By Robert Romano
President Donald Trump will be meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland on July 16. There the two will discuss nuclear weapons and U.S.-Russian relations.
This is not only the right time to cool tensions between the two foremost nuclear powers — who have clashed over Syria, Ukraine and other potential hotspots — but also the right time politically for Trump to take to the international stage.
Coming off a successful summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, achieving an agreement in principle to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, President Trump’s popularity is soaring. He has the political capital to meet with Putin.
Trump’s surge, simultaneously stunning and perplexing to D.C. elites — but not to his supporters — comes as he does not appear to be hampered even in the slightest by the ongoing Russia investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Probably because there was no collusion.
But not only does Trump have the political capital to meet with Putin from a position of strength, it is politically smart for him to do it.
Peace is popular.
Not only is this what Trump ran on in 2016 — achieving a better relationship with American adversaries like Russia — there is a long history of presidents who have benefitted greatly through the politics of summits.
Richard Nixon went to China, famously, in 1972. He also got the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that year with the Soviet Union.
He also happened to be running for reelection that year. It was one of the greatest landslides in modern electoral history, as Nixon carried 49 states.
Fast forward a decade or so, and Ronald Reagan was in his second term. He pursued the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (which eventually got signed in 1991), had his summits with Mikhail Gorbachev starting in 1985, culminating in the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which was signed in 1987. That was the first ever reduction of nuclear arms.
Peace with the Soviet Union proved a political boon for the President’s party in 1988, as George H. W. Bush went on to carry 40 states.
So, while the short-term political wisdom is that Trump is crazy, he cannot meet with Putin because of the Russia investigation, Trump is meeting with Putin in spite of the Russia investigation.
Which is what presidents are supposed to do. Trump has so far been quite successful in these foreign policy events. His trip to Asia last year was well-received. The Arab summit was a masterstroke — raising the possibility of peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors.
The substance of the Trump-Putin summit itself should make it worthwhile. Cooling tensions in Syria and Ukraine, while addressing the new nuclear arms race, is not only in U.S. interests, but everyone’s interests. Nobody wants to see war between U.S. and Russia, and these are issues that can be settled as there has been a great history of doing so in the past to draw upon.
To the extent they have made war between the nuclear powers less likely, they have made the world a safer place to live.
Ultimately, this is one of the reasons why Trump won in 2016. By promising to bring peace and not the sword — but on America’s terms. Trump’s opponents still do not get him — they still cannot even fathom that he won let alone how. They should sit back and take notes. Class is in session.
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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.
Correction: Reagan was negotiating the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in the 1980s.