Donald Trump’s desire to publicly please Vladimir Putin by indulging the Russian president’s bold claims is “very disturbing” and a major sign of weakness, a former top diplomat says.
William Burns served as deputy secretary of state and was a top diplomat under five different presidents, and says he believes U.S. diplomacy has hit a steep decline due to Donald Trump. As CBS News reported, Burns spoke out against Trump’s policy toward Putin in a new memoir about his career, saying that Trump inherited a trend toward less diplomacy that started with the fall of the Soviet Union and made things “infinitely worse” than they had ever been.
Burns noted that most diplomacy takes place behind the scenes, creating relationships around the world that promote America’s interests and prevent the need for the use of force. But he noted that Donald Trump’s strategy seems to be praising Vladimir Putin in public, indulging Putin’s claims that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election over the assessment of his own American intelligence agencies.
Putin sees that kind of near-groveling as a sign of weakness, Burns added.
“I don’t think it works very well with Putin,” he said. “A close, personal relationship between leaders matters enormously. But I think diplomacy and promoting American interests is not just about getting along with people; it’s about the hard-nosed work of moving our interests ahead.
“I think Putin tends to see efforts to curry favor with him, to indulge him, as signs of weakness and manipulability.”
Donald Trump has been widely criticized for his relationship with Vladimir Putin, especially after a recent report from The New York Times found that Trump had been taking extraordinary measures to keep the contents of his closed-door talks with Putin private. The report noted that Trump had notes from the meetings destroyed and even prevented his own cabinet members from receiving briefings about what was discussed, which security experts say is unusual and something no recent president had done with any diplomatic talks.
Many critics also say that Donald Trump has been far too light on Putin and Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, which American intelligence agencies said had a goal of helping to elect Trump. He has resisted enacting sanctions passed with bipartisan support, has backed up Putin in public statements, and frequently cast doubt on the assessment that it was Russia interfering in the election, saying it could have been China or other countries.