Donald Trump will never win an award for being a silver-tongued orator. It’s his willingness to say what he thinks, however, that endears him to many of his supporters. In Monday’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump disappointed many when he declined to press Putin publicly on the accusation of cyberspace meddling in the 2016 election. This resulted in shrieks of “treason” from his detractors in the U.S. (note to these: take a tranquilizer and calm down; your constant Chicken Little hysterics are embarrassing). Being civil with Putin, however, doesn’t mean being in his pocket:
[Trump] 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.
Too many in our government find purpose only in confronting adversaries, whether it’s Russia, Iran, Syria or North Korea (or for warmonger John McCain — who still hasn’t resigned his Senate seat despite terminal cancer that allegedly prevents his being in D.C. — all of the above). If things are too calm they’ll create the next Hitler of convenience (see: Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar Ghaddafi). Keeping these pots on a low boil is useful to the ruling class; when people start catching on to Uncle Sam’s misdeeds, they simply turn up the heat on one of the burners as a “rally ’round the flag” distraction.
If the various “Q”-related rumors are true, the administration is about to unmask considerable — possibly unprecedented — malfeasance within our own country’s leadership. In such a case it would be prudent to wall off any potential foreign distractions, which may underpin Trump’s focused efforts with North Korea and Russia these days. Putin’s revelation that Hillary Clinton received $400 million in questionable campaign funds from Russian sources, and Trump’s comments at the press conference about the missing DNC computer server and other unresolved scandals serve to underscore what fights our president has chosen to pursue at this time. Regardless what success he has on that front, Trump is absolutely right in responding to those who urged him to cross swords with Putin or refuse to meet him at all:
“I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, than to risk peace in pursuit of politics.”
Trump’s foes have consistently underestimated both him and his base of support. This tends to downplay in my mind all the pundits who claim Trump is either coopted or naïve about Putin. They may find he was simply ensuring a fight on only one front at a time, fully aware that he still needs to keep Putin under a watchful eye. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” as the saying goes.
Such wisdom is to be desired in a chief executive.