" by the neo-Soviet strongman. John Brennan -- once a communist himself, so he should know -- accused Trump of treason.
Okay, time for that familiar cliche -- the thought experiment. Suppose Trump had done the opposite, exactly what these people demanded -- verbally and viciously assaulted Putin for all his totalitarian tropes from annexing the Crimea to humiliating John Podesta for being so dumb as to fall for a phishing attack (all right -- I'll be fair. For invading the computers of Democratic Party operatives, allegedly to elect Trump) and so forth?
What would that have accomplished? The obvious answer is zilch. Again the opposite would most likely have occurred. Things, already bad, would have been set back further. It's human nature. You don't have to be a personal acquaintance of Vladimir Putin to know that. You only have to be breathing.
But... but... then Trump shouldn't have held the summit in the first place.
Oh, really? Although Russia -- the largest nation on the planet -- is in many ways a failing state with an economy barely the size of Texas, it still has a huge percentage of the world's nuclear weapons, about equal with ours, and the capacity to deliver them (and to pass them along to unreliable non-state actors). It behooves us to have a relationship with them for our survival and everybody else's, to keep our friends close and our enemies closer, as the Godfather would put it. The obvious goal in this is to limit nuclear proliferation and even to reduce, or at least stabilize, the nuclear arsenals as agreements come up for renewal.
If you look at Trump's actions in that context, what he says and what he does aren't so strange. His strategy should be clear by now to all those except those (unfortunately many) who deliberately don't want to understand it. I wrote about it earlier in "Trump's New Foreign Policy: The Cooptation Doctrine."
He is, as Greg Gutfeld noted on The Five, his own good cop and bad cop all rolled into one. The good cop part is what we saw with Kim Jong-un and now with Putin -- complimenting tyrants to an almost uncomfortable degree. It's oddly a Christian love-the-sinner-but-hate-the-sin kind of thing.
The bad cop part is what Trump actually does concretely -- and, as Putin certainly knows, this is far more important than photo ops and press conferences with all the attendant words. Trump's actions vis-a-vis Russia have been considerably more stringent than his predecessor's -- opening the energy spigots, increasing sanctions, arming the Ukrainians, ejecting 60 Russian agents, etc. As Walter Russell Mead pointed out, if Trump is in Putin's pocket, he's doing a terrible job of it.
Barack Obama -- although the New York Times would burn down its own building rather than admit it -- did an abysmal job with Putin and was indeed the one who was truly "owned" by the Russian. And it wasn't just the silly reset button and the embarrassing video of Barack whispering into Medvedev's ear to tell Vlad he -- Barack -- would be more flexible on missiles after the election. (What a toady!) Even worse, in his Chamberlainesque ardor to make a deal with Iran's mullahs, Obama let Putin play him in Syria, agreeing not to honor his redline against Assad's use of chemical weapons in order not to endanger the deal. Trump never did anything nearly that pathetic. Actually, he stands up strong.
But the David Gergens of the world yammer on that Trump is doing everything wrong. He's certainly doing some things wrong -- we all do -- but being gracious to Putin personally while actively opposing what the Russian does in his actions, may be exactly the way to get results. But Trump's opponents don't care about results. Overwhelmed with hate, they would prefer to see the president wounded and impeached than succeed with Putin and bring about a world safer from nuclear armageddon. If Trump achieves this, however, it will be his finest hour. It would be for any president.
Roger L. Simon - co-founder and CEO of PJ Media - is also an award-winning novelist and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter.