Analysis: Trump tips his hand on how he views Putin

By Philip Bump | Washington Post

As he left the White House on Tuesday, on his way to meetings with foreign leaders in Europe, President Donald Trump made an odd assertion.

Those at his first stop, the member nations of NATO, have “not treated us fairly” because “we pay far too much and they pay far too little,” he said. As for Britain, where he headed on Thursday, “that’s a situation that’s been going on for a long time” and, following the resignations of senior officials on Monday, the country is “in somewhat turmoil.”

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“And I have Putin,” Trump said, referring to a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week. “Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think? Who would think?”

Under normal circumstances – a phrase that under normal circumstances we use less regularly than we do now – a presidential summit with the leader of a long-standing foreign adversary would be considered a high-risk event, necessitating a great deal of analysis and input to establish the important boundaries and desired outcomes. It would look, at least, more like Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month: Something to be treated as exceptional with clear-cut aims and focus. Under normal circumstances, too, a meeting with NATO allies would be comparatively simple. A casual trip to Britain? A walk in the park, perhaps literally. Yet Trump sees Putin as the simple one.

Why? For reasons he evidenced during an impromptu news conference before departing the NATO summit.

Asked by The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker how he would respond if Putin denied Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Trump waved it away.

“I mean, look, he may,” Trump replied. “You know, what am I going to do if – he may deny it. I mean, it’s one of those things. So all I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ and ‘Don’t do it again.’ ”

As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted, this stands in stark contrast to how Trump approaches America’s putative friends in NATO. Even before arriving at this week’s summit, Trump was hectoring Germany and other NATO nations about their spending on defense. On Wednesday, he claimed that Germany was “totally controlled” by Russia because it gets a portion of its natural gas from the country. During the news conference, he declared that his relentless hammering of America’s allies was successful and that the allies have committed to increased spending, something French President Emmanuel Macron later denied.

With our friends, Trump is more than happy to tug whatever levers he has within reach, even ones that U.S. presidents are generally loath to pull, like the veiled threat of undercutting the alliance. With Putin, Trump is more likely to suggest that there really are no good levers. Even the strict sanctions imposed against Russia with his signature last year came only grudgingly, with Congress doing …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics


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