Yes, Trump Says Idiotic, Sycophantic Things About Putin. That Might Not Matter.

Russia's president Vladimir Putin (L) and US president Donald Trump during a meeting of world leaders on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit. Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS
Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev\TASS via Getty Images

On Monday morning, President Trump tweeted out his explanation for why relations between Russia and America had sunk to recent lows. Here it was:

This tweet was so sycophantic toward Russia that the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs promptly tweeted, “We agree.”

If Trump is trying to present support for accusations that he’s bizarrely kind toward one of the worst dictators on the planet, he’s doing a fine job of it. If he’s trying to kill the “Trump is in bed with the Russians” talk, this is an odd way to do it.

But the odd thing about Trump’s Russia policy is that it doesn’t reflect his odd “Blame America First” attitude regarding Russia — the same “Blame America First” attitude evident from the 2016 election, when he said that the United States killed people just like Putin did. His administration has shipped deadly weaponry to the Ukrainians, bombed Russian-backed Syrian airbases, killed hundreds of Russian mercenaries in Syria, and placed harsher sanctions on Russia than the Obama administration. And lest it be forgotten, it’s nothing new for an American administration to try to make nice with Putin near the advent of that administration: George W. Bush memorably stated that he looked into Putin’s soul, and Hillary Clinton handed Putin’s foreign minister a mislabeled “Reset” button. And it’s nothing new for an American administration to treat the Russians with kid gloves: Obama told the Russians that he would provide them “flexibility” after the 2012 election, and then proceeded to do nothing when the Russians invaded Crimea.

With that said, Trump’s tendency to repeat the propaganda terminology of foreign dictators is a bad look for the United States. After doing a photo-op negotiation with Kim Jung Un that resulted in zero serious concessions from Kim but Trump’s evidence-free declaration that North Korea had been denuclearized, Trump stated that the United States would postpone “war games” — North Korean terminology. Now he’s repeating Kremlin talking points about stupid America. None of this is good.

As for the suggestion that Trump will go easy on Russian election meddling, that's seriously unlikely. When it comes to cybersecurity policy, Trump's simply not in the loop — as he's not in the loop on a bevy of major policy initiatives within his administration. He operates as almost a free agent, outside his own White House. His advisors seem okay with that so long as it has no serious impact on policy.

Similarly, the rest of the world has begun to discount what Trump says. So, when Trump says foolish things about NATO, most of the NATO leadership immediately ignores it and talks about how strong the alliance remains. And that’s a good thing. If Putin took Trump’s overtures seriously, he’d think about an aggressive territorial play against a NATO member; that’s highly unlikely. Instead, America’s enemies seem content to settle for rhetorical pats on the head from Trump, none of which seem to manifest themselves in any serious way in policy.

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