Can we trust the official account of what actually occurred inside this meeting?
After all, the meeting was conducted in strict secrecy. Why the need for such secrecy? What could possibly be so secret that Trump could not even include an expert on Russia from his own administration, which is customary?
Obviously, Trump and Putin intended to discuss a topic that is so sensitive that they must keep it concealed from all of us. So in the official account of the meeting, they certainly will not disclose the topic that they have gone to such great lengths to conceal.
And the early accounts of the meeting are immediately suspect. Are we really gullible enough to believe that Trump pressed Putin hard about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election? C’mon. Trump himself has never meaningfully criticized Russia or Putin for this, yet now we are to believe that Trump forcefully prosecuted the issue in his very first meeting with Putin? It just doesn’t pass the smell-test.
Given that we do not know the truth about what really occurred inside the meeting, let’s have a little fun and speculate.
To figure out the topics that were really discussed, let’s identify what each man desires the most for himself. What does Putin most want? What does Trump most want?
The greatest desires of Putting are already known. Putin wants the lifting of the international sanctions against Russia that were imposed as punishment for Russia’s 2014 military invasion and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and for Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Putin also wants an elevation of the status of Russia on the world stage to create the appearance that his rule is legitimate even though Putin is no more than an illegitimate authoritarian.
What does Trump most want? Well, Putin is supposedly a master at identifying the desires of his adversaries and then exploiting them as weaknesses in order to achieve Putin’s own objectives. If this is the case, then Putin will have sized-up Trump as a pathological narcissist obsessed with his own self-aggrandizement. Then it is easy to see Trump’s greatest desire: Reelection.
Trump’s desperate desire to be reelected in 2020 can then be turned into a weakness that Putin can easily exploit. After all, Trump would do just about anything to be reelected.
Putin could then play Trump like a violin. Putin would make clear that the same operations that helped Trump get elected in 2016, like the hacking and disclosure of emails of Trump’s political opponents and a barrage of pro-Trump fake news, could also be deployed in Trump’s favor in the 2020 election.
This would be irresistible to Trump. Like candy. Indeed, a fantastic way to wage a dirty-tricks campaign would be to have Russia conduct it for you. Russia would flatly deny it, and Trump would cast doubt upon any evidence against Russia, including evidence produced by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies.
Hm. No wonder Trump steadfastly refuses to criticize Russia’s meddling.
So now we see a basis for a grand bargain in the meeting. Namely, Putin will seek to get Trump reelected in 2020, and in exchange, Trump will seek to lift the sanctions against Russia and help give Putin’s dictatorship greater legitimacy.
This would explain the need for such strict secrecy surrounding the meeting. If Trump is going to collude with the Russians, what a masterful way to do it — hidden in plain sight in a closed meeting with Putin right before the world! Catch me if you can!
This grand bargain, however, would need to address one major area. In order for Trump to lift the sanctions, Russia would need to make significant concessions. Otherwise, Trump would run the risk of appearing too eager to assist Russia, and thus Trump may not in fact succeed in lifting the sanctions.
This is a major factor. What sorts of actions must be taken by Russia that would be significant enough for Trump to justify lifting the sanctions? Perhaps this complicated topic explains why the meeting that was scheduled for thirty minutes extended to over two hours.
Hey, this speculation is fun. But is there any truth to any of it?
Well, given the extreme secrecy of the meeting, we will never know for certain. But as time unfolds, we might keep an eye out for the emergence of any curious clues.
If Russia begins to make favorable concessions, and if Trump responds by seeking to lift the sanctions against Russia, well, then, perhaps underway is nothing less than the art of the deal.
Namely, Trump wins while Americans lose.