This post originally appeared on Robert Reich's blog.
Say you’re Vladimir Putin, and you did a deal with 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 did Trump agree to do?
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 last week by pointedly not reaffirming Article 5, which states that an attack on one NATO ally is an attack on all.
2. Antagonize Europe, especially Angela Merkel. She’s 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 Russia’s influence in Europe. Trump has almost delivered one on this, too. Merkel is even 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 already delivered.
4. Then unravel the accord. Russia is the world’s second-largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia, and biggest exporter of natural gas. And the oil and gas industry contributes about half the revenues to your domestic budget. The last thing you want is for the world to shift to wind and solar, so you’d love for the whole Paris accord to unravel. Trump has promised to help.
5. Embark on a new era of protectionism. Or at least 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 after the annexation of Crimea and Russian backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine. 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 sanctions imposed in 2014 by that damned Obama administration stopped the project. Tillerson, now secretary of state, and Exxon lobbied against the sanctions. Trump has promised to lift the sanctions, so you can get on with oil and gas extraction in the Russian Arctic.
No delivery on this as yet, but you understand why. Trump has got to cope with all the suspicions in America about his deal with you. (Why can’t he stop all those leaks?) Once that business dies down, he’ll end the sanctions. In the meantime – as a symbolic down payment – he’ll hand back to you two diplomatic compounds in America that were taken by the U.S. government in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
And what did you agree to do in return, Vladimir? What was your side of the deal? Two things: You’d help him win the presidency. You’d also shut up about your help so Trump wouldn’t be impeached and convicted of treason.
In other words – if you did do a deal (and I’m not suggesting you did, Vlad) – Trump has delivered part of it but is still in the process of delivering the rest. And you’ve delivered part but are also still delivering the rest. That way, each of you can maintain pressure on the other. It’s what’s so beautiful about the art of the deal.