Thursday, August 1, 2019


The recent meeting of top national security officials of Russia, Israel, and the United States in Jerusalem has yet to produce visible results. John R. Bolton joined Russia’s Nikolai Patrushev and Israel’s Meir Ben-Shabbat in June to discuss regional security. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed the Israeli delegation.

But the talk on the street is that the makings of a deal for a working Middle East relationship between the three powers were laid out for approval by the respective heads of state. The main issue on the table was the out-of-control actions of Iran, now lashing out after President Trump withdrew from the 2015 international nuclear deal and reimposed harsh economic sanctions.

The reported understanding involves Russia dropping its support for Iran in exchange for Washington agreeing to leave Syrian President Bashar Assad, a key ally of Moscow, in power in Damascus. For its part, Israel will be free to strike Iranian targets around the region that threaten its security. Moscow may also get some relief from sanctions over its moves in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

This is realpolitik at its finest.

The Trump administration obviously sees Iran as the greatest threat to U.S. interests — not just in the region, but around the world. President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have put containing the mullahs in Tehran at the top of their to-do list and are willing to give away much to achieve their primary goal. In light of Tehran’s irresponsible behavior and support for terrorism across the globe, Washington’s priorities seem well placed.

There was more evidence of a thaw between Moscow and Washington.

The Siberian fires are burning out of control in the tundra west of Moscow and are creating massive health hazards for the local population. The Kremlin has increased funds available for fighting the fires and deployed military resources to aid the firefighters, and now Washington has stepped in with a well-timed offer of help.

President Trump confirmed Thursday he and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone about the raging fires and about possible technical help the U.S. could offer. Moscow no doubt sees the Trump offer as the start of a pathway for better U.S.-Russia relations.

“The Russian president appreciated this step by the U.S. president as a signal that the two countries will manage to restore full-format relations in the future,” the Kremlin said its own statement. “Putin and Trump have agreed to continue contacts both in the format of telephone conversations and personal meetings.”

As the Mueller investigation peters out on Capitol Hill and the perpetrators of the “Russia collusion” line of attack against a duly-elected president start to feel the heat themselves, space is opening up for the world’s two biggest nuclear powers to begin to repair relations after the disastrous Obama years.

The Obama administration’s extreme weakness and appeasement all but invited Mr. Putin to annex Crimea and ignite the tinderbox in eastern Ukraine. Mr. Obama’s antagonistic remarks toward Mr. Putin — the Russian president “slouched like a school boy” and “Russia is a regional power that doesn’t produce anything” — are partly responsible for where we are today.

President Trump is right to reach out to Moscow, as Reagan did with Gorbachev, in order to reduce global tensions. As I have written before, Russia is an adversary but is far more concerned with the country’s “Near Abroad” than it is in directly competing with the U.S.

Moscow, in short, is not an existential threat to the United States, save for its nuclear arsenal, which for the most part is not usable due to mutually assured destruction.

Mr. Trump’s realism and willingness to use strength to secure peace just may be beginning to pay off.

⦁ L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.

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