President Trump has shown once again that he does not take a conventional approach to diplomacy. As a result, much of the lead-up to his summit and press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday was absolutely alien to those of us who staffed similar events in previous administrations.
The political and media earthquake of dire reactions coming after the summit was also off the charts. All that was missing was Chicken Little screaming hysterically that the sky is falling.
That said, the objective of the summit was absolutely conventional: to explore whether we have sufficient national interest and the leadership will to take a very unhealthy relationship with an important nation out of a well-worn rut and move it in a more constructive direction. Both Democratic and Republican presidents have engaged multiple competitors and even adversaries in summitry in pursuit of nothing more than this basic objective.
President Trump appears to be returning to more of a realist approach to foreign policy that appealed to so many in the past, in a break from Obama administration policies. For all we know, important progress may have been made between Trump and Putin when they met behind closed doors, but we are left to react to what was seen in public – primarily their press conference.
Many politicians and experts have been mistaken in drawing broad strategic conclusions (usually dire) based on reaction to short-term Trump tactics, such as a fiery tweet or a candid offhand remark to reporters. This may be the case with the tidal wave of criticism directed against President Trump after the summit press conference.