I have little doubt now that Vladimir Putin has now done an effective job on President Trump. A little needling here, a substantial incursion and land take there, a good poke at a weak administration, and then sit back at the ice hockey and let history slide.
Further, with President Trump explicitly alienating his security and diplomatic agencies, those agencies he needs the most to rescue international stability will need a policy plan and some targets to work to.
So, my little advice today is to the U.S. security collective. How to work with their government and achieve something positive with Donald Trump, by:
- Formally announcing that the United States and Russia form an accord to limit cyber attacks against civilian targets in peacetime. And while they are at it, further confirm that “Uncontaminated One Person One Vote” democracy should be affirmed. That would mean the whole U.S. security establishment especially the CIA would have to de-claw itself, and the subtext is that they apologise to each other.
- President Trump should immediately reaffirm that the defence of all NATO states is Washington’s highest European priority. Trump can see the good in this already, coming out smiling and waving with Turkey’s President Erdogan this week (after all, if he only dealt with clean tyrants, he might run out of leaders to talk to).
- Sustaining U.S. troop deployments in Poland, while emphasising the deployments’ legitimacy under past international agreements with Moscow. Merkel and Tusk should be strongly encouraged to remind everyone that these deployments – and those in the Baltics – are lower than what Russia itself agreed as being legitimate in 1999. If Trump wanted to push the boat out with his Joint Chiefs, he could promise to shift the U.S. ballistic defence system out of Poland and onto U.S. soil alone if Iran keeps to its nuclear non-proliferation agreement. Make it nothing to do with Russia.
- Openly support China’s Belt and Road initiative, and encourage European leaders to do the same. European leaders have been inconsistent and that’s dumb. Great for U.S. firms to bid on, good for the global trade economy without forcing too-hard multilateral trade agreements, and builds a further ally in common interest (who happens to surround Russia).
- Pouring rebuilding support into Iraq and into the Kurds. Mosul will fall shortly and ISIS will scatter into suburban cells. Firstly to shore massively damaged societies up against Syria and Isis and Turkey. And secondly a signal to Russia that Syria is the extent of their reach.
- Inviting Putin to co-host a post-Syrian War reconstruction conference. As if a country so devastated needed the equivalent of its own Marshall Plan. And add some funding to it.
The tougher bits that follow may need to be left to Rex, since his calm and commercial killer would enable the State Department to treat the Russian state with respect even if tensions rise. Trump’s capacity for emotional control is uneven, and Putin’s proxies continue to exploit that. Putin is to Trump what Necratizing Fasciitis is to a man with one leg: not very helpful to getting about.
Some may think that the above somewhat lowers the bar on the diplomatic capacity of the U.S. President. Some may well think that. But the threat of war is growing. That can only be resolved by hard diplomatic work.
There is still plenty of scope for President Trump to turn the Putin relationship around, if his intelligence, diplomatic, and military entities grow up, plan together, and start making their Client Number One look good.