Category Archives: International news

Trump-Putin II postponed, to what end?

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are going to meet a second time — but not until after the first of the year.

The announcement came from national security adviser John Bolton, who — borrowing the president’s favorite epithet describing the examination of the “Russia thing” — said the meeting would occur after the “witch hunt” has concluded.

C’mon, Mr. National Security Adviser. There ain’t a “witch hunt” taking place.

Robert Mueller is proceeding with his probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded in 2016 with the Russians operatives who attacked our electoral system. The special counsel is not the partisan hack he has been accused of being by, um, actual partisan hacks.

The next summit between the U.S. and Russian presidents should proceed. I support the idea of the two leaders talking to each other. They should face each other and they should talk openly and candidly about the issues they have in common and those that separate them. They also should do so publicly to the extent they can.

The problem, though, still rests with that first summit in Helsinki. They went into a closed-door meeting and the world doesn’t yet know what they discussed, where they agreed and what they decided. Then the two leaders had that press conference in which Trump rolled over in front of Putin in that ghastly show of weakness by the so-called “leader of the free world.”

As for the juxtaposition with special counsel Mueller’s investigation, let’s just wait to see what conclusions are drawn once the probe is finished.

We have an extremely fluid situation in front of us. The Mueller probe can end in any number of ways, some of which might bode poorly for the president.

And, oh yes, we have that midterm election coming up.

If at least one congressional chamber flips from Republican to Democratic control, well … let’s just wait to see how that plays out.

Mamma Mia! Take me back … to Greece!

It’s not often that I get moved by a film to visit a place where the film was shot. Such a feeling overwhelmed me today as my wife and I sat through a delightful musical, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”

The music is fabulous. The cast is stellar, containing many of my favorite actors. But the setting! Oh, my goodness.

It was set in Greece, although the principal filming was done in nearby Croatia. My wife and I have been to Greece twice. My wife and I have been blessed over the years with the opportunity to travel around the world. She once told me after our first visit in 2000 that Greece is “the one country I’ve seen where I could go back again and again.”

Me, too, sweetie.

Greece is recovering from the financial calamity that befell the country. It’s trying to repay its enormous debt owed to the European Union; make no mistake, a payment in full is highly unlikely. The country, though, is in nowhere near the dire straits it found itself not long after playing host to the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Well, that’s another story.

I just watched a beautifully filmed movie that was set in a country in which I have a keen and lifelong interest. It’s my ancestral homeland.

I long have wanted to return. A musical film today added a lot of fuel to that burning desire.

I know. It’s weird. It’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Respond to Iran threats? Yes, but do so the right way

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued a threat to the United States.

The U.S. president took it seriously. So seriously that he employed his favorite forum to respond: Twitter. He fired off an all-cap response that says Iran had better think twice about issuing threats.

Hey, I no longer am surprised by Donald Trump’s Twitter fetish. He’s got it bad, man.

I just long ago grew tired of reading these tweets when he decides to issue policy pronouncements or when he articulates some sort of threat to a foreign adversary.

I don’t have a particular problem with Trump responding to Iran’s bluster. My concern is the forum the president keeps using. He blathers these counter-threats for all the world to hear.

I wonder if it ever occurs to Trump to just pick up the telephone in the Oval Office and phoning some intermediary nation (since we have no diplomatic relations with Iran) and offering a warning to Iran to pipe down with the tough talk.

It’s called back-channel diplomacy.

Donald Trump, though, knows nothing of how these matters ought to be resolved. None of that is a surprise, given the utter absence of any understanding of government in Trump’s background.

He goes with his gut, his instinct, his penchant for showmanship.

Dangerous.

Verbal threats prompt this kind of response? Wow!

The Iranian government makes a verbal threat to launch “the mother of all wars” against the United States.

The response from the president? He fires off a tweet — written in all capital letters — that Iran should “NEVER, EVER” threaten the United States or else face the consequence of a full military strike.

This is where we’ve come? A rogue nation’s head of state makes a foolish statement and the commander in chief responds with threats of total annihilation, again via Twitter.

Sheesh.

Wishing DNI Coats had kept quiet about his reaction

Man, I wish Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats hadn’t issued an apology to Donald J. Trump.

The president reportedly was upset with Coats because of the DNI’s reaction to news that Trump had asked Russian strongman Vladimir Putin to visit Washington in the fall.

Coats, the nation’s top spook — and a valuable member of Trump’s national security team — learned about the invitation while being interviewed on national television.

His reaction was classic. It also was not a reason for him to apologize.

As Politico reported: Trump, according to two outside allies, has grown exasperated with Coats, whom he blindsided Thursday when White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced on Twitter that the administration was working to bring Putin to Washington this fall. The news landed while Coats was in the middle of a live interview with NBC in Aspen, Colorado.

Coats said he meant no “disrespect” to the president, who reportedly was angry. Good grief, he could have said as much privately in a phone call to the president.

Truth be told, it as Coats who was “disrespected” by the president who failed to consult with one of his chief national security advisers before issuing the invitation to the very man who attacked our nation’s electoral process in 2016.

The shoe, I’m tellin’ ya, was on the other foot.

Coats, though, felt compelled to set the record straight.

I just wish he hadn’t done it. There was no need.

Come clean on the Trump-Putin meeting

I am not the first person to say this out loud, but I’ll say it anyway.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin need to tell the world what the hell they talked about in that closed-door meeting in Helsinki, Finland. Come clean, Messrs. President. You represent nearly 500 million people between you. The world wants to know.

Republican lawmakers are starting to put a bit of heat on the president. According to The Hill: Congressional Republicans are urging the White House to get ahead of the Kremlin by defining what was and wasn’t agreed to. What was said between the two leaders, they admit, remains a disconcerting mystery.

Not only that, Americans need some clarity on the questions that are gnawing at many of them: What, if anything, does Putin have on Trump? Why won’t the U.S. president seriously condemn the Russian president’s ordering of the attack on our electoral system in 2016? Where will the path to bilateral friendship take the two nations? Did the leaders make any verbal agreements between them? If yes, then what the hell are they?

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., also wonders whether a proposed second Trump-Putin summit is going to implement some mystery agreements.

Then there’s this, also from The Hill: Members of Congress worry that Russia will use the Helsinki summit to undermine U.S. relations with NATO allies, especially with former East bloc and Soviet states that Putin views as within his country’s traditional sphere of influence.

Lots of questions. Lots of mystery. We need some transparency and accountability. Now!

Where are the ‘best words’?

Donald Trump’s amazingly clumsy “clarification” of what he said in Helsinki brings to mind a stellar campaign promise he made while running for president in 2016.

The told us he would surround himself with the “best people” and he would speak to us using the “best words.”

Zero for two?

Yes, he has some good folks in key places. Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is a good one; so is Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; I’ll put United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley in that crowd, too. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has possibilities.

Many of the rest of them? Not the “best.” Not by a long shot.

How about those “best words” Trump pledged? Let’s turn our attention to that Helsinki clown show that unfolded before the entire world at the beginning of the week.

There was Donald Trump standing alongside Vladimir Putin, the former KGB chief spook who serves as Russia’s president.

A reporter asked the president whether he doubted U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia attacked our democratic process. Trump said he spoke with Dan Coats, that he accepts the intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia interfered in our election, but that Putin had offered a “strong and powerful denial.”

Then he said, “I don’t know why they (the Russians) would” interfere.

To borrow a phrase: Oops!

More than 24 hours later, Trump convened a Cabinet meeting and declared he meant to say “wouldn’t” instead of “would.” He then made the term “double negative” famous around the world.

I’ll inject here that Donald J. Trump made sure reporters heard him praise Putin’s “powerful” denial of election interference during that joint appearance in Helsinki.

That is how the president “misspoke”? I do not think so.

Nor do I believe he uses the “best words” to convey whatever message he wants heard.

Putin: a man of many tongues?

I know I’m not the only person on Earth who believes this.

Still, I must wonder whether Russian President Vladimir Putin knows English far better than anyone really knows.

I’ve never heard the Russian strongman speak English. He had that translator in the Helsinki meeting with Donald J. Trump. He always communicates through a translator, for that matter.

But here’s the deal: Putin is a former head of the KGB, the highly sophisticated spy agency that operated during the days of the Soviet Union. Does it make any sense that the top KGB spook wouldn’t be fluent in English, the language of international trade, commerce, transportation? (And yes, I intended to type the word “wouldn’t.”)

All of this makes me wonder why we keep talking about translators and ensuring that they convey the messages delivered by whomever the Russian president is meeting.

My strong hunch is that Vladimir Putin understands perfectly whatever the U.S. president was giving up, er … telling him when they were behind closed doors.

Let’s be friends, but first …

Donald J. Trump wants to be “friends” with Russia.

The president wants his country to get along well with another country that has demonstrated its willingness — and ability — to wreak havoc on the United States political system.

At one level I understand and appreciate the president’s desire to make nice with Russia and with its president, Vladimir Putin.

But first things first.

True bilateral “friendship” ought to mirror interpersonal friendships in this manner: The nations must be able to clear the air over differences that exist between them. There exists a tremendous wall between the United States and Russia. To wit:

Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, Iran, Middle East peace, the Baltic States and, oh yeah, that attack on our democratic process in 2016!

OK, where do we start?

If the president is intent on forging a true “friendship” between the United States and Russia, he needs to lay down the law on all those issues. There cannot be any misunderstanding about U.S. intentions if we are to craft a new kind of relationship with this rival state.

And I want to clear the air on one point. Russia is our “rival” only militarily. The Russians possess a lot of nuclear weapons, held over from the Soviet Union era. The nation is a third-rate economic power; I heard this week that Russia ranks as the world’s 30th-largest economic power. Thirtieth!

Texas ranks at No. 11 worldwide; California is No. 5!

Russia is huge geographically, and it covers 11 time zones, but it is losing population. It is a nation in decline!

Thus, Russia is not a major “trading partner” with the United States. It can barely sustain itself economically.

It is from that position of strength that the president has allowed this nation to sink to the Russians’ level while he grovels at Putin’s feet over the 2016 election attack.

If we’re going to make friends with Russia — and Trump is correct to assert that a friendship with Russia is better for us and the world than an adversarial relationship — then we need to set the record straight on a whole array of issues and differences.

That has to come first. The “friendship” then can follow suit.

DNI Coats on the bubble?

This just in: Donald J. Trump is so angry at Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats that he wants to fire him.

Coats sat through that extraordinary interview Thursday with NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell in which he challenged the way the president handled Vladimir Putin and the allegation that the Russians attacked the U.S. electoral system in 2016.

Trump reportedly is furious. He is outraged. He doesn’t like being criticized, let alone in public.

He’d fire Coats except for this tidbit: Coats, a two-time U.S. Republican senator from Indiana, is a good friend of Vice President Mike Pence, who’s also from Indiana; were the president to fire Coats, White House chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis likely would follow him out the door.

Message to the president? It’s nice to have friends in high places.