Robert B. Reich: Why is Trump doing Putin’s bidding?
Say you’re Vladimir Putin, and you did a deal with Donald Trump last year.
I’m not suggesting there was any such deal, mind you. But if you are Putin and you did do a deal, what might Trump have agreed to do for you?
Here’s a hypothetical list:
1. Repudiate NATO.
NATO is the biggest thorn in your side — the alliance that both humiliates you and stymies your ambitions in the Baltics and elsewhere. Trump almost delivered on this during his recent European trip by pointedly not reaffirming Article 5 of the NATO pact, which states that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.
2. Antagonize Europe, especially Angela Merkel.
Merkel is the strongest leader in the West other than Trump, and you’d love to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Germany. Your larger goal is for Europe to no longer depend on the United States, so you can increase your influence in Europe. Trump has almost delivered one on this, too. Merkel is already saying Europe can no longer depend on America.
3. Take the U.S. out of the Paris accord on the environment.
This will anger America’s other allies around the world and produce a wave of anti-Americanism — all to your advantage. Nothing would satisfy you more than isolating the United States. Trump has just delivered on this.
4. Then unravel the accord.
You’d love for the whole Paris accord to unravel because you want the world to remain dependent on fossil fuels. Russia is the world’s second-largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia, and the biggest exporter of natural gas. The oil and gas industry contributes about half the revenues to your domestic budget. Trump has promised to help.
5. Embark on a new era of protectionism
Or at least spew anti-trade rhetoric. This will threaten the West’s economic interdependence and loosen America’s economic grip on the rest of the world. Trump is on the way to delivering on this one.
6. End the economic sanctions on Russia imposed by the U.S. in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The sanctions are costly. Oil production on land is falling, so you want to tap the vast petroleum and gas reserves offshore in the Arctic. In 2011, you and ExxonMobil’s Rex Tillerson signed a $500 billion deal to do this. But the sanctions stopped it cold. Tillerson, now secretary of state, and ExxonMobil lobbied against the sanctions. Trump has promised to lift them so that you can get on with oil and gas extraction in the Russian Arctic.
Trump hasn’t delivered on this yet, but you understand why. He has to cope with all the suspicions in America about a possible deal with you. (Why can’t he stop all those leaks? Why doesn’t he have better control over U.S. intelligence?) Once it dies down, he’ll end the sanctions.
In the meantime, he’ll hand back to you the two diplomatic compounds in America that were taken by the U.S. government in late December as punishment for your interference in the 2016 presidential election.
So that would be Trump’s side of the deal, if there was a deal.
And what would you have agreed to do for Trump in return, Vlad?
First, you’d help him win the presidency. Your operatives would hack into Democratic Party servers and leak the results. And your internet trolls would create bots capable of sending millions of fake news stories about Hillary to targeted voters.
Second, after he was elected, you’d shut up about your help so Trump wouldn’t be impeached and convicted of treason.
In other words, if you did a deal (and, again, I’m not suggesting you did), you both still have every incentive to keep the deal going. Trump has delivered on part, but you need him to deliver the rest.
And you’ve delivered in part, but Trump needs you to deliver on the rest or his presidency will be destroyed.
This way, each of you maintains pressure on the other. It’s the art of the deal.