Trump-Putin Summitry: Contexts and Prospects

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With another summit on the horizon for President Trump and Vladimir Putin, perhaps as early as this fall, will the future of U.S.-Russian relations largely hinge on such meetings? An editorial in the new issue of The Nation — “Parsing the Surreal From the Sensible in Trump’s Helsinki Performance” — calls for protecting the security of U.S. elections while pursuing diplomatic initiatives with Russia.

“Reforming our elections to ensure that they are free and fair is an imperative,” the magazine’s editor and publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel, writes in the editorial. “And engaging the Russians to reduce tensions and resolve crises is both sensible and long overdue.”

Vanden Heuvel is scheduled to appear on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” this Sunday (July 22).

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, press at thenation.com, @KatrinaNation
The Nation editorial says: “With Trump’s own director of national intelligence — conservative former Republican senator Dan Coats — concluding that Russian interference continues to this day, Trump refused to publicly denounce that interference or warn Putin against persisting in it. Foreign powers, corporations, and billionaires may well see this as a green light for increased meddling in U.S. elections.

“Worse, the administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have done virtually nothing to bolster free elections or protect them from such meddling. Our digital-age voting systems are vulnerable to hackers based anywhere. The solutions will require a much higher level of security for everything from voter-registration records to the tabulation of ballots with verifiable paper trails. But the greatest threat to our elections comes from hyper-partisan politics: gerrymandering electoral districts, erecting obstacles to registration and voting, purging voter rolls, gutting the Voting Rights Act, and, of course, facilitating the flow of big money — much of it undisclosed — into political campaigns. Under the Republicans, Congress has blocked sensible election-law reform. And right-wing donors and activists continue to push voter-suppression schemes at the state level — schemes that would be given even freer rein if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice. Citizens must demand reforms, and hold politicians accountable if they stand in the way.

“Trump’s serial lying is infamous — yet just because Trump says something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s false. He began the press conference by making the sensible case that it’s better to negotiate than to isolate. ‘The disagreements between our two countries are well-known, and President Putin and I discussed them at length today,’ he said. ‘But if we’re going to solve many of the problems facing our world, then we are going to have to find ways to cooperate in pursuit of shared interests…. Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia affords the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world.’

“Trump should not be scorned for simply convening a summit. The United States and Russia have a common stake in reducing tensions. Moreover, if the two powers continue to talk and, as Putin summarized the goals, if they manage to restart the arms-reduction talks, revive a working group on international terrorism, work together to forge peace and bring humanitarian relief to Syria, and enforce the Minsk agreements in Ukraine, then important progress will have been made. In any case, Trump is not wrong to say that attempting to reduce the tensions that have been building for years is a ‘good thing.’

“Although he was widely reviled for it, Trump is also not wrong to say that both powers have contributed to the deteriorating relations. Leaders of the U.S. national-security establishment protest our country’s innocence regarding the tensions in Georgia and Ukraine. But it was perhaps the wisest of them, the eminent diplomat George Kennan, who warned in 1998 that the decision to extend NATO to Russia’s borders was a ‘tragic mistake’ that would eventually provoke a hostile response. ‘I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,’ Kennan said presciently. ‘I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies.’

“Earlier in July, The Nation released an open letter signed by a score of leading public scholars, activists, and former U.S. officials calling for a ‘common ground to safeguard common interests,’ including both protecting U.S. elections and easing the current state of enmity between the two nuclear superpowers. The independent investigation into Russian interference should continue to its conclusion. Reforming our elections to ensure that they are free and fair is an imperative. And engaging the Russians to reduce tensions and resolve crises is both sensible and long overdue.”

petition in support of the open letter, “Common Ground: For Secure Elections and True National Security,” has been signed by more than 40,000 people since last week. Initial signers include Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg; writer and feminist organizer Gloria Steinem; activist leader Rev. Dr. William Barber II; Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Alice Walker and Viet Thanh Nguyen; Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams; former senator Adlai Stevenson III; Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen; former longtime House Armed Services Committee member Patricia Schroeder; political analyst Noam Chomsky; former UN ambassador Gov. Bill Richardson; TV public-affairs pioneer Phil Donahue; former Nixon White House counsel John Dean; and former covert CIA operations officer Valerie Plame.

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