This is one of those rare moments when it is imperative that President-elect Donald Trump not wait until inauguration day but act now to potentially save lives in Syria, Ukraine and maybe elsewhere.
Because, especially in Syria’s Aleppo, civilians who this very minute are struggling to survive really can’t wait until an inaugural calendar half a world away reaches Jan. 20, 2017. Whether they live or die may depend upon whether Russia’s Vladimir Putin can be convinced to act with urgency — right now! — to make sure no more innocents are slaughtered in Syria.
And that can happen only if Trump acts with a skill he has not yet demonstrated. Trump may be uniquely able to use his unprecedented blooming bromance with Putin to assure that the lives of Syrian innocents will be saved, not snuffed. But the dicey part is that Trump must also convince Russia’s proud president that, while their new relationship of co-equals can happen soon, America’s new president will never be able to exchange handshakes and hugs with a Russian leader whose hands are still dripping blood.
This pre-inaugural moment may be the perfect time for The Donald to convince his new best bud, Vladimir, that this can be their new best moment. This month, we just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the greatest U.S.-Russian life-saving partnership since the end of World War II. Namely, the enactment of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act, which may well have prevented our planet from suffering a nuclear catastrophe.
This may be the best moment to rekindle that new partnership spirit that recently existed between the two former Cold War adversaries. And Trump may be the one person who can convince Putin that they can launch a new partnership that can last. But they ought to begin their drive for a visionary future by first glancing in their rear-view mirrors and recognizing the spirit that enabled the former Cold War adversaries to forge a joint effort to safeguard their people and the world.
Rewind and recall: It was 1991 B.P. (before Putin). The Soviet Union suddenly collapsed, and Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar realized the Soviets’ huge nuclear arsenal was virtually unsecured and vulnerable to being seized by terrorists or rogue regimes that wanted them for just one reason — to use them. Nunn and Lugar conceived this urgent program that secured the vulnerable weapons and deactivated 7,600 of them.
But the proud Putin always hated one thing about the Nunn-Lugar plan: By necessity it was a partnership of un-equals — America paying for securing Russia’s nukes and more. But tomorrow’s partnership can be a deal among co-equals that benefits both economies.
That’s the heart of the Art of the Diplomatic Deal Trump and Putin must forge.
To keep Syrians safe and alive, Trump must begin dealing today (after first consulting with President Obama, of course). Then Trump can begin convincing Putin that if he agrees to save lives today, their partnership can happen tomorrow.
But first, Trump must face, at least in his own bathroom mirror, two realities he’s pretended not to see:
▪ Trump’s new best bud has long had bloody hands. In Ukraine and Syria, Putin’s military enabled the slaughter of uncivil wars. In Ukraine, Putin militarily invaded and seized Crimea. Also a Russian missile downed a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members. In Syria, Putin’s troops enabled and joined President Bashar Assad’s slaughter of civilians, even bombing Aleppo’s hospitals so civilians couldn’t get life-saving care.
▪ Putin’s hacking in America of Democratic political emails was an unacceptable crime that can never be repeated — akin to the Watergate break-in crimes of Richard Nixon’s henchmen.
Putin stroked and enriched Trump’s designees for national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and secretary of state, Exxon’s multibillionaire CEO Rex Tillerson. Like Trump, they barely concede Putin’s bad stuff. That’s downright cynical and shameful, in one sense. But it might help Trump convince Putin he can only get the deal he wants if he ends his bad-stuff ways.
Here’s where Trump may need artistic help, because he needs to draw his own artful red line. From inside the Kremlin, Trump’s red line must look as bright and bold as Red Square itself.
Then Donald Trump must convince his new best friend that he is a president who’s not just willing to draw a red line, but a chief executive who will damn well make it stick.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.
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