In theory, such objectives make sense. But Mr. Trump seems to be singularly naïve, or deliberately ignorant, about why his own senior national security advisers have identified Russia as one of America’s chief geostrategic adversaries, along with China.
Despite a weak economy, corruption and other domestic problems, Mr. Putin has crushed most political opposition at home and is aggressively asserting Russian power abroad. His agents — possibly those from the same military intelligence service that interfered in the American election — have used chemical weapons that poisoned four people in Britain, one of whom died.
He is working hard to sabotage America’s ties to NATO and the European Union and to weaken American influence in the Middle East. Russia poses such a cyberthreat to the United States that Mr. Coats last week said “the warning lights are blinking red again.”
There used to be no doubt that American leaders could be counted on to defend the interests of the United States and the democratic alliance it led. President Ronald Reagan did so in 1987 when he exhorted the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall. So did President George H.W. Bush when he told Mr. Gorbachev that Germany would remain in NATO after unification in 1990. And President Obama did so before the 2016 election when he told Mr. Putin to knock off the hacking.
Other than according Mr. Putin the honor of a meeting that begins to erase the ostracism he suffered for invading Ukraine, it is hard to see what Mr. Trump accomplished. The two men talked about forging a new treaty to replace the New Start Treaty, which constrains nuclear weapons and is to expire in 2021, and also discussed cooperating on Syria, though they seem to have passed up a chance for concrete action.
There has been no sign that the United States has derived any benefit from Mr. Trump’s obsequiousness toward Mr. Putin, though Mr. Trump himself has now at least gotten a shiny new soccer ball.
It remains a mystery why the president, unlike any of his Republican or Democratic predecessors, is unwilling to call out Russian perfidy. He has no trouble throwing his weight around when he is in the company of America’s European allies, attacking them as deadbeats and the European Union as a “foe,” or when he excoriates the news media as “enemies of the people.” Put him next to Mr. Putin and other dictators, and he turns to putty.
All that’s clear is that a president who is way out of his depth is getting America into deep trouble.