Stum­bling into hell­fire in Helsinki

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

How does Don­ald Trump test the pa­tience, for­bear­ance, loy­alty and en­durance of the mil­lions who trusted him to drain the swamp, re­store a strong Amer­i­can voice in the world, cast out evil-do­ers and de­liver Amer­ica from the clutch of those who would trash the dream? Let us count the ways. He put that trust to the test Mon­day in Helsinki, when he climbed into the lap of Vladimir Putin and purred like a feral kit­ten. Mr. Trump talked with the Rus­sian pres­i­dent for four hours, two of those hours with no one around, and emerged to ques­tion the con­clu­sions of the U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment in­ter­fered in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

This was odd, be­cause there has been lit­tle ar­gu­ment that the Rus­sians were guilty of med­dling. The only ar­gu­ment was over whether Don­ald Trump had col­luded with the Rus­sians to help them do it. The Democrats have been ped­dling this ver­sion of the story, in ner­vous an­tic­i­pa­tion that Robert Mueller would de­liver the ev­i­dence. Spec­u­la­tion has been grow­ing that Mr. Mueller, who has lately been strik­ing out in sev­eral di­rec­tions, won’t catch that uni­corn in the Rose Gar­den, af­ter all.

Sev­eral U.S. leg­is­la­tors and of­fi­cials in pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions of both par­ties were as­ton­ished Mon­day that Mr. Trump seemed to align him­self with the fan­ci­ful Rus­sian ver­sion of the med­dling story.

The pres­i­dent said he and Mr. Putin spent “a great deal of time” dis­cussing the ac­cu­sa­tion that the Rus­sians had med­dled in the elec­tion and the Rus­sian pres­i­dent “was ex­tremely strong and pow­er­ful in his de­nial.”

No one seemed more puz­zled than Mr. Trump’s ad­vis­ers in­side the White House who had ex­pected the pres­i­dent to “push Putin” at their press con­fer­ence. Mr. Trump him­self ex­pected that a “con­fronta­tional ap­proach” would sur­prise every­one and make him look strong and forceful. “Ob­vi­ously,” an aide told The Wall Street Jour­nal with dra­matic un­der­state­ment, “it didn’t hap­pen.”

When Mr. Putin told re­porters at their joint press con­fer­ence that he had dis­cussed invit­ing spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller to Moscow to grill the 12 Rus­sians in­dicted in Wash­ing­ton last week if the United States would make a sim­i­lar ges­ture, Mr. Trump in­ter­rupted him. “I think that’s an in­cred­i­ble of­fer.”

Mr. Trump, de­ter­mined to es­tab­lish a bro­mance with the Rus­sian sim­i­lar to what he thinks he es­tab­lished with Kim Jong-un in Sin­ga­pore, seemed more ex­cited by an­tic­i­pa­tion of an ex­change of Valen­tines than Mr. Putin does. He blamed his own side for sour­ing that re­la­tion­ship, but now he has fixed it. “Our re­la­tion­ship has never been worse than it is now,” he de­clared. “How­ever, that changed about four hours ago.” The Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter, Sergei Lavrov, couldn’t agree more, but he tried: The talks, he said, went “bet­ter than su­per.”

Cer­tain of­fi­cials of the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion, still rat­tled by Pres­i­dent Trump’s scold­ing de­mand that they must pay their dues if they want the United States to con­tinue to guar­an­tee their se­cu­rity, were worried lead­ing up to the sum­mit that Mr. Trump might make dam­ag­ing con­ces­sions on the Crimea, seized by the Rus­sians three years ago, and re­verse the es­tab­lished Amer­i­can and al­lied po­si­tion that the Crimea be­longs to Ukraine. But he ap­par­ently didn’t. Re­as­sur­ance, such as it is, came not from Pres­i­dent Trump, how­ever, but from Mr. Putin, who said Mr. Trump’s po­si­tion on Crimea was “well known” and he “con­tin­ues to main­tain that it was il­le­gal to an­nex it. Our view­point is dif­fer­ent.”

Dis­be­lief bor­der­ing on ou­trage greeted Mr. Trump’s per­for­mance in Helsinki, and not just from the usual sus­pects who never say an en­cour­ag­ing word about the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. The pres­i­dent’s bland ac­cep­tance of Mr. Putin’s oc­ca­sional friendly words wor­ries his friends and those will­ing to cut him a break when Democrats and sullen Re­pub­li­cans are busy try­ing to or­ga­nize a lynch mob, with an­gry words if not a rope. Mr. Trump, like Barack Obama be­fore him, yearns to “re-set” the U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tion­ship. “Putin’s fine,” he told a re­cent rally. “He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re peo­ple.”

The pres­i­dent for­gets that he’s deal­ing not with a golf­ing buddy or some­one with a pro­posal to build a new ho­tel, but an old KGB thug with bloody hands and sin­is­ter dis­dain for hu­man life. This is the ad­ver­sary who dis­patched as­sas­sins to mur­der a fa­ther and daugh­ter with nerve gas in a public park in Bri­tain.

Don­ald Trump is a man with ex­ces­sive re­gard for him­self and dis­dain for the abil­i­ties and opin­ions of every­one else. He ar­rived in Helsinki con­fi­dent that he could wing it, and he couldn’t. Per­haps it was divine prov­i­dence that pro­tected Amer­ica from Hil­lary Clin­ton. Pres­i­dent Trump is still con­sid­er­ably bet­ter than a Pres­i­dent Clin­ton 2.0. But the Don­ald is push­ing it.

Vladimir Putin

Wes­ley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.