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How Trump Helps Putin

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© Stephen Crowley/The New York Times President Trump meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at the G-20 meeting in…

By SUSAN E. RICE, The New York Times

Ms. Rice was the national security adviser during President Barack Obama’s second term.

Traditionally, the outgoing president writes a personal letter to his successor, offering wisdom and best wishes. President Obama duly left such a letter for President Trump, as President Bush did eight years earlier.

Imagine if Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, had also written a letter to Mr. Trump, somehow inserting it in the top drawer of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. What advice would Mr. Putin have offered his American counterpart, the man whom Mr. Putin tried to help elect, according to the American intelligence community?

Mr. Putin’s objectives are plain: to restore Russia to global greatness at the expense of the United States and to divide Europe by weakening NATO and the European Union. In Mr. Putin’s zero-sum calculus, when the United States and Europe founder, Russia benefits. The Russian leader knows that America’s global power rests not only on our military and economic might but also on our unrivaled network of alliances from Europe to Asia. For some seven decades, our alliances have ensured that America’s strength and influence are magnified. Accordingly, Mr. Putin seeks to drive wedges between the United States and its closest partners, to strain and ultimately rupture its alliances.

If Mr. Putin were calling the shots, he would ensure that America’s reliability is doubted, its commitments broken, its values debased and its image tarnished. He would advise the new president to take a series of steps to advance those aims:

First, withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade agreement the United States negotiated to bolster its economic and strategic position in the Pacific, at the expense of China (and Russia). Then, pull out of the Paris climate agreement, becoming the only country in the world absent from this landmark accord.

Second, criticize NATO and cast doubt on America’s willingness to defend its allies on the grounds that they haven’t paid their bills (when that’s not how NATO works). Simultaneously, corrode the European Union by: lauding Brexit; sending Stephen Bannon to stoke European anti-establishment movements; and undermining Europe’s most powerful country, Germany, most recently through installing a right-wing flamethrower as ambassador.

Third, for the coup de grâce: start a trade war with our closest allies. Impose steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the European Union with the threat of auto tariffs to follow so that, according to reputable economists, both the United States and its allies’ economies will suffer. Justify the penalties on the preposterous grounds that allies threaten United States national security. Do so after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, following months of stringing our European partners along with the hope that we might agree to augment aspects of the pact. Then threaten sanctions on European companies for abiding by the deal, which has worked as intended.

Incredulous that America would treat Europe with such disdain, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, dismissed the United States, saying, “with friends like that who needs enemies.” The usually unflappable Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, finally gave up trying to cajole President Trump and declared the tariffs “insulting and unacceptable” and “an affront” to the thousands of Canadians “who have fought and died alongside American comrades-in-arms.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has worked harder and longer than any foreign leader to make nice to President Trump, still faces United States trade penalties despite Japan’s critical role in North Korea, playing several rounds of golf with Mr. Trump and making personal pleas to exempt Japanese producers from the sanctions.

Finally, for completeness, Mr. Putin might encourage the president to ensure that countries large and small revile America’s leadership, suggesting he: disparage African nations and Haiti with a vulgarity; call Latin American migrants rapists and criminals; halt most refugee admissions; ban Muslims from several countries from entering the United States; restrict legal immigration; and separate children from their parents at the border.

With the sum of these actions, President Trump has deeply angered our closest allies and offended almost every member of the international community, except Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates — and Russia. Meanwhile, Russia is ascendant in the Middle East. The European Union is reeling — with Italy, Slovenia, Austria and Hungary now led by populist nationalists who embrace Mr. Putin and wish to terminate sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. NATO’s unity is similarly strained, provoking concern about its collective will to counter any new Russian aggression.

All good for Mr. Putin and no one else.

Four years ago, after the Ukraine invasion, the United States led the charge to throw Russia out of the G-8. Now, as leaders of the G-7 nations gather in Quebec, President Trump says he thinks Russia should be readmitted. The climate is so bitter that the French finance minister termed the meeting the “G-6 plus one.” In reality, it’s the “G-7 minus one”, since President Trump has so alienated the United States from its core partners that we have effectively absented ourselves.

America stands alone, weakened and distrusted. Without United States leadership, the G-7 can accomplish little. And, when next we need our allies to rally to fight terrorists, place sanctions against North Korea, combat a pandemic or check China and Russia, will they join with us after we have so disrespected them?

There is no evidence that Mr. Putin is dictating American policy. But it’s hard to imagine how he could do much better, even if he were.

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