President Trump returned today to the question of Russian meddling in 2016 president election. He stated that Vladimir Putin, in response to his questions about the matter, has repeatedly denied meddling. Trump added that he believes Putin’s denials are sincere.
Trump didn’t say he believes Putin’s denial, only that the denial is sincere. It’s unlikely, however, that if Putin meddled, his denial is sincere. Putin almost surely has a firm grasp of reality and would remember whether he meddled.
I view Trump’s statement as an attempt to avoid calling Putin a liar. Trump explained that to deny Putin’s sincerity would insult Putin and might stand in the way of decent relations between America and Russia.
Trump also said that those pushing him to denounce Putin want to create an “artificial barrier” between the U.S. and Russia, preventing the two major powers from working together on issues of mutual interest. He characterized them as “haters and fools.”
I believe that it is Putin’s desire to harm American interests that prevents us working with him (or should). Thus, I prefer a frosty relationship with Russia and its thuggish ruler, and would not give him the benefit of the doubt (if there is any doubt) either as to whether he interfered with our election or whether he believes he interfered.
But Trump is the president and he campaigned on having a go at improving U.S. relations with Russia. If that’s a good idea, I don’t blame Trump for resisting pressure, much of it politically motivated on the part of Democrats who were soft on Putin for years, to torpedo relations with the Russians.
I expect Trump will learn the hard way, as Presidents Bush and Obama did, that his optimism regarding Putin is badly misguided. We’ll see.
In any case, it’s the dangerous naivety (as I see it) of Trump’s view that Russia will help the U.S. “solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, [and] terrorism” that bothers me — not his desire to move past the Russian “meddling” issue and not his characterization, close enough to the mark, of James Clapper, John Brennan, and Jim Comey as “political hacks.”