Trump Believes Summit with Putin Has Reset Relations. He’s Wrong

A single meeting of two leaders doesn’t usually change the fate of nations.

Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia meet in Helsinki, Finland, July 16
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia meet in Helsinki, Finland, July 16 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Two years on the job, Donald Trump still doesn’t understand foreign policy.

After meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday, the American said relations between their two countries had “never been worse.”

“However,” he added, “that changed as of about four hours ago.”

As if a single meeting of two leaders could change the fate of nations.

Personality isn’t everything

The real reason Russia and the United States don’t see eye to eye, as Ryan Bohl has explained here, is that they have diametrically opposed interests in Europe.

Russia wants influence in its “near abroad”: the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that threw off the Soviet yoke in 1991. America cannot allow this. It would allow Russia to once again threaten Western Europe, from where it could threaten North America.

Unless you’re Donald Trump

In fairness, Trump is hardly the first American president who believes he can overcome the restraints of history and geopolitics through the sheer force of his personality.

But he personalizes foreign relations to the extreme.

America’s alliance with Germany is at a postwar nadir because Trump doesn’t like Angela Merkel.

He admires strongmen, so Rodrigo Duterte and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan get to subvert democracy in the Philippines and Turkey without so much as a reprimand from Washington.

Trump respects Putin, so he takes the Russian’s word over that of his own intelligence chiefs as well as the Justice Department when it comes to 2016 election interference.