by Jeffrey A. Rendall
To meet or not to meet, that is the question.
Or at least it’s a query on the minds of a lot of people these days as President Donald Trump appears to be making his internal White House “open door” policy extend to the rest of the world. Trump famously met with North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un in June, Russian leader Vladimir Putin last month and has now offered to meet up with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani anywhere, anytime (or something like that).
What was once considered a rather stupid time-filling question of personal philosophy and worldview for candidates participating in presidential debates is now taking centerstage in the media’s consciousness – should an American president really be globetrotting to have face-to-faces with just any head of state no matter how heinous or disreputable? Or is it best to sit back and let the thugs and rogues of the earth clean up their act before earning one-on-one time with the world’s most powerful human being?
This week the Editors of the Washington Examiner took the latter view, writing, “A lesson that Trump needs to learn from his summits in Singapore with the North Korean tyrant, and in Helsinki with the Russian dictator, is that a meeting with the American president is much sought after because it is highly valuable, and must not be sold cheaply. A meeting with Rouhani must occur only if it caps a real change of heart by Tehran, and does not reward the malignant mullah’s bluster on the international stage…
“To be clear, Trump is right to believe in the power of face-to-face diplomacy to extinguish enmities and bend the course of history toward American interests. If diplomacy with North Korea is ultimately successful, and it may be in the long run, Trump will have earned an illustrious spot in history books.
“But Trump must remember that his power reaches far beyond words. He commands the power to make life much better or worse for adversaries. He also has the responsibility to provide security for us and our allies. But by offering summits profligately without expectations of what should come before or after, Trump detaches his power from the purpose of summits. In doing so, he makes effective diplomacy more unlikely.”
With all due respect to the Editors’ sentiments, it’s hard to see how not meeting with a country’s leader is going to improve relations between two nations. It doesn’t matter whether it’s meeting your daughter’s boyfriend for the first time or hosting the Queen of Great Britain for a formal state visit, if you’re in the same room with someone and forced to endure the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of a representative of a different culture, it’s beneficial to an individual’s learning curve.
An old adage goes that it’s impossible to bulls—t a bulls—tter – and in Trump’s example, he relies on a lifetime’s worth of meetings and personal encounters to garner the sincerity of a person. If experience doesn’t count in this realm then why bother having an age minimum for public office (for the president it’s 35 years). It’s no secret Trump’s a people person – he loves to talk and chew the fat; silent contemplation doesn’t seem to be his thing.
So why not meet with someone, even the head of a reprobate government, leader of a totalitarian society where just about everything but absolute obedience to the regime is suppressed? A succession of American presidents has largely disdained any communications with the world’s tyrants much less offered to sit down with them. Trump’s taking the opposite approach.
And while it’s true America’s prestige casts an extremely long shadow there’s no guarantee economic sanctions and the diplomatic cold shoulder will bring about a better result. Since our country’s interests extend to every corner of the globe (and even to outer space), what’s the harm in talking to a premier regarding our stances? As long as the president isn’t giving away the store – which he isn’t – and knows how to represent our nation well – which he does – then there should be leeway for Trump to follow his instincts on the matter.
President Trump is the one who was elected by the states and the people, not opinion writers or academics who profess to know everything there is to know about foreign relations protocol.
The Editors’ argument that Trump is cheaply giving away America’s prestige is well-taken but misguided. For example, many argued Kim Jong-un got the better of Trump in the aftermath of their summit but how would a “winner” and “loser” be determined and quantified? While it’s true the NORKs rejected Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s follow-up on a denuclearization timeline they also turned over remains of American servicemen from the Korean War and have stayed open to a process that could eventually lead to a safer humankind. Why shouldn’t Trump be proud of this accomplishment?
If Trump’s actions have indeed caused America to lose “prestige” with the rest of the world, how is it showing itself? Are the Europeans empowered to ignore America now? Is China thinking Trump is a lightweight on trade and therefore feeling driven to halt their exports?
People forget it wasn’t all that long ago when Americans weren’t engaging with North Korea at all. Was the 70-year antagonistic status quo superior to being told “no” in the opening round of a negotiation? Hardly. Being denied is just an invitation to further talks. World “prestige” is what you make of it. Frankly speaking if world leaders think we’re “weak” because of Trump’s willingness to talk to everyone they’re only exposing themselves to a potentially devastating counterpunch that’s certain to come. Americans know where we stand – it doesn’t really matter what the world thinks.
Ditto for the situation with Russia today. Trump understands Putin and recognizes Russia’s capabilities (or lack thereof). Making “friends” with Vlad isn’t much different than swinging a deal with a smaller and weaker playground bully to quit pestering your friends in exchange for not exposing his vulnerabilities to the bigger kids.
“Prestige” has nothing to do with it.
The liberal double-standard with Trump extends to historical impressions of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his meeting with Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin in 1943. The falsity has even seeped into secondary education textbooks. Daniel Oliver wrote at The Washington Times, “Reading the account of the meeting [in the widely used history textbook ‘The American Pageant’] in Tehran is pitiful. Yes, Roosevelt flew to Tehran, some 6,000 miles total, and was exhausted when he got there. He was already ill, and would be dead less than a year-and-a-half later.
“The Soviets bugged Roosevelt’s room, and many of the ‘servants’ at the conference were actually Soviet spies. Stalin secured a commitment from FDR that Russia would have hegemony in Poland after the war. Poland would be part of the corridor of countries whose people Russia would control for decades after the war. FDR was giving tacit approval, and even said at one point, he ‘was confident that the people [of Poland] would vote to join the Soviet Union.’
“Nothing Mr. Trump has ever said matches the delusional Franklin Roosevelt. Fake news, fake current news is one thing. ‘Fake news’ history books, like ‘The American Pageant,’ is something else.”
This is what our teens are reading – and learning. It’s often said the victors wrote history but it’s not true in all instances. Instead, self-aggrandizing leftists write textbooks and they’re virtually unrestrained in their determination to paint FDR as a blemish-less hero just because he was a liberal. Democrats can do no wrong, even those who bowed to communists and dictators in the past.
Good folks like Oliver are setting the record straight now but it will take time to get the message out. In the meantime, the truth will defend Trump.
Did anyone ever question FDR for being duped by Stalin? No chance. The lofty status of the presidency back then prevented overt criticism and the press was very much in the pocket of the Democrats anyway. The first commandment of journalism has always been “thou shalt not criticize a fellow liberal”, a mantra the secular establishment has no issue with upholding today.
Trump’s summit with Putin wasn’t even in the same realm of importance as FDR’s meeting with Stalin yet the current president’s enemies depict him as practically traitorous for acting amicable and open to good relations with the former Soviets. The Russians today are suckling cubs compared to the ornery Soviet bear of the 40’s. Vladimir Putin may not be a guy to have social drinks with but he’s not the gulag-creating monster Joseph Stalin was.
A little perspective is needed here. Can’t sane minds prevail?
Trump’s overture to the Iranians is not the end-all of American prestige or diplomacy. If anything, Trump made the offer to the wrong chief, not the wrong country. Roger L. Simon wrote at PJ Media, “Everyone knows now that Trump’s style is to compliment foreign leaders, even despots, publicly while sticking it to them with his actions. He did and continues to do that with Putin and Kim, both of whom are still under heavy sanctions. Whether this approach will work we don’t know, but it’s new and worth trying. What can be done about that?
“He mentioned at a press conference Monday that he is open to trying this again with Iran, with no preconditions. Good idea, but he should do that with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, not Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as was indicated. Rouhani is in no way Trump’s equal. He is only slightly more than a figurehead, elected from a short list vetted by the Assembly of Experts and ultimately by Supreme Leader Khamenei. He is their boy.
“When the demonstrators in the streets of Tehran rightly cry ‘Death to the Dictator,’ Khamenei is the man they are talking about. Trump must meet with him. Mike Pompeo can deal with Rouhani.”
Not being familiar with the internal dynamics of the Iranian political state of affairs I can only surmise Simon is right – Trump must deal head-to-head with the real source of evil in the country.
But the greater point is – and Simon makes it well – that Trump is doing America and the world a favor by engaging enemies to ease tensions and perhaps foster peace. It never hurts to ask for something – what’s the worst thing that could happen, be told “no”? If everyone was so scared to ask another for an indulgence nothing would ever happen. The world isn’t full of mind-readers; sometimes you’ve got to put yourself on the line and state your point-of-view.
Trump naturally believes America is in the strongest position to make demands of other nations – especially with two-bit ideologically-driven dictators – so there’s no harm in looking a leader in the eye and saying “well, these are your options…” The guy opposite you may be a tyrant and a proven liar but he’s still human. Can these types of people always be reasoned with? No; but if you don’t talk to them then you’ll never know for sure (note: this doesn’t apply to radicals such as ISIS or the Taliban (and maybe the Iranians too) where religious doctrine is the real issue).
Trump’s enemies (#NeverTrump and basically every Democrat and liberal on the face of the planet) seem vexed he’ll give away too much by meeting with rogue presidents. That’s not happened at past summits and there’s nothing to suggest it will occur in the future.
Indisputable facts indicate the United States has the stronger bargaining position in just about every possible negotiation. Trump knows this; do his (foreign and domestic) enemies?
Besides, Russians would do better to support Democrats this year anyway, so if there’s going to be any election “fixing,” it will be in the direction of the minority party. Jonah Goldberg wrote at National Review, “I’m not predicting the Russians will — or can — do anything significant to affect the midterms. Nor am I arguing that people should vote for the Democrats. Indeed, the prospect of such a crazy 2019 might be an argument for Trump-skeptical but drama-weary and impeachment-wary Republicans to vote to keep the GOP in control.
“My argument is that if the Russians want our political climate to get yet more unhealthy, they could do worse than switching sides this time around.”
I don’t say this often, but Goldberg is correct. If the Russians’ intent is to always wreak instability and havoc in American politics there would be nothing better than turning over part of the government to Democrats at this point, who would most certainly use the opportunity to stall Trump and the MAGA agenda in every way imaginable.
Let’s hope the American people see through the ruse and vote for conservative candidates.
President Trump was correct to talk directly with Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin and he wouldn’t be wrong to meet with the Iranians either, as long as he understands what they’re after and what’s at stake. If talk is cheap then listening is even cheaper; a small price to pay for peace.