The Washington Post reported the other day that in the days leading up to Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House officials repeatedly told European allies “not to worry” about the talks amounting to anything substantive. The article added that the White House told our allies that “no deals would be made between Putin and Trump.”
Those assurances may have been wrong. The Associated Press reported yesterday:
Russia’s Defense Ministry says it’s ready to boost cooperation with the U.S. military in Syria, following talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it’s ready for “practical implementation” of agreements reached by Trump and Putin.
To which the appropriate response was, “What agreement reached by Trump and Putin?” There has been no official announcement from the Trump administration about a new agreement on policy toward Syria, though Moscow is apparently under the impression that some kind of deal was reached.
The trouble, of course, is that we don’t really know what was discussed behind closed doors for nearly two-and-a-half hours, largely because the two presidents met for a one-on-one session in Helsinki without aides.
But as far as Russia is concerned, this wasn’t just a friendly chat. Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, told reporters yesterday that Trump and Putin struck “important verbal agreements” on, among other things, issues related to national security.
The Washington Post reported this morning, however, that “officials at the most senior levels across the U.S. military, scrambling since Monday to determine what Trump may have agreed to on national security issues in Helsinki, had little to no information Wednesday.”
The article added, “At the Pentagon, as press officers remained unable to answer media questions about how the summit might impact the military, the paucity of information exposed an awkward gap in internal administration communications.”
Given the circumstances, “awkward” seems like an exceedingly polite adjective.
We’re left with a dynamic in which Russian officials were eager to tout “important verbal agreements” struck by the two presidents, while American officials scrambled to figure out what their amateur president agreed to – because he hadn’t yet told them.
Trump told CBS News yesterday that, in reference to his private talks with Putin, “things emerged out that were very important.” He didn’t say what those “things” are and officials in his administration, at least as of yesterday, didn’t seem to know.
This isn’t how an effective foreign policy is supposed to work.