What Critics Missed About the Trump-Putin Summit

By | 2018-07-17T05:59:21+00:00 July 16th, 2018|
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When Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin ended their joint press conference in Helsinki, the punditocracy predictably swarmed all over it like ants around a pile of crumbs. Was Trump winking at Putin? Did he really say he believes Putin more than he believes Robert Mueller about whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election? Former Gus Hall enthusiast John Brennan, off his meds again, tweeted that the presser was “treasonous.” Professional chatterer Anderson Cooper said it was “perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit.”

Every phrase, every gesture of the event will be picked apart and second-guessed to death in the next few days. I’ll leave them to the carrion.

Would You Rather Fight?
To my mind, the chief point was enunciated by Winston Churchill in 1954: “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.”

As President Trump repeatedly put it during his 2016 campaign, it would be a good thing, not a bad thing, to get along better with Russia. Let me stipulate that I think that Vladimir Putin is a murderous thug. He has demonstrated time and again that while you can take the lout out of the KGB, it’s much more difficult to take the KGB out of the lout.

That said, Russia is a world power that commands an enormous nuclear arsenal. Which means we cannot—or at least we should not—simply take our marbles out of the game and go home in a snit because they do things of which we do not approve.

As Trump and Putin both frankly acknowledged, there are issues on which they diverge—the fate of Crimea may lead the list—but there are also many areas in which our national interests intersect. It is a mark of the realistic and far-seeing diplomat to seize and build upon the latter while trying to find common ground about the former. This is what both men are trying to do.

Big If’s
I think there are essentially two takeaways from this historic event in Helsinki. The first is that Donald Trump is a bold, risk-taking statesman whose demotic style of delivery prevents many from appreciating the beneficently radical nature of his diplomacy. Maybe he will wind up being played by Kim Jong-un. But maybe his astonishing meeting with the tubby tyrant in Singapore is the beginning of the normalization of North Korea. If that happens—and I acknowledge that history suggests it is a big “if”—then President Trump will have achieved a world-historical diplomatic victory. His willingness to meet “jaw to jaw” would then be seen as a gambit of genius.

Maybe Putin is running circles around a gullible Trump. But maybe it is a real, as distinct from an Obama-Clinton merely rhetorical, reset. Then that, too, will be seen as a masterly and peace-enhancing initiative.

As becomes more and more clear as the first Trump Administration evolves, this president is someone who is willing, nay eager, to challenge the bureaucratic status quo, on domestic issues as well as in foreign policy.

Trump inherited a world order on the international front that was constructed in the immediate aftermath of World War II and has subsequently amassed a thick, barnacle-like carapace of bureaucratic procedures. Perhaps those procedures and the institutions that deploy them continue to serve American interests. But what if they don’t?

Pure, Malevolent Theater
The same question can be asked on the home front. Which brings me to one of the most extraordinary political performances I have ever witnessed. I mean the testimony before Congress of the disgraced FBI agent and avid, adulterous texter Peter Strzok. Again, that testimony has been picked over with a fine-tooth comb. I have never seen “The Silence of the Lambs,” but I have read descriptions of its central character, the psychopath Hannibal Lecter. I have no idea what Peter Strzok likes to enjoy with his fava beans and Chianti, but his grotesque mummery, mugging, and mincing responses to questions from the House were as alarming as they were contemptible. (Brilliant Tweet by Ann Coulter: “Peter Strzok’s wife threatened to leave until he explained that not once did he let his affair with Lisa Page affect any specific actions he took in their marriage.”)

Peter Strzok is a pseudo-pod extended by the deep state into the daylight chambers of accountability. He shriveled under the light, as the Wicked Witch did when moistened, and he leaves behind him a smell far more acrid than anything he claims to have sniffed in the infra dig corridors of Walmart.

Andrew McCarthy, writing about Strzok’s testimony, noted:

The principal question before the joint investigation of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees is whether the Democratic administration’s law-enforcement and intelligence arms strained to manufacture an espionage case against the Republican candidate, having buried an eminently prosecutable criminal case against the Democratic presidential nominee.

The public, unlike Democratic congressmen itching to give Strzok a Purple Heart, understands this. The bureaucratic establishment is rightly panicked by Donald Trump. He represents an existential threat to their survival. That is why, for example, that disgusting fanatic Robert Mueller handed down his pointless indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents when he did, moments before Trump met with President Putin in Helsinki. It was theater, pure, malevolent theater, intended to cloud the meeting and damage Trump. As Devin Nunes noted, the indictments were 1) old news and 2) neglected to mention that the Russians also attempted to hack GOP servers.

Donald Trump is moving to dismantle the administrative state and restore international order with a boldness and efficacy not seen since Ronald Reagan, if then. With every passing day, what he calls the “witch hunt” being conducted against him by panicked bureaucrats like John Brennan, Rod Rosenstein, James Comey, and Peter Strzok looks more and more preposterous. It is, as President Trump said in Helsinki, a “disgrace to the FBI, a disgrace to the county.”

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Photo credit: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

About the Author:

Roger Kimball
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Mr. Kimball lectures widely and has appeared on national radio and television programs as well as the BBC. He is represented by Writers' Representatives, who can provide details about booking him. Mr. Kimball's latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press, 2012). He is also the author of The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee). Other titles by Mr. Kimball include The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (Encounter) and Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age (Ivan R. Dee). Mr. Kimball is also the author ofTenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (HarperCollins). A new edition of Tenured Radicals, revised and expanded, was published by Ivan R. Dee in 2008. Mr. Kimball is a frequent contributor to many publications here and in England, including The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Public Interest, Commentary, The Spectator, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The National Interest.