Brief #36—Foreign Policy
Last Monday, following a scornful conference with EU leaders, President Trump met with President Putin in Helsinki for a two hour meeting followed by a joint press conference. The meeting was held privately with no notes taken and two interpreters as the only witnesses of what was discussed between the two leaders. The idea for a summit was conceived last March, when Trump called Putin to congratulate him for his successful re-election, against the recommendations of his national security advisers. The summit was held in the midst of a pair of significant advancements against Russian intelligence operations, with 12 Russian intelligence agents being indicted for their involvement in a plan to hack into the emails of democratic campaign officials, and an alleged Russian spy being arrested following involvement with the Republican party and pro-gun organizations. Documents revealed that the intelligence agents first attempted to breach Hillary Clinton’s campaign’s email servers the day that Trump publicly suggested they do so
In the face of these developments, Trump held a completely different take on Russian involvement in American affairs. Trump stated that US intelligence officials “think its Russia” but Putin had told him that it is not, concluding “I don’t see any reason why it would be”. While this is not necessarily a major departure from previous statements he has made on the matter, hearing this from our President as he met with one of our biggest political rivals was enough to provoke significant domestic objection, even among GOP allies. House Speaker Paul Ryan said that Trump “must appreciate that Russia is not our ally”. John McCain called it a “disgraceful performance”. The next day Trump read a statement explaining that he “accepts the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place” but it “could be other people also”. “A lot of people out there”, the President added. Trump also clarified that when he said that he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia who interfered with the 2016 election, he actually meant he didn’t “see any reason why it wouldn’t be”.
For the amount of controversy generated by the summit, there was a noticeable lack of progress on tangible issues. Crimea was barely mentioned, and Trump seemed satisfied with Putin declaring the Syrian war over. Putin said that the two had made an agreement to hold talks in the future on the extension of the START treaty once Russia had a chance to examine whether the US was compliant in the historic arms reduction pact.
For a man who so clearly dislikes foreign excursions, one would think President Trump would work harder to ensure that they were worthwhile for American interests. Instead, he seems to believe these summits are simply about the handshakes and photo-ops. We have no idea what was discussed during the two hours that Trump and Putin met in private, but it must not have been anything very promising considering the vagueness of the press conference. By dismissing Russian aggression only to unconvincingly walk his statements back the next day, Trump doesn’t even present himself as capable as a foreign asset. In times like this all we can do is be thankful when his blunders do not hold major consequences. Trump didn’t concede Crimea to Russia or do anything else to alarm European allies. It is naive to expect Trump to hold Putin accountable for anything. Even in the small possibility that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia, Putin compliments him too much to ever be seen as an enemy. Perhaps as a country we will need to weather the international embarrassments until the next election, as long as it means no major wars or concessions of human rights.
- Human Rights Watch – An international human rights organization which has worked to support Crimean autonomy against Russian aggression.
- Amnesty International – A longstanding human rights organization which led protests in Helsinki against both the policies of Trump and Putin.
This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Analyst Colin Shanley. Contact Colin@usresistnews.org