By Donald Lambro
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Timing is critical in both statecraft and diplomacy, but President Donald Trump couldn’t have chosen a worse time to honor Russian dictator Vladimir Putin with a high- level, one-on-one meeting.
And not just a meeting at some neutral location, but a prestigious get-together within the White House – once reserved for America’s closest and most respected allies and world leaders.
Putin just won a fourth term in office in what was widely considered a “sham” election, shortly after Moscow was publicly blamed by British Prime Minister Theresa May for the poisoning of a former Russian double-agent living in Great Britain and his daughter.
May called the attack with a lethal nerve agent a “reckless and despicable act,” adding that it was “highly likely” ordered by a Kremlin that Putin rules with an iron fist.
The Kremlin has denied it played any role in the attack, and, presumably, Trump believes that. He has yet to condemn the act, even though the U.S. has joined Great Britain in the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats.
But there are other reasons why Putin should not be accorded America’s hospitality and the respect that comes with being invited to the White House.
He is the cold-blooded architect of Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in the Ukraine, where Russian troops are still plotting to seize the rest of the country.
Russian warplanes also havebeen bombing civilians in Syria in an effort by Putin to keep its bloodthirsty dictator, Bashar al Assad, in power.
And Trump has been all but silent in the face of Putin’s relentless interference in the 2016 presidential election and beyond – an unprecedented cyberwar offensive that’s been carpet-bombing the U.S. internet with political lies and countless fake news stories to divide, anger and fool America’s electorate.
The president had been coy about the possibility of a meeting at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and who may have initiated the invitation. But that charade ended recently when it was confirmed that Trump invited Putin to the White House in a March 20 phone call.
The disclosure came not from the White House press office, but from a Kremlin official, Yuri Ushakov, in remarks to a group of Russian journalists, according to the state news agency RIA Novosti.
“When our presidents spoke on the phone, it was Trump who proposed holding the first meeting in Washington, in the White House,” Ushakov said.
The Washington Post reported that this was the now infamous phone call Trump made against the advice of his advisers, who urged him to condemn the poisoning plot and implored, “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” Putin for winning the election, according to officials familiar wth the call.
Trump dismissed that advice out of hand, firing back on Twitter, “Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
But top foreign policy experts were aghast at Trump’s tweet and his decision to accord Putin the kind of special, blue-ribbon treatment he doesn’t deserve.
“Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? It’s really mind-boggling,” Leon Aron, a resident scholar and the director of Russian studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told the Post. “I’m usually not this emotional.”
Alina Polyakov, a fellow at the liberal Brookings Institution, said Trump doesn’t seem to comprehend the policy implications of his actions. “He tends to extend these invitations to the White House like it’s an invitation to dinner.”
What does Trump see in Putin that makes him believe he can trust the once Communist KGB agent? None of our major European allies has accorded him the royal treatment that our president now intends to bestow upon him.
To the contrary, they, like Prime Minister May, harbor deep suspicions of his venal foreign policy motives, his dream of reclaiming parts of the former Soviet Union and his support for some the most despotic, terrorist villains in the Middle East.
Putin’s namesake, Vladimir Lenin, had a favorite proverb, “doveryai, no proveryai” – “trust, but verify” – that President Reagan embraced in his successful nuclear arms treaty negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev.
But Trump doesn’t seem capable of understanding that there’s nothing in Putin’s devious, warlike, anti-democratic behavior that any American president can ever trust.
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.