Saturday, July 8, 2017

Putin 1, Trump 0

Trump got his trip started with a relatively easy day in Poland, where he must have felt enviously comfortable with their conservative, autocratic new government.   Just as Trump would like to do at home, they have taken over the public-owned media and turned it into a propaganda mouthpiece controlled by the government, which hires and fires journalists.   They have also removed independent oversight of the secret service, moved to co-opt the courts, and put limits on media access inside the Parliament building.    That's the Polish Law and Justice Party.

Instead of taking a stand for press freedom, in this situation, Trump allied himself with the Polish president by complaining about the "fake new" he has to put up with at home.   So, we see the same pattern from Trump.   Rapport with the autocrats, awkward as hell with democratic leaders.   Really, he and Kim Jong-un would probably hit it off just swell.

But let's move on to Hamburg, Germany where the G-20 meeting and the Trump-Putin meeting are taking place.   This is based on a description by Alex Ward of  The big question was whether Trump would "hammer Moscow for its election meddling.   It seems he did so -- but in a way that makes the problem worse, not better."

Ward explains that Putin appears to have simply denied any involvement, and Trump accepted it at face value, even though "the entire US intelligence community believes the Kremlin mounted a sophisticated campaign to help him win the White House."

The meeting was limited to four people:   Trump, Putin, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.   According to Lavrov's account, Trump told Putin that this election thing was being exaggerated at home.  As Ward summed it up, "Russia got what it wanted . . . namely, the appearance that the Trump administration accepts that the Kremlin didn't interfere in the election."

The other big issue was the question of sanctions that are already imposed for Russia's Ukraine interference, as well as whether Congress will pass new sanctions for the election meddling (the senate has already passed it, 95 to 2).   Tillerson rather enigmatically said that "The president took note [of the sanctions issue]. . . [But] the two presidents -- I think rightly -- focused on how do we move forward?"

Ward's score:  "Trump -- the deal maker -- got outplayed by Putin. . . .  America's leader bought the Kremlin's denials of election meddling, facts be damned."

I'm not sure that's the correct assessment, however.   I don't think Trump really wanted to make any other deal.  For whatever reason we still don't understand, Trump has never seemed the least bothered by the Russian interference -- or, rather, he's only bothered by the fact that it is true;  because that suggests his "win" was not really a win.

Never does he seem like someone being forced to go along with the Russians.   Look at those happy pictures of his Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kisleyak.  Compare that with the grumpy, awkward pictures of Trump and Angela Merkel.  He's a happy camper with the Russians.   I don't think he wanted to do anything other than what he did in this meeting.  If it weren't for criticism back home, he probably wouldn't have even brought up the hacking or sanctions with his buddy, Putin.   He didn't really have to go as far as he did, saying to Putin, "It's an honor to meet with you."

The other issue was Syria, and here they're trying to make it seem like something was accomplished, by reporting an agreement on a ceasefire in Syria's southwest.  As Ward says, though:   "That's all well and good, but most of the fighting is in Syria's east and north. . . . Much of the country's southwest has already been flattened, so it's not readily apparent what the ceasefire will achieve."  The best that can be said is that it signifies a beginning of cooperation.  We'll see.

So far, anyway, reports suggest that the meeting's worst outcome was on the election meddling.   Trump's opposition to that is nothing new.  So it could have been worse.   But then our expectations of Trump are so low . . .


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