Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Did Trump Betray America in Helsinki?

Impossible to ignore… the thought pops up as we see the political class, the commentariat and the intelligentsia pile on President Donald Trump for his news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki yesterday.

Treasonous traitor, sold out America, unpatriotic to the core… the message does not just come from the left. It also comes from right thinking politicians. If everyone thinks it, it must be true.

Were we to look at the larger context, something strange would appear. We all know that Barack Obama did not stand up for America. He did not manifest patriotic pride in his country. In what must count as a national disgrace, he began his presidency by apologizing for America, abasing himself on the world stage by declaring that big, bad America had been torturing innocent terrorists. Obama was practicing the Jeremiah Wright, black liberation theology version of foreign policy. He thought that America was the problem in the world, not the solution.

Democrats lost elections because Obama gave away the patriotism as an issue. When Colin Kaepernick refused to respect the National Anthem, the unpatriotic left stood up to defend him. One understands that the gesture was supposed to be a protest against white police brutality, but you do not own the meaning of your gestures. The gesture was irresponsibly unpatriotic. Embracing it, the Obama team sold out patriotism. Besides, is anyone really going to be gas lighted into believing that the crime problem in minority communities is: white police officers?

So, the Democratic Party is desperate to win back the patriotism issue, to absolve itself of the charge that it is unpatriotic. When you watch the hue and cry about Donald Trump’s performance in Helsinki, keep in mind that patriotism is the issue, or better, that Democrats are trying to get people to forget Obama’s lack of patriotism.

Why Republicans are jumping on this message is beyond me. And it is probably beyond them.

To address the looming question, whether Trump should have openly sided with American intelligence agencies against a KGB operative in his news conference, I will offer a contrarian viewpoint. Once Putin publicly denied that he had anything to do with election meddling, if Trump had denounced him, he would have been calling Putin a liar, to his face, in public, before the world. It would have been a satisfying moment of grand drama, but what would it have accomplished?

OK, I accept that it was even more dramatic than Barack Obama’s confiding in Russian President Medvedev on an open microphone, that after the 2012, he would be more conciliatory… thus, if I man extrapolate, more willing to sell out American interests.

Most of the great thinkers who are screaming about Trump’s refusal to call out Putin to his face, had no problem with Obama’s weakness, in word and in deed, toward Russia.

Once Putin strongly rejected the charge of meddling, Trump’s options were to call him out as a liar or to finesse the issue. He chose the latter. If he had chosen the former, it would have ended prospects for a diplomatic rapprochement and for further work to defuse tensions around the world. Would it have been worth it? You decide. I know that people love drama, but still….

And besides, have any of these great minds gotten themselves torqued over the fact that the saintly Angela Merkel is propping up the Putin regime with a massive natural gas deal? Who is really Putin’s flunky?

Among the more interesting reactions to the Trump summit comes this from Prof. Stephen Cohen on Tucker Carlson Tonight. I have reported on Cohen’s analysis on several occasions. He has the advantage of being extremely well informed about Russian history and politics. And he is anything but a right winger. He writes for The Nation, a notably liberal publication.

Cohen was appalled at the public denunciations of the American president:

The reaction by most of the media, by the Democrats, by the anti-Trump people is like mob violence. I've never seen anything like it in my life.

This is the president of the United States, doing what every other president before him, since FDR in 1943 with Stalin, meeting with the head of the Kremlin. And something that every American president since Eisenhower, a Republican by the way, has met with the leader of the Kremlin for one existential purpose: To avoid war between the nuclear superpowers. 

Today, in my considered and scholarly long time judgment, relations between the U.S. and Russia are more dangerous than they have ever been. Let me repeat: Every been, including the Cuban missile crisis. 

I want my president to do --I didn't vote for this president-- but I want my president to do what every other president has done. Sit with the head of the other nuclear superpower and walk back the conflicts that could lead to war, whether they be in Syria, Ukraine, the Baltic nations, these accusations of cyber attacks. 

Every president has been encouraged to do that an applauded by both parties. Not Trump. 

Note the patriotic note: “my president.” Trump is our president. Being a member of the loyal opposition means recognizing that Trump is our president. It is unseemly and unpatriotic to form a mob to attack the American president while he is engaged in complex diplomatic negotiations.

All American presidents, Cohen continues, have received the backing of bipartisan leadership when conducting such negotiations. Not Trump. It is striking. And it looks to Cohen like mob violence.

The international situation is parlous, indeed. Cohen believes that dialogue between Trump and Putin is necessary to defuse some of the dangers he sees. Surely, nuclear disarmament, the conflict in Syria, the situation in the Ukraine are more important than the issue of whether or not Trump made an empty and self-defeating dramatic gesture… denouncing the president of Russia to his face.

Cohen continued:

Look what they did to him today. They had a kangaroo court. They found him guilty. And then you had the former head of the U.S. CIA, who himself ought to be put under oath and asked about his role in inventing Russiagate, calling the President of the United States treasonous. What have we come to in this country? And what is going to happen in the future? 

Under these circumstances, Cohen is saying, diplomacy becomes increasingly difficult. If diplomacy is increasingly difficult, conflict is more likely.

He adds:

They see to hate or resent the idea of Trump as president, that they've lost all sense of American national security. If you ever get these people on, ask them this question. For yourself, for me, for the American people. Do you, these people who are hunting Trump. do you prefer trying to impeach Trump to trying to avert war with nuclear Russia? That is the bottom line, and that is where we're at today. 

And Cohen closes with a salient question, one that is rarely asked:

Let me ask you a question, you know D.C., why do these people dislike Putin, the president of post-communist Russia more than they ever seemed to dislike the communist leaders? 

Surely, he is right. The commentariat and the political class, especially on the left, is up in arms about Vladimir Putin. If Trump were not the Antichrist, Putin surely would be. Did these same great minds feel the same way about the leaders of the USSR? Not a chance.

While we are examining these issues, we also turn to Roger Simon at Pajamas Media. His views correlate with Cohen's and mine, which gives them special saliency. As to the question of whether or not Trump should have made the grand dramatic gesture of calling out Putin to his face on election meddling, Simon says:

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.

On the larger issue, Simon is on the same page as Cohen:

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.

Rather than worry our souls about drama, we should look at what Trump has done in conducting foreign policy toward Russia:

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.

Compare the Trump record with the Obama record, Simon says:

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.

He continues:

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.

And, for those who care about history, what did the press and the pundits have to say when Franklin Roosevelt gave Josef Stalin control over Eastern Europe?

on “ridiculous” reaction to Trump-Putin presser: “FDR went to Yalta & consigned millions to their death in gulags because he gave Eastern Europe to Stalin, & yet they get angry & hysterical bec Trump is saying words they don’t want him to say”


Anonymous said...

I was beginning to ask myself, "Am I the only one who sees the long term actions that president Trump is trying to accomplish?" Not withstanding that an acceptance by Trump of Russia meddling given Muller's investigation would have been like giving the Left a baseball bat to beat him with. Interesting that Mueller indicts just as Trump is heading to the meetings involved;ved. NO way to actually tell whether these indictments are credible because there is NO way that these people are going to appear in this country so Mueller will not have to prove anything.
Good to see that more knowledgeable people are questioning the mob meme.
Thanks Stuart and Professor Cohen. I do note that others, including Rand Paul, are starting to push back. Trump has opened the door to a large number of possibilities where the positives could out number the negative by two fold. It could be a boon to dealing with Syria, North Korea, Iran, nuclear proliferation, et al. Note the Russia has been active in these areas.
I see a lot of beneficial long term possibilities if we can keep our reason intact.

Sam L. said...

"So, the Democratic Party is desperate to win back the patriotism issue, to absolve itself of the charge that it is unpatriotic." I can NOT believe that; there is NO WAY for me to believe that.

Anon, the Left is dedicated to trying to convince us our reasoning is wrong. Liars, every one of them.

Plus, what sestamibi said. I have no GOP senator or house of representatives to vote for, so Trump is all I have.

Anonymous said...


There is a reason why the republican party is called the "stupid party." I was always taught to take time to get the facts before I made a decision about opening my mouth. It would seem that both the republican and democrat party are in a head long rush to put their foot in their mouths.
One wonders why Mueller dumped these indictment over to the counter intelligent office in the FBI? As I understand they do not litigate. One also wonders why Trump asked where the DNC servers were at since if the FBI had of gotten access we might know exactly what had happened and who.

jfmoris said...

Awesome article, Stuart - this should be on the front page of the internet, if there was such a page.

Anonymous said...

Anon above, I understand that "counter intelligent" was a typo, but, given the current state of the FBI, it is chillingly accurate.

Walt said...

This isn't just Tuesday morning quarterbacking, I said this Sunday night (and I have 3 witnesses who'll sign depositions😄) but I thought Trump should have begun his meeting by saying "Okay. Let's get rid of the elephant in the room: my intelligence says you did it; you'll say you didn't. Whatever. Water over the dam. But if your guys do it in the future, because of my domestic political situation, I'll be forced to take strong actions I don't want to have to take. That said, let's move on to what we need to discuss." Beyond that, Trump--forced to deal with this when much more important issues were at stake-- was in a no-win situation that he did his best to salvage, though he might have done it better.

But the whole thing is such a teapot tempest. Russian spies...spied. (Who'd'a thought it.) It had no effect. It was not collusive. And, tho I wish he hadn't brought it up in that context, yes, where's the DNC server the FBI was so uniquely uninterested in? And, considering the forensic analysis in that article in The Nation, what about those shifty on-the-ground Pakistanis?

The over-riding point is that the Left is so intent on underming Trump, they don't give a damn about indermining the country.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Very good suggestion... one suspects that someone did suggest it and that Trump decided to improvise... also that he was tired.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I have been having a conversation about Brennan and how he could pass a background check for the position he held given his ideas, et al. I think this goes along way to explaining it. https://bigleaguepolitics.com/exposed-peter-strzok-grew-up-in-iran-worked-as-obama-and-brennans-envoy-to-iranian-regime/
The deeper one digs the more one sees the connections to the Left and the Clintons. And one wonders about the existence of the "Deep State?" I would posit that Brennan and his protestations are indicative of a fear that he has a history of actions that may not be according to those he has taken an oath to do.
Both my wife and I have had security clearances so we were/are familiar with the rules. It all seems to be questionable.
By the way would a good hacker leave a trail that is so obvious that the FBI could follow it given tunneling?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

We dont need foreigners interfering in our elections. Supporting or excusing such behavior is treasonous. This is why Democrats have an apoplectic opposition to voter ID laws.