Was there anything said by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Donald Trump did not believe?
There was no sign of skepticism. What we saw on display was a shockingly gullible U.S. president. The worst fears of many observers who strive to be fair-minded about our exceptionally unconventional president were realized in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday.
Trump, long reputed to be swayed by the last person who speaks to him, publicly embraced Putin’s mythology on a host of issues that may affect America’s national security.
Our president blamed the tense nadir of U.S.-Russia relations on “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity” — not any negative actions by Moscow — “and now the Rigged Witch Hunt!”
Those were his words on Twitter, and he was nearly as one-sided against his own country when asked by a reporter whether he blames anything on Russia. “The United States has been foolish,” Trump replied. “We’ve all been foolish.”
As for allegations that his 2016 presidential campaign may have colluded with Russians, Trump obviously was impressed that Putin was “extremely strong and powerful in his denial.”
Trump repeatedly chose to believe the former KGB spy, rather than America’s intelligence agencies. Immediately in the corridors of Congress and various government agencies in Washington, federal officials were buzzing about which Trump aides may feel compelled to resign — as a protest against their president taking the wrong side.
There were many moments in the summit-ending news conference that should have made Trump wince with embarrassment. While he said that it makes no sense that Russian agents would work covertly to help his chances of winning in 2016 — “I don’t see why they would do it” — Putin responded to a reporter’s question by confirming that he had wanted Trump to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. “Yes I did,” Putin said, “because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
More ominously, Putin did not deny that Russia has collected “compromising information” about the business or behavior of Trump or his family. Putin merely said that he personally had not even been informed when Trump, as an entrepreneur, visited Russia.
Harsh critics who have speculated that America’s president may be appallingly kind toward Putin because of potential blackmail, are holding that belief now even more strongly.
There are still, of course, many millions of voters who support Trump. They felt and still feel that things would be worse under Clinton — a name that Trump continued to invoke in Helsinki as the woman he “cleanly” defeated.
Yet while the average voter knows little about foreign policy, Americans have been raised with a healthy sense that Russia is not their friend and not to be trusted. Will those voters stand with Trump in his naiveté toward Moscow?
As for the Republican foreign policy establishment, many who used to work for President Ronald Reagan and both presidents Bush have been saying that — while they don’t like Trump’s rough-edged style — they do like his goals: to reverse years of U.S. weakness and put America first in every region of the globe.
But can a stable world order be remade based on gullibility? Trump’s kind of rehabbing of international relations requires hardheaded realism. Even better: full-headed realism, where we can be confident there is brainpower and patriotism between the two ears of Trump.
Dan Raviv is senior Washington correspondent of i24News and author of “Spies Against Armageddon” and “Comic Wars.”