Donald Trump is taking a lot of heat for his words at the Helsinki Joint Conference with President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Some have even gone as far as to call it treason. He criticized both the apathy of Obama’s intelligence community, and the conclusions being drawn by Congressional intelligence committees and by special investigator Robert Mueller, leading many to believe that he is taking Russia’s side on the issue of election tampering. They claim he kowtowed, that he was weak, that he caved.
Trump did not cave, however. He did not take Russia’s side. He simply maintained the same beliefs he has since the begin of this debacle. How anyone expected a radical change in tone on the topic before the Russian president and press, I do not know. Maybe Trump should be tougher on Russia. This was not the place for it, however. As Senator Rand Paul, who is one of the few on Trump’s side over this, puts it, diplomacy is hard. Like Trump himself said, it would have been easy to go after Putin in Helsinki. Surely that would have scored him a point or two at homes, but at what cost?
Russia is, in many senses, the biggest enemy of the United States. Most conflicts in the Middle East are fueled by a US-Russia proxy war, for power and for oil. In fact, their relationship may be the biggest obstacle to world peace. Brokering an alliance here is no easy work, but it would go a long, long way to help people all around the world. The fact is, our traditional political alliances are shifting thanks to this radically unorthodox president. We are on better terms with North Korea and Russia than we have been in decades, and on worse terms with Germany or Britain. If, at the end of the day, the US has no enemies and no allies, I would be happy. If we save an ally or two along the way, all the better. So, is Trump a traitor for wanting a better relationship with Putin? No. If anything, Robert Mueller is a traitor for inserting himself into politics by the means of diplomatic sabotage, indicting 12 Russian operatives days before this important summit.
Now, I believe Russia did attempt to influence the US Presidential election in 2016. I do not think they had any sort of candidate preference, except when it helped to create a more divisive political atmosphere. Having thousands of Twitter trolls is no crime, and the disinformation spread likely changed very few minds (no on-the-fence voter switched to Trump because a meme on Twitter told them Hillary Clinton is the devil). Hacking the DNC is more troubling, if they did it, but all they did still was put information out there. Information that, in this case, was 100% correct. But they did not physically change any votes. They simply used counterintelligence to sow seeds of discord, a crime no worse than what the US does in scores of countries across the world.
Robert Mueller likely bought himself a few months with his most recent indictments. The game will go on a little longer. But this incident will be forgotten, quickly. It was far from the president’s best moment, and I doubt it will foster much in the way of international relations, but I think it was aimed in the right direction, and simply misfired. Donald Trump needs to be more mindful of how he is perceived. This has been true since he announced his run for the presidency in 2015. An expert statesman may have managed this situation much more gracefully. At the end of the day, this will mean almost nothing in the long run. The worst thing the president could have done was create animosity between himself and the Russians. Domestic rifts can be mended, but international relationships are much more delicate.