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October 6, 2022

Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki: Opinions in the U.S.

The Donald Trump – Vladimir Putin meeting is set to take place on 16 July 2018, immediately after the NATO Summit in Brussels (July 14-15). Interest in the “high-level” Russian-American meeting clearly surpasses the preoccupation with the first event. It is obvious, especially in what concerns the European allies, that the Trump-Putin meeting should rather have taken place first so that, this way, they could have accommodated their behaviour toward a U.S. President who is not open to negotiations in what concerns the sharing of the “burden” (costs) of the alliance. Which does not mean that NATO allies are not carrying out sophisticated calculations in this regard, the attempt being made, a moment sooner, to identify the agenda of the meeting of the two, as well as the potential agreements that could result from this “top” event.

The context of the meeting in Helsinki, especially from the standpoint of the U.S. domestic situation, speaks volumes about the complexity of today’s world. Since D. Trump’s election as U.S. President, the relationship with Russia has been playing a dominant role in American political life, shaping up a momentous crisis. The obvious interference in U.S. presidential elections on the part of Russia – if not the official one then at least certain Russian structures that have gotten out of control – blends with an anti-Trump judicial probe about which few certain things are known. The aim of this dossier is to prove the collusion (ties) between the American President’s campaign team and the former Cold War adversary to facilitate his election in November 2016. Trump has repeatedly denied and has stated that this attempt to downplay his victory – to say the least – is a veritable “witch hunt” and it will soon be shown how interested his political opponents are in promoting it. Statements recently repeated. Trump’s latest tweet dates to 7 July 2018, when he wrote: “Just won lawsuit filed by the DNC and a bunch of Democrat crazies trying to claim the Trump Campaign (and others), colluded with Russia. They haven’t figured out that this was an excuse for them losing the election!” followed a few hours later by a harsh attack on the main opinion journals of his enemies: “Twitter is getting rid of fake accounts at a record pace. Will that include the Failing New York Times and propaganda machine for Amazon, the Washington Post, who constantly quote anonymous sources that, in my opinion, don’t exist – They will both be out of business in 7 years!” Hence, here is a picture – stemming from a source of undeniable authority – of the significant polarisation of American political life and society. And this polarisation is robustly reflected in U.S. debates. A significant part of the American political establishment – I am talking about the Republican Party, which supports Trump’s policy – considers that the President’s foreign policy actions are justified. The reason for that is offered by the ideologue of the mass movement that propelled Trump at the White House, namely Pat Buchanan. On 6 July 2018, he wrote that there is no turning back from the action to reshape the international order, action launched by D. Trump. Here is Buchanan’s argument: “The Republican Party of Bush I and II, of Bob Dole and John McCain, is history. It’s not coming back. Unlike the Bourbons after the Revolution and the Terror, after Napoleon and the Empire, no restoration is in the cards.It is over. The GOP’s policies of recent decades — the New World Order of George H.W. Bush, the crusades for democracy of Bush II — failed, and are seen as having failed. With Trump’s capture of the party they were repudiated.There will be no turning back.” What he says is that a new world order is about to be established, the present one being finished, institutions like the UN, NATO, and the EU set to be transformed or replaced, and the implementation of these strategic goals falls on the Republican Party, hence on D. Trump. As Buchanan puts it, “Since the Cold War, America’s elites have been exhibiting symptoms of that congenital blindness associated since Rome with declining and falling empires,” and this must now be stopped and, moreover, changed into the opposite. In an interview for the ‘Wall Street Journal,’ published at the end of last month, which is a must-read for all those interested in the current evolution of international relations, Mike Pompeo, the head of American diplomacy, presents what is, in essence, the same thesis: “‘I think President Trump has properly identified a need for a reset’ Mr. Trump is suspicious of global institutions and alliances, many of which he believes are no longer paying dividends for the U.S. ‘When I watch President Trump give guidance to our team,’ Mr. Pompeo says, ‘his question is always, ‘How does that structure impact America?’ The president isn’t interested in how a given rule ‘may have impacted America in the ’60s or the ’80s, or even the early 2000s,’ but rather how it will enhance American power ‘in 2018 and beyond.’

According to other opinions, however, the American political establishment is united, yet bipartisan in what concerns Russia. Here is Doug Bandow’s view: “Few issues generate a bipartisan response in Washington. President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin is one. Democrats who once pressed for détente with the Soviet Union act as if Trump will be giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Neoconservatives and other Republican hawks are equally horrified, having pressed for something close to war with Moscow since the latter’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Both sides act as if the Soviet Union has been reborn and Cold War has restarted. Russia’s critics present a long bill of requirements to be met before they would relax sanctions or otherwise improve relations. Putin could save time by agreeing to be an American vassal.” If that was so, then there would not be much to fear from this Trump-Putin meeting. It’s just that there are also other opinions in the American political establishment, which consider that Trump’s policy lacks outlook, that the measures planned by the White House are going against historical evolution. Thus, an international conference on the Transatlantic ties threatened by Trump’s policy took place on July 6-7 in Segovia, Spain, being organised by several academic institutions (Kennedy School, Belfer Center, Harvard Europe). The goal was “to explore how to preserve and strengthen the transatlantic relationship in this time of challenge” and to launch a joint project “on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship.” Former American diplomat Nicholas Burns observed on this occasion that “I think we facing the most severe transatlantic crisis in 7 decades,” and that the events set to take place in the following days are decisive: “NATO+ Putin. He /Trump-n.n./ needs to get this right—We are allies with Europe and adversaries with Russia. The substance and optics need to be right. I fear he’ll confuse them.” Hopes in this direction are however lowered precisely by the White House’s behaviour. At the same conference, one participant (David Rotschild) pointed out that Donald Trump is attacking, on one hand, “Rep. Waters (her IQ), Sen. McCain (his votes), Sen. Tester (tons of stuff), Germany’s Merkel (her military), Sen. Warren (her race), POTUS Bush I (his charity),” and, on the other hand, “Praise (all great people!): Russia’s Putin, North Korea’s Kim, China’s Xi.”

Europe is not the only one “nervous” in what concerns the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki on 16 July 2018, China is no less worried about the contents of the “high-level” talks between the U.S. and Russia. If and how a new international order is going to be created, as it seems the American grand strategy under D. Trump seeks, it will require time and diplomatic effort, being obvious that both Europe and China know how to promote their own interests. These “Great Four” must decide in what world we will live, and D. Trump is hastening this decision.


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