It took a very long time, too long — due to obstructionist partisan politics, Democrat resistance, Hillary electoral moaning and groaning, and media conflagration, aka “fake news” — for the President of the USA, Donald J. Trump to meet with Vladimir V. Putin, President of Russia.
The scheduled meeting was to be a meaningless icebreaker, get to know you session, lasting some thirty minutes. The media used term ‘sizing one another up,’ as it they were getting fitted for new suits.
Wrong! It turned out to be a real and productive bilateral, lasting instead some two hours and fifteen minutes. Trump had prepared and had an agenda.
Few predicted or expected this or the firm results that flowed, including a ceasefire in Syria (creating safe zones region by region was a Trump campaign promise – another promise kept), working groups on cyber threats, a robust discussion of meddling in our elections and other important issues. But then all of the over-exposed pundits, same old experts and the lame media always get Trump wrong and underestimate him and his abilities. They loathe him so much they can’t stand his constant winning.
The signs all over the city where the meeting took place, in the larger context of the G20 Summit, Hamburg, Germany, read: “Welcome to Hell.”
Outside, the radical anti-capitalist protesters, mostly from the German violent Left, battled with the police (over 150 have been injured).
Water cannons kept them at bay while the world leaders convened. Globalization was their stated enemy when it should have been globalism. Who funds all these wackos anyway; as they always show up again and again, accomplish nothing, except attempted disruption and continual news coverage, as if they were the story?
There were four myths that the media had projected around this first meeting between the Presidents, Trump and Putin, each of which needs to be defused and put to rest. They are all liberal gibberish:
# 1 Myth is that the US and Russia are equals. The facts portray the true reality. The US economy is 20x times larger than that of Russias; and Russia is in decline as a still emerging economy, entirely dependent on the (low and getting lower) price of oil & gas. The US military spends $600 billion a year and the Russians spend only $67 billion. They are no match on the land, in the air, or at sea, except for one category: nuclear weapons. When it comes to cultural influence there simply is NO comparison.
# 2 Myth is that the Americans hate Russians and vice versa. This is simply not true. We have in the past been allies, foes, and frememies and the fact that Russia deals in destabilizing measures is nothing new. As if America doesn’t? This meeting disappointed the CNN crowd, as it was not the movie, Rocky IV, where Rocky Balboa took a wicked beating from Captain Ivan Drago until the last round. Russia and America it appears, surprise, surprise, can get along, can work together, can relate and even agree. Someone needs to tell all the costly and duplicative committees in the US Congress investigating—who knows what?
# 3 Myth international relations is not, regardless what the G20 or the UN, or god forbid, the EU says—all about cooperation and a collaboration of multipolar weak powers to achieve next to nothing. In fact, Thucydides got it right centuries BC, when he stated: “The strong do what they can do and the weak suffer what they must.” Life may no longer be quite the Hobbesian: short, nasty and brutish but it takes realpolitik and real leadership to get things done—in war and peace. Trump and Putin seem to get that where other so-called ‘world leaders’ and the weak institutions they create — don’t.
# 4 Myth is simply that culture matters. Trump and Team America have read Russian culture. In the classic, Icon & The Axe, former Librarian of Congress, James Billington, argued that you can’t understand Russia without knowing its history, literature, and culture, which is rooted in long suffering and the strong division between Europe and Asia. The Russian psyche is one of near constant lament and doom. Trump read this and allowed Putin a way to save face, be on a grand stage and solve world problems (many of which were indeed caused by Russia itself). He respected, perhaps, used Putin—who we were warned beforehand was the dangerous, all too clever spymaster and brilliant chess player — to his own aims. In the end, it was Putin who got played.
Can we finally get on now with treating Russia as a valuable nation state who has interests, some of which correspond with our own, some not, and start to deal with them as a player?
Putin and Trump don’t have to be best buds and a bromance was never really in the cards — only in the minds of the sorry, losing party and its media pawns. But as Henry Kissinger reminded us just weeks ago, “Donald Trump is right about Russia… I hope that an effort will be made for a serious dialogue which tries to avoid the drift towards confrontation.”
You see, Russia remains and always will be a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, as Churchill famously called it in 1939. But as he shrewdly went on to say, “Perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”
Trump has put America first but also realized that Russia needs to have air to breathe and scope to maneuver. It has a role in the game even if it is not quite yet welcomed into the Western civilized ‘community of nations’. That doesn’t mean we don’t call them out as he clearly did in Poland, or undercut them when it comes to providing alternative energy options to eastern and central Europe. It only means they can be useful when and where our interests intersect. No more, no less. And like the greatest diplomat to deal with the then Russian (Soviet) nemesis, Ronald Reagan insisted: ‘trust but verify’.
Let’s hope the following rounds in this US-Russia match can build on what was surely a solid start, reestablish a modicum of respect for each other and our duly elected leaders, and continue to debunk all four myths.
Theodore Roosevelt Malloch is a diplomat and scholar whose memoir is entitled, DAVOS, ASPEN & YALE: My Life Behind the Elite Curtain as a Global Sherpa.