Helsinki

The site of the Trump/Putin summit is a compact, handsome, livable low-rise town of around 600,000. Click these photos to enlarge them.

President Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg is a little less than 400 kilometers up the road. The high speed Allegro train connects Helsinki with St. Petersburg in three and a half hours, four times a day.

Mr. Putin must feel – almost – at home. The lay of the land, the lakes and forests, is the same in Finland as where the Russian president grew up. Here is Mr. Putin with Sauli Niinistö, the Finnish president, on a boat tour when we saw them last summer. Saimaa, the name of the ship, is also the name of the lake:

There are many more photos from lovely Finland here, at EarthPhotos.com.

How Is Bullying Working Out for You?

This morning’s cancellation of the US/DPRK summit comes as no surprise. It turns out that the president who threatens “fire and fury” can’t countenance similar rhetoric from his interlocutors.

It’s not just the threat of “fire and fury” that the North Koreans have been responding to. The other day the American vice-president went on a friendly news channel to say that “There was some talk about the Libya model … as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal.”

This was a straightforward threat to the life of the North Korean leader, thuggish and anti-diplomatic. But boy, he sure is a big ol’ tough vice-president, yessiree.

The vice-president was referring to an appearance by the new national security advisor John Bolton on the same friendly Fox News channel, in which Mr. Bolton provocatively laid out a maximalist negotiating position, demanding the unilateral disarmament of North Korea along the lines of the “Libyan model.”

Libya’s ruler Moammar Gadhafi was persuaded to transfer his nuclear equipment out of the country in 2003 and 2004. This came under the George W. Bush administration. Later the Obama administration, along with European allies, mounted military action against Libya in 2011 to prevent a threatened massacre of civilians. In that conflict, rebels hunted down Colonel Gadhafi and killed him. This was the “Libya model.”

Since everyone knows this, Mr. Bolton’s remarks were artless and, as we see this morning, if the U.S. is really seeking to pursue diplomacy, counterproductive.

The United States, along with the United Kingdom and France, was instrumental in the death of Colonel Gadhafi. The United States has meanwhile just unilaterally abrogated an internationally negotiated treaty with Iran.

In this light, consider how much weight a member of the North Korean leadership would give President Trump’s remarks on Tuesday that “I will guarantee his (Mr. Kim’s) safety, yes … He will be safe, he will be happy, his country will be rich, his country will be hard-working and prosperous.”

We now enter a period of blistering tit for tat rhetoric between the US and the DPRK.

That Nobel prize will have to wait.

Clarity Clinic

President Donald Trump from today’s Oval Office remarks with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan. This quote begins on this YouTube clip at 3:53:

Our country is doing very well. Economically we’ve never had anything like it. I don’t believe we’ve ever been in a position and the president was so, saying we’ve never been in a position like we have.

No. Guess not.

An Argument for Seeing More of the World

We’ve spent a couple days now watching the president’s supporters defend him over this Haiti/Africa affair. There are three and a half main defenses.

There is the “everybody does it” defense. Senator Graham once said people come to the USA from “hellholes,” thus making the president’s words okay. There is the “In the year ____, Donald Trump did something nice for someone of color, so he can’t be so bad” defense. And then there is the “he was making an economic, not racist, argument” defense, when he said he preferred Norwegian to Haitian immigrants. Finally, there is the “it was regrettable, it was unfortunate, it is not helpful” non-condemnation, a half a defense.

Couple of things:

First, suppose Narendra Modi or Shinzo Abe or Emmanuel Macron had words about the USA similar to President Trump’s condemnation of an entire continent. I invite you imagine his or her subsequent reception in Washington. Anyone who believes this incident isn’t damaging to America’s reputation in the eyes of people all over the world needs to spend more time abroad.

And second, suppose, for whatever reason, this president eventually goes down in flames. When his defenders this weekend come knocking, looking for their own reputations back, they shouldn’t be surprised if nobody answers the door.

Where is Nambia?

A number of years ago my Finnish wife and I attended a reception for the Nobel laureate and former Finnish Prime Minister Martti Ahtisaari. In the 1970s Mr. Ahtisaari worked on the question of Namibian independence from South Africa, something the local host mentioned in his introduction. Unfortunately, and to much snickering, the host pronounced Namibia as “Nambia.” We put it down to our living in the provinces, way down in Atlanta.

Alas, the American president does not share this excuse. Speaking in non-provincial New York yesterday, Mr. Trump declared, “Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient.” Written copies of his remarks reflected the country’s actual name. This makes it clear enough to me that the president of the United States has never heard of Namibia. Sure, Namibia is a fairly obscure country, and too many people fail to differentiate between the astounding array of cultures on the African continent. In fact, some even think Africa is a country. But it’s still disappointing.

And unseemly. Beyond falling short of the ideal that our leader should be a student of the world, and beyond the obvious lack of a staff willing and able to head off stupid mistakes (if Rex Tillerson was Secretary of State, by golly he’d fix it), Mr. Trump’s engagement with Africa seems to be summed up in his further remark that, “Africa has tremendous business potential. I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.” Kevin Sieff makes the comparison:

And if you’re unfamiliar with King Leopold, well just sort of never mind.

Namibia, by the way, is just slap flat gorgeous. Have a look at some photos in the Namibia Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.