Trump’s twisted view of friend and foe

‘Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?”

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/07/2018 (1547 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

‘Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?”

The question from U.S. President Donald Trump was strictly of the rhetorical variety. But those inclined to offer an answer anyway to the flippant “Who would think?” served up by Mr. Trump on Tuesday before his departure overseas would probably respond with something along the lines of “Anyone who’s been paying attention.”

The president left U.S. soil Tuesday on a trans-Atlantic flight that will take him to a NATO summit in Brussels, a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London and the much-discussed summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

When asked by reporters to assess his schedule of events, Mr. Trump was quick to answer that he considers the NATO commitment and the scheduled encounter with the British PM — two events involving traditional U.S. allies — to be more troublesome than his sit-down with Mr. Putin, the leader of the nation the entirety of the U.S. intelligence community has declared to have meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

Such a statement would seem outright bizarre, had it not been established as the business-as-usual commentary emanating from Trump’s White House for a year and a half.

One must wonder about the motivation for the U.S. president’s recent statement that his “easy” meeting with Mr. Putin will begin with a one-on-one session at which no one other than translators will be allowed.

The playbook is familiar: Mr. Trump rails against the unfair treatment afforded America by its allies and trading partners — NATO partners aren’t paying their fair share and longtime reciprocal-trade allies must be slapped with punitive tariffs — while never uttering a discouraging word about Mr. Putin and his murderous Russian régime.

Last week, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report affirming the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Putin-led Russian régime interfered in the 2016 election and that the meddling was done with the intention of aiding Mr. Trump in his presidential bid.

The president’s response arrived via the usual channels — first, on Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed, where he defiantly declared “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” And then by way of his latest high-profile mis-spokesperson, Rudy Guiliani, who declared in a TV interview that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election is “the most corrupt investigation” he has ever seen.

This, of course, despite the fact Mr. Mueller’s active investigation has to date laid more than 100 charges, against 20 people and three companies. Five of the 20 charged, including three directly connected to the Trump campaign, have pleaded guilty. Fourteen of the individuals charged are Russians accused of interfering in the U.S. election.

With that as the backdrop of this week’s Trump trip, one must wonder about the motivation for the U.S. president’s recent statement that his “easy” meeting with Mr. Putin will begin with a one-on-one session at which no one other than translators — no media, no presidential staff or advisors, no experienced international-affairs personnel — will be allowed.

No notes will be taken, no records will be kept, no advice will be sought or offered.

Oh, to be a Russian-fluent fly on the wall.

When asked by the aforementioned reporters whether he characterizes Mr. Putin as a friend or a foe, the U.S. president offered a response only a former reality-TV performer could muster: “As far as I’m concerned, a competitor.”

The bad news for America and its allies is that Mr. Putin is fully aware this isn’t a game show.

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