Putin and Trump, a very odd cou­ple

Char­ac­ters from dif­fer­ent molds could shape a bet­ter fu­ture

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Suzanne Fields Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

Vladimir Putin is por­trayed by “Satur­day Night Live” as a barech­ested Santa Claus, slid­ing down the chim­ney with a sack full of presents, a mus­cle­bound en­er­getic fig­ure of fun. He de­liv­ers a small sur­veil­lance de­vice shaped like an elf for a shelf to Don­ald Trump (played by Alec Bald­win), who is ripe for satire. When the pres­i­dent-elect apol­o­gizes for not hav­ing a gift in re­turn, the Rus­sian leader replies, “Please, Mr. Trump, you are the gift.”

Santa knows who’s naughty and nice.

Rex Tiller­son, the CEO of Exxon Mo­bil and Mr. Trump’s pick for sec­re­tary of State walks in to take his lumps as a Putin con­fed­er­ate. If “Satur­day Night Live” made fun of Rex Tiller­son’s “friend­li­ness” to­ward Vladimir Putin as a fault, Robert Gates, the for­mer CIA di­rec­tor and a paidup mem­ber of the bi­par­ti­san elites, took a dif­fer­ent tack in real life the next morn­ing on “Meet the Press.” He cast the busi­ness­man’s re­la­tion­ship with world lead­ers not as risk, but as­set.

“Be­ing friendly doesn’t make you friends,” Mr. Gates said, and called the crit­i­cism of Mr. Tiller­son’s busi­ness con­nec­tions a “false nar­ra­tive.” His ex­pe­ri­ence and deep knowl­edge of many coun­tries and the men and women who run them could help Amer­ica re­store its lead­er­ship in the world.

“You don’t have to ne­go­ti­ate very much with your friends,” Mr. Gates ob­served. “It’s with your ad­ver­saries that you have to deal and fig­ure out how to get along.”

As the shirt­less pre­tend-Putty laughs it up on “Satur­day Night Live” with Rex Tiller­son, jok­ing about their fu­ture to­gether, Hil­lary Clin­ton per­sists in a de­fen­sive public crouch over her past with the Rus­sian strong­man.

At the party at the Plaza Ho­tel she threw for top donors to ex­press her grat­i­tude for their big bucks, she blamed Vladimir Putin for her hu­mil­i­a­tion on Nov. 8. The Rus­sian pres­i­dent in­ter­fered in the U.S. elec­tion “be­cause he has a per­sonal beef against me,” she said, ac­cord­ing to a tape ob­tained by The New York Times. It was Rus­sian re­tal­i­a­tion for crit­i­cal re­marks she made of Rus­sia’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in 2011, which she said were nei­ther “free nor fair.”

The Clin­tons have not al­ways been so skep­ti­cal of the Putin in­ten­tions to­ward them or to the United States, but the na­ture of their friend­ship doesn’t sound like the kind Robert Gates was talk­ing about. In 2010 Bill Clin­ton took $500,000 in speak­ing fees from a Rus­sian fi­nance com­pany run by KGB spies with links to Mr. Putin. When Hil­lary was sec­re­tary of State, she pro­fessed op­ti­mism about do­ing high-tech busi­ness in Rus­sia. She cheered the visit of an Amer­i­can del­e­ga­tion of ex­ec­u­tives from in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies that went to Rus­sia to ex­plore joint pri­vate-sec­tor ini­tia­tives. When Rus­sians vis­ited Sil­i­con Val­ley, she said, it’s great that Rus­sia is try­ing to cre­ate that kind of cen­ter for tech­nol­ogy and growth right out­side Moscow, “and we want to help be­cause we think it’s in ev­ery­one’s in­ter­est to do so.”

What fol­lowed was the Skolkovo In­no­va­tion Cen­ter, a Rus­sian-run, high-tech en­clave of re­searchers and de­vel­op­ers sup­port­ing start-ups with global in­vestors. Its suc­cess, as mea­sured by Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity In­sti­tute, ben­e­fited the Clin­tons. The Skolkovo Foun­da­tion was a fa­vorite of many Rus­sian and Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions, who gave gen­er­ously to the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion. Vik­tor Vek­sel­erg, a bil­lion­aire Putin ally who headed the Skolkovo Foun­da­tion, was par­tic­u­larly gen­er­ous.

Power, like beauty, can be in the eye of the be­holder de­pen­dent on who wins and who loses. “Power is the sum to­tal of wills trans­ferred to one per­son,” Tol­stoy fa­mously wrote,” and that’s cer­tainly how vot­ers, dis­ap­pointed over Hil­lary’s de­feat, per­ceive Mr. Putin’s re­spon­si­bil­ity in the hack­ing.

Vladimir Putin ac­tu­ally re­sem­bles a char­ac­ter out of not Tol­stoy, but Dos­toyevsky, as Henry Kissinger ob­served: “So for him, the ques­tion of Rus­sian iden­tity is very cru­cial, be­cause, as a re­sult of the col­lapse of com­mu­nism, Rus­sia has lost about 300 years of its his­tory.” He’s fig­ur­ing out how to bring back pride of place.

Be­cause Mr. Putin is such a cold and cun­ning cal­cu­la­tor, Mr. Kissinger told CBS News that he thinks the Don­ald has a unique op­por­tu­nity to be a pos­i­tive player in those cal­cu­la­tions.

“I be­lieve he has the pos­si­bil­ity of go­ing down in his­tory as a very con­sid­er­able pres­i­dent, be­cause ev­ery coun­try now has two things to con­sider: one, their per­cep­tion that the pre­vi­ous pres­i­dent or the out­go­ing pres­i­dent ba­si­cally with­drew Amer­ica from in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics … and se­condly, that here is a new pres­i­dent who is ask­ing a lot of un­fa­mil­iar ques­tions. Don­ald Trump is a phe­nom­e­non that foreign coun­tries haven’t seen.”

In­deed, nei­ther have we.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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