We are collectively trapped in a “World’s Biggest Troll” game show.
Two heavyweights, equally matched. A Rocky vs. Drago for our time. Except instead of boxing they compete to see who can own their enemies in the pettiest ways.
The Kremlin’s failure to swiftly accept Trump’s invitation for a Washington summit has been noticeable. Though Moscow saw the Helsinki summit the two leaders held last week as a success, the fiercely negative reaction by some U.S. politicians to Trump’s performance has taken some in Russia aback…
Ushakov did not explain why Moscow had not yet accepted Trump’s invitation. But when he was asked for details about how Trump had behaved at the Helsinki summit, he declined, citing a desire not to inflame what he described as an already overheated U.S. political situation.
“After the (Helsinki) summit you know what kind of atmosphere there is around its outcome,” Ushakov told reporters. “I think it would be wise to let the dust settle and then we can discuss all these questions in a business-like way. But not now.”
Snubbing the president after he risked a ton of new Russia-related heat by inviting Putin to the White House is bad enough. Patronizing him by suggesting that you’re doing it for his own political benefit, so as not to further inflame the politics of Russia diplomacy in the U.S., is next-level. Imagine Putin receiving an invitation to do something that’ll further deepen partisan divisions in America and maybe involve the president making himself look like a stooge again, and doing it at the White House this time, and declining. He’ll accept the invite, rest assured.
But he’s going to let Trump twist in the wind for awhile before he does. Remember, Putin always arrives late to meetings with other state leaders as a power move, designed to impress his peanut gallery back home by suggesting that the whole world waits on him. He did it to Trump last week too. Now he’s going the extra mile by pretending that he might not show up in Washington at Trump’s request at all.
The Kremlin’s response does raise an interesting question, though: Is it possible that Trump can be *too* obsequious for their liking? That is, is there a point at which POTUS is so weirdly eager for better relations with Russia that suspicions about his motives triggers a backlash on Capitol Hill that makes better relations less likely? It’s all good fun for Putin to have Trump standing next to him, questioning U.S. intelligence’s conclusions about 2016 meddling, but if at the end of the day that alienates the rest of the federal government to the point where it’s more hostile to Russia than before, that’s not a meaningful “win” for the Kremlin. Jackson Diehl elaborates:
As Putin acknowledged in a speech Thursday, “powerful forces” oppose his deals with Trump. On Russia, Trump is a minority of one within his own government — and it is his minions, not the president, who will be charged with following up on those supposed deals…
Trump will continue to tweet, and he has invited Putin to Washington this fall. But if the Russians think there was a breakthrough on nuclear weapons, they’ll have to explain it to John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser and one of Washington’s foremost opponents of arms control. If they think Trump agreed to Putin’s plan for Syria, they’ll have to tell it to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, both of whom have repeatedly condemned Russia’s intervention…
Putin undoubtedly hoped that, after Helsinki, Trump would start lifting U.S. sanctions. But Congress last year gave itself the right to vote down any easing. Before this past week, it was possible to imagine Trump brazening his way through that obstacle with the help of an increasingly compliant GOP caucus. Following the uproar over his toadying to Putin, he would be foolish to try anytime soon.
The executive branch is bigger than Trump, even the arms of it devoted exclusively to foreign policy, and after The Stinky In Helsinki it’s angrier at Putin than ever. It wouldn’t be irrational for the Kremlin to conclude that further humiliation right now might be counterproductive to diplomacy, even if Trump is game for it. Hence the equivocation over the White House visit. But of course, if you buy that explanation then you also need to explain why Dan Coats and various other intel honchos continue to warn that Russia has every intention of interfering in the midterm campaign. If Putin’s in a “cool down” period with the U.S., he should be taking a hands-off approach to further meddling. Per Coats, he isn’t.
Here’s Paul Ryan this morning stressing that Trump’s invitation to Putin will not include an address to Congress.