US Foreign Policy: Donald Trump’s humiliation in Helsinki


July 23, 2018

US Foreign Policy: Donald Trump’s humiliation in Helsinki

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/07/21/donald-trumps-humiliation-in-helsinki

How to interpret a shameful press conference with Vladimir Putin

“Perhaps, as some suspect, Mr Putin really does have material compromising Mr Trump. Either way, where America once aspired to be a beacon, relativism rules. That leaves all democracies more vulnerable.”- The Economist

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How to make America Great? By Making Russia Great Again. That was what the POTUS did in Helsinki, Finland. He made Putin smell roses.

DONALD TRUMP likes to boast that he does things differently from his predecessors. That was certainly true of his trip to Europe. In Brussels he chided Germany for a gas deal that left it “totally controlled by Russia”. In England he humiliated his host, Theresa May, blasting her Brexit plan before holding her hand and hailing “the highest level of special” relationship. From his Scottish golf resort he called the European Union a “foe” on trade. And in Helsinki, asked whether Russia had attacked America’s democracy, he treated President Vladimir Putin as someone he trusts more than his own intelligence agencies. It was a rotten result for America and the world.

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Americans were more than usually outraged. At the post-summit press conference in Helsinki, with the world watching and the American flag behind him, their head of state had appeared weak. He was unwilling to stand up for America in the face of an assault that had been graphically described three days earlier by Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing election meddling, in his indictment of 12 Russian military-intelligence officers . Republicans were among Mr Trump’s fiercest critics. “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” wrote Senator John McCain. Even Newt Gingrich, normally a staunch defender, decried “the most serious mistake of his presidency”. The reaction forced Mr Trump into a convoluted series of climbdowns, which did little to repair the damage.

Yet, for all his hostility towards allies and cosiness with Mr. Putin, the trip could have been an even bigger disaster. Fears that Mr Trump might torpedo the NATO summit, as he had the G7 one, proved overblown. He put his name to a communiqué reaffirming the allies’ commitment to mutual defence and their tough stance against Russia. Worries that with Mr Putin he might promise to roll back sanctions or recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea proved groundless—as far as we can tell (the presidents met with only their interpreters present).

Mr Trump even did some useful things. He was right to press NATO allies to spend more on defence, even if his claim to have raised “vast amounts of money” is an exaggeration. And talking to his Russian counterpart makes sense. To be sure, Mr Trump’s hopes for a tremendous relationship with Mr Putin may end in a familiar disappointment: George W. Bush looked into Mr Putin’s eyes and detected a soul, and Russia invaded Georgia; Barack Obama pressed a “reset” button, and Russia invaded Ukraine. But America and Russia have a lot to discuss, not least on nuclear-arms control.

America worst

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However, these gains come at too high a price. Mr Trump’s behaviour, a quixotic mix of poison and flattery, has further undermined Europeans’ trust in America. When asked about the Mueller probe and the decline in relations with Russia, Mr Trump said feebly that he holds “both countries responsible”. Perhaps his vanity does not allow him to treat seriously a Russian attack that he fears could tarnish his own election triumph. Perhaps, as some suspect, Mr Putin really does have material compromising Mr Trump. Either way, where America once aspired to be a beacon, relativism rules. That leaves all democracies more vulnerable.

Mr Putin, fresh from a successful World Cup, thus emerges as the winner in Helsinki. True, he may have scored an own goal in admitting that, yes, he had wanted Mr Trump to win the election. But a self-doubting West, damaged democracy and the spectacle of America’s president deferring to him on the world stage count as a hat-trick at the other end. In Helsinki Mr Putin looked smug. Mr Trump looked, at best, a mug.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Humiliation in Helsinki”

 

 

Foreign Policy: Russia might have been lost


July 23, 2018

Foreign Policy: Russia might have been lost

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/7/19/russia-might-have-been-lost-from-the-start

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“So yes, the West might have missed an opportunity to transform Russia in the early ’90s. We will never know whether it would have been successful. But what we do know is that there were darker forces growing in Russia from the beginning, that those forces took over the country almost two decades ago and that Russia has chosen to become the principal foe of America and the American-created world order.”–Fareed Zakaria

President Trump’s news conference Monday in Helsinki was the most embarrassing performance by an American President I can think of. And his preposterous efforts to talk his way out of his troubles made him seem even more absurd. But what has been obscured by this disastrous and humiliating display is the other strain in Trump’s Russia narrative. As he recently tweeted, “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity.” This notion is now firmly lodged in Trump’s mind and informs his view of Russia and Putin. And it is an issue worth taking seriously.

The idea that Washington “lost” Russia has been around since the mid-1990s. I know because I was one of the people who made that case. In a New York Times Magazine article in 1998, I argued that “central to any transformation of the post-Cold-War world was the transformation of Russia. As with Germany and Japan in 1945, an enduring peace required that Moscow be integrated into the Western world. Otherwise a politically and economically troubled great power . . . would remain bitter and resentful about the post-Cold-War order.”

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The Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki on July 16 boosted the Russian president’s international standing – mainly because he managed to pull Donald Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu over to his court. While Putin basks in the afterglow of the summit and the successful World Cup, both Trump and Netanyahu must face the music at home.–https://www.debka.com

This never happened, I argued, because Washington was not ambitious enough in the aid it offered. Nor was it understanding enough of Russia’s security concerns — in the Balkans, for example, where the United States launched military interventions that ran roughshod over Russian sensibilities.

I continue to believe Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton missed an opportunity to attempt a fundamental reset with Russia. But it has also become clear that there were many powerful reasons U.S.-Russian relations might have been destined to deteriorate.

Russia in the early 1990s was in a period of unusual weakness. It had lost not just its Soviet-era sphere of influence but also its 300-year-old czarist empire. Its economy was in free fall; its society was collapsing. In this context, it watched as the United States expanded NATO, intervened against Russia’s allies in the Balkans and criticized its efforts to stop Chechnya from seceding.

From America’s vantage point, locking in the security of the newly liberated countries of Eastern Europe was an urgent matter. Washington worried that war in Yugoslavia was destabilizing Europe and producing a humanitarian nightmare. And the United States could not condone Russia’s brutal wars in Chechnya, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and much of the region was destroyed. The United States and Russia were simply on opposite sides of these issues.

In addition, by the late 1990s, Russia was moving away from a democratic path. Even under President Boris Yeltsin, the bypassing of democratic institutions and rule by presidential decree became common. Democratic forces in the country were always weak. Scholar Daniel Treisman has shown that by the mid-’90s, the combined tally for all liberal democratic reformers in Russia’s Duma elections never went above 20 percent. The “extreme opposition” forces, by contrast — communist, hypernationalist — received on average about 35 percent. And once Putin came to power, the move toward illiberal democracy and then outright authoritarianism became unstoppable. Putin has never faced a serious liberal opposition.

An authoritarian Russia had even more areas of contention with the United States. It panicked over the “color revolutions,” in which countries such as Georgia and Ukraine became more democratic. It looked with consternation at the establishment of democracy in Iraq. These forces, by contrast, were being cheered on by the United States. And to Putin, President George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” might have seemed designed to dislodge his regime.

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The New Russian Tsar–Vladimir Putin

Perhaps most crucially, by the mid-2000s, steadily rising oil prices had resulted in a doubling of Russia’s per capita gross domestic product, and cash was flowing into the Kremlin’s coffers. A newly enriched Russia looked at its region with a much more assertive and ambitious gaze. And Putin, sitting atop the “vertical of power” he had created, began a serious effort to restore Russian influence and undermine the West and its democratic values. What has followed — the interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, the alliance with President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the cyber attacks against Western countries — has all been in service of that strategy.

So yes, the West might have missed an opportunity to transform Russia in the early ’90s. We will never know whether it would have been successful. But what we do know is that there were darker forces growing in Russia from the beginning, that those forces took over the country almost two decades ago and that Russia has chosen to become the principal foe of America and the American-created world order.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Summitry can be overdone and self defeating


June 22, 2018

Summitry can be overdone and self defeating

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com

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Trump-Putin Helsinki Summit: Football Diplomacy

TOP meetings of political leaders are supposed to mean something important and special. However, such meetings of leaders at their respective peaks, or summits, tend to be overdone by many countries for their perceived glamour value.

Even the supposed chutzpah and gravitas that summitry participants believe they would acquire seem to be wearing thin.Most summits appear to be no more than glorified photo-opportunities, a thriving cottage industry and something of a jet-setting racket.

Nonetheless, while routine summits between the leaders of Togo and Nauru may not seem likely, much less determine global events, a rare summit of major world powers is always significant.

Such an event can defuse tensions, build mutual confidence and goodwill, and improve bilateral relations generally. The benefits are also likely to be felt by smaller nations within strategic range.

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President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong

When US President Richard Nixon met Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in Beijing in 1972, the occasion deservedly made world headlines. Not only did they meet as the Cold War raged, but a conservative US President and leader of the “free world” had deigned to travel to China to confer with communist leaders there.

Washington found it worthwhile even if the Nixon-Kissinger team was seen to have journeyed far to “pay tribute” to the Great Helmsman. To US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, it was clearly more than just a diplomatic trip or even a state visit. No less important than improving US-China relations, the event developed an implicit US-China pact against the Soviet Union.

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Nixon-Kissinger drove a wedge between Beijing and Moscow to deepen the Sino-Soviet split of the Khrushchev years. Kissinger had also negotiated separately with Khrushchev’s successor Leonid Brezhnev.

The instrumental nature of the Beijing summit could not escape Chinese and US realities. It served only to formalise bilateral ties, and it would take another seven years before their relations could be normalised.

One decade-plus after Beijing, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in Geneva. The 1985 summit was the first of several.

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President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev

Again, these had to do with more than improving bilateral relations. Formally they concerned arms limitation and common ties, but more broadly Reagan was also encouraging a reformist Gorbachev to open up his country.

Within three months of the initial summit, Gorbachev introduced restructuring (perestroika) in early 1986. The following year Reagan, in a visit to Berlin, rhetorically called on Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall.

In 1988 Gorbachev introduced a new openness and freedoms in the Soviet Union (glasnost). The Cold War was formally coming to an end – and on Boxing Day 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed.

A summit with the US President, particularly if it is one-on-one, is more than just a White House visit. It is a carefully staged, highly publicised event that is supposed to carry considerable weight and prestige.

Senior US officials therefore guard it jealously and grant it sparingly or not at all. Sometimes this means rejecting the prospect of a summit even when it can do some good.

When Senator Barack Obama was asked in mid-2007 if he would agree to unconditional talks with the leaders of Cuba, Iran or North Korea, he said he would.

An immediate backlash erupted, particularly from Hillary Clinton, Obama’s main rival as party nominee for the presidential campaign. She condemned his readiness to negotiate as “irresponsible” and “naïve”.

Ironically, just months before, Hillary voiced support for the US President talking with his global adversaries. She even claimed to have advised George W. Bush to proceed with such talks.

As usual, politics gets in the way of judicious perceptions of meaningful summits. The purpose and value of summits are diminished as a result.

The two inter-Korean summits in April and May this year signaled the opening of North Korea and its readiness to negotiate away its nuclear arms stockpile.

Both summits were preceded, and followed, by summits in China between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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The Singapore Trump-Kim Sentosa Summit on June 12, 2018 reduced tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

All these summits with Kim were merely the build-up to the grand prize – the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore of June 12.

This was a first, and a summit to be held without preconditions.

North Korean leaders had wanted a summit with a US President for decades. And, until Trump, US Presidents had snubbed all such previous prospects.

Most US officials have hitherto regarded such a summit as a “reward” for an autocratic North Korean leader, oblivious to the goodwill and confidence-building it can generate. Still, the Singapore summit was generally regarded positively. Both leaders smiled pleasantly to the cameras and to each other, projecting cordiality without mishap.

Whatever the US Establishment might have thought then, or since, the international community welcomed the summit as a timely occasion heralding better times on the Korean peninsula and in Asia.

Warming to summit mode, Trump’s presence at the NATO summit in Brussels this month saw him in his trademark brusque transactional style.

There was no diplomatic incident only because there was nothing diplomatic about it. Trump reportedly rattled alliance presumptions and insisted that NATO allies pay more for their own defence.

This came just weeks after Trump alienated trade partners in Europe and Asia with tariffs. The NATO summit in turn left the security alliance feeling less than secure.

From Brussels Trump moved on to Helsinki, where he sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a four-eyes summit. The US media had no summit agenda and promptly speculated on what was discussed.

Inevitably a main item for the media was the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential campaign. Did Trump succeed or fail in accusing Putin of such meddling to his face?

Such distractions divert from the actual content of the summit. When news broke about the summit covering a referendum for eastern Ukraine, some news reports focused on that but the alleged “meddling” issues remained. A summit-friendly Trump remains persona non grata to the US military-industrial complex despite his show of force in Syria, so the US deep state still wants to see him go. Even as his Presidency moves towards the mid-term, hopes of impeachment still linger.

Multiple investigations into supposed collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign continue to pile on the pressure. But no sooner had Trump admitted that he “misspoke” to Putin at the summit, than he announces his invitation to Putin to visit the White House in the coming months.

This “return summit” is where Trump would now say the right things, or at least not say the wrong things. By now the US mainstream media, having thoroughly demonised Putin, relished a grand opportunity to take down Trump by association.

Trump may be getting the hang of summits, in stages, and possibly even enjoying summitry. However the knack of outpointing him by fair means or foul at such events remains with the US mainstream media.

The setup is not usually advantageous to a sitting President, especially when it is President Trump. He could reign supreme in his businesses, and his reality television shows. But the Presidency is a different kind of “business” altogether. Unlike other businesses where he may be the boss, a democracy rightly makes everyone else the boss of the leader.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

American Fascism: Reading the signs of the times


July 21, 2018

American Fascism: Reading the signs of the times

“…freedoms must be defended, which is possible only when the threats are seen clearly. The moment people stop believing that the demagogues can be prevented from doing their worst is the moment we can be sure that it is already too late.–Ian Buruma
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Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018
www.project-syndicate.org

 

The End of NATO?


July 21, 2018

The Trump-Putin Summit and the Death of American Foreign Policy


July 21, 2018

The Trump-Putin Summit and the Death of American Foreign Policy

by Susan Glasser

https://www.newyorker.com

Days after Helsinki, the Russians claim big “agreements” were reached, and Washington is silent.Photograph by Win McNamee / Getty

 

In the days since the Monday meeting in Helsinki, there’s been an understandable frenzy over President Trump’s post-summit press conference, given that he sided with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, over his own intelligence agencies on the subject of Russia’s 2016 election interference, ranted about his Electoral College victory, blamed the United States for bad relations with Russia, and called the special prosecutor investigating his alleged collusion a “disgrace to our country” as a smirking Putin looked on. But the real scandal of Helsinki may be only just emerging.

On Thursday, Putin gave a public address to Russian diplomats in which he claimed that specific “useful agreements” were reached with Trump in their one-on-one meeting at the summit, a private meeting that Trump himself insisted on. Putin’s announcement came a day after his Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said that Trump had made “important verbal agreements” with Putin on arms control and other matters. The Russians, Antonov said, were ready to get moving on implementing them. The White House, meanwhile, has said nothing about what the two men may have agreed to in private, although Trump tweeted Thursday morning that he and Putin had discussed everything from nuclear proliferation to Syria, Ukraine, and trade, and that he looked forward to a second meeting with the Russian President soon, to follow up. On Thursday afternoon, the White House confirmed that Trump plans to invite Putin to Washington in the fall for another summit.

Days after the Helsinki summit, Trump’s advisers have offered no information—literally zero—about any such agreements. His own government apparently remains unaware of any deals that Trump made with Putin, or any plans for a second meeting, and public briefings from the State Department and Pentagon have offered no elaboration except to make clear that they are embarrassingly uninformed days after the summit.

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America’s Embarrassment–State Department is kept out of the loop of  Trump-Putin private discussions in Helsinki

Unlike Putin, Trump did not brief his own diplomats on the Helsinki meeting. The American Secretary of State, national-security adviser, and Ambassador to Moscow, who attended the lunch after Trump and Putin’s private session, have been publicly silent on the substance of the meetings, leaving it to the Russians, for now, to make claims about what was actually said and done behind closed doors between the two Presidents. Even as Putin was publicly talking of “agreements” in Moscow on Thursday, the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, gave a radio interview to the conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt. The bulk of their conversation concerned a meeting that Pompeo is hosting next week to promote “religious freedom” internationally.

The Secretary of State was neither asked about nor chose to elaborate on what happened in Helsinki, and the only question about Russia concerned whether Pompeo had been alerted, before the Helsinki summit, to the Justice Department indictments of a dozen Russian military-intelligence officers in connection with the 2016 Russian hacking on Trump’s behalf. “I can’t talk about that, Hugh,” Pompeo said.

The information provided to America’s top diplomats, those whose job it is to deal with Russia, was just as sparse and potentially incomplete. The Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Russia, Wess Mitchell, on Tuesday briefed the State Department group that has been pulled together to discuss Russia policy before and after the summit. There was no mention of any agreements. “There is no word on agreements,” a senior U.S. official told me. “There is no information on the U.S. side about any agreements.” So was Putin lying? Was Trump? Was it possible there was a misunderstanding, and that Trump thinks he made no commitments and Putin thinks he did? “It is terribly disturbing,” the senior official said. “The point is that we don’t know.”

A U.S. Ambassador in Europe, who has extensive experience dealing with Russia, told me that he and other State Department officials who would need to know have received no post-summit briefings, or even talking points about what happened, both of which would be standard practice after such an important encounter. “Nothing,” he told me. “We are completely in the dark. Completely.”

At the same time, the fragmentary evidence that has emerged, from the Russian comments and Trump’s various interviews, suggests there is reason for serious concern. In an interview on Fox, Trump questioned America’s commitment to the NATO alliance’s Article 5 mutual-defense provision, disparaging the new NATO member Montenegro as an “aggressive” little country that just might provoke us into “World War Three.” The criticism seemed to parrot Putin’s thinking on NATO and Montenegro—where Russia mounted an unsuccessful coup attempt last year in an effort to block the country’s NATO accession. The exchange left observers justifiably wondering if this was part of the agenda in the private Trump-Putin talks.

Trump has also, in his tweets and other interviews, alluded to substantive discussions with Putin on issues such as Syria, where Trump is already on record as saying he wants to withdraw U.S. troops. If Trump, in fact, struck a secret deal with Putin in Helsinki to pull back U.S. troops from Syria, or otherwise limit the American presence, that would prove deeply controversial among many in his own party.

While Trump’s comments gave cause for concern, another public uproar emerged over Trump’s suggestion that he was taking seriously Putin’s demand to interrogate the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, and a number of congressional staffers. McFaul and the staffers were involved in imposing sanctions on corrupt Russian officials after successful lobbying by the U.S.-born businessman Bill Browder, who has emerged as one of Putin’s chief international foes. Was the handing over of a former American Ambassador to Moscow and congressional staffers to Russian officials also discussed—or even agreed to by Trump—in the private session? The White House said it was “considering” Putin’s proposal, while the State Department called demands on McFaul and others “absurd” and a non-starter. Finally, on Thursday afternoon, the White House said Trump “disagrees” with the proposal, which, it nonetheless insisted, had been made by Putin “in sincerity.”

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The bewildered White House  Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has a tough job defending her POTUS

I spoke with McFaul a few minutes after the White House statement from the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was released. “This is hardly a defense of us,” McFaul told me, pointing out that neither he nor the other ten current and former U.S. government officials apparently sought by Putin had anything to do with Browder, and yet were somehow accused of being implicated in a spurious Russian criminal case against the businessman. “The disturbing thing is, this is just one part of the private conversation we know about, and think about how cockamamie it was,” McFaul added. “So that’s the one thing we know about the private talks, and it has this incredibly bad consequence for the American interest. So why wouldn’t we assume the rest of the conversation was like that as well?”

 

We are witnessing nothing less than the breakdown of American foreign policy. This week’s extraordinary confusion over even the basic details of the Helsinki summit shows that all too clearly. We may not yet know what exactly Trump agreed to with Putin, or even if they agreed to anything at all; perhaps, it will turn out, Putin and his advisers have sprung another clever disinformation trap on Trump, misleading the world about their private meeting because a novice American President gave them an opening to do so. But, even if we don’t know the full extent of what was said and done behind closed doors in Helsinki, here’s what we already do know as a result of the summit: America’s government is divided from its President on Russia; its process for orderly decision-making, or even basic communication, has disintegrated; and its ability to lead an alliance in Europe whose main mission in recent years has been to counter and contain renewed Russian aggression has been seriously called into question.

On Thursday, not long after Putin’s remarks, I spoke with a former senior National Security Council official who has remained in close contact with Trump’s Russia advisers. The official described a bleak scene: the utter lack of process; the failure of the U.S. government to clarify what was even discussed, never mind agreed to, at the meeting; the deep concerns of NATO allies who had spent the previous week believing they had secured Trump’s commitment to their shared agenda of pushing back against Russian aggression. It all seemed almost incomprehensible to anyone with the vaguest sense of how the United States has conducted its foreign policy for generations. “This is no way to run a superpower,” he told me. It’s hard to imagine anyone, Republican or Democrat, who could seriously disagree.

 

  • Susan B. Glasser is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she writes a weekly column on life in Trump’s Washington.