Robert Mueller’s job as special counsel is to investigate how Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether or not the Trump campaign conspired with them to do so. On the latter, he’s looking for evidence of whether some kind of agreement was struck either before or during the election.
There is another way that we, as citizens, can approach the question. That has more to do with assessing the evidence after-the-fact. Are there signs that the Trump administration is doing things that would be considered payback to Putin for helping him get elected? To answer that question, let’s take a look at what Putin wanted out of the relationship, as was reported in the Steele dossier.
[The Trump operation’s] aim was to sow discord and disunity within the U.S. itself, but more especially within the Transatlantic alliance which was viewed as inimical to Russia’s interests. Source C, a senior Russian financial official, said the Trump operation should be seen in terms of Putin’s desire to return to Nineteenth Century “Great Power” politics anchored upon country’s interests rather than the ideals-based international order established after World War II.
It would probably take an entire book to document all the ways that the Trump presidency has sown “discord and disunity within the U.S.” But we have to look no further than the upcoming G7 meeting in Canada to assess how well Trump has performed when it comes to Russia’s interests in global affairs.
First of all, note how the meeting is being referred to differently.
This year’s conclave, opening on Friday, is being referred to as the G6 plus one, or the G7 minus one. It promises to be a showdown between the US president and everyone else.
Trump has isolated the United States from our traditional allies by pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, the Paris Climate accord and the Iran nuclear agreement. Talks have completely stalled on his attempt to renegotiate NAFTA. Finally, his announcement about imposing tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union for so-called “security reasons” seemed to be the last straw.
I doubt that Putin is actually concerned about the specifics of these foreign policy shifts. But the outcome he is after was perhaps best captured by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said that “economic nationalism leads to war. This is exactly what happened in the 1930s.” He articulated the kind of 19th century “Great Power” politics Putin desires.
Here are some other ways the president’s moves are being described:
- “Trump’s America first isn’t isolationist, but it is strongly unilateralist, which stands in direct opposition to the U.S.-led multilateral institutions of the post war order.” Ian Bremmer
- “Despite the G7’s efforts to coax the Trump administration away from a go-it-alone approach, some analysts now question whether Washington remains committed to basic policies that have upheld the post-World War Two international economic system.” Reuters
- “[The Europeans, Canadians and Japanese] have little choice than to respond, but at the same time they are shooting themselves in the foot…Everyone loses from this except China and Russia.” Sebastian Mallaby
That last line about how everyone loses except China and Russia pretty well sums things up.
It is obvious that Putin is getting exactly what he wanted from a Trump presidency. Is that because he chose well in recruiting Trump way back before 2011 and knew this is what he would get for his efforts? Or is it because Trump owes him and this is the payback? The latter seems much more plausible to me. Beyond the fact that Trump was busy with “The Apprentice” and beauty pageants at the time he was being recruited, Putin doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who leaves much to chance. I suspect that he’s a control freak. As former KGB, he would make sure that he had leverage on an effort as big as destabilizing the international order.
That isn’t the kind of evidence of a conspiracy that would hold up in a court of law. But it should be persuasive to the American people.