A lot can be said about the meeting between Trump and Putin. There are narratives left and right, and not even the people in the room can agree on exactly what happened. Overall, I think the meeting was a positive. My biggest fear is war with Russia or China. As long as we’re talking to each other, I think war is less likely. So as far as I’m concerned, you can call either party the “winner” of the encounter, but I think both countries, rather than their leaders, at least avoided losing.
There is one thing, though, that is raising eyebrows. Trump announced there was going to be some sort of collaboration with Russia to increase cyber security. So we are going to work with the groups that hacked us to prevent further hacking. This is weird. A lot of experts are expressing doubt. So let’s dive into this a little bit.
First off, I don’t know what legal evidence there is that Russia hacked us. Let’s assume that it’s ironclad. What can we do about it? Well, we can sanction them, but there isn’t a lot we can prevent from getting in. Russia and the US just don’t trade that much. And if we do, given that they are denying any state involvement, that just gives them cover to sanction us. Practically that won’t make much of a difference for either country, but symbolically it’s sends a very powerful message, that we are enemies and in order for one side to win, the other side has to lose. We can’t respond violently. However bad the hacking was, it isn’t worth going to war over, even if we could conclusively prove that Russian hacking is what elected Trump, which we can’t anyway. We can’t arrest the people who hacked us. Even if we did know exactly who did it, there is no mechanism for an American law enforcement agency to arrest a Russian citizen in Russia. We can’t even arrest Edward Snowden, an American citizen living in Russia. We could shame them in the international community, but that won’t really do much to change behavior. In short, there aren’t a lot of options to punish Russia, even if we could publicly and perfectly prove that they did it.
So is collaborating with Russia a good idea or a bad one? Well, I doubt it will happen at all. Trump said he’d do it, that gives it maybe a 30% chance of happening. But if it does happen, I would argue it is probably one of the less bad options. It will keep us talking. As long as we’re talking, we’re less likely to fight. Granted, this may feel like a “loss” to people who insist that Russia is our enemy. But I don’t believe that labeling countries enemies accurately reflects our world. Our enemies frequently have overlapping interests to us. We can’t completely screw them, because that would screw ourselves too. That’s why we haven’t had a nuclear war, despite having enough firepower to destroy humanity a hundred times over pointed at each other. And it probably won’t do much to prevent them from hacking us, but we already know they’re doing that right now. So, status quo.
I’ve said before that Trump is well suited to support American interest in the realm that the president has the most power, foreign policy. He is poorly suited to help taxes, infrastructure, healthcare, and border security, but the president has less power than you would expect anyway. I think this is an example where Trump is not behaving the way any other president would, but there is a chance that it may be better. Anything that makes war less likely is good for everyone.