The Deal Trump Shouldn’t Make With Russia

T. Belman. But no alternate is suggested. Russia is not the Boogyman, though Americans think so. I am fully open to such a deal. Alex Markofsky wrote that Crimean is Russian and should remain Russian. Few would dispute this. As for the eastern provinces of Ukraine, he argues that Russia doesn’t want to annex them They are a liability. A deal would be very much in Israel’s favour.

Trading Ukraine for Syria would legitimize Moscow’s conquest and endanger Europe’s security.

By Mark Helprin, WSJ

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. with his Turkish and Russian counterparts, Gens. Hulusi Akar and Valery Gerasimov, March 7.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. with his Turkish and Russian counterparts, Gens. Hulusi Akar and Valery Gerasimov, March 7. Photo: RUSSIAN MINISTRY PRESS OFFICE/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

The new administration may be sorely tempted to close a showy diplomatic “deal,” the origins of which are President Obama’s extraordinary policy failures in the Middle East. With American financing rather than resistance, Iran has thrown a military bridge from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, a feat the U.S. could not equal at the height of its powers when it unsuccessfully tried to construct the Central Treaty Organization in the 1950s. Worse still, Mr. Obama’s “executive agreement” with Tehran gives it a U.S.-guaranteed path to nuclear weapons.

As Mr. Obama denuded the Mediterranean of armed American naval vessels and backed off supposed red lines, Russia re-established itself in the Middle East after having been almost completely excluded during the previous nine presidential terms. The result of such astounding American incompetence has been genocidal wars and the metaphorical transformation of the regional security situation from gunpowder into nitroglycerin.

It threatens to become even worse, in that with the presence of rival great powers, the processes at work may leap the bounds of their containment in the Middle East and unravel the long peace of Europe. Because of the March 7 meeting of the American, Russian, and Turkish military chiefs, and simultaneous Russian signals that it is ready, for a price, to abandon its support of Iran, Iran—as documented by the Middle East Media Research Institute—is in a state of “shock.” It knows that it cannot stand against the might and favorable geographic position of a combination of these forces and the proximate Sunni states. President Hassan Rouhani recently rushed to Moscow, but his meetings there were conspicuously opaque about the future of Iran in Syria.

Excluding Iranian troops and arms from Syria and Lebanon would be a major achievement, which could have been a feature of the Obama foreign policy before Russia reinforced in Syria. American, Saudi, Turkish, and Jordanian air power might easily have laid an air blockade across the 1,000 miles from Tehran to Damascus, and kept the few roads in wide-open country clear of overland supply. Needless to say, Iran would have found the sea route unavailing.

Even now, with a Russian air component in western Syria, it is unlikely that Moscow would risk breaking a blockade any more than it attempted to breach the 1962 quarantine of Cuba, for the reason that it could not then and cannot now project power into the area of contention with even a small fraction of the force that would resist it. As the Soviets did in the Cuban crisis, Russia might resort to nuclear bluffing, but it would be only that. Its interests in the Levant, which, given its lack of power projection and capable allies, it cannot exploit, would not be worth an empty threat that it would then have to withdraw.

Nonetheless, nuclear brinkmanship is hardly to be considered lightly. So, given that the U.S. failed to capitalize on its open opportunities before Russia came on the scene, should it not now take the opportunity to begin putting Iran back into its cage by striking a deal with Russia?

No, because this is not the only way to do so, and the price, if indeed Russia would fully cooperate, would be to bless the developing Russian alliance with a mischievous and eminently separable-from-NATO Turkey, and, much more consequently, the lifting of sanctions related to Crimea and Ukraine.

That Russia is shy of the madness of Iran and foresees such a trade as (from a column in Kommersant) opening a “window of opportunity for Donald Trump’s diplomacy,” has been suggested by various Kremlin ventriloquist dummies. According to a U.S. intelligence report, the ever injudicious Vladimir Zhirinovsky proclaimed on the eve of the U.S. election that if Mr. Trump won, “Russia would ‘drink Champagne’ in anticipation of being able to advance its positions in Syria and Ukraine.”

In a Syria-Ukraine trade-off, the Trump administration would not merely lend weight to the accusation that because of the president’s mysterious admiration for Vladimir Putin it is unduly partial to Russia. It would also legitimize the breaking of treaties, the seizing of territories, and the instigation of war not in a subsidiary Third World theater of maneuver but in Europe itself.

The United States should not go down this road. Europe in its current disarray is hardly bereft of Putin-friendly business interests, political factions, and politichiens from dinosaur communists to Marine Le Pen. Even the gentlest push may flip it on sanctions. This would be a cardinal error on the scale of Chamberlain’s betrayal of the Czechs, Roosevelt’s too-easy abandonment of Eastern Europe, Acheson’s mistake in excluding Korea from the American defense perimeter, U Thant’s 1967 withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force from the Sinai, and April Glaspie’s confusing signals to Saddam Hussein. Each of these perhaps momentarily attractive concessions ended in war.

The trade would confirm to Mr. Putin that leveraging prior American fecklessness with only a low-cost and unsustainable intervention in the Middle East was able to change the international order in Europe to his advantage. Logically, he would look next to the Baltic states. Crimea and eastern Ukraine are different from the former Soviet republics on the Baltic, given the NATO tripwire force in the latter. But it is only a token presence, and a Russian blitzkrieg from Kaliningrad and the east could conquer them in a day. Without the ability to bring strong conventional forces to bear quickly, would NATO go nuclear to reclaim them? It would not.

Harvesting Russian “concessions” in the Middle East in return for legitimizing its aggressions in Europe would teach Moscow that, given time, the West will accept its conquests. If history is a guide, Russia would then advance to the kind of tragic miscalculation that spurred Hitler to invade Poland. Just as tragic is the pattern that when seduced to concede, the West gives a false impression of its ultimate resolve, and eventually stumbles into war.

Mr. President, if such a trade is offered, do not take it. It would be a very bad deal.

Mr. Helprin, a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, is the author of “Winter’s Tale,” “A Soldier of the Great War” and the forthcoming novel “Paris in the Present Tense.”

March 30, 2017 | 6 Comments »

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  1. I agree with all of you, needless to say. I was saying all of this last year and nobody was agreeing with me. But, now I just want to see anti-semites beaten up. So sue me.

  2. Crimea is Russian historically, legally, morally.
    The part of “Ukraine” which was once Novorosyia should have a third option, not part of Russia, or Ukraine, but an independent republic of Novorosyia.
    If this is what the people in those territories wish, we should support them.
    There indeed is such thing as the Ukrainian nation.
    But the current borders of Ukraine do not correspond to any historical entity.

  3. Ted, I agree with you, and disagree with Mark Helprin. Some things Mark should consider:

    1. We are $20,000,000,000,000.00 in debt; and if we carry out even a modest rebuilding of our depleted armed forces, we will go even deeper into debt. With zero % interest rates, we could handle this; but the days of zero interest have ended. We cannot afford to get militarily involved at the drop of a hat, anywhere we please. We have to compromise with countries such as Russia.

    2. The vast majority of Crimeans are Russian, have always been Russian, and favor annexation by Russia. Logically and morally, it is an uphill battle, trying to justify demanding that Russia leave — despite the protestations of John McCain.

    3. Ukraine might be Russia’s to gain, but it is not ours to lose. They are not a NATO member. From a practical standpoint, Russia could walk over them any time it wished; but we would need a national mobilization of some six months to be able to do anything about it. Until last year, Ukraine’s trade and visa policies were those of a partner of Russia, not of Europe. They are of questionable value to us, except to deny access to them by Russia; and Putin does not seem prepared to make this giveaway.

    If democratic elections were held today in the various parts of Ukraine, I dare say much of the Donbass, and even possibly Odessa, would elect to join Russia. Both countries are in economic trouble (Ukraine more than Russia), and the leaders of both are corrupt.

    4. President Trump does not seem to be seeking an alliance with Russia; but rather detente. We have both already made compromises in Syria: They have allowed us to invade and occupy Syria (which, technically, is what we have done, under international law); and we have dropped our demand that President Assad step down. None of this required any concessions in the Ukraine or elsewhere.

    5. I don’t think Russia wants to trigger World WAr III, by attacking NATO allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Even if they could quickly overrun those countries, it would amount to suicide on their part. Estonia has not been a schlock ally like Germany; they have paid their fair share, and can expect our support. Yes, I do believe we would go to war with Russia over Estonia; and we would win.