I agree with Steve’s characterization of President Trump’s performance in Helsinki as “extraordinarily dismal.” “Disgusting” might be an even better description.
The performance was disgusting in at least two ways. First, Trump blamed the poor state of U.S. relations on the U.S. He tweeted:
Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!
Trump is right that our relationship with Russia as bad as it has been since the fall of the Soviet Union. But the poor relationship is not the fault of “U.S. foolishness and stupidity” or the Mueller investigation. Our poor relationship is due primarily to Russian aggression in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria. There is also the fact that Russia poisoned an expat in England, our closest ally, and interfered in our election (more about that in a moment).
As Jay Nordlinger puts it:
Putin’s Russia is a dictatorship that kills critics, violates borders, interferes in democratic elections, etc. — and that’s why relations between it and the United States, a great liberal democracy, are bad.
At his press conference with Putin, Trump moved off of his “blame America first” stance. Unfortunately, he shifted to “moral equivalence,” another reprehensible position that once was the stock-in-trade of the left. Trump stated:
I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish.
What idiocy. Russia hasn’t been foolish. Its aggression has succeeded. Putin punches well above Russia’s weight.
At times the U.S. has been foolish — for example, by allowing Russia to become the dominant force in Syria. But that foolishness isn’t responsible for the poor state of U.S. Russian relations. Relations might be worse if we had stymied Putin. That would have been okay.
Nor is Robert Mueller responsible for poor U.S.-Russian relations. Charges that Russia interfered in our election needed to be investigated, if not by Mueller then by the Justice Department. Blaming the investigation for the poor state of our relations with Russia is like blaming police investigators for the crime they are investigating.
Trump’s performance was also disgusting because he continues to resist the conclusion that Russia interfered in our election. I can understand Trump’s reluctance to accept the findings of intelligence agencies that have demonstrated bias and hostility towards him. However, the conclusion is also that of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is controlled by Republicans.
The Committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, issued this statement:
The Senate Intelligence Committee has reviewed the 2017 [Intelligence Community] assessment and found no reason to doubt its conclusion that President Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at the 2016 U.S. elections with the goal of undermining faith in our democratic process. Russia has conducted a coordinated cyberattack on state election systems, and hacked critical infrastructure. They have used social media to sow chaos and discord in our society. They have beaten and harassed U.S. diplomats and violated anti-proliferation treaties.
Any statement by Vladimir Putin contrary to these facts is a lie and should be recognized as one by the President. . . . Vladimir Putin is not our friend and never has been. Nor does he want to be our friend. His regime’s actions prove it. We must make clear that the United States will not tolerate hostile Russian activities against us or our allies.
Precisely. Some in the FBI and the CIA probably were out to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Trump’s victory in 2016, but Richard Burr and his fellow committee Republicans aren’t. Their only incentive to find and acknowledge the truth about a matter of national security.
Trump seems unable to handle that truth. All that matters to him is the absence of any suggestion that his 2016 victory was tainted. Thus, he puts his own ego ahead of the national interest in responding to a Russian assault on our democratic process. That’s disgusting.
To make matters worse, Trump tried to justify his position that Russia may not have been responsible by citing Vladimir Putin. Trump claims to have been impressed by the strength of Putin’s denial of responsibility. Putin’s denial was “extremely strong and powerful,” Trump assured us.
This makes the U.S. president look like an idiot, and a useful one as far as Putin is concerned. If the U.S. is led by a man who takes the denials of a thuggish, imperialistic dictator at face value, then European leaders are right to despair.
Americans have cause for concern too.