Meeting for the first time at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, 71-year-old President Donald Trump and 64-year-old Russian President Vladimir Putin, went way over their allotted time, meeting for 2 hours 16 minutes. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was present in the room, said the two leaders had excellent chemistry, something sorely lacking with former President Barack Obama. Obama and Putin had an icy relationship, driving U.S.-Russian relations to the lowest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Trump used every bit of his trademark charm to bond with Russian leader, talking about alleged Russian hacking in the 2016, the war in Syria, Ukraine and, most importantly, North Korea’s July 4 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile [ICBM] test. Instead of praising Trump for doing what no other American leader could do, the media questioned Trump’s toughness.
Whether admitted to or not by the media, Trump has extraordinary ways of connecting with people. Hitting it off with Putin was a major turning point, pulling both nations away from the brink and toward cooperating on a number of pressing global and national security issues. Spending an hour-and-forty-five minutes longer speaking than scheduled, both leaders welcomed the chance to improve relations. Calling the meeting “robust and lengthy,” Tillerson could not have been more pleased, knowing Putin the way he does. Tillerson, as CEO of ExxonMobil, received Russia’s “Order of Friendship” medal, awarded to foreigners promoting the highest level of goodwill with Moscow. “I think the president is rightly focused on how do we move forward from something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point,” said Tillerson, referring to Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
However Trump’s meeting plays in the press, there’s no denying that Trump put his best foot forward to improve U.S.-Russian relations. While anti-Russian members of Congress or the press would keep the status quo, Trump decided its time to move ahead, focusing instead on finding common ground with Putin. For over seven years, former President Barack Obama supported the Saudi-funded proxy war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Trump signaled to Putin that the U.S. looks for stability in Syria, accepting al-Assad staying in Damascus. When you consider the amount of cash the U.S. spent under Obama funding Syrian rebel groups to topple al-Assad, it did nothing other than antagonize Moscow. Whatever one thinks of al-Assad, it’s not worth pitting the U.S. against Russia, something Obama did for six years backing the Saudi proxy war in Syria.
Looking to make use of Russia’s clout in Asia and around the world, Trump started the slow rebuilding process to improve U.S.-Russian relations. When you consider the stakes on the Korean Peninsula with North Korea’s 33-year-old dictator Kim Jong-un testing nukes and ICBMs, the stakes couldn’t be higher for the U.S. and the world. Putin holds some sway with Kim, providing vital energy and food products to the hermit nation. Putn’s well aware that Kim has threatened the U.S. with nuclear war, something Trump can’t ignore any longer. Obama and former President George W. Bush adopted a policy of “strategic patience,” essentially doing nothing while Kim developed A-bombs and ballistic missiles. Now that Kim’s threatened the U.S. with nuclear war, Trump no longer has that luxury. Having Putn as an ally helps U.S. national security in North Korea.
Keeping Trump’s advisors out of the room with Putin created the kind of intimacy needed to move U.S.-Russian relations forward. U.S. media kept saying how little experience Trump and Tillerson have with U.S. foreign policy. But, unlike policy wonks and foreign policy experts, Trump had what the doctor ordered: The kind of charisma and social sophistication needed to set things on track. Trump didn’t need a slew of Russian experts to bridge the icy divide with Moscow. He needed to do what he did to win the U.S. presidential election Nov. 8, 2016: He needed his guile and communication skills to make it happen. While Democrats and the media wanted Trump to fixate on the 2016 election, Trump correctly moved on to find common ground to rebuild U.S.-Russian relations. No one other than Trump could pull off what seemed impossible only hours ago.
Trump showed why he’s commander-in-chief, working his magic to salvage what looked like a hopeless relationship with Russia. Stepping away from today’s squabbles, Trump looked to get on the same page, endorsing the Astana, Kazakhstan peace talks, looking for a permanent ceasefire for all parties in Syria. While Capitol Hill war hawks, like Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), will no doubt squawk, Trump put the U.S. back on the right footing. Trump understands linkage that the U.S. must work with its adversaries to deal with hotspots around the globe. Having Putin as an ally can only help any pressure to rein-in North Korea’s nuke and ballistic missile programs. Working hard to build rapport with Putin, Trump delivered for the American people, looking for the best way to improve U.S. national security in an age of ominous global threats.