For 18 months, Trump has sought to develop a personal relationship with Putin unlike any relationship that any modern American president has had with him or his predecessors. The Democrats and Republican never-Trumpers doubt Trump’s bona fides and even his intellect. “Who could cut a deal with a monster?” they have bellowed.
Make no mistake; Putin is a monster. He has invaded Ukraine, bombed rebels in Syria, shored up fanatics in Iran, imprisoned political opponents on false charges and stolen billions from Russian oligarchs and the Russian people.
To this litany of criminality, Trump has wisely asked: How have any of his monstrosities harmed the United States? Answer: None of this is morally sound, and all of it is profoundly unlawful, but none of it has harmed us.
This realization has led Trump – in defiance of the advice from his own secretary of state, CIA director and national security adviser – to try to understand Putin and to negotiate with him.
There is much to negotiate about. We want the Russians to stay out of our computers and away from our elections. We want them to stop trying to reorganize the Middle East. And we want them to reduce their nuclear and long-range offensive weaponry. Of course, they want the same from us.
I don’t know whether Putin can be reasoned with. But I believe that if anyone can do it, Donald Trump can.
Stated differently, Trump knows how to negotiate, and his skills cannot be assessed midstream – because midstream is often muddy and muddled. Trump’s efforts this week were just a beginning. His public praise of Putin and giving moral equivalence to Putin and our intelligence services were not to state truths but to influence Putin’s thinking in order to bend Putin’s will – eventually – to his own.