No doubt Vladimir Putin tried to help Donald Trump become America’s President. It shocks even cynical old me to say this, but, I think Putin made Trump President.
What lost the job for Hillary Clinton was the Obama voters who stayed home. It wasn’t them who voted for Trump. But their non-votes elected him.
It’s hard not to conclude that this was part of Putin’s plan. So much the output of the Russian troll industry was concentrated on stirring racial grievance. The Blacktivist account on Facebook is just one example. It showered its targeted audience with lies, inaccuracies, exaggerations — not to steer them to any candidate, but to steer them away from Clinton, from the whole election process. Message: don’t vote. An awful lot of African-Americans didn’t.
And this was only one conspicuously successful association between Putin’s fake news content and the results of the election. There were also trolls fashioning “news” stories designed to turn Trump sympathizers, many whom hadn’t cast a ballot for anybody for years, into Trump voters. No one can prove cause and effect but the correlation of intent and outcome is impressively close.
In the accounting of the famous “favors bank,” Trump owes Putin big time.
With that as prelude, let us note that Trump’s abandonment of America’s obligations to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the multi-national agreement limiting Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons — has put the Russian President in the driver’s seat of 2 of the world’s most consequential issues, the future of the Iran agreement, and the future of Syria and potentially, the Middle East.
In the days since Trump’s renunciation, no nation has been as aggressive as Russia in assuring all parties that it means to keep the negotiated agreement Trump tore up in force. This actually should be easy, as all the parties outside the United States are quite satisfied with the way the agreement has been working. But in a world in which Washington is AWOL, and with Beijing having other things to pay attention to, the lead nation in executing this vitally important nuclear agreement is now Russia, the indispensable man, President Vladimir Putin.
So, too, in Syria. With Trump publically tugging at his leash, and agitating to leave, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies having apparently won the right to stay, the decisive power to determine Syria’s future also now belongs to Putin.
Before they launched a punishing counter-attack on Iranian military facilities in Syria, the Israelis gave the Russians fair warning, and the next day Putin had Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as his special guest on the Red Square podium for Victory Day. After some 70 Israeli missiles had landed and killed 23 fighters, most of them Iranian or Iranian-paid, Russia tut-tutted that both sides should mind their manners and try diplomacy. Probably not the kind of non-support their on-the-Syrian-ground ally was expecting.
But on matters of war and peace, and the future of Syria, everything goes through Russia and its President. And you better believe all the parties in the conflict, the Syrians, the Iranians, the Iraqis, Jordanians, Turks and Kurds know this.
Putin’s elevation to Master of the Levant was evident within hours of Trump even more directly handing him the portfolio for the Iran nuclear agreement. While dominance in Syria is pretty much its own reward, Russia’s linchpin role as conduit between Tehran and Europe promises future benefits. If Putin can stabilize Syria, a consummation hard to imagine but impossible to rule out, he might beat Trump to that Nobel Peace Prize.
But for Putin, his new Trump-created role of Guarantor of the Iran Agreement, might be even more valuable. It might help him melt Europe’s diplomatic freeze and economic sanctions against Russia. It might even start a path towards a Euro-Russian alliance, ratified by new energy pipelines and friendlier trade deals. All of which would even further freeze the US out.
Payback from a Capo to his Boss? Or just monumental ignorance and willful stupidity? I guess the distinction is important even if the results are what they are.
America has abdicated greatness, and its prime rival is rushing to fill the gap.