Trump and Putin

Vladimir Putin has received an inordinate amount of attention given the paucity of news coming out of Russia and the Ukraine.

Most of the news examines Russia’s alleged intervention in the United States presidential election. Although much of the evidence is circumstantial, the specter of Putin interfering in all aspects of American life is most alarming.

But what is pertinent is that Donald Trump has made few overtures to the Russian Federation. The “crisis” in the Ukraine is at a stultifying stalemate.

In January a brief flurry on the front line was treated as some major action in the Western press, then it disappeared from view. Neither Putin nor Trump has addressed the situation because there is really very little happening.

The only problems have been the usual charges against Putin by John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee. When the Russian ambassador at the United Nations died of a heart attack, speculation ran wild that he was offed, by his own boss. Without a shred of evidence, the media tried to make an issue out of nothing. Indeed Putin is becoming almost a fictional character in the eyes of the anti-Russian lobby. In their view he is 10-foot-tall and bulletproof –a legend invented in the labyrinths of the neo-conservative fantasy factories.

Indeed CNN has a documentary on Putin “the most powerful man in the world.” Oh really, that would be news to Trump or President Xi of China, who doubtlessly thinks of Putin as more of a junior partner. As with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, Putin is being recreated into the existential threat to world peace. One more excuse to do what the United States excels at, invading or undermining other nations.

At least Trump understands that self-righteousness is not a foreign policy. Despite some of his shortcomings, he approaches diplomacy in a pragmatic manner. He rattles few sabers and he is least likely to draw any. Every bluster, particularly toward Iran and China, has been carefully walked back. And he has correctly tried to take a more measured use of language, careful not to approach other nations as morally inferior to the United States. Power is a language easily understood, more effective when denuded of preachiness.

And this might be Trump’s strength. The neo-liberal, neo-conservative approach is based on the highfalutin’ notions of American exceptionalism. The idea that America is always in the right, if it does make mistakes it is in matters of application. And, of course, the United States has no selfish interest — perish the thought. At least Trump does not buy this fairy story and he understands that other nations might be offended by the implication that they are always tawdry in their motives.

No doubt the United States has an interest in keeping the status quo, but sometimes this requires readjustments and accommodations. Russia and Putin are to be bargained with and included in ventures where both parties have a similar interest. ISIS certainly has been decimated by Russian intervention in Syria, cleaning up what had been an American project gone terribly wrong.

If Trump can avoid hyperbolic rhetoric, he could change American foreign policy, guiding it away from knee-jerk interventions. If trying to meet Putin halfway can help stabilize an uneven world and correct regional problems, than Trump is on the right course.