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Washington Melts Down Over Prospect of Trump-Putin Meeting

Senator Marco Rubio calls him a “gangster” akin to Don Corleone in the epic film The Godfather. Senator John McCain refers to him as “an evil man [1]…intent on evil deeds.” Hillary Clinton blasts him as “world-class misogynist [2]” who takes joy in making women feel uncomfortable. Even Michael McFaul, a diplomat who’s supposed to be cautious with his words, thunders [3] about this man’s constant paranoia and all-consuming suspicion of the United States.

The individual in question, of course, is Russian President Vladimir Putin—a guy who supposedly spends every waking moment as though the notorious KGB were still the power behind the throne in the Kremlin. And for the millions of Russians who are living in economic destitution, for Europeans increasingly alarmed by Moscow’s aggressive maneuvers along NATO’s eastern frontier, for Americans who learned early last year that Putin directed an operation to interfere in their presidential election, there is a lot that is disturbing about that picture.

If there’s a foreign policy issue that unites Republicans and Democrats in Washington, it is Putin’s Russia. Every word out of his mouth is analyzed by the U.S. intelligence community for clues about his state of mind. Putin was a household name in the United States even before he authorized a quasi-invasion of his Ukrainian neighbor, bailed out Syria’s Bashar al-Assad from almost certain death, likely ordered or at least condoned the assassination of over a dozen Russian dissidents in the United Kingdom [4], and unleashed an army of trolls, English-language fake news sites, and falsified social media accounts to divide the American electorate. In 1999, when Boris Yeltsin handed power to his younger lieutenant from St. Petersburg, Putin was at best an unknown commodity. Nineteen years later, he is practically embedded in the American psyche as a double-crosser, a trickster, a liar, an aggressor, a war criminal, and a despot.

It is hard to argue with all that. Even the realists among us who prefer to see the world as a never-ending geopolitical competition cannot deny that Putin prizes a kind of resurgent, autocratic nationalism. The question so many in the U.S. and Western Europe asked after the Soviet Union fell apart—will the new Russia, freed from the shackles of a Soviet police state, become an integrated member of the Western-led, rules-based international order?—is answered for as long as Putin (or a Putin loyalist) remains on top in the Kremlin.

And yet just because Russia misbehaves doesn’t mean that Washington should avoid engaging with it when a problem that negatively impacts both nations arises. While allegations levied by senior Russian officials of a chronic “Russophobia” in American culture goes too far, there is something to be said for how polarizing dialogue with Russia has become in America’s political discourse. Those who advocate for a minor detente with the Russians are too often branded as sympathizers carrying Putin’s load. Others are labeled as peaceniks who fail to recognize just how evil and destabilizing Moscow has become. Russia is no longer just a national security issue; it’s a domestic political issue like tax rates, entitlement spending, and gay marriage. That makes it very difficult for President Trump to probe for opportunities, even small ones, to thaw Russian-American relations.

A case in point: when the Wall Street Journal reported [5] on June 1 that the Trump administration was in the process of preparing a bilateral meeting between Trump and Putin to occur possibly later this year, Twitter and cable television lit up in panic. Michael Carpenter, Russia director at the National Security Council during the Obama administration, commented that a Trump-Putin sitdown would be a “terrible idea [6]”—particularly as Moscow-backed separatists continued to violate a ceasefire by raining down shells on Ukrainian government positions. Another Russia expert and former State Department official remarked [7] that “[t]hings are so far apart between the U.S. and Russia right now that this meeting between Trump and Putin shouldn’t even be happening in the first place…. That this meeting is even being considered gives Putin everything and the U.S. nothing.”

The bipartisan foreign policy establishment in Washington is united behind the idea that to grace Putin with a visit is to reward him for hostile behavior. When reports surfaced earlier in the Trump presidency that the White House was thinking about arranging a visit with the Russian president, you’d have thought Trump was preparing to sign Eastern Europe over to the Kremlin. How could Trump, Russia hawks asked, consider boosting Putin’s legitimacy? Only when Putin changes his behavior and begins acting like a civilized human being can he be invited to Washington for a photo opportunity with the American president.

Statecraft, however, is not like elementary school. Timeouts may be effective penalties for kindergarteners messing with other kids’ building blocks, but those same juvenile tactics are highly unlikely to deter a man like Putin who has persuaded himself that it is his destiny to make Russia great again and protect the Russian people from Washington’s wicked machinations.

change_me

Russian-American relations are in the toilet. If we haven’t yet reached peak Cold War-level animus between Washington and Moscow, we are approaching it. Sanctions, military pressure, and the upkeep of the transatlantic alliance all have their places in America’s Russia policy, particularly when Moscow strays far beyond the rules (like invading a neighbor or attempting to murder dissidents on British soil with a nerve agent). But tough, uncomfortable, hard-headed, no-nonsense diplomacy should be a key tool as well. If a Trump-Putin meeting heightens understanding between the two largest nuclear powers [8] and two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, then it would seem to be more than an appropriate use of the president’s time.

America’s foreign policy and political establishments should open their eyes to the reality we are living in. The U.S. faces a cruel and disorderly world, and Putin’s Russia is a main contributor to its problems. But this isn’t a unique moment, nor is it unprecedented for the U.S. to conduct pragmatic diplomacy with unsavory characters. If Franklin Roosevelt could sit down at Yalta with Joseph Stalin, if Dwight Eisenhower could meet Nikita Khrushchev at Camp David, if Ronald Reagan could hold several summits with Mikhail Gorbachev, why can’t Donald Trump do the same with Vladimir Putin?

Daniel R. DePetris is a foreign policy analyst, a columnist at Reuters, and a frequent contributor to The American Conservative.

36 Comments (Open | Close)

36 Comments To "Washington Melts Down Over Prospect of Trump-Putin Meeting"

#1 Comment By Youknowho On June 5, 2018 @ 10:50 pm

Franklin Roosevelt could sit down at Yalta with STalin, because he NEEDED him as an ally in a war, and was not a complete novice in diplomacy. Eisenhower knew what it entailed when he met with Khurschev. Ditto Reagan with Gorbachov, or Nixon with Mao Tse Tung.

But Trump… Trump who blurted out classified information to Russian visitors because he could not figure out what “classified” meant… Well, you do the math.

#2 Comment By b. On June 5, 2018 @ 11:00 pm

“particularly when Moscow strays far beyond the rules (like invading a neighbor…)”

Like Iraq? Libya? Syria maybe? Yemen?

“The U.S. faces a cruel and disorderly world, and Putin’s Russia is a main contributor to its problems.”

The US has made a cruel and disorderly world, and its main problem with Russia and China is the limits to its own impunitivism.

Putin’s foreign policy is a lot more coherent, and a lot more sensible, than Trump’s, or Obama’s, or Bush’s – and certainly it does well in comparison to this hypocritical drivel. Or to the foreign policy that our biparty war profiteering elites are delivering to their sponsors in Israel or Saudi Arabia.

But by all means, let us compare assassination campaigns and invasions and covert operations and violations of the international order. It will be another wonderfully clarifying moment.

#3 Comment By AtomicZeppelinMan On June 6, 2018 @ 12:02 am

Uhmmm… Maybe because Trump is an easy mark? An hour alone with Trump and Putin would have all our nuke codes and the deed to Alaska.

#4 Comment By cka2nd On June 6, 2018 @ 12:59 am

What a mealy-mouthed piece of imperialist, American-exceptionalist crap. I neither expect nor want love letters to Putin from TAC, aside from the occasional Pat Buchanan column, and this isn’t a pure example of National Review or Weekly Standard neo-con or Bolton-esque madness, but it’s a hell of a lot closer to the latter than it ought to be. How dare another nation have interests that may be in conflict with our own? How dare another nation not roll over and play the lap dog for NATO, the EU and the US? By all means, report on the various crimes of Putin and his circle, but let’s not pretend that killing dissidents or embezzling billions is really why you care about Russia at all.

One can only hope that this represents another nail in the coffin of the so-called foreign policy “realists” as an alternative to either neo-conservativeism or humanitarian interventionism.

#5 Comment By S On June 6, 2018 @ 3:02 am

Its the belief in US exceptionalism which makes such risible articles possible in an intellectual site like TAC. For every one finger pointed at Putin, there would be 10 pointed at the US empire. What has any other tyrant done that the US hasn’t?

#6 Comment By Tiktaalik On June 6, 2018 @ 4:11 am

What a ****load!
>>likely ordered or at least condoned the assassination of over a dozen Russian dissidents in the United Kingdom

This is the most flagrant of course, but the other points are quite divorced from the reality (e.g. “as Moscow-backed separatists continued to violate a ceasefire by raining down shells on Ukrainian government positions”).

The main problem with Putin and that’s why I’ve never voted for him is that he’s firmly in the neo-liberal fold in terms of his economy politics. Luckily enough, even in case of such a stubborn person, confrontation with the West eventually could produce some beneficial alterations

#7 Comment By Ivan Titanium On June 6, 2018 @ 4:30 am

There is no evidence that Putin ordered the assassination of any person in the U.K. Please grow up.

#8 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 6, 2018 @ 6:29 am

Hard to argue with the view Putin id the global Don Corleone?

Sorry, I didn’t learn any of this – decided early on, based on actual facts, not to drink the Kool-Aid. How did I come to be so skeptical of the propaganda? It was easy to argue against it, no matter how repeated and amplified (classic Big Lie technique), by not being imprisoned in the self serving Washington bubble consensus.

#9 Comment By Scott On June 6, 2018 @ 7:13 am

You can sure tell this guy writes for Reuters, pedestrian nonsense on top of shallow analysis.

You guys used to be better than this.

#10 Comment By Kent On June 6, 2018 @ 8:16 am

“Putin was a household name in the United States even before he authorized a quasi-invasion of his Ukrainian neighbor,”

A country in which the United States had just engineered a coup d’etat.

“bailed out Syria’s Bashar al-Assad from almost certain death,”

An historic ally of Russia, saving Syria from the devastation the United States inflicted on the people’s of Iraq, Yemen, and Libya.

“likely ordered or at least condoned the assassination of over a dozen Russian dissidents in the United Kingdom,”

Of which there is actually no evidence, hence the need to use the word “likely”.

“and unleashed an army of trolls, English-language fake news sites, and falsified social media accounts to divide the American electorate.”

The army being an estimated 4 people. And who cannot possibly match the level of concerted division inflicted upon the American people by the likes of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.

Putin is not an enemy or a problem. The enemy is within.

#11 Comment By Con Spirosy On June 6, 2018 @ 8:37 am

It’s about time Trump met Putin, so Putin can complete Trump’s Goal planner and annual performance review, like all good bosses do.

#12 Comment By spite On June 6, 2018 @ 9:09 am

Anyone who has some like Saudi Arabia or Israel as friends cannot be serious about pointing fingers at anyone else. These are regimes that kill protesters without hesitation, openly attack and threaten other states and commit serious human rights abuses.

#13 Comment By Muralidhar On June 6, 2018 @ 9:37 am

I appreciate the semi factual yet very sane foreign policy prescription of the author. How did the author figure out that Putin invaded his neighbour Ukraine? Did the author forget the color revolution fomented by the likes of Nuland and McCain in Putin’s back yard? Also the saga of chemical poisoning of the dissidents on the British soil is without any evidence and drummed day after day about it, is now conveniently forgotten With facts like these how peddled by the intelligentsia what is the public supposed to believe. I don’t know who is worse the Neo-Cons who want to take us to war with Russia or people like the author who conveniently white washes the truth.

#14 Comment By Myles Hagar On June 6, 2018 @ 9:41 am

President Trump was elected, in part, on the promise to have better relations with Russia and to get out of foreign interventions. The opposite is being forced upon him in an obvious coup in Washington for all to see. The vicious vitriol thrown at him from every direction is unprecedented and anti-democratic.

#15 Comment By TurningPoint On June 6, 2018 @ 10:04 am

I agree with most of the posts on this thread, I expect much better opinion pieces from TAC.

#16 Comment By Brendan On June 6, 2018 @ 10:09 am

Thankfully, the sharp commenters here have echoed my outrage at this awful article. I can only add that much of the world believes Putin is the best statesman of the 21 Century, while a supermajority sees the US as the greatest threat to peace.

#17 Comment By Slugger On June 6, 2018 @ 10:36 am

We obviously need to arrive at a modus vivendi with Putin and Russia. However, we need not blind ourselves as to who he is. The KGB is not “ the power behind the throne”; it is on the throne. Mr. Putin did not spend his early years as a Boy Scout counselor. I am sure that Mr. Putin knows that Russia’s flag is not at the top of the mast in Warsaw, Kiev, Vilnius, and other places as it was since Catherine the Great. We must understand this and understand our own interests in resisting or not resisting Russian pressure to restore the empire that stood for more than two hundred years under the Tsars and the Communist Party. Vilification won’t help us, and neither will romanticism.

#18 Comment By SDS On June 6, 2018 @ 10:52 am

SO many good rebuttals here; I needn’t add mine….

#19 Comment By Michael Kenny On June 6, 2018 @ 11:36 am

Trump is in desperate need of a “victory” sometime before November and it’s clear that he’s not going to get that from Kim Jong-Un. So he’s thrashing about wildly looking for another alternative. For Trump, the essential is to prevent the Democrats getting control of the House. They will almost certainly impeach him if they do. Putin and Trump are both political idiots but they’re also both total thugs. The scam could well be that that they will meet just before the election. Putin will make fine-sounding promises about getting out of Ukraine, which, needless to say, cannot, in practical terms, be put into effect before, say … 7 November. Putin, of course, will not have the slightest intention of keeping his promises. Trump will be perfectly aware of that but by the time it becomes clear to the general public, he will have avoided impeachment. Once the scam becomes clear, it will reinforce and reinvigorate Russiagate but Trump thinks he can deal with that by tossing pardons in all directions. What worries people is what Putin is going to get in return for helping Trump avoid impeachment.

#20 Comment By SteveM On June 6, 2018 @ 12:06 pm

Re: “The U.S. faces a cruel and disorderly world, and Putin’s Russia is a main contributor to its problems.”

That’s rich. The correct rebuttals from the earlier comments here reinforce the observation that reversing the subjects in that claim are more accurate:

Russia faces a cruel and disorderly world, and Bush’s/Obama’s/Trump’s hyper-militarized U.S. foreign policy is a main contributor to its problems.”

BTW, a common claim of the DC Political Hacks and MSM is that Russia has reverted into a Stalinist lockstep propaganda machine. However the Russian network RT includes excellent interview programs hosted in Russia by Oksana Boyko and Sophie Shevardnadze:

[9]

[10]

Boyko and Schedvernadze were both educated in the U.S. and have classic liberal democratic sensibilities. While being pro-Russia, they both have recognized that ongoing political and business corruption negatively impacts Russia’s development.

The also host guests from across the international political spectrum. Boyko recently hosted Neocon Michael O’Hanlon from Brookings, Schedvernadze has hosted U.S political figure Bill Richardson among others.

If Russian censorship is so ham-fisted, why are those journalists and their Western guests given airtime by RT?

You will NEVER see analogous programming by the MSM that permits legitimate discussion from the Russian PoV. And based on this essay, I am guessing that Daniel DePetris limits his content to the tendentious trash ginned up by the sclerotic MSM and Think Tanks.

#21 Comment By Greg On June 6, 2018 @ 12:07 pm

Is there an editor at TAC at this point? The unwarranted and unsubstantiated claims here are just grotesque.

#22 Comment By David Smith On June 6, 2018 @ 12:08 pm

“…he is practically embedded in the American psyche as a double-crosser, a trickster, a liar, an aggressor, a war criminal, and a despot.” And also, for the United States, the most important, valuable, and absolutely necessary foreign leader in the world. Sometimes it is more important to have an enemy than a friend. You can’t justify a multi-billion dollar military establishment without a credible threat. You don’t need a fleet of aircraft carriers or supersonic high-tech airplanes and missiles to fight a bunch of terrorists hiding in the mountains somewhere in the Middle East. You need a powerful nation-state with its own military establishment, something to justify all the money. And don’t underestimate the importance of ego gratification for all the politicians, pundits and think-tanks who need something to make them feel important. In Putin, they finally found their man.

#23 Comment By andy On June 6, 2018 @ 12:40 pm

@ Ivan Titanium
No, no evidence except the forensic evidence gathered from the crime scene and analyzed by one of the top agencies in the world.
You’re dismissing that out of hand?

#24 Comment By One Guy On June 6, 2018 @ 1:08 pm

Gee, no mention of the fact that Trump is getting financing from Russian sources because American banks won’t deal with him. The president certainly doesn’t want those sources to dry up.

#25 Comment By DR On June 6, 2018 @ 2:29 pm

Does it really matter at this point if they meet? Trump has ratcheted up US and NATO presence in everywhere from Syria to Eastern Europe to East Asia. He even threatens his own allies with trade war. Those summits are nice photo-ops, but more often than not they end in big nothings.

#26 Comment By fabian On June 6, 2018 @ 2:42 pm

If I was Putin, reading this crap passing for an article, I would officially cancel any idea of a meeting with the US. Furthermore, I would grant NK nuclear umbrella, sell ICBMs to Iran and deliver SAMs to the Talibans in Afgha. For a start. Then, you’ll have something to complain about.

#27 Comment By fonn On June 6, 2018 @ 4:39 pm

you now who, your comment is ridiculous. Roosevelt lost big time, totally outmanuevered. Kennedy likewise, in round one, anyway. Carter was a useful idiot, for the Kremlin and the ayatollah. Which brings us to the most usefully idiot of them all (when it came to negotiating with our enemies in general, but especially Russia) BARAK OOOBAMA!!!! I think he must’ve given O a wish list. And Obama fulfilled everyone, getting nothing in return. It is impossible to do any worse. I think we should ban all future Dem. Pres. From talking to ANY of our foreign enemies. Obama was the novice. Trump is the Master.

#28 Comment By Greg On June 6, 2018 @ 4:57 pm

Slugger there is literally nothing that Putin has said, done or indicated to suggest he is looking to restore the Russian Imperium (in fact more or less the opposite). It’s fine that the Poles or Balts don’t like Russia much, but it does not make a mythical propaganda line reality.

#29 Comment By Cynthia McLean On June 6, 2018 @ 5:06 pm

Unfortunately, this is the sand upon which US foreign policy seems to rest: allegations, insinuations, accusations, speculations –without proof– that magically turn into FACTS within 24 hours and then are repeated ad nauseam by the msm.

#30 Comment By Mightypeon On June 6, 2018 @ 5:42 pm

Based on my own experience in Moscow:

About 10% of what Russia/Putin is accused off is actually somewhat true.
Another 15% are not completely false.
The rest is pure drivel.

The author makes a number of claims for which there is no evidence which would hold up in a court of law.

The Skripal case is particularly egregious here. As a matter of fact, some people in Russia actually see the completele and utter disregard for anything even approaching relaity as a “show of strength” by which the western masters of discourse aim to prove to Russia that their control of their citizenry exceed Russias control of hers.
Other in Russia see the Skripal case as evidence that the west totally lost its marbles.

For reference:

1: One can read how to synthesise Novichok on the Internet (Iran published a freely available scientific paper about that).
2: The Synthesis itself is pretty easy, but risky because the stuff is pretty toxic. It could, with reasonable safety levels, be done with any prefab lab (which one could for example buy here:
[11]) that has a glovebox (not that a glovebox is not a box filled with gloves, but something that is sold here: [12])

One can find gloveboxes in I believe a majority of universities which feature an institute of organic chemistry.

The precursors are fairly cheap, not controlled substances and readily available as well.

As some with some experience in organic chemistry, the entire western reporting on the Novichock case was just insulting because I would have to actively turn off my brain in order to believe it.

#31 Comment By cka2nd On June 6, 2018 @ 8:46 pm

Brendan says: “I can only add that much of the world believes Putin is the best statesman of the 21 Century, while a supermajority sees the US as the greatest threat to peace.”

I’ve seen polls indicating the latter but not the former. Would you mind providing us with a citation or two for the “Putin as best statesman” opinion?

#32 Comment By cka2nd On June 6, 2018 @ 8:54 pm

Slugger says: “I am sure that Mr. Putin knows that Russia’s flag is not at the top of the mast in Warsaw, Kiev, Vilnius, and other places as it was since Catherine the Great. We must understand this and understand our own interests in resisting or not resisting Russian pressure to restore the empire that stood for more than two hundred years under the Tsars and the Communist Party.”

The level of delusional thinking here is truly astounding, and yet there appear to be people who actually believe that Putin longs to fly the Russian flag over Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania, never mind the amount of bloodshed that that would entail. Never mind the impact on the Russian economy. The man hasn’t even tried to absorb the eastern half of Ukraine, and you think he wants to conquer – that is what it would take, you know – Poland and Lithuania, both members of NATO.

Nutters, the lot of you.

#33 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On June 6, 2018 @ 10:21 pm

How could Trump, Russia hawks asked, consider boosting Putin’s legitimacy?

This is the most hilarious sentence in this inadvertently hilarious article. Given that 30-40% of Americans believe Trump is an illegitimate president, perhaps the author of this absurd article should ask himself whether Putin would be lending legitimacy to Trump.

What is happening to TAC? It is filled with these kinds of sophomoric articles. The comments below the articles are more interesting than the articles themselves.

#34 Comment By Hrant On June 7, 2018 @ 7:44 am

I do understand calling him “gangster” akin to Don Corleone, “an evil man…intent on evil deeds.” etc. But “world-class misogynist” who takes joy in making women feel uncomfortable.” by Hillary Clinton?
Did he touched her private parts? Or maybe winked at her? Seriously, what is wrong with this woman? She’s been married to THE number one misogynist in the world all her life and knows it better than anyone.

#35 Comment By PAX On June 7, 2018 @ 5:38 pm

Let’s have a vote as to which Americans trust most Netanyahu or Putin?

#36 Comment By Cullen Baker On June 10, 2018 @ 3:15 pm

So many brilliant rebuttals to this complete dreck.