Donald Trump ended his, ahem, eventful European tour with one of the sorriest performances of his presidency at a joint press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Trump, as usual, couldn’t bring himself to frankly acknowledge Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, a failure made much worse when he was standing next to the man who perpetrated the meddling and probably can’t believe his luck in getting a continual rhetorical free pass from the president of the United States.
The accusations of treason and blackmail immediately poured in from the Left, when the explanation for Trump’s refusal to state the obvious is likely much simpler: He can’t bear the blow to his ego involved in admitting that the Russians worked to help him, even though this doesn’t invalidate his victory and is nowhere near the top of the list of explanations for it (the rotten candidacy of Hillary Clinton and Trump’s message had much more to do with it).
Even worse than Trump’s sophistry on the meddling was his insistence that the U.S. and Russia bear equivalent blame for poor relations between the two countries. This is a disgraceful misreading of recent history: Russia’s contribution to poor relations — besides interfering in our election and assassinating its nationals on foreign soil — is invading sovereign countries; our alleged contribution is extending a defensive alliance, NATO, to countries that desperately wanted to join it, in part because they knew Russia has a practice of invading sovereign countries.
Regardless, a better relationship shouldn’t be an end in itself — we should want it as a product of changes in Russian behavior that are nowhere in sight.
Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki was wholly misbegotten, an itch that he’s wanted to scratch since he got elected. On the rest of the trip, he pursued valid goals (such as the need for more NATO defense spending, especially from Germany) or made valid points (such as that Theresa May is botching Brexit, and that the Nord Stream 2 project is a boon to Russia) in a characteristically bombastic, indelicate manner.
We hope the upshot, once the dust settles and jaws stop dropping, is that the Europeans will spend more on defense and Angela Merkel will find it harder to defend Nord Stream 2, although Trump softened his opposition in Putin’s presence in Helsinki. By the time Trump had left the NATO meeting, he was praising the alliance and boasting of great progress. But he shouldn’t want the main impetus for any additional spending to be his unpredictability and his bizarre personal soft spot for Vladimir Putin (even as his administration’s actual policies on Russia have been tougher than those of its predecessors).
Whatever their flaws, Angela Merkel and Theresa May are our allies, unlike the cynical brute whom Trump met with in Helsinki and refuses to criticize in public.
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