Last week the American media establishment and far too many political pundits used rather extreme hyperbole to classify Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russians as “potentially treasonous.” They went on to do the same with regard to the supposedly many Russian contacts the Trump presidential campaign had also had. Implicit in all of this is a very simple idea: Russia is the enemy or is evil and should be held at arm’s length or worse.
President Trump and his team do not agree with that simple idea. They believe that the world will be a much safer and prosperous place if we can find common ground with the Russians (and with the Chinese) and devote our “less than friendly” attentions elsewhere.
The liberal bi-coastal elites have great trouble with this. After all, did not Barack Obama set off on the same course only to be burnt badly? Isn’t Vladimir Putin the embodiment of the devil?
The Obama Russian “reset” failed on multiple counts: Obama proved himself to be a poor negotiator, America insisted on lecturing about values and ethics, and America refused to recognize and respect what the Russians perceived to be their interests. You cannot have a successful reset if you insist that everything must be done only your way. Active listening was not in the Obama portfolio. Barack Obama was known for telling those on the other side of the negotiating table that he knew better than they what their interests really were or “should be.” That was the Obama approach. It failed in his dealings with the House Republicans, and it failed in his dealings with the Russians.
Trump comes from a very different place: he is a good negotiator, he is ready, willing, and able to both recognize and respect the declared interests of those on the other side, and he understands that the Russian ethical system is based on “ends justify means.”
Take a prominent example: Ukraine. American commentators almost never mention the strategic interests that led to Russia seizing Crimea and stirring up the Donbas: much of Russia’s military might depends on installations and factories located in both regions. The overthrow of the Ukrainian President (yes, he fled, but Russians see it as an overthrow) three days after America and Russia had agreed on a transition process was easily perceived by Russia (especially Putin) as a direct threat to that military machine. If one accepts their perception that their own military installations were at risk, then Russia did both of these acts defensively. Until, and unless, America approaches the Ukraine situation accepting that the Russians see defense where we see offense, we will remain at loggerheads.
If the goal is to reach a mutual understanding with the Russians upon which there can be built a platform for growth, that requires conversations - many of them.
These conversations are not indications that the Russians have “corrupted” the administration (nor Trump’s campaign before it). They do not mean that Putin “has something” on Donald Trump.
Russia and Putin are potential sources of instability and upset in the world. It is in America’s interest to work to minimize their impact. That happens through dialogue and explorations of common ground.
We need to stop treating the words “Russia” and “Putin” as symbols of evil. We need to accept that they are a meaningful part of the world who have their own values different from ours.
The successful real estate salesperson is one who can get a buyer to see themselves in and using the property which is for sale. To do this one needs to be open to accepting the point of view of the buyer, attempting to understand that point of view, and presenting things which appeal to it.
Donald Trump does NOT need to sell anything to the American people (at least not now). He does need to sell peace and prosperity to the rest of the globe. It cannot happen via American lecturing. It can happen via dialogue and mutual exploration. A three-headed globe (America, Russia, and China) working together can put an end to the regional instabilities that threaten all of us: ISIS, Iran, and North Korea.
As we sang in the 1970’s: All we are saying is give peace a chance.
Which means to stop this insane idea that “talking” with Russia is a problem.
By contrast, America, it is an OPPORTUNITY.
And it could be huuuge.