As dispatches from the deindustrialized heartland keep reminding us, Donald Trump’s presidency has disappointed only a small fraction of his 2016 campaign’s core supporters — but the Russian government just might be one.
In exchange for its myriad (alleged) efforts to benefit the mogul’s candidacy, the Kremlin has received remarkably little in return. While the Trump White House did slow-walk some sanctions, in some respects, it has taken a more hawkish approach to Russia than its predecessor, approving lethal arms sales to anti-Russian forces in Ukraine, and abetting the slaughter of dozens of Russian soldiers in Syria.
And yet, even as his administration’s posture toward Russia has been rather hostile, Trump’s personal posture toward Vladmir Putin has been relentlessly friendly — and, on occasion, downright adulatory.
The president’s irrepressible fondness for his Russian counterpart made headlines (yet again) this week, when Trump congratulated Putin for winning “reelection.” The Washington Post subsequently revealed that Trump’s national security advisers had included a note in his briefing materials that read “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.” But the president (reportedly) ignored his counsel, along with a request to denounce Russia’s apparent decision to spew a bunch of toxic nerve poison in the middle of London earlier this month.
On Wednesday, the president offered the following defense of this “maverick” approach to diplomacy with a homicidal tyrant.
This is a persuasive defense of Trump’s decision to ignore his national security advisers’ counsel for at least three reasons:
1. If there’s been one consistent theme in Donald Trump’s foreign policy, it’s his profound reluctance to say or do anything that would make it more difficult for the U.S. to “get along” with other countries. Whether the issue is trade, climate change, or immigration this president has always prioritized maintaining good relations between the U.S. and its allies above all else. Thus, no one could fairly accuse Trump of selectively applying this “live and live” stance to Putin’s kleptocracy.
3. It is totally normal for the president to say that George W. Bush was too dumb for Putin, and Obama too low energy, but that he is just right, as if the Russian leader were Goldilocks, and he, a warm bowl of oatmeal.
So while there did appear to be something odd and unseemly to Trump’s relationship with Putin before, the president has now successfully put such concerns to rest.