Critics lose their minds over first Trump-Putin meeting

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- Well, it finally happened. After months of gossip, speculation and fan fiction, U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin finally met in person for the first time at last week's G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Much was made of the first handshake, which included Trump giving Putin a little pat on the arm, followed by a pat on the back. That's all it took for some critics to lose their minds.

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate, tweeted, "I'm sure (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel and (French President Emmanuel) Macron didn't pat Putin on the back." Except that Macron actually did gently pat Putin on the back at their joint press conference at Versailles palace here on May 29.

Former newsman Dan Rather posted a Facebook rant. "The first thing President Trump did when meeting Russia's Putin in a social gathering in Germany today was shake his hand warmly, then pat him fondly on the back," Rather wrote. "It was a disturbing if not sickening display. But it is theatrics for now. The real showdown comes when the two meet and talk formally."

Ah, yes, the "real showdown" -- the body language of which was judged by people who apparently spend far too much time hanging out at their local dog park. Who will project the most dominance? The first handshake had already turned out to be a letdown, since no one's knuckles were crushed.

Next came the sit-down meeting. Body language experts pointed out that Putin sitting with his knees spread was a dominant posture that went up against Trump's positioning of his hands in front of him with his fingertips in the powerful upside-down triangle position.

Darn. Sounds like a draw there, too.

The two leaders mostly came across like a couple of normal guys having a chat and generally getting along. As Trump summarized on Twitter: "I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion. ... We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!"

It's really not Putin's place to confirm or deny accusations of interference and further fuel the fantasies of his critics. Rather, it's the responsibility of those making the accusations to prove it with irrefutable technical evidence.

Sen. Lindsey Graham called Trump's meeting with Putin "disastrous," while fellow Republican Sen. John McCain went on a tirade on CBS's "Face the Nation." "Yes, it's time to move forward (with Russia)," McCain said. "But there has to be a price to pay."

Trump also said that he and Putin discussed creating a "cybersecurity unit." Why not cooperate on cybersecurity with the Russians? Cooperation between the two countries is hardly anything new, even in the military and cybersecurity realms.

The U.S. and Russia first held joint counterterrorism drills in Colorado in 2012. The following year, the Barack Obama administration introduced a new initiative it called "U.S.-Russian cooperation on information and communications technology security. "To facilitate the regular exchange of practical technical information on cybersecurity risks to critical systems, we are arranging for the sharing of threat indicators between the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, located in the Department of Homeland Security, and its counterpart in Russia," a White House press release explained.

Part of the U.S. Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission created by Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009, the initiative involves cooperation in areas ranging from security and economics to science and health. So Trump isn't proposing anything that wasn't already endorsed by Obama.

And even if political bigwigs such as Graham and McCain have reservations about Russia, so what? Do they have reservations about Saudi Arabia, given its actions in sponsoring the Islamic State terrorism that currently plagues the planet? Apparently not, since McCain actively campaigned against Sen. Rand Paul's Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which would have blocked a $510 million U.S. weapons sale to Saudi Arabia. So arming the jihadist-sponsoring Saudis is fine, but cooperating with jihadist-fighting Russia isn't?

Trump is right: It's time to move forward. Have fun getting wound up about Trump-Putin body-language analysis and conspiracy theories if it floats your boat, but pragmatic solutions to real-world problems can't be allowed to take a back seat to conjecture, innuendo and politically driven agendas.