Ian Bremmer, the bookish president of the Eurasia Group, the world’s largest geopolitical risk firm, broke a story that MSNBC has turned into the next ridiculous chapter in the Trump-Russia “collusion” psychodrama. The Stanford-educated political scientist (and occasional fill-in host for Charlie Rose) made headlines this week when he broke the news that, while at a banquet with the G-20 leaders and their wives, President Trump walked over to Russian President Vladimir Putin and had an hour-long “private” conversation. With that, Rachel Maddow, Mika Brezenski, and Joe Scarborough believed they had the smoking gun at last: incontrovertible evidence that Putin and Trump were indeed “colluding.”
According to Bremmer himself the “private” meeting unfolded in front of the other G-20 leaders and their wives! I may be a simple Trump supporter who votes with my gene pool, but having a conversation with another person in front of a bunch of gossipy world leaders and their spouses does not make that meeting “private.” In fact, it makes it quite public. Ah, but Bremmer and former U.S. Ambassador Wendy Sherman think the not-so-private meeting was “peculiar,” if nothing else. Such a move defies diplomatic protocol, you see.
Only Nixon Could Go to China
It might be a departure from standard operating procedure, but such one-on-one meetings are hardly unprecedented. President Richard Nixon met privately with Chinese Premier Mao Zedong throughout his presidency. In fact, like Trump with Putin, Nixon routinely forbade his staff—particularly his State Department translator—from attending the private meetings with Mao. Nixon was convinced (correctly) that the United States government (particularly the Kennedy-loving, pinstripe-suit-wearing foreign service officers at State) was chock full of disloyal partisans who would leak every detail of his meetings with Mao to the press as a way of undermining his foreign policy.
Sound familiar? Trump, like Nixon, knows the Deep State really is out to get him. No matter how wealthy or savvy Trump may be, he is an outsider. The bureaucracy needs to break him before he breaks it.
Of course, the Nixon-Mao tête-à-têtes are not the only instance where American leaders have privately met with their foreign counterparts, allies and rivals alike. In what he presumed was a private moment before dozens of reporters in 2011, President Obama leaned in to then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and assured the Russian he’d have “more flexibility” after his reelection in 2012.
Imagine if Trump said that to Putin—or don’t imagine it. Just watch the news. Though no one knows what Trump and Putin discussed at dinner, the “private” meeting has received wall-to-wall coverage as if Trump handed over America’s nuclear launch codes. (Ironic, considering how Hillary Clinton last year blurted from the presidential debate stage the time it would take for America’s nuclear weapons to launch and hit a target—prompting notoriously loose-lipped Joe Biden to chide her on the need for secrecy).
Remember the Jay Treaty?
Meanwhile, as Michael Beschloss documents in his great book, Presidential Courage, George Washington engendered much hatred from Americans when he sent Chief Justice John Jay to secretly negotiate a treaty with the British in 1795. The goal was to put an end to the tensions that had arisen between the young United States and Great Britain. Given America’s weak position at that time, Washington signed the Jay Treaty, which essentially weakened America’s trade rights and committed the fledgling nation to paying pre-Revolutionary War debts to the British. America’s honor was insulted. Many believed that Washington had sold out the country; some of his former soldiers from the Continental Army wrote an article calling for a “quick and speedy death to the traitor General Washington!” While unpopular, Jay’s treaty averted a costly war with the British that would have likely killed the American republic in its infancy. Today, Washington is rightly revered for his leadership, prudence, and wisdom.
It’s worth noting Washington disliked the treaty but felt that keeping America out of another war with Britain was of paramount importance, even though his own cabinet had divided against each other over the question and thrown the government into disarray. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton essentially went to war with each other over their disagreement.
The parallel from then to now is striking. Trump and his cadre favor avoiding a military clash with the failing, nuclear state of Russia, while the permanent bipartisan fusion party seems hellbent on war. The divide is tearing the country apart.
Because Trump did not come up in the rarified world of elite Washington politics, he’s not hemmed in by ideology. He’s actually like America’s first president in this regard, who hated the prospect of America having political parties at all. Also, like Trump, George Washington believed that keeping America out of foreign wars was vital for the nation’s survival. And, like President Trump, Washington wanted to ensure favorable commerce for America above all else.
Despite what our incompetent elite believe, the Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin, while certainly not a good guy (or even a great leader), is not Josef Stalin. Russia is a land of vast, untapped resources. There are business opportunities there that could benefit both the United States and Russia. But because of the sanctions, these opportunities are not fully realized (though, to be sure, the Russian penchant for corruption when dealing with Americans is also hobbling business development).
More importantly, both Russia and the United States are threatened by jihadism. Further, whether our elites realize it or not, the Russians are scared of the Chinese. We should be, too.
Therein lies the basis for a deal.
Trump’s Diplomatic Third-Way
While we cannot condone Russia’s actions in Crimea and in Syria, let us recognize that we cannot possibly challenge Russia militarily, as we are committing ourselves elsewhere in both the Mideast and Asia. Unlike America’s problems in Asia and the Mideast, there is a way out with Russia that does not involve war. As a corollary, America’s sclerotic economy simply cannot support a war with nuclear-armed Russia. Even more than that, the American people do not want a war with nuclear-armed Russia—especially when a deal can be made.
And a deal can be made.
If Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio were president and they wanted to go full Cold Warrior on Russia, the Deep State and Democrats would attack them as being “warmongers,” and insist on greater attempts at negotiating with Putin. If Hillary Clinton were president, and wanted to sell the remainder of America’s uranium stockpile to Russia—and give Ukraine to Putin as a sweetner—the Deep State would giddily authorize the deal. In both cases, the Democratic Globalist (or neoconservative), or Liberal Internationalist approach is wrong. Trump’s third way is the best course: negotiate from a position of strength, but let’s make a deal, and focus on bigger—existential—threats.
The neoconservative, Deep State approach is the real scandal. Yet, the media chooses to misrepresent a side conversation between Putin and Trump at a crowded dinner party, and present it as a national scandal!
What’s the likelier scenario here, that Trump was receiving his next set of orders from his FSB handler Putin, or that Trump and Putin were laughing about how strange the Macron marriage is? If you’ve ever been to a dinner party—especially with politicos—you know it’s probably the latter.
The Deep State and the Democrats want to hem the Trump Administration in, but not so much because they oppose better relations with Russia. On the contrary, these were the same folks who supported détente and the nuclear freeze movements in the Cold War and, more recently, who supported the Obama Administration’s ill-fated Russian “reset.” It’s more because they don’t want Trump to have any success. They understand that success breeds more success. If they can keep Trump bogged down with these baseless accusations, then he won’t have time to drain the swamp as promised. That’s why everything he does is put in the worst light imaginable.
The problem is that in trying to preserve itself from reform, the Deep State is jeopardizing U.S. foreign policy—and it’s antagonizing a Russian nuclear force with increasingly little to lose, and much to gain, from armed confrontation with the West.
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