The upcoming summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has the entire world on edge. Those that represent the current world order are scared to death these two will agree to begin working together to tear it down.
And those in opposition to the status quo are scared they won’t be allowed to.
So, the big question is, what are we most likely to get?
If I’m reading the geopolitical tea leaves properly I think Putin and Trump will prevail to the wailing and gnashing of teeth by those hell-bent on keeping them apart lo these past eighteen months.
There have been a number of pre-summit moves concerning Syria, Ukraine and NATO that lead me to that conclusion.
I think it is fair to say that Donald Trump has a very large ego. If there is one thing that characterizes his presidency so far it is his willingness to engage intractable conflicts, some decades old. In this respect his narcissistic tendencies are a major advantage.
They lead him to engage big problems, to make big changes. Not all of those moves are good ones. Some of them are downright catastrophic mistakes, like his annual bombing of Syrian airbases after obvious false flag provocations. But, they are made with purpose and a goal.
Trump is big, boisterous and impulsive. Putin, on the other hand, is the essence of calm assertiveness. He has become an unflappable statesman who today knows that his path to success on the world stage starts and ends with diplomacy, backed up by a very big stick.
Trump has made quite the show of dictating terms to the world since his May 9th announcement to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA or Iran Nuclear Deal. Tariffs have been levied on all of the US’s major trading partners and the markets are dealing with potential major disruptions to supply chains as Trump tries to isolate those he feels have been profiting unfairly at the US’s expense.
At the same time, however, he also held a historic summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un to begin the process of Korean unification and the scaling back of US military presence in the South Pacific. That meeting was opposed by everyone with a vested interest in Washington D.C. as well as most of Trump’s staff.
And he pushed for this upcoming meeting with Putin amidst the same, if not more strident, opposition. Because since his meeting with Kim Trump’s opponents have labeled him an appeaser of dictators with neoconservative dead-enders like Bill Kristol declaring their move back to their philosophical home in the interventionist wing of the Democratic Party.
In pushing for both of these summits Trump has finally outed the neocons on the right and forced them to declare their allegiance to power openly. This bodes well for a remake of the Republican party after the mid-terms. It clarifies who Trump’s real enemies are to the center of the US electorate.
I bring all of this up because it means that Trump has every reason to find as much common ground with Putin as possible in Helsinki. Another major peace initiative would solidify his base while further infuriating and marginalizing his opposition.
And the proof of this is in the things that we have found out through back channels in recent weeks.
The US stayed out of the way of the Syrian Arab Army Tiger Forces liberating the area of Dara’a between Damascus and the Golan Heights. The stunning efficiency this region, down to the important Nassib border crossing, has been recovered should shock no one once the US and Israel removed support from the rebels.
Israel has, for the most part, kept its mouth shut, though Benjamin Netanyahu is going to Moscow one more time, likely to plead with Putin to give him something more than he deserves.
Through the German Finance Minister we’ve been told there will be no sanctions on European companies helping to build the Nordstream 2 pipeline, previously one of the most contentious issues between the US and Russia.
Now there is a report from Syria that Trump’s staff have brokered a deal to give up the base at al-Tanf near the Syria/Jordan/Iraq border. This is a major US position where rebel training occurs and forces the SAA and Russian commanders to commit forces which could be used to subdue Al-Qaeda-linked groups in Idlib.
There is even talk within the Trump administration about pulling out of Deir Ezzor as well. These things would greatly reduce the load on the Syrian Arab Army and its supporting groups as they no longer have to fight on half a dozen fronts simultaneously.
Trump himself is said to have challenged European leaders at the G-7 about the status of Crimea. And when asked about it directly both he and his National Security Advisor, arch neocon and war-hawk, John Bolton have both been noncommittal about recognizing Crimea.
Trump’s pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel over everything from EU border security, tariffs and NATO spending is yet another bit of evidence that he intends to do more than just shake Putin’s hand for a photo-op after their meeting. He means to remake NATO’s mission from an anti-Russian one because the threat of a Russian invasion of Europe should only be considered as a work of fiction suitable for a 13-episode alternate-reality TV show on Netflix.
What I believe is on the table is a Grand Bargain for peace in the Middle East which begins with Trump offering Putin these concessions pre-summit to grease the skids of negotiations. Trump rightly realizes that he had to make the first moves here since the aggressive moves previously have been all the US’s doing.
This is similar to the way Kim Jong-un made concessions to Trump to raise the odds of success in Singapore.
The Grand Bargain has a lot of moving parts but it begins with Trump conceding defeat in Syria on the real operation – regime change and the breakup of Shia influence regionally – and declare a hollow victory over ISIS and beginning the process of leaving.
It ends with the US being the guarantor of Israel and Saudi Arabia’s behavior while Russia does the same for Iran’s and the rest of the Shias. It means that Russia will not be leaving Syria anytime soon and that everyone will get a little of what they want and no one will be happy about it.
And it will be Putin’s relentless commitment to statecraft that will ensure this Grand Bargain’s success. This is why he makes deals with everyone. Now it’s time to make a deal with the US
But, Trump is, I believe, smart enough to realize that as the loser in this conflict he cannot dictate terms. And this is why it makes sense that Putin and Netanyahu continue to talk to hammer out a side deal which keeps Israel within its borders while also ensuring its security.
One way of looking at this conflict is extending the war in Syria is all about bleeding Iran white to stoke regime change by requiring them to remain in Syria. The problem is that with most of Syria settled the probability of Russia and the US coming into direct conflict rises to an unacceptable level for the rest of humanity.
So, Trump rightly realizes the clock has run out on this. And it is time to cut a deal.
Trust is a valuable commodity in foreign affairs. It is also in short supply right now between the US and the rest of the world. Trump, to this point, has not been able or willing to fundamentally change that dynamic. I think it’s a both of both, really.
It is the legacy bureaucracy and prevailing ‘wisdom’ in D.C. that resists any change to US foreign policy. It has been captured by all of the worst elements of US society – Wall St., K Street, the defense contractors, the foreign lobbyists, especially AIPAC, etc. – that feeds off of generational distrust of places like Iran and Russia fostered cynically among the US electorate.
And this is what lowers the odds of Trump and Putin sitting down in Helsinki and begin reshaping the geopolitical game board like this is 1945 in Yalta. But, it’s a reshaping that needs to occur. Since neither man drinks or smokes the air between them along with their goals should be relatively clear.