Television anchors on the political left and right wailed and howled and bashed the president of the United States from coast to coast yesterday for not calling out Vladimir Putin publicly during their joint press conference. “Disgraceful” and “disgusting” seemed to be the operative words in reaction to Mr. Trump’s reticence to hammer the Russian president while the cameras turned, whirring in the background.
As usual, live television coverage provides the American public with analysis that is long on emotion and short on logic. It was as if all hell broke loose when Trump refused to give Putin a sucker punch for all the world to see. But if one takes the time to read through the transcript of the news conference, a more reasoned response may be in order.
Public vs. Private Comments
The fact is, Mr. Trump hasn’t always been thoughtful and circumspect in his public comments, and that has gotten him into hot water more than once. But a president – especially one who is speaking with and to a foreign head of state – should choose his words carefully. It’s understandable that many want a public smack-down of Putin, but is that the wisest course of action?
Based on his private conversation with the Russian leader, it’s apparent President Trump didn’t think so. Here is what he said:
As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics, or the media, or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct.
Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia affords the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics.
It’s valuable to have a Commander-in-Chief that sees the big picture and doesn’t give a damn what his party or the media think. Trump apparently doesn’t care if others see him as conceding to Putin because he already addressed the issue of Russia and the 2016 election, at length, in private:
“During today’s meeting, I addressed directly with President Putin the issue of Russian interference in our elections. I felt this was a message best delivered in person. Spent a great deal of time talking about it. And President Putin may very well want to address it, and very strongly, because he feels very strongly about it, and he has an interesting idea.”
Having gone through the issue and having “spent a great deal of time talking about it,” the President resisted the urge to pound Putin over the head with it in public. And why would he do this? Again, if we read what he said, we find the answer:
Today’s meeting is only the beginning of a longer process, but we have taken the first step toward a brighter future and one with a strong dialogue and a lot of thought.
So, Mr. Trump appears to be setting the stage for a more constructive relationship with a powerful adversary. While it isn’t theatrical for television or politically advantageous for the president, it does seem the more prudent way to proceed. Accusatory hyperbolic statements aimed at arrogant and, yes, dangerous people may seem like a grand idea at the time, but in the end – nothing good can come from it.
Or in common sense language, one might say that President Trump’s cautious approach to Putin employed a tried and true adage: “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”