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Susan Rice: Trump Must Not Capitulate to Putin

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© Du Yang/China News Service, via VCG, via Getty Images

By SUSAN E. RICE, The New York Times

If a typical American president were to meet with the Russian president, even in the context of the current deeply fraught relationship, it could be an opportunity to discuss important issues of mutual concern, to air differences and seek common ground. But, precisely because President Trump is anything but typical — including in that his campaign is under investigation for possibly coordinating with Russia to win the presidency and that he consistently lauds Vladimir V. Putin while denigrating our closest allies — his coming summit with Mr. Putin in Helsinki is a dangerous and counterproductive undertaking. The risks are many and the benefits, if any, are difficult to discern.

[post_ads]In normal circumstances, the American president would press Russia on multiple fronts. He would refresh demands that Russia: withdraw from Ukraine and renounce its illegal claim to Crimea; cease backing the murderous Assad regime in Syria and work for a diplomatic outcome that protects the rights and security of all Syrians; stop supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan; halt provocative military actions on NATO’s periphery and harassment of United States personnel in Moscow; extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on nuclear weapons and come clean on its violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty; press the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, to denuclearize completely; cease destructive cyberoperations; and halt interference in America’s electoral processes and domestic politics, or face harsh additional sanctions. There is a rich and full agenda to pursue, if only we had a president who cared to advance American interests.

Moreover, if President Trump had a national security team willing and able to curb his reckless instincts, he would eschew the pageantry of a stand-alone summit with an avowed adversary and meet in a low-key fashion on the margins of another gathering, like the United Nations General Assembly or the G-20 meeting. The president, when under profound suspicion of being beholden in some manner to the Russians, should never be allowed to meet solo with the far more experienced, savvy and prepared Mr. Putin. This is a recipe for disaster, particularly since Mr. Trump has amply demonstrated his refusal to prepare for critical meetings, stick to a script, or avoid costly own-goals in his foreign engagements. The one-on-one format enables Russia to distort publicly the meeting’s substance and Mr. Trump to cede whatever he wants to Mr. Putin, with no note-taker or adviser present. Such a dialogue is not just diplomatic malpractice; in these unique circumstances, it amounts to rank insanity.

The Helsinki summit appears set to mark a watershed in President Trump’s comprehensive retreat from United States global leadership. In undermining NATO, launching a trade war against our closest allies, lauding authoritarianism, jettisoning concern for human rights and democratic values, and serially withdrawing from global commitments, Mr. Trump has already delivered to Mr. Putin much of the benefit he might have sought by supporting Mr. Trump’s election. The balance due is the agenda for Helsinki.

President Trump has already hinted at what he may be prepared to concede. He has suggested withdrawing some United States forces from Europe. Despite his profession of allegiance to the Atlantic alliance following a contentious NATO summit this week, he may agree to suspend participation in major NATO exercises and cast further doubt on the American commitment to our allies’ defense. In Syria, President Trump seems poised to ratify Mr. Assad’s regime, abandon partners who have fought valiantly against ISIS, and prematurely withdraw United States forces, thus ceding total victory to Russia, Mr. Assad and Iran.

Yet, the even greater risk may be that President Trump finally cuts the deal that he and his advisers have been keenly pursuing since before his inauguration. At the behest of his favorite foreign partners — Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — Trump has been encouraged to trade recognition of Russian annexation of Crimea and the termination of sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine for Russia’s pledge to curtail Iranian influence in Syria and the region.
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This big play, which Trump transition officials reportedly first hatched in 2016 in meetings with the Russians and Emiratis, aims to achieve the coveted holy grail of dividing Russia from Iran. It is not clear what concrete benefits they envision this split yielding, but the price the administration seems poised to pay for this illusory objective is way too high. It would require the United States to legitimize the use of force to seize another country’s sovereign territory, while completely betraying Ukraine and our European allies. All in exchange for a vague Putin promise to limit Iranian influence.

It is a promise Mr. Putin cannot and would not keep. The last thing the Russian leader will do is throw a faithful partner under the bus, although he may pretend to do so long enough to get sanctions lifted and the annexation of Crimea validated. The winners in this scenario would be Mr. Putin, who would have outfoxed a gullible Mr. Trump; and Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, who will have further demonstrated that they can play this administration like a fiddle.

The mystery in this potential deal remains: What of tangible and lasting value, if anything, could accrue to the United States, as opposed to Trump personally? The answer is hard to fathom, which should give us all great pause.

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Susan Rice: Trump Must Not Capitulate to Putin
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