Trump's restraint on Russia signals statesmanship
Fox News played up news of a Russian warship 70 miles off our coast. The real story was in President Trump's response to it.
The whole story can be filed under Buried Lede: the U.S. response to an apparently provocative naval maneuver from Russia, sending a naval ship off our Maryland coast, will be...nothing. De-escalation. Not biting. Fox News buried that actual news at the bottom of its longer piece on the advance of Russian spy ships Tuesday.
It tells us a lot. One, it shows that President Trump has a finely tuned sense of restraint at what could have otherwise have been a noisy confrontation. After all, he had just lost his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to political machinations targeted at making Russia the bogeyman, a sorry outcome of the Beltway wisdom that any conversation with a Russian official is somehow "treasonous." Trump resisted the temptation to show his bona fides to the baying Beltway crowd by throwing them some sort of bone through a tough show of strength to Russia. It's likely there was pressure. What's more, Trump by character doesn't shy from smacking back quickly at provocations, as his Twitter account can show. But he held back, showing strength. He didn't appease them.
And far from appeasement of Russia, Trump's restraint showed a fine Florentine wisdom of reciprocation. By refusing to retaliate, Trump sent the message to Russia that President Vladimir Putin's earlier refusal in not counter-expelling 30-some U.S. diplomats last December was being returned in kind. That event, you recall, was the result of a fit of post-election pique by President Obama, who blamed Trump's electoral victory on "Russian hackers," kicking out 30-some Russian diplomats as spies. Putin will notice the symmetry of the Trump response and may drop future provocations, as there is no need. The plan for better relations with Russia remains paramount, and both leaders have shown strength in their refusal to be provoked. This is how relationships are built.
It's telling that the buried lede was first noticed by the Russian press. An alert correspondent of TASS found the buried item and rewrote it for his untranslated Russian newswire with that as the lede, sending that signal to the Kremlin. A shame that Fox itself didn't notice the significance of its own story.