I don’t usually comment on U.S. strategy, but to write nothing would be a statement in itself.
The Russians hacked the election. This is a fact. So why did Trump choose to deny it on the most visible platform on the planet, a summit? It’s been described as “inappropriate”, “a betrayal of our values”, or “a win for Putin”. On the mild side, it has been speculated to be “some kind of carrot”, a form of positive reinforcement for Putin’s better behavior. John Brennan calls it treason: Former intel chiefs condemn Trump’s news conference with Putin. Dan Coats has put his job on the line: Trump clashes with intelligence chief over Russian threat.
Prediction is not about reading minds. In place of it, we have empathy, not the emotionally expressive kind, but the kind that enables one to “get inside somebody’s head.” It amounts to running another person’s thought processes inside one’s own brain. It does not lead to infallible understanding, but it gives the predictor an edge over someone to whom the person in question is a complete black box.
I recognize a possible explanation for Trump’s words in his career as a real estate developer in NYC, particularly before Rudy Giuliani cleaned the place up. In the 70’s and 80’s, behind the fancy facades of Midtown, there lurked the Mafia. Everything that had to do with construction, the Mafia raked off from. Everything that had to do with permitting, politicians raked off from. Even inside Trump’s own organization, there was the threat that money for a purpose, such as buying loyalty, would end up in the hands of the rapacious.
At the time, it was said that the Mafia owned the sidewalk you walked on. Even today, the Mafia has a strong presence in the concrete business. To avoid having your concrete “watered”, you had to make the right friends. To have your garbage collected, you had to have the right friends. To avoid having your building vandalized in myriad little ways, to avoid union “trouble”, you had to have the right friends. The Italian Mafia lingers with a lower profile. But organized crime, and the threat it poses to real estate, and the many unions involved, will never go away. This was what Trump had to grapple with in his crucible years.
There is an address popular among leaders to those that they command: “I expect the best of you”, or, “I hope you will live up to my expectations.” The root of it is the idea that trust is a gift, which the recipient will try not to devalue. It’s about personal connection. Shades of this can also be seen in Trump’s approach to Kim Jong-un. (Politico) Trump praises Kim Jong Un as ‘very honorable’.
Dealing with the Mob, there is no law. There is only personal connection. This is is the origin of what some have called Trump’s overly personal presidency. This is behind Trump’s desire for personal loyalty of members of his administration. If you wanted to heal relations with Don Corleone, how would you approach him?
I wouldn’t have suggested exonerating Putin. On the other hand, beating Putin over the head, as a matter of principle, or to deter what is already happening again, has been shown ineffective. Yet on the other hand, Trump could argue it’s a throwaway, a gesture he can give without material consequence. If this is so, Trump will continue to support the efforts of the intelligence community to disrupt the next wave of Russian hacking.
Dan Coats, stand strong.