After Hyped Handshakes
Terry H. Schwadron
So, after all the hype and build-up about the meeting of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, what did we, as citizens, get as a new understanding?
It doesn’t sound like very much on the current issues, other than the idea that these two men like one another personally — and very much want to find things to agree on.
Specifically, we now know:
· They met for longer than had been anticipated and seemed to want to keep talking, generally what you might think is a good thing.
· Per Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Mr. Trump opened their discussion by bringing up Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which Putin denied. Per Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, the U.S. accepted Putin’s denial. Tillerson said the Americans pushed back before asking where they move from here, including cyber-threats and the Ukraine. This sounds like they moved on from election hack talk pretty quickly, and then spun the results, as normal.
· There was disagreement about tactics concerning North Korea, though overall agreement about a rogue nuclear state. And there was the beginning of something about Syria by announcing an unenforceable cease fire in southwest Syria, far from the current ISIS fighting. This is the usual problem between these two nations who continue to vie for supremacy in their own definitions.
Oh, and what was with the weird presidential tweet at the start of day oddly blaming John Podesta, Hillary’s campaign manager, for not inviting the FBI to look at the hacked DNC computers. As was pointed out, Podesta didn’t control those computers; the DNC did. Another master distracter effort, I suppose, just before Mr. Trump himself would mention, but not insist, to Mr. Russian that he was responsible for the hacks and please knock it off. Excuse me, Mr. President, but the Art of the Deal should include the idea that the negotiator actually believes in his own position.
Amid the handshakes and warmth, it might be hard to recognize that the U.S. Senate has voted to harden sanctions against Russia, that Europe is angry and afraid after Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, that Russian fingerprints are all over the hacking of election databases and influence campaigns that continue.
On the other hand, there was nothing about Mr. Trump handing the Russians back their two spy centers on the Chesapeake. I suppose we should be glad about that.
The Washington Post acknowledged that Mr. Trump had pressed Putin on elections, but that on reflection, it didn’t sound all that hard of a press. “Tillerson said repeatedly that the meeting was about the future and not the past. “But I think what the two presidents — I think rightly — focused on is how we move forward,” he said. Later, he would add that Putin’s contention that Russian didn’t hack represented an “intractable disagreement” and said, “There was not a lot of re-litigating things from the past.
On the whole, then, we have two men who like one another and want to work together, facts, legalisms and even practical politics notwithstanding. I suppose that is either bravado or some kind of political heroism. It is hard to hear the next conversation between people like Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Bob Corker and others with the President. For that matter, does this mean that Mr. Trump will not sign the additional sanctions voted by the Senate?
As for Syria, The New York Times report said, “While such a step in Syria would be small, it appeared to reflect a desire by American and Russian officials to move past their tense flare-ups over the Syria conflict and facilitate a way to end the six-year civil war there. Moscow has been backing the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria while the United States has sought to aid opposition groups fighting to oust him. ‘I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria,’ Tillerson said.”
This cease-fire, like others before it, may well fade after a couple of days, because no one at this table controls the players. And it is silent, as always, as to help for millions of refugees.
Meanwhile the rest of the G-20 meetings went on tepidly, and, again, one wonders what all the fuss has been when the results are a generalized agreement that terrorism is a globally shared target, and widespread agreement that there is disagreement among the world powers about pursuing and achieving the outcome of climate change. Those are the givens that had brought the leaders together.
Meanwhile, clamoring for attention for their generalized objections to world powers dictating anything, tens of thousands were in the streets of Hamburg again with a substantial number of violent clashes with police.
So, the world will go through another G-20 day today that will look much as yesterday, one with photo ops and bigger promises for greatness and cooperation and yet more intense street protests.
The much-hyped day has come and gone, and we’re still looking at a long list of issues that have not seemed, publicly at least, to have moved. Most of the issues I would like G-20 leaders to address, including shared hopes of prosperity, keeping the earth safe, addressing a widening income inequality and the ravages of poverty and refugees, seem not to make the top of the list — again.