America’s interests — not to mention image — took a major hit in Helsinki during the meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Last month at the G7 summit in Quebec, Canada, and last week at the NATO Summit in Brussels and during his UK visit, US President Donald Trump went out of his way to excoriate and humiliate America’s best friends and allies and undermine America’s most vital alliances. In a nationally broadcast TV interview on the eve of his face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump branded the European Union, which also includes the US’s closest security and economic partners, as America’s “foe,” equating it in the same sentence with Russia and China.
All of these events might appear as a carefully planned strategy to disassemble brick by brick America’s alliances and relationships with its closest allies and realign the country with some of the world’s most reviled autocrats. (Consider his disastrous and pointless meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in May.) Only, given the lack of planning and forethought that went into many of those events, including his meeting with Putin, it is more likely the president was behaving instinctively and reacting in his impetuously anti-multilateral style.
These are more than sufficient to provoke America’s concern about the direction Donald Trump is taking the country. It’s a course laid down nearly 75 years ago and followed by every US president and endorsed by every US Congress since 1945. It’s brought peace, stability and prosperity — albeit with considerable sacrifice as well — unseen in world history. Now America’s president wants to wreck it.
America must confront yet another unparalleled spectacle — Trump in Helsinki. Fawningly standing alongside Putin at a press event, Trump officially denied the findings of his own intelligence community — the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency — and of a congressional investigative committee, and effectively declared that Putin and Russia did not interfere in America’s 2016 elections. Shockingly, he gave equal credence to Putin’s denials as he did to his intelligence community’s assessment, asserting he couldn’t understand why Russia would want to do such a thing. Observing Putin’s expression during the statement, one must wonder if Putin did not utter to himself, Wow, he just stole my line!
Then, as though he had not yet cravenly prostrated himself enough to placate his Russian puppet master, Trump went on to blame his own country along with Russia for the dismal state of relations between the two nuclear superpowers. By Trump’s logic, when it comes to the decline of US-Russia relations, America contributed in equal measure to Russia’s actions, which include: downing of a Malaysian passenger airliner over Ukraine that killed 298 people; invasion and annexation of territory in Ukraine; infiltration of forces and arming of separatist rebels in Ukraine; support for a murderous regime in Syria that has repeatedly gassed its own civilians and prolonged a devastating civil war; a nerve gas attack on citizens of key US ally, Britain, that killed one of them; violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in Europe; and malicious and contemptuous interference in the elections of America’s president with the clear intent of favoring one candidate over the other.
Where’s the Indignation, Mr. Trump?
The last alone demanded a strong response by the American president in Helsinki. The 9/11 terrorist attacks brought down buildings and took the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans and citizens of other nations. But America’s institutions were undamaged. The destruction of facilities and even the murder of innocents could not undermine the pillars of America’s democracy. America’s electoral process is a fundamental institution of its democracy, however, and it was attacked by Russia. According to US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Russia continues until today to attack America’s democratic institutions. Just hours after Trump’s appalling media event with the wily, former KGB agent Putin, Coats doubled down on his claim and contradicted his boss, reasserting that Russian cyber-meddling persists.
As if Trump’s documented racist and misogynistic statements and comments of the past were insufficient, we now have the clearest evidence yet that America has inflicted upon itself and the world a leader without a moral compass. The US president could have gone with basic patriotic instincts and found a diplomatic way of pointing out even a few of Russia’s actions while defending his own nation’s and avoiding any hint of moral equivalence. In Charlottesville, it was racists, anti-Semites and white supremacists on the one side and those demonstrating for equality and justice on the other who were blamed in equal measure.
In Helsinki, Americans and Russians are both to blame. And therein may lay this president’s and his nation’s greatest vulnerability. For America is nothing without its values. It has no “national race” — regardless of what Trump and those of his followers (not all, to be sure) who are white supremacists may believe — no “national faith,” no long national history stretching back millennia, not even an official language. Its national culture is unique in that it is readily absorbs cultures from elsewhere to form a rich, inimitable amalgam. All the US truly has to set itself apart is its core creed: freedom, equality, opportunity, justice and independence. Its Declaration of Independence and Constitution embody it all. That has been enough to make it the world’s oldest and most successful democracy.
Shameful, Disgraceful … Treasonous?
Donald Trump shamelessly scoffs at it all. He does so because his America is just another country, motivated solely by self-interest. All is good as long as the GDP is up, taxes are down, corporate profits are up, polls are good, the trade balance is falling and his tweets dominate headlines and distract Americans. Gone are Lincoln’s “last best hope,” Roosevelt’s “arsenal of democracy,” Kennedy’s “Ask not …” nation and Reagan’s “city on a shining hill.” It’s all about Trump now.
Trump’s obsequious and servile performance has drawn considerable criticism from current and former top US officials. Senator John McCain, battling cancer at home in Arizona, called it “shameful … and tragic.” Former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, among America’s most recognized career diplomats of the last 50 years, referred to it as “the single most embarrassing performance by an American president on the world stage that I’ve ever seen.” Former CIA Director John Brennan characterized the performance as “nothing short of treasonous.”
As a former diplomat of 26 years, I am not given to frenetic declarations. However, in the chronicles of American foreign policy of the 20th and 21st centuries, most particularly in its dealings with its adversaries, this ranks as the most disgraceful, disgusting capitulation by a president ever witnessed. That it was done on a world stage while standing next to the architect and corruptor-in-chief of America’s democracy ranks it altogether a scandalous debasement of America and its values.
But Helsinki is more than a stunning humiliation for Trump and America. It is a decision point for Americans and especially for the members of Trump’s Republican Party in Congress and those who serve in his administration. The country is being led down a path by a man with little regard for the nation or its core values and with no clear objective than his own advancement. It leads to no good end and, potentially, a disastrous one.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.