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Credit Trump With Diplomacy

President Donald Trump is accused frequently of shooting from the lip — that is, speaking and tweeting what is on his mind without regard to the potential consequences. This week, he is being criticized harshly for not doing that.

After meeting in Helskinki, Finland, on Monday, Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin held a joint press conference. Trump stayed to the script he had planned in advance, of attempting to warm the relationship between our two countries.

Asked about Russian meddling in U.S. politics, the president was dismissive. He brought the issue up with Putin, Trump said. “He said it’s not Russia,” Trump commented, adding, “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Reaction was severe. “The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” chided House Speaker Paul Ryan. Other Republican lawmakers agreed.

Trump’s domestic enemies were less restrained. “On the world stage in front of the entire globe, the president of the United States essentially capitulated and seems intimidated by Vladimir Putin,” complained James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence under former President Barack Obama.

That sort of rhetoric seems strange, given Obama’s record of toadying to Putin and other foes, including Iran.

But Trump understands as well as anyone that the Kremlin meddled in U.S. politics and continues to use social media and other means to sow discord in our country. What if he had lashed out at Putin during the press conference? What would that have accomplished? Nothing other than to harden the attitudes of Putin — and many other Russians.

There is a reason thoughtful people prefer diplomacy to conflict. It is less costly in both blood and money.

No one but Trump, Putin and their interpreters knows what the two said behind closed doors. Could Trump have been more measured in his public comments? Of course. But using the meeting to improve relations with Russia rather than to score political points at home was the smart thing to do.

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