The gift of the Magi: Trump’s presents for Putin

This is the season for gift giving. And nobody has been more lavish in gift giving than President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters MORE. Indeed, he has bestowed upon his hero, Vladimir Putin, a flood of gifts without seeking anything in return, the mark of true recognition of the light from the East that he has apparently seen.

Without asking for something in return, Trump has initiated an ongoing destabilization of domestic and foreign policies to the point where he is deranging NATO. Trump is also looking the other way as Putin solicits Japan to say that no U.S. forces could ever be stationed on the Kuril Islands if they are returned to Japan. Even more charitably Trump’s administration have ignored reports of a Russian air base on an island off of Venezuela that will pave the way for a permanent Russian presence there.

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One need only compare this benevolence to the steely determination of past administrations to extrude Soviet and Russian influence from Latin America almost to the point of nuclear crisis.

Trump’s administration has also relieved sanctions on RUSAL the giant Russian aluminum firm under control of Oleg Deripaska, a GRU agent in his other guise. And now comes the greatest gift of all: U.S. withdrawal from Syria in return for nothing. This decision is based on the delusion that we have ended the ISIS menace. The consequences of this gift to Putin are enormous and long lasting. Apart from handing Syria and Lebanon over to the tender mercies of Moscow, Ankara and Tehran, Trump has once again trashed our alliances. This move betrays our allies’ troops in Syria and Iraq, and is strategically incompetent.

Beyond leaving NATO allies in the lurch he has also left Israel, the Syrian Kurds, Jordan and Iraq in that lurch as they are left to deal with the threats emanating from Syria, Lebanon and Iran. And all this apparently was done without communicating with duly constituted members of his own administration.

Observers therefore still do not know what star in the east Trump saw in his gut instinct or even where that star may be located. But it is clear that this star, however ascendant it may be is nowhere to be found outside of Trump’s own ego and mind. Naturally this fact poses a vexing problem for observers who habitually try to make logical sense of policies — no matter how bizarre they might be. Without speculating on Trump’s motives, we can say that Putin now sees that star in the West. The calamities that will be unleashed by this decision are only beginning of the gifts Trump has bestowed upon Putin and his buddies.

At the same time as the Syria delusion, Trump is about to shut down the U.S. government over his obsession with building a wall to keep out immigrants, another costly delusion. In fact, he has argued that the U.S. Army should build this wall even if there is no funding for it. Given the biblical cast of his thinking perhaps the president may even emulate Pharoah who commanded that bricks be built without mortar or straw.

Beyond that he has forced Defense Secretary Mattis, who embodies the best of us, to quit because of Trump’s destruction of our alliances, another gift to Putin.

But since we are in a gift-giving mood, we might ask what Putin will give us or the world next year. The answers are clear. At home we can expect him to engage in further repression and cronyism. But abroad we will see more Russian threats form the Arctic to Africa.

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Not only is Russia enhancing its Latin American and Middle Eastern positions, it is also poised to score a big victory by building the Nordstream 2 pipeline to Germany and the Turkstream pipeline to Turkey to gain leverage on all economic and political affairs east of the Rhine. Moscow is also seeking to enhance its influence using all the instruments of power at its disposal across all of Africa as NSC Director John Bolton recently observed.

Finally, Moscow has announced its support for North Korea’s nuclear position which amounts to no denuclearization unless the U.S. annuls the alliance with South Korea.

Putin’s gift box thus resembles Pandora’s box. But tragically so does Trump’s. The gifts he has bestowed upon Putin and his partners will neither bring light, nor wisdom, nor peace to the U.S. or its allies. Unlike the three wise men who supposedly saw this light and star from the East, Trump is no Magus, his administration no longer has any magi, and thus there are no wise men to stop the impending avalanche triggered by his recklessness.

Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. He is a former professor of Russian National Security Studies and National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is also a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College.