Was the Trump-Putin Meeting Constructive or a “Capitulation”?

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Norman Solomon argues against condemning the meeting, saying reducing tensions between nuclear powers is constructive. Paul Jay asks if there is a hidden agenda that’s not so peaceful

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

In Helsinki on Monday, as everyone knows by now, President Putin and President Trump met. There was a lot of opposition to these meetings in the United States, and in the corporate media; people saying President Trump shouldn’t meet with such a terrible oligarch as Putin. And if he does, the meetings should be all about denouncing Putin and asking for answers about alleged Russian meddling in the American elections, and such. Well, our next guest was a signatory to a letter that actually called specifically for an easing of tensions with Russia, but also protection of the American electoral system. And that’s Norman Solomon. Thanks for joining us, Norman.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Sure. Thanks, Paul.

PAUL JAY: Norman is the co-founder of RootsAction.org. He’s also co-author of the report Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis; and the letter I mentioned that he signed, as well as Noam Chomsky, and Daniel Ellsberg, and a lot of other well-known people, it is titled Common Ground for Secure Elections and True National Security. So, Norman, while watching that press conference, watching what’s going on with the media circus at any rate, in Helsinki, what were your impressions?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, I thought it was historically a very stunning departure from what the establishment media in the United States have been clearly wanting. For one thing, as you alluded to, the mass media in the USA didn’t want this summit to happen at all. And once it was clearly going forward, there were countless calls for Trump to basically go in and denounce Putin and Russia. Didn’t happen. And on the contrary, I think it was, in terms of bilateral relations, a tremendous step forward. I thought the tone, if you set aside the usual nonsense from Trump about domestic politics in the United States, the tone from Trump was quite good. And likewise from Putin. And while this was a sort of a nightmare day for the CIA and NSA, and the mainline hawk media in the United States, I think it was a good step towards the normalization of relationships, and hopefully detente.

PAUL JAY: It seems to me this is, it’s a very complicated moment of history we’re in, with the relationship with the United States and Russia. On the one hand, the American industrial military complex, the foreign policy establishment and such, has decades of anti-Soviet Union, now anti-Russia narrative, invested in. Narrative to protect. Also in terms of American geopolitics, how they see the world, they do not like regional powers that are not under American control. And so there was a lot of pressure for Putin not to change that traditional, I’m sorry, on Trump to change that traditional position.

On the other hand, Trump represents a section of the American oligarchy that is very dangerous, and in terms of foreign policy very dangerous, and in terms of the American people very dangerous. And Putin represents a Russian oligarchy that is very dangerous to the Russian people, does not have anywhere near the foreign policy footprint of the United States, does not commit as much mayhem and havoc around the world as the United States has. On the other hand, Russia has its own, certainly has a big power oligarchic agenda. So it’s complicated, because, you know, in terms of the interests of ordinary people, one wants a reduction of tension between two big nuclear powers. You don’t want this inflammatory rhetoric. And even more than rhetoric; even real military encirclement by NATO and Western powers of Russia. One can see how Russia sees that as a threat. On the other hand, you know, you kind of have to tell the whole story. These guys aren’t peaceniks.

NORMAN SOLOMON: No question. This is not the president of the United States we want. And ideally, dare I say it, it’s not the president of Russia that one would hope for. You’re alluding to a geopolitical imbalance and balance of power symbolized, and I think represented, by the reality which we almost never hear in the U.S. mass media, that the United States has more than 800 overseas military bases, and Russia has a grand total of nine.

And so the tremendous push for the U.S. military and its economic and geopolitical forces to dominate so much of the planet is really taken as just common sense and so-called national security by the tops of the Democratic and Republican Party, and U.S. mass media. But it’s really deleterious and dangerous for the world. And then you add in these fossil fuel-driven superpowers, and then the dangers of nuclear weapons. And so we’re stuck with this world right now, even though we are so eager to change it for the better.

PAUL JAY: I think Trump has been very clear in his prime foreign policy objective from the very beginning. He talked about a war against what he called Islamic terrorism, or Islamic extremism. We know what that really means is Iran, because if you really meant Islamic extremism or Islamic terrorism then you don’t make the Saudis as your number one ally in the Middle East, or number two after Israel. Or maybe they’re co-number ones in terms of Trump foreign policy allies. Targeting Iran is the number one foreign policy priority of this administration. And then trade war with China. And the moves Trump is making to try to have some kind of detente with Russia has these positive elements in that reducing tensions with nuclear powers was good, and toning down the rhetoric that hearkens back to the Cold War is good. But he’s also trying to make moves that enable this Saudi-Israeli United Emirates, and very much American strategy of destabilizing and attempting to have a regime change in Iran.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, I agree with that. And if the U.S. government were really concerned about in a significant, major way combating terrorism, then it will be ending its alliance with Saudi Arabia and probably cutting ties with it. Compared to the Saudis, Iran has virtually nothing to do with terrorism in this day and age. And the agendas running, of course when you look at the macro, these are blocs of huge oligarchies based in the United States and Russia and Saudi Arabia, and a growing one in Israel and elsewhere. And their interests are the usual of the extremely wealthy and the corporate powers, which is to drive down the standard of living of most people so they can extract most profits, as well as most natural resources and fossil fuels and so forth.

So as you, as you refer to, I mean, this is a complex series of layers that we’re dealing with. I think that in terms of, for instance, progressives in the United States, we really need to bring our own selves up short, because the tip of the spear of aggressive rhetoric and potentially aggressive military action towards Russia is now the Democratic Party constituency. This is a war party with Democratic and Republican wings. But Democrats at the top, with rare exceptions, have been bellicose towards Russia. I think we can anticipate a lot of that in the coming days, and blowback from this, what I think overall is a very constructive summit.

And it’s up to progressives to check their nonsense at the door, because a lot of that nonsense is being fed and fueled by the likes of MSNBC and the Democratic National Committee, and a lot of folks who think that they can use to partisan advantage the claim that somehow Trump is in Putin’s pocket and therefore we should just gin up hostility towards Russia, which is very ominous for future generations, because we want some to exist. And we’ve got two nuclear weapon superpowers on hair trigger alert, and that has to be recognized. And we need some positive steps to decrease rather than increase tensions.

PAUL JAY: I’d agree with most of what you said. I don’t know yet whether we know whether this summit was constructive, if you’re talking about the interests of ordinary peoples, in the sense that it’s constructive not to have a crazy war of words.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Yeah. The first thing for ordinary people is to not-. Yeah.

PAUL JAY: But we don’t know what went on in that, what went on in that private meeting. What went on in that private meeting may turn out to be not so constructive.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, no doubt it’s a mixture. As I said, we wish these people weren’t president. But the first interest of people on planet is not to get blown up. That’s a given. At the same time, of course, these are tremendous class interests that are crushing already crushed people, not only in the United States but in the third world, the Global South. And, of course, including Russia. So as always, there’s a class war going on. I wouldn’t trust Trump or Putin as far as I could throw the Washington Monument. This is up to us to organize, to create a better world. And that includes challenging agendas of the oligarchs of all countries.

PAUL JAY: What do you make of the, this kind of MSNBC, CNN, and other media? I saw a Bill Maher show a couple of weeks-. Larry Wilkerson was on, was a guest, who’s often a guest on The Real News Network. And then Bill Maher was there, and he had a few other guests. And all the other guests kind of on the liberal side of things. They viciously went after Wilkerson for suggesting it’s a good thing that the leaders of the United States and Russia meet, just on the face of it. More or less what you’re arguing. When you have two big nuclear powers, it’s better that they’re talking than they’re, you know, throwing firebombs at each other. And the other guests on the show just ripped Wilkerson into shreds. And it seems to be very popular. Rachel Maddow, I believe, has the top-rated cable show in the country now, and she, just night after night, throwing red meat at this Russiagate and Russiaphobia.

NORMAN SOLOMON: It is very popular. And I compare it to the CEOs who look only for the next few quarters of their projected profits. This pandering is like, you know, dumping huge pollutants into the waterways because in the meantime you think you’re going to get some dividends. In this case political dividends. Looking to 2018 and 2020 I think that’s mostly nonsense, because people in the Rust Belt or anywhere else, they don’t wake up thinking about how Vladimir Putin is threatening them, although the press try to tell them. The punditocracy loves to feed that concern.

But people wake up thinking about health care, education, housing, how they’re going to pay their bills, and so forth. And the Democratic Party leadership and people like Rachel Maddow keep fueling the flames of hostility to Russia on the theory that, you know, implicitly for TV stars to, they’re going to get better ratings. But the politicians, I think, want to get, they believe, some victories from it.

PAUL JAY: But what I’m asking you about is the mindset of the, you know, mostly intelligent people, you know, who have a kind of liberal politics, who are, who are all on board on this. That, you know, Rachel’s audience is a kind of, you know, relatively liberal, progressive kind of audience. And most of them, not everyone, some people watch in morbid fascination, but most of them seem to be onboard with this stuff.

NORMAN SOLOMON: So it’s a kind of a contagion. We’ve had more than 18 months now of this kind of messaging from the top of the Democratic Party. And of course I think it’s horrendous that Trump is president, but there are so many folks who, from early on after Clinton lost, seeing Putin and Russia as the best to blame. It’s easier than blaming voter suppression and institutionalized racism, and even the Koch Brothers or Comey. They love making Russia the bogeyman. And the intelligence agencies are all for it, and these huge mainline media outlets, the tremendous power of places like CNN, MSNBC, particularly the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, this is a steady diet. And let’s face it, the essence of propaganda is repetition coming from on high. People listen to All Things Considered and Morning Edition, watch the PBS NewsHour.

This is a constant barrage. And unfortunately, human beings, people are susceptible to walking in step with the stimuli that they keep getting. It doesn’t excuse it, it doesn’t justify it. I think it’s up to us who are independent progressives and others to say we don’t go with that sort of flow. It’s a sort of a, I think it’s in tune with, in sync with what Martin Luther King Jr. called the madness of militarism. That’s what we’re going to be seeing in the coming days, I believe with new intensity, in reaction to this summit in Helsinki. Because places like the New York Times and Washington Post at the very top, they’re very upset about what has just occurred.

PAUL JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Norman.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Thank you, Paul.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.