The high professional quality of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s performance at their Monday press conference in Helsinki contrasts sharply with the obloquy by which the bipartisan U.S. ruling class showcases its willful incompetence.
Though I voted for Trump, I’ve never been a fan of his and I am not one now. But, having taught diplomacy for many years, I would choose the Trump-Putin press conference as an exemplar of how these things should be done. Both spoke with the frankness and specificity of serious business. This performance rates an A+.
Both presidents started with the basic truth.
Putin: The Cold War is ancient history. Nobody in Russia (putting himself in this category) wants that kind of enmity again. It is best for Russia, for America, and for everybody else if the two find areas of agreement or forbearance.
Trump: Relations between the globe’s major nuclear powers have never been this bad—especially since some Americans are exacerbating existing international differences for domestic partisan gain. For the sake of peace and adjustment of differences where those exist and adjustment is possible, Trump is willing to pay a political cost to improve those relations (if, indeed further enraging his enemies is a cost rather than a benefit).
In short, this was a classic statement of diplomatic positions and a drawing of spheres of influence.
Flexibility and Inflexibility
As Putin listed his agenda, he showed that today’s Russia is a status quo power, whose primary objective is stability. Having come to power over a country diminished and dispirited, he sought to recover as much as possible of what Russia had lost in the Soviet break-up. He forcibly took back parts of Georgia and Ukraine. In doing so, he pushed against open doors.
Today, no other doors are open. Now being ahead, he wants to stop the game. He knows that this is possible because nobody is going to wage or even risk war against Russia to try disgorging Abkhazia and Crimea. He wants Trump to acknowledge that. Warning against extending NATO to Ukraine and Georgia, he signaled that all else is negotiable.
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