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Trump’s European Trainwreck…2 – The Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki, a Chance for Improved U.S.-Russian Relations, Derailed by the Mueller Indictments

July 17, 2018

Dangerous, irresponsible language

How did a meeting between the U.S. president, Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin that was geared towards a modest possible shift in U.S. Russian relations, turn into such a circus, its progressive potential waylaid even before Trump’s airplane left the ground from the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport? In this increasingly bitter, now open divide within the U.S. ruling class, the Putin-Trump Helsinki Summit was little more than a sideshow. Trump tried to use the summit to increase his plummeting international credibility by giving a nod to renewing a more constructive U.S.-Russian dialogue. Not showing the least concern for having sabotaged a step towards possible reduction in the nuclear arms race at a time when current agreements are about to run out in 2021, the Democratic :arty leadership was intent on torpedo-ing any positive results.

Lost in this factional slugging match between different sectors of power in the United States in which those recently pushed aside and those trying to consolidate their hold on the nation’s political future, is the fact that the credibility of the United States as a world power just took another hit as did the possibility of inching a few steps away from an increasingly ratcheted-up nuclear  arms race.

Furthermore, in order to bring down Trump, a frenzy of anti-Russian hysteria , long percolating, is now boiling over.  It is shaping up to be even more poisonous than the anti-Sovietism of the Cold War era and in some ways even more dangerous for world peace. Based on the still unproven claim that it was Russian influence responsible for Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton,  the anti-Russian frenzy has been mostly fueled  by Democrats, trying to pin the blame for Hillary Clinton’s historic loss on any one other than themselves, be it Bernie Sanders or the Russians.

Leading the charge to upset the Helsinki apple cart was none other than John Brennan, former Central Intelligence Agency director.  “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.” Many others, Democrat and Republican alike just added on.

Since Hillary Clinton’s humiliating defeat in her bid to win the presidency, the Dems have used the Russian card as a cover of their own bankrupt electoral strategy that ushered in the Trump presidency in the first place. If the Republicans wrapped themselves in a patriotic froth to discredit Hillary Clinton, now it is the Democrats turn to outdo them, taking Cold War-like fear-mongering to new lows, doing everything in their power to slice the fragile thread that holds U.S.-Russian detente together, playing the Russian election interference card for all its worth and more.

Talk of Donald Trump “selling out America” or that “Russia’s ongoing attacks on our democracy are an act of war,”  that “Trump has committed treason” are over the top, out of whack with reality. Did the Russians “interfere,” try to influence the elections any more than the old masters at such shenanigans: Israelis, the Saudis or the United Arab Republic …or for that matter, the French, Germans or Filipinos?

Such comments are meant to sabotage whatever good will might have resulted from the Trump-Putin Summit, whatever bilateral inching towards a renewal of U.S. Russian nuclear weapons negotiations and if possible create the momentum to impeach Donald Trump. Doubtful that will work given the make up of the House of Representatives but the decibel level is so high at present that it is difficult to tell what lies in store. Regardless, American prestige and influence has taken a serious blow to the stomach.

The Mueller Bombshell

The political grenade that just blew up in Donald Trump’s face was the carefully calculated and well timed announcement of indictments handed down by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to 12 Russian intelligence agents for election tampering in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The Russians, none of whom are in the United States and thus are unlikely to face the judicial music, stand accused of having helped orchestrate the electronic hacking of the Democratic National Committee in the run up to the elections.

In what has been from the start a carefully orchestrated campaign, the indictments were followed immediately by calls for Trump to cancel the summit, which neither Trump nor Putin were willing to do. Failing that, the Democrats went on the warpath to place  the Mueller indictments as the central theme of the summit meeting, thus hoping to sideline discussion on such minor details as the escalating nuclear weapons arms race, resolving the Syrian crisis or addressing the consequences of the U. S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. That failed too, as well as Putin’s concrete remarks on the subjects discussed suggest.

Thus, the poorly prepared meeting some looked forward to (myself included) and so many dreaded did take place. U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for an hour and a half at the presidential palace in Helsinki Finland earlier today, July 16, 2018. In the press conference afterwards, both declared the meeting a success, both read brief statements. The body language and content of both statements was friendly and cordial. Perhaps that was Trump’s biggest problem: he showed openness to negotiate with Vladimir Putin.

The more hopeful result was that by all appearances, the leaders of the two countries that possess 90% of the world’s nuclear fire power combined, had made a serious effort to rekindle nuclear arms reduction talks. Nothing wrong with that and, in a meeting where it appears that climate change was hardly mentioned (at least according to their joint statements) some movement on nuclear disarmament was the minimum that world public opinion demanded. Conflict resolution is not between friends but adversaries and in such relations “trust” counts for little; what counts more is finding common interests, a different matter. In a world of nuclear arsenals, negotiations are the only outlet.

But the Russian indictment subject could not be avoided in the press conference that followed and there, facing both a national and international press that he has used as a daily punching bag, Donald Trump lost it. He didn’t “lose his cool” – he remained or seemed to remain relaxed throughout, it is only that his responses were so insipid,  and down right ignorant as to be embarrassing. In contrast to Putin who as usual was controlled and on top of his game, given the way he responded to questions, Trump appeared not fully to grasp the importance or complexity of the issues.

More telling than the media nonsense of Trump supporting Putin rather than U. S. interests (not true by the way), his answers made him look like a fool. Lashing out against U.S intelligence agencies in such a meeting was the spark necessary to ignite the fire that would ensue. In so doing, Trump – and American foreign policy as a whole – came off politically amateurish, the country divided. Even without the 12 indictments, the contrast between the manner in which the two world leaders fielded questions could not have been more vivid. This opened the door for the media harsh reaction that followed. As the press conference ended all hell broke loose. In fact here in the United States, Trump’s comments have created nothing short of a firestorm that is only just beginning.

As Dave Lindorff wrote in an article in Counterpunch just prior to the summit, the indictment announcement reeked of  partisan politics. Getting to the heart of the matter, Lindorff goes on to comment that the timing of Mueller’s indictments was meant to sabotage, undermined the talks, essentially pulling the rug out from under “any chance that President Trump might reach some agreement with his Russian counterpart Putin to ratchet down the growing hostility between the two countries.”

Following in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps, but tripping

Given that a nuclear arms race between Russia and the United Stats has once again been re-ignited and that major agreements on nuclear weapons controls will soon expire in 2021, this Helsinki summit was a hopeful sign, tentative as it might have been. No doubt Trump had Ronald Reagan’s 1987 opening to Mikhael Gorbachev in mind that led to two major agreements on the reduction of U.S and (then) Soviet nuclear weapons arsenals. Those agreements transformed that American president’s image from nothing short of a war monger (which he was) to one who, in the end, made a major breakthrough in nuclear arms reduction.

Trump, who, needs image reconstruction, no doubt  had the Reagan-Gorbachev experience in mind. Like Reagan and George W. Bush before him, Donald Trump needs a political face-lift not only to improve his poll standings at home as the 2018 and 2020 elections draw near, but to help bolster his international unpopularity, which negatively affects the U.S. role as a global power. He pinned his hopes on a successful meeting with Putin. Such a meeting need not produce concrete results. The two could make nice with one another, Trump could be perceived as a peace maker; Putin, anxious to project a responsible image, had nothing to lose with any improvement of U.S. Russian relations either.

Such a meeting to discuss nuclear weapons issues, moving towards a resolution of the Syrian war – however preliminary and symbolic – could help soften the perception that Trumpism is little more than the opening of an American path to fascism. It could have helped take the attention away from the human rights horror show his administration is engaged in against immigrants, the separation of thousands of immigrant parents from their children, take the eyes of the nation and the world away from radical de-regulation of all aspects of economic life in the United States, the rise of a new bolder hardcore racism, etc.

But Trump turned out to be no Ronald Reagan.

No doubt Trump’s willingness to meet with Putin had other goals.  Such a gathering could not but make the Chinese uneasy, pleasing Washington and suggesting a certain Russian independence from Peking. Forty-five years earlier Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger had played a similar card with their opening of relations with China. One of Kissinger’s main goals  was to deepen the divide between the two sparring Marxist leading powers, the Soviet Union and China. It worked to an extraordinary degree. Egged on by John Bolton and Bush era neo-conservatives, Trump’s opening to Putin was intended to do likewise: create tensions, throw a bit of confusion into the closer cooperation between China and Russia. What secret deal would Trump offer Putin? Would Putin take the bait if the offer was substantial enough? In exchange for what?

Ironically, given the unraveling of the Helsinki results, one could argue that the main beneficiary of the meeting was the emerging world power that wasn’t there, China. With the United States looking increasingly absorbed in its factional political boxing match that some are referring to as “America’s civil war” Washington is viewed as increasingly unreliable. It makes complex multilateral agreements – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Nuclear Deal) comes to mind – and then turns around and breaks them and  tries to pressure the rest of the signers to do likewise. An increasingly unreliable economic and political partner. After the licking that Europe took (see Part One of this two part series) at Trump’s hands both in Brussels and Great Britain, Europe too, even within the NATO framework, will be looking increasingly East for more stable relations.

Trump’s Helsinki Motives Completely Cynical?

Was Trump’s eagerness to meet with Putin a completely cynical gesture, another media performance like that with North Korea, that would evaporate into nothingness not long after the meeting ended? Who knows?

But as Glen Greenwald noted on Democracy Now a few hours prior to the Trump-Putin meeting:

“… the question is not “Do we wish we had better leaders?” The question is “Do we want these two countries trying to talk and resolve their differences peacefully, or do we want them isolating one another and feeling besieged and belligerent and attacked, which heightens all the tensions that Joe [Cirincione] has devoted his career to combating?” And I think it’s much better to have the kind of dialogue that Barack Obama advocated with Russia than the kind of belligerence that Democrats now demand of our government.”

Whatever their motives, the fact that Trump and Putin, leaders of the world’s two largest nuclear weapons arsenals, found it in their interest, to meet and rekindle at least the hint of serious dialogue – even if it entails giving a point or two to Donald Trump – should have been welcomed, and it was by much of the world. With two looming threats to life on earth – climate change and the threat of nuclear war – hanging over an increasingly darkening landscape, the very idea of the meeting gave a glimmer of hope.

The Reaction – A National Security Frenzy; Democratic Party New Cold War Factionalism

Make no mistake: the Democratic Party rhetoric accusing the Russians of having somehow orchestrated Trump’s electoral victory is unhinged, bordering on lunacy, as Greenwald noted. Anti-Russian frenzy continues to gain traction, as calling the Russian election hacking as “the greatest threat to American democracy in decades” becomes the new normal. It’s the Cold War all over again, and this without some of the safeguards put in place during that pre-Soviet collapse period.  

As Trump has done everything in his power to sabotage and destroy what existed of Barack Obama’s progressive legacy (Obamacare, the Iran Deal, steps to reverse climate change) now the Democrats strike back (with growing support from the old Republican establishment Trump is trying to purge) by throwing a carefully aimed monkey wrench at  Trump’s Helsinki venture. Unfortunately the main casualty so far is the prospect of peace abroad.

Democratic Party Bankruptcy

Democrats are revealing that they too can take what should have been an incident of negligent significance, perhaps hardly newsworthy, and blown it out of all proportion to make into a national crisis. But then the whole Cold War was based on an exaggerated Soviet threat; today the country’s foreign policy is based on magnifying Russian (and Chinese) aggressive intentions.  By fanning what is nothing less than a national hysteria over a minor threat (if that) to U.S. security that some are comparing Pearl Harbor and 9-11, the Democrats are intent not only to sabotage the Summit but to build on the rising wave of false patriotism and jingoistic frenzy to paralyze the Trump presidency and if they can, bring him down.

The Democratic Party response to the Trump election has been nothing short of pathetic. How they have handled the Helsinki episode is just one more sorry example. It has been reduced to a cynical worn out-party living on its past achievements of fifty years ago in social and anti-racist legislation but now dominated by finance capital and other powerful corporate interests. It’s commitment to middle, working class and poor Americans is skin deep and often times not even that; the divide between those who actually control the party and the party base nationwide appears increasingly insurmountable.

Never a party of peace despite its rhetoric, the Democratic Party leadership has supported virtually every unjust war and military action this country has been involved in – and that is all of them. In the name of whatever, anti-Communism, the (fictitious war on terrorism) Democrats have joined hands with their Republican counterparts to vote for increasingly large, unwieldy and highly dangerous increases in military spending, weapons modernization, It had only been when the party leadership had been kicked in the butt by its own base – and then after many years and only slightly- that the Democrats had tilted towards opposing both the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

The country is experiencing American politics at its ugliest, most partisan and is bound to have even more negative consequences. The tensions have long been simmering beneath the surface over what posture the United States should take both domestically and internationally in this post Cold War era. Donald Trump might not have won the popular vote in 2016, but given the way his campaign concentrated on winning the electoral college in key swing states, and given the way that in a fundamental way the Obama presidency failed to deliver on its economic promises, Trump won. Might not have been “fair and square” and in many ways it wasn’t, but rigged elections are nothing new in the US of A. And then without hesitation, mercy or consideration of the nation and the world, the “Trumpites” went on a rampage to retool the country and its relations with the rest of the world, a very American version of Naomi Klein’s famous shock therapy.

Some with a sense of history had a pretty good idea that something akin to Donald Trump’s path to American fascism was in the making, but very few understood (maybe Chomsky, Chris Hedges, a few others) how radical a move to the right nor how quickly it would be achieved – that it could happen before the very eyes of the country and the world with such intensity and deliberateness. Less than two years into Trump’s presidency, as is well known, while Trump tweets on, the country is being reshaped as a hundred, maybe more, years of social policy on labor rights, against racism, an American social net go down the toilet, along with multi-lateral international agreements of all sizes and shapes.

But let’s be clear, the Democratic Party, for decades, some argue half a century, while it has followed “a more graceful” approach to American decline, has not been up to the task of responding to this right-wing Republican assault led by a coalition of gazillionaire libertarians (the Koch brothers and co.), financial speculators, Christian fundamentalist wackos, and neo-conservative foreign policy nuts supported by right-wing Zionist fanatics.

The Democratic Leadership Council (the Clintons and co) and the like –  publicly refused to acknowledge the depth of the bankruptcy of their 2016 campaign: they failed to “look homeward” blaming their defeat on what was actually their best hope, Bernie Sanders on the one hand, and on “Russian interference” on the other, trying to expose Donald Trump’s very real and historically long connections to Russian organized crime elements to engineer impeachment, – an unlikely result that even today, given the make up of the U. S.

Since November 2016 Donald Trump and his entourage, or what’s left of it, have been the laughing stock of the nation and the world. Having just gone out of their way to sabotage any slight improvement in U.S. Russian relations necessary if there is to be a nuclear arms reduction agreement, the Democrats join their Republican counterparts. What wasted opportunity….

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Image: The Sampo, a painting based on the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala.

Trump’s European Train Wreck – 1

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill conklin permalink
    July 17, 2018 6:24 pm

    Rob this is a wonderful summary of the situation. I am going to have to read it several times. The sad thing is that Trump if he had advisers like Chomsky and Chris Hedges and you, he could change the world but he doesn’t and he won’t.

    • July 17, 2018 6:34 pm

      Got part of it but missed part of it; will explain on the radio next Tues

  2. July 23, 2018 9:31 am

    Point of view of an expat living in France for 32 years: this post is a harrowingly accurate analysis of what’s going on. Rob Prince you are smart! America you are fucked.

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  1. Trump’s European Trainwreck…1 | View from the Left Bank: Rob Prince's Blog

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