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Deal-making versus Diplomacy

July 7, 2017

Today’s meeting, July 7, 2017, between President Trump and President Vladimir Putin pits an experienced autocrat against a New York real estate tycoon.

The economy of the United States is vibrant and able to adapt to even the most extreme internal and external challenges.

The economy of Russia is crippled by close to three-quarters of a century of captivity to an ideology that compromised Russia’s orthodox Church, broke the spirits of the Russian people, squandered Russia’s resources and threatened the world with nuclear war.

Though many in the West hoped that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, that Russia would join the community of democratic nations, more knowledgeable persons, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn especially, understood that Russia was different from the West and, if it survived captivity by Communist ideologues, would always be governed by authoritarian rulers.

The President of Russia is a former totalitarian ideologue for whom governing as an autocrat is acceptable, as long as he is the autocrat.

A career as an intelligence officer in the KGB shaped how he views rivals and at tomorrow’s meeting with the President of the United States, President Putin will be guided by deep appreciation of Russia’s weaknesses, the strengths of the United States and the personality and character of President Trump.

The President of the United States, unlike his counterpart, has no experience in international politics, has not organized his government to support his foreign policy initiatives, and seems to have an exaggerated view of his own skill as a deal maker.

President Trump’s policy of not filling key administrative positions with political appointees brings him tomorrow with few experts, other than the former Generals he has hired. His Secretary of State, a former corporate executive, has been rebuffed when he sought to complement the State Department with specialists to fill the several top positions requiring Senate confirmation. Tillerson knows he is exposed to making mistakes and wants to hire experts with experience and knowledge of every aspect of international relations.

The President will have none of that.

Fortunately, the President is learning from immediate past experience. His personal diplomacy with China’s President, Xi Jinping, did not yield cooperation in constraining North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. He will seek detente with President Putin on Syria, Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states but, in the long run, President Trump will be disappointed.

In the short run, President Putin may be expected to attempt to manipulate President Trump by flattery and concessions that he has no intention of honoring. He will give the American President a “deal,” a “win” of some sort that President Trump may take back to the United States and declare that his meeting with President Putin was a huge success. That may deter the United States from exercise of its economic superiority and military strengths.

Putin does not want defensive missiles in Poland or Ukraine or in the Baltic states. Instead he wants to gather them up and include them within greater Russia.

He will not offer to desist from occupying the Crimea nor will he relent from attempting to weaken Western Europe or NATO. He will use this meeting to test whether President Trump’s negative views of NATO can be exploited to Russia’s advantage, and, if he has compromising information about the President or ties to Russian banks, he will remind President Trump that he can, at any time, trump Trump.

If we are very fortunate, President Trump–in the long run–will understand that he failed to make a deal with President Putin and, finally, and realize that he needs a team of experts to develop an American foreign policy based on the national interest.

That isn’t deal making, it is diplomacy.










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