On a substantive level, it is impossible to understand the outcry against President Donald Trump following his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.
Trump met with Putin because as president, he is required to meet with the leader of Russia just as every U.S. president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to meet with his counterpart at the Kremlin.
U.S. national security and indeed, international security are dependent on the leaders of the two powerful nations developing cooperative relations. The ability of U.S. and Russian leaders to work together plays a key role in preventing another world war. It would have been a dereliction of duty if Trump had not met with Putin.
This brings us to the substance of the meeting, which was exceedingly positive and constructive.
Since Putin ascended to power as Russian President in 2000, there has been an ongoing debate over what type of leader he is. Many commentators and area experts have argued that Putin is an ideologue, whose ambition is to spread Russian influence worldwide at America’s expense. Certainly there are people in Putin’s inner circles who harbor such ambitions.
Many other commentators and experts have argued that to the contrary, Putin is interested in power for power’s sake. He is not moved by a grand vision of Russian global dominance. Rather, he is moved by the twin forces of financial interests and nationalism. He seeks to empower Russia, but is capable of cutting deals with whoever makes him the best offer. In this interpretation of Putin, he is someone who is willing to work with the U.S. or Israel against Iran, if they make him a better deal than Tehran. By the same token, he is willing to attenuate Russian ties with China in favor of stronger relations with the U.S. is he believes that his interests are better served by Washington than Beijing.