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Is Trump-Putin Summit a Danger to the US or Crucial Diplomacy Between Nuclear Powers?

Glenn Greenwald and Joe Cirincione debate the benefits of the Trump-Putin summit.

As President Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, we host a debate on US-Russia relations. In Washington, DC, we speak with Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we speak with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. Greenwald calls the Trump-Putin meeting “excellent” and adds that President Obama also sought diplomacy with Russia. Cirincione calls the summit “a danger to America and to the West.”


AMY GOODMAN: President Trump holding a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, today, beginning with a one-on-one, 90-minute meeting, only their translators attending the meeting with them. Putin kept Trump waiting for the summit by landing in Finland about an hour late. This morning, Trump and Putin made a statement at a photo op before their private meeting in which Trump said he and Putin would discuss China, trade and nuclear weapons.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think we have great opportunities together as two countries, that, frankly, we have not been getting along very well for the last number of years. I’ve been here not too long, but it’s getting close to two years. But I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship. I hope so. I’ve been saying — and I’m sure you’ve heard — over the years, and as I campaigned, that getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. … And I really think the world wants to see us get along. We are the two great nuclear powers. We have 90 percent of the nuclear. And that’s not a good thing, it’s a bad thing. And I think we hopefully can do something about that, because it’s not a positive force, it’s a negative force. So we’ll be talking about that, among other things.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump faces pressure to confront Putin over Kremlin meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, after a grand jury indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for their alleged role in hacking email accounts controlled by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Before today’s meeting, Trump tweeted he blamed poor relations between the US and Russia on Justice Department’s probe, writing, “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump also tweeted, “President Obama thought [that] Crooked Hillary was going to win the election, so when he was informed by the FBIabout Russian Meddling, he said it couldn’t happen, was no big deal, & did NOTHING about it.” In an interview at Trump’s golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, that aired Sunday, he told CBS [Evening News] anchor Jeff Glor what he expects from his meeting with Putin.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I go in with very low expectations. I think that getting along with Russia is a good thing, but it’s possible we won’t. I think we’re greatly hampered by this whole witch hunt that’s going on in the United States, the Russian witch hunt.

JEFF GLOR: The Russians who were indicted, would you ask Putin to — to send them here?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I might. I hadn’t thought of that, but I certainly — I’ll be asking about it. But, again, this was during the Obama administration. They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we are hosting a debate.

In Washington, DC, we’re joined right now by Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late and Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, his recent Defense One article headlined “A No-Cost, No-Brainer of a Nuclear Deal.”

Joining us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept, recently returned from a trip from Russia, where he met with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He tweeted a photo of them together with a caption reading “So excited to reunite today with one of this generation’s greatest whistleblowers and my colleague in defense of press freedoms, Edward Snowden.”

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Joe Cirincione, you’re deeply concerned about nuclear weapons, about the nuclear arms race. Do you think this meeting, this summit that Trump has called in Helsinki, is a good thing?

JOE CIRINCIONE: No, I do not. This is a danger to America and to the West. This is without precedent in modern American history. We have never had an American leader that was this weak, this obsequious towards a murdering tyrant like Vladimir Putin. Both of these gentlemen have terrible records on freedom of the press, on encouraging a participation in the rule of their countries.

There is one good thing, and only one good thing, that I could see that could come out of this meeting, and that is the extension of the New START agreement, the agreement that limits US and Russian strategic nuclear forces. We’ve been limiting these forces since Richard Nixon agreed to do so in 1972. This deal expires in 2021. If those limits come off, we will not only be in an arms race, which we now are, but we will be in an arms race without guide rails, without limits, without any kind of structured talks to limit the arms race. That is the only good thing that could come out of this summit.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, good or bad, the summit? And what do you want to see come out of this?

GLENN GREENWALD: I think it’s excellent. And I would just cite two historical examples. In 2007, during the Democratic presidential debate, Barack Obama was asked whether he would meet with the leaders of North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and Iran without preconditions. He said he would. Hillary Clinton said she wouldn’t, because it would be used as a propaganda tool for repressive dictators. And liberals celebrated Obama. It was one of his greatest moments and one of the things that I think helped him to win the Democratic nomination, based on the theory that it’s always better to meet with leaders, even if they’re repressive, than to isolate them or to ignore them. In 1987, when President Reagan decided that he wanted to meet with Soviet leaders, the far right took out ads against him that sounded very much just like what we just heard from Joe, accusing him of being a useful idiot to Soviet and Kremlin propaganda, of legitimizing Russian aggression and domestic repression at home.

It is true that Putin is an authoritarian and is domestically repressive. That’s true of many of the closest allies of the United States, as well, who are even far more repressive, including ones that fund most of the think tanks in DC, such as the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia. And I think the most important issue is the one that we just heard, which is that 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons are in the hands of two countries — the United States and Russia — and having them speak and get along is much better than having them isolate one another and increase the risk of not just intentional conflict, but misperception and miscommunication, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Cirincione, your response? Your banner says “Ploughshares Fund: Building a Future Free of Nuclear Threats.” Why not support a conversation between the people who are in control of, well, essentially, the nuclear trigger in the world?

JOE CIRINCIONE: Right. Let’s be clear. Glenn, there’s nothing wrong with meeting. I agree with you. Leaders should meet, and we should be negotiating with our foes, with those people we disagree with. We’re better off when we do that. And the kind of attacks you saw on Barack Obama were absolutely uncalled for, and you’re right to condemn those.

What I’m worried about is this president meeting with this leader of Russia and what they’re going to do. That’s what’s so wrong about this summit coming now, when you have Donald Trump, who just attacked the NATO alliance, who calls our European allies foes, who turns a blind eye to what his director of national intelligence called the warning lights that are blinking red. About what? About Russian interference in our elections. So you just had a leader of Russia, Putin, a skilled tactician, a skilled strategist, interfere in a US election. To what? To help elect Donald Trump. And you now have Donald Trump coming to meet with him, which is essentially a staff meeting for Vladimir Putin. To do what? To excuse all this behavior, to deride America for the bad relations between Russia and the United States. He’s airbrushing away everything that Putin has done over the last five years, from shooting down a Malaysian airliner, MH17, to murdering people in the U.K., to cyberinterference in the US democracy, to his murderous assault in Syria. He’s just excusing all that away. For what? For what gain?

The only thing we can get out of this is the extension of New START, but we don’t need a summit to do that. Vladimir Putin offered to do that in his very first phone call, in February 2017, with Donald Trump. Donald Trump didn’t know what he was talking about. He had to put the phone on hold, according to staff members who were there, ask his staff what this treaty was, and then he got back on the line and blasted the treaty as being one-sided, “another Obama giveaway,” he said. Yes, extend New START. But the price of the other — what’s going on here, that what we might get out of this, this excusing of Vladimir Putin’s behavior, what many people think is the greatest threat to American democracy in decades? No, it’s not worth the cost.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, your response?

GLENN GREENWALD: So, I mean, I think this kind of rhetoric is so unbelievably unhinged, the idea that the phishing links sent to John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee are the greatest threat to American democracy in decades. People are now talking about it as though it’s on par with 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, that the lights are blinking red, in terms of the threat level. This is lunacy, this kind of talk. I spent years reading through the most top-secret documents of the NSA, and I can tell you that not only do they send phishing links to Russian agencies of every type continuously on a daily basis, but do far more aggressive interference in the cybersecurity of every single country than Russia is accused of having done during the 2016 election. To characterize this as some kind of grave existential threat to American democracy is exactly the kind of rhetoric that we heard throughout the Bush-Cheney administration about what al-Qaeda was like.

And I would just remind everybody, as well, that if you look at Russia’s — at the United States’s Russia policy during the administration of Barack Obama — look at what he did and said. In 2012, he mocked the idea, spread by Mitt Romney, that Russia was our greatest existential foe. Yes, that was before Crimea, but it was after Georgia. It was after they were accused of murdering dissidents and imprisoning journalists. He mocked that idea and said we have all kinds of reasons to try and get along with Russia. Even after 2016, after Crimea, after he was told that the Russians interfered in the US election, he didn’t talk about it as 9/11 or treat it like 9/11. He expelled a few Russian diplomats and urged everybody to keep it in perspective, and said that Russia is the seventh- or eighth-largest economy in the world, behind even Italy, and not a grave threat to the United States.

This kind of talk, this kind of climate, it’s amazing. Joe’s work is something I vehemently support, which is eliminating the threat of nuclear weapons. Yes, it’d be great if we had better leaders, but the leaders of the countries that have 90 percent of the nuclear stockpile happen to be Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. That’s not going to change. So the question is not “Do we wish we had better leaders?” The question is “Do we want these two countries trying to talk and resolve their differences peacefully, or do we want them isolating one another and feeling besieged and belligerent and attacked, which heightens all the tensions that Joe has devoted his career to combating?” And I think it’s much better to have the kind of dialogue that Barack Obama advocated with Russia than the kind of belligerence that Democrats now demand of our government.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Cirincione, do you find it unusual that you are — you know, you share the same views right now, for example, as Dan Coats? When the — as the Russian indictments were coming down, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats raised the alarm on growing cyberattack threats, saying the situation is at a critical point, coming out forcefully against Russia. This is President Trump’s national intelligence director. He said, “The warning signs are there. The system is blinking. It is why I believe we are at a critical point.” Joe?

JOE CIRINCIONE: Yeah. Well, let me say where I agree with Glenn. I agreement that many Democrats are trying to get to the right of Donald Trump on lots of issues — for example, on North Korea. And you see them trying to out-macho Donald Trump, and that is dangerous. And, of course, I support dialogue. I think the only solution to a lot of these issues, whether it’s nuclear arms control or Syria or the Korean Peninsula, is diplomacy. There are no military solutions to these issues.

What worries me here is not just what Russia is doing, not just its cyberattacks, not just its efforts to splinter the NATO alliance. What worries me is that Trump is cooperating with these, that we’re not fighting back, that in the almost two years, as the president points out, that he’s been in office, he has not once taken a step to counter the cyberattacks that Russia perpetuates on a — to quote the director of national intelligence — a daily basis on the United States. He’s not doing anything. He’s opening the doors. And that’s what worries me about this meeting. It’s not quite — and I — it’s not Neville Chamberlain in Munich appeasing Hitler, but it’s on that spectrum. You have the leader of the country going in an obsequious posture towards Putin, excusing everything he’s doing, basically brushing it away, saying, “It’s OK. I don’t care about your attacks. Your attacks on electoral process, it’s OK with me. I agree with you that European Union is a threat,” these kinds of things. That’s what’s so worrying.

Glenn is right: Russia alone is a small country, economy about the size of Italy, less organized than Italy’s economy. It’s strong on a periphery. It’s not a global threat. But this stuff? This cyberwarfare? This is a threat to us, and it’s only going to get worse, unless we fight back, unless we take the kinds of steps we need to protect our country. President Trump is not only not doing that, he’s actively cooperating with Putin to promote these kinds of attacks on democracies all over the world.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Glenn, right now President Trump has, you know, repeated what President Putin says, that he denies that he was doing any cyberattacks on the United States, but at the same time Trump blames the Democratic Party, says they should have protected — you know, that the DNC and the DCCC should have protected their cyberspace more.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, first of all, you know, in terms of what Joe just said, it’s really not true that the US is doing nothing about the threat posed to cyberwarfare. We spend $70 billion every year on the intelligence budget, a large portion of which is spent by the NSA on how to fortify computer systems and to prevent those kinds of attacks. You know, it is true that if you see what the Russians allegedly did in 2016 as some kind of 9/11-style attack on the US, that does get pinned on President Obama. He was the president at the time, which means he allowed it to happen on his watch, that kind of an attack. And he also had six months in office where he did very little in response, except expel a few diplomats and impose some sanctions, because he didn’t treat it like some grave attack on American democracy, but it’s the kind of thing that these two countries have been doing to one another for decades. And I agree with him completely.

And let me just say, I do not think that — this idea that if you meet with a leader, it means that you’re legitimizing all of their abuses. I mean, again, look at Washington. Joe just worked for and just left ThinkProgress, which is affiliated with the Center for American Progress, that takes money from one of the most repressive regimes on the planet, the United Arab Emirates. And when he left, he cited that kind of money drowning Washington as a reason. We deal with regimes all the time that are incredibly repressive. The United States government is often repressive. We destroyed Iraq. We set up a worldwide torture regime. We still have a prison in Guantánamo where people have been imprisoned for 17 years on an island with no trial. We have to deal with other countries who violate human rights. Our own governments deal with human rights — abuse human rights. And I think to look at dialogue with other countries as legitimizing human rights is the kind of rhetoric that the right used for seven decades to delegitimize attempts to reach peaceful negotiations with the Soviet Union. And that is what I worry about.

I actually think that Joe and I are largely in agreement on most of these questions, with the exception of how to look at what happened in 2016. And I think it’s time that we move past 2016, fortify our computer systems, try and of course have cyberdefenses, like we’re already doing, but instead of looking at the world through the 2016 election, look at it through The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock, that is now at two minutes before midnight, the worst rating since 1953 for the threat to humanity, largely because of the threat of nuclear weapons, along with climate change, that is in the hands of these two countries. And let’s hope for more and more and more dialogue between Russia and the United States, and move away from the rhetoric that says it’s treasonous or dangerous for us to meet and talk and have dialogue.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Joe, that point, that you are not condoning your opponent when you have a meeting?

JOE CIRINCIONE: No, not necessarily. But Donald Trump is, with this meeting. He is praising Vladimir Putin. I actually think the protesters in Finland have this just about right. Both of these men are dangerous. Both of these men oppress basic human rights, basic freedoms. Both of them think the press are the enemy of the people. Putin goes further: He kills journalists. He has them assassinated on the streets of Moscow. Donald Trump does not go that far yet.

But I think what Putin is doing is using the president of the United States to project his rule, to increase his power, to carry out his agenda in Syria, with Europe, etc., and that Trump is acquiescing to that, for reasons that are not yet clear. There is a very mysterious and suspicious relationship that Trump has with Putin. He has never attacked him. This is the guy that just undermined the Conservative prime minister of the United Kingdom. This is the guy that refused to sign the statement of the G7. But he has never once criticized Putin for anything. What’s going on there? I wish Glenn would use some of his investigative powers to find out what the real story is. What does Putin have on Trump? That’s what worries me. In the course of this —

GLENN GREENWALD: Amy, can I address that? Can I address that?

JOE CIRINCIONE: — can they just — yes, please.


JOE CIRINCIONE: This is my final statement. In the course of this, can we get an arms control agreement that can at least extend New START? Yes. Do I expect either one of these guys to seriously disarm, to seriously reduce their about 6,000 nuclear weapons that each side has? No, I do not. I think both of these men think of these things as instruments of great power status and are not going to shed them without tremendous global pressure to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, do you think Putin has something on Trump?

GLENN GREENWALD: No, I mean, I’ll believe that when I see evidence for it. So let me just make two points. Number one is, if you look at President Obama versus President Trump, there’s no question that President Obama was more cooperative with and collaborative with Russia and the Russian agenda than President Trump. President Trump has sent lethal arms to Ukraine — a crucial issue for Putin — which President Obama refused to do. President Trump has bombed the Assad forces in Syria, a client state of Putin, something that Obama refused to do because he didn’t want to provoke Putin. Trump has expelled more Russian diplomats and sanctioned more Russian oligarchs than [Obama] has. Trump undid the Iran deal, which Russia favored, while Obama worked with Russia in order to do the Iran deal. So this idea that Trump is some kind of a puppet of Putin, that he controls him with blackmail, is the kind of stuff that you believe if you read too many Tom Clancy novels, but isn’t borne out by the facts.

The other issue that I want to make is that, you know, again, this idea that somehow that you are endorsing the repression of other countries’ leaders if you meet with them — it is true that Trump has never criticized Putin, although he has taken all the steps I just outlined against Putin. But he’s also never criticized Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s also never criticized the incredibly repressive leaders of Saudi Arabia. He’s never criticized the fascist president of the Philippines. It is true President Trump likes fascist and authoritarian leaders, and that is a problem, but it’s not like Putin is the only leader that he doesn’t criticize.

But what he has been consistent about for a long time — and this is something that Joe himself recently said, that I agree with completely — is that a lot of these international institutions that are supposed to be off limits from criticism, like free trade organizations, the World Trade Organization, NATO, the EU, have devastated the working-class populations of multiple countries. And if we want to understand why we have a Donald Trump and why we have a resurgent “alt-right” throughout Europe and why we have Brexit, we need to start asking questions about whether or not these institutions, that have been so sacred for so long, are actually ones that are serving the interest of our country. And until we figure out how to solve the root causes that have given rise to Trumpism and to fascist extremism in Europe and in the country I live in, Brazil, which is that these institutions are destroying the economic future of tens of millions and hundreds of millions of people in order to benefit the rich, we’re just going to have more Trumps, no matter how much we kick our feet and call him names. And that, I think is the issue that is most being ignored by all of this rhetoric.

AMY GOODMAN: Listen, we have to go to break. It’s really hard to do that, but we’re going to break for 30 seconds. And when we come back — Glenn, you just got back from Russia. There are a number of Democrats — I’m not just talking Republicans, mainly Democrats — who are saying Trump should have done what Obama did, and that’s cancel this meeting with Putin once the indictments came out. And they’re citing the precedent of Obama in 2013 when Putin gave Edward Snowden political asylum. Obama canceled their meeting. You just came back from visiting Snowden. I’d like to ask you about that and also get Joe Cirincione’s view. This is Democracy Now! Our guests are Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald and Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Police State” by Pussy Riot, who protested President Putin this weekend at the World Cup. Massive protests in Helsinki, as there were throughout Europe, with President Trump coming. Also at his struggling Turnberry golf course in Scotland, the protests were there, with a paraglider saying Trump is below par, flying over Trump as he was outside at his golf course.

This is Democracy Now!, as we host a debate between Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, president of the Ploughshares Fund, and Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the co-founders of The Intercept. Now, in past years, Joe and Glenn would probably not be debating in fierce combat over an issue. It is fascinating to see the realliances that are taking place right now.

Now, Glenn, this issue of Democrats calling on Trump to have canceled the summit, which is already underway, saying Obama canceled a summit with Putin in 2013 when he gave Edward Snowden political asylum in Moscow. You just came back from visiting Ed Snowden. Can you talk about what’s happening with Ed Snowden right now? The focus of the Helsinki protests, one of the main themes, with these 300 billboards, was freedom of the press. What do you want to happen? I don’t think you would share President Trump’s views on Ed Snowden.

GLENN GREENWALD: No, nor did I share President Obama’s views on Edward Snowden. He wanted to put Edward Snowden in prison for many decades and actually took down the plane of a sovereign president of a country, Bolivia, because he thought, mistakenly, that Edward Snowden might be on that plane.

You know, and I just want to say, I mean, I really admire Joe still. I support most of his work, and I think we are in agreement on most issues, though there is an interesting realignment taking place that I think deserves a lot more attention.

But let me just say this about the press freedom, because Joe brought it up, as well. You know, a lot of times when people talk about Trump’s attacks on press freedom, they talk about his rhetoric, his mean tweets about Wolf Blitzer and Chuck Todd, and his criticisms of the media. I don’t think that those are meaningful attacks on press freedom. I think what are meaningful attacks on press freedom are investigations into the work that journalists do with sources, in the attempt to imprison sources for giving journalists information that belong in the public domain. We at The Intercept have had two of our alleged sources the subject of investigations by the Justice Department, including one of whom who is now in prison. And my colleague Jim Risen, who the Obama administration threatened with prison for many years, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times after Trump was elected, saying if Trump ends up being able to attack press freedom, it will be because — due to the infrastructure that Obama created, this obsession with investigating and prosecuting and imprisoning sources, like my source, Edward Snowden, under the espionage statutes. And, of course, the Obama Justice Department prosecuted more sources under the espionage statute — in fact, three times as many — than all previous administrations combined. That, to me, is a real threat to press freedom, not some insults on Twitter, that Donald Trump is now taking advantage of. And so, yeah, the idea of canceling a summit between two nuclear-armed powers because Putin gave asylum to somebody who was a source for Pulitzer Prize-winning exposés that people all around the world view as heroic and important, I think, was insanity also and shows that the roots of the attacks of press freedom that we now see from Donald Trump have their origins in the Obama administration, just as Jim Risen said.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Snowden refugees, as The Guardian talks about them, those that harbored, that sheltered Ed Snowden to protect him in Hong Kong before he made his way out of the country, now facing possible return to Sri Lanka? They’re appealing that decision. Very briefly. We only have a minute.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, it’s a terrible humanitarian story. I hope people pay attention to it. They deserve asylum, not because of the random connection they had to Snowden, though they did hide him and house him during the time he was hiding in Hong Kong, but because they’re refugees who face serious threats if they’re returned home. And civilized countries grant asylum to people who face persecution. Whether it’s Edward Snowden or the refugees that are at the border now in the South of the United States or these refugees in Hong Kong, they deserve protection.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Cirincione, as we wrap up — and we’re going to continue this discussion in Part 2, so folks should not go away — but your thoughts on Ed Snowden? Should he be allowed to come back to this country? Do you hail him as a whistleblower?

JOE CIRINCIONE: This is outside my area. I mean, I admire some of the things that these whistleblowers have done in disclosing the kind of surveillance that our own government is conducting on us and the kinds of techniques they’re doing in secret. I believe we do need more sunshine on these. But I also believe that WikiLeaks was clearly used by Russian military and intelligence sources, directed by Vladimir Putin, to disrupt the 2016 election and help elect a president of the United States that is probably the worst president we’ve ever had in our lives, and may lead us down a path of self-isolation from the world and weaken our national security. So, yes, I think WikiLeaks played an insidious role in that. I don’t know whether they knew who they were dealing with, but that has — we’ve got to talk about that. And we have to understand that sometimes our anger at our own government in the things that we do —

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, five seconds?

JOE CIRINCIONE: — can lead us down a very dangerous path.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there, but we’re not going to leave it out. We’re going to — go to for the rest of this discussion. I want to thank Glenn Greenwald, as well as Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund. Thanks for joining us.