The Trump-Putin Summit that was held in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, brought all the old high-profile naysayers out of the woodwork – again. Late night television hosts and their left wing guests, the Hollywood elite, and the anti-Trump news media all mocked the President, calling the summit a “colossal failure”, “an embarrassment”, “disgraceful”, and a lot of other crude gutter comments not for publication on this site. They accused the President of ‘selling out’ the United States and called him a ‘traitor’.
‘Failure’ was a designation they had predetermined long before the meeting ever took place. For the left wing media and late night talk shows, anything that will reflect badly on their chosen nemesis – President Donald Trump – will serve as fodder for their Twitter cannons. In their eyes, Trump was no match for the crafty, wicked Putin, and, according to the liberal left, Trump ‘sold out’ his (and our) country..
But let’s take a look at what really happened in Helsinki and what it actually means for America.
Preparations Before the meeting took place, Trump was in Scotland, where he took a few hours to play some golf at Trump Turnberry, a British Open course that he purchased in 2014. He tweeted that for the two days he was in Scotland, he would hold meetings, make phone calls “and hopefully, [play] some golf – my primary form of exercise!” And that is what he did. Not surprisingly, the press grabbed photos of the President playing golf and accused him of going to the summit “unprepared”.
This is just a silly accusation, since they could have no idea whether or how the President prepares himself for such high level meetings. Moreover, the President is known for needing only about four hours of sleep a night, which gives him several extra hours each day in which to work, long after his detractors have gone to bed.
The point is that while the press is happy to pontificate and/or mock the President about all of his perceived failings, they really don’t know what they are talking about. What they write is not news. They make it up as they go along. It’s called fiction.
The Summit When the two leaders met face to face, it was in a closed session that lasted for two hours. The only other people in the room were translators. This is where the business was done. Following the private meeting, the two presidents and their close advisors spoke further over lunch.
We may never know what was said in that private meeting between the two leaders, but it is more than likely that President Trump was his usual outspoken and shrewd self. He is a tough negotiator, and not one to pull his punches. That he did not openly attack Putin at the very public press conference that followed was not surprising. He had done the same with British Prime Minister Theresa May in England. Behind closed doors he told her quite bluntly that her Brexit strategy would preclude any trade deal with the U.S. But in public, he emphasized the good that came out of the meeting, and the hope for future development of the relationship. He did the same with Putin. This is called diplomacy.
Diplomatic success depends on opposing parties reaching out to each other to try to settle differences rather than exacerbate them, to avoid confrontations rather than go to war. Trump has done just that and it seems to have worked well. According to reports coming from Trump’s administration, he went into the talks without high expectations and a list of grievances, which he no doubt prioritized and shared with Putin in the private meeting. And although we may never know what exactly was discussed behind closed doors, he reported afterwards that the temperature of the relationship between the U.S. and Russia has warmed considerably as a direct result of the meeting.
The Summit and Israel One thing that got little attention in the press, was the reference to Israel by both Trump and Putin. In fact, Israel was central to the discussion about Syria and Iran.
It is well-known that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had several meetings with Putin. Israeli and Russian planes share air space over Syria. Russia’s planes have been officially flying over Syria since 2015, at first, ostensibly, to help drive ISIS from northern Syria, and later to provide combat air support to the Syrian Army. In this role, they frequently carry out deadly attacks from the air, and have been accused of targeting civilians in these attacks.
Israel, on the other hand, flies over Syria to monitor military activity on the ground and to carry out limited raids on military sites to destroy Syrian and Iranian missiles and launchers positioned to fire at Israel. Given the limited air space over the region, it is essential that Russia and Israel have a protocol of cooperation so that their pilots don’t engage each other by accident. That cooperation does not make Netanyahu a ‘follower’ or ‘puppet’ of Putin. It makes him smart.
If the U.S. and Russia are going to cooperate in their operations in Syria, it is also essential that Israel be included in the arrangement. And Israel has a lot to offer. What the media seems to miss is that this triangular relationship may be the key to keeping Iran from attacking Israel and starting an unstoppable war. In the talks between Trump and Putin, Israel is recognized as both a strategic partner and a small nation that must be protected from bloodthirsty, threatening Iran.
What the Summit Accomplished Contrary to the liberal hype, Trump went into the summit with a clear understanding of his adversary and a goal to carry out the discussion “from a position of strength”. It was not by chance that travelling with the President were Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, a Russian hawk who once said, “I think in order to focus Putin’s thinking, we need to do things that cause him pain as well.” It is, therefore, more than likely that what was said behind closed doors was considerably stronger and more forceful than anything we heard at the press conference.
Perhaps the most vocal criticism of the President’s behavior at the summit was that he did not confront Putin, in public, and call him out on the indictments that came down a week earlier on 12 Russians accused of interfering with our Presidential elections. It is also one of the silliest.
Prior to the meeting, John Bolton was interviewed by Jonathan Karl on ABC News, the day before the summit. During that interviewBolton told Karl, “When I met with President Putin a few weeks ago to prepare for the Helsinki meeting, he made it plain that he said the Russian state was not involved, and he was very clear with his translator that that’s the word that he wanted . . . . So I think for the President to demand something that isn’t going to happen puts the President in a weak position, and I think the President has made it very clear he intends to approach this discussion from a position of strength.”
After the private meetings, the President was not willing to compromise any gains he had made in his private conversation with Putin by attacking him in public. If, in the private conversation, Trump did, in fact, call Putin on the indictments and Putin adamantly stated that Russia had nothing to do with it, period, there was little left for Trump to say on the subject other than to disengage from the discussion and walk away. But there was plenty more to talk about.
It was a matter of priorities. We know from comments made by others that Trump did not take at face value President Putin’s denial of election interference as the unvarnished truth. He simply – and correctly – ignored it so he could move on to other more important topics.
Of course, this issue was important to us, but it was not the highest priority in a discussion of a range of global issues, not higher than Syria, or Iran, or nuclear proliferation, which were also on the agenda. And ultimately, the issue of election interference could be handled in other ways.
In trying to analyze the outcome of the Trump-Putin summit, the most we spectators in this global drama can do is speculate. There is nothing to be gained from speaking with authority about details of events that we know nothing about. That is the province of the left.
In the end, the President was not effusive. He simply called the meeting “a very good start”. And so it was.
Image Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times