Opinion | Susan Rice: Trump Must Not Capitulate to Putin

Opinion | Susan Rice: Trump Must Not Capitulate to Putin


President Trump has already hinted at what he may be prepared to concede. He has suggested withdrawing some United States forces from Europe. Despite his profession of allegiance to the Atlantic alliance following a contentious NATO summit this week, he may agree to suspend participation in major NATO exercises and cast further doubt on American commitment to our allies’ defense. In Syria, President Trump seems poised to ratify Mr. Assad’s regime, abandon partners who have fought valiantly against ISIS, and prematurely withdraw United States forces, thus ceding total victory to Russia, Mr. Assad and Iran.

Yet, the even greater risk may be that President Trump finally cuts the deal that he and his advisers have been keenly pursuing since before his inauguration. At the behest of his favorite foreign partners — Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — Trump has been encouraged to trade recognition of Russian annexation of Crimea and the termination of sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, for Russia’s pledge to curtail Iranian influence in Syria and the region.

This big play, which Trump transition officials reportedly first hatched in 2016 in meetings with the Russians and Emiratis, aims to achieve the coveted holy grail of dividing Russia from Iran. It is not clear what concrete benefits they envision this split yielding, but the price the administration seems poised to pay for this illusory objective is way too high. It would require the United States to legitimize the use of force to seize another country’s sovereign territory, while completely betraying Ukraine and our European allies. All in exchange for a vague Putin promise to limit Iranian influence.

It is a promise Mr. Putin cannot and would not keep. The last thing the Russian leader will do is throw a faithful partner under the bus, although he may pretend to do so long enough to get sanctions lifted and the annexation of Crimea validated. The winners in this scenario would be Mr. Putin, who would have outfoxed a gullible Mr. Trump; and Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, who will have further demonstrated that they can play this administration like a fiddle.

The mystery in this potential deal remains: What of tangible and lasting value, if anything, could accrue to the United States, as opposed to Trump personally? The answer is hard to fathom, which should give us all great pause.

Susan E. Rice (@AmbassadorRice), the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017 and a former United States ambassador to the United Nations, is a contributing opinion writer.

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