The rumor this afternoon is that there’s a draft executive order floating around the White House that would lift sanctions unilaterally, in exchange for nothing, although I wonder how anyone could know that from the text of the order itself. If, for instance, Trump ends up lifting sanctions in exchange for Russian cooperation in Syria, the EO itself might not reflect that. There would be a separate agreement between the U.S. and Russia on Syria policy and then a “unilateral” order might issue from the White House lifting sanctions. The two would be linked, of course, as part of a quid pro quo, but there may be nothing in the text of either explicitly recognizing that.
Obama’s former ambassador to Russia is out early with a question that’ll be asked by millions if sanctions really do end up being lifted unilaterally, as some sort of goodwill gesture. Namely, in what sense do one-sided concessions demonstrate “the art of the deal”?
How is lifting sanctions on Russia, in essence legitimizing territorial annexation in Europe, in return for nothing as "good deal"?
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) January 27, 2017
Trump was asked by the Times of London a few weeks ago what he might want from Russia in return for lifting sanctions and he mentioned an arms-reduction treaty on nuclear weapons as a possibility. But that sort of deal represents a quid pro quo in itself: Russia’s reward for reducing its nuclear stockpile would be America reducing its own. Same goes for Syria. If the two countries agree to cooperate against ISIS, the willingness of each to cooperate is the chief benefit to the other. There should be no reason for the U.S. to add an extra pot-sweetener to either deal by rolling back sanctions that had nothing to do with nukes or Syria to begin with. Sanctions are in force right now to punish Russia’s expansionism in Ukraine and its hacking efforts against the DNC and John Podesta during the campaign. If Trump’s going to end that punishment, Russia should make a “unilateral” concession or concessions of its own. If they don’t and we end up with sanctions relief being thrown in as part of a deal on areas of mutual cooperation, then it really will be tantamount to the U.S. lifting sanctions in return for nothing.
McCain is unhappy, but then he’s usually unhappy:
“For the sake of America’s national security and that of our allies, I hope President Trump will put an end to this speculation and reject such a reckless course,” McCain said in a statement Friday. “If he does not, I will work with my colleagues to codify sanctions against Russia into law.”…
“[Trump] should remember that the man on the other end of the line is a murderer and a thug who seeks to undermine American national security interests at every turn,” he added. “For our commander-in-chief to think otherwise would be naïve and dangerous.”…
“In just the last three years under Vladimir Putin, Russia has invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, threatened NATO allies, and intervened militarily in Syria, leaving a trail of death, destruction, and broken promises in his wake,” he said.
McCain, McConnell, and Paul Ryan are going to scrape up two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate to re-impose sanctions over a Trump veto? Okay. If nothing else, that effort should give us another fun round of “How soon before Rubio caves?”
Here’s Kellyanne Conway admitting that lifting sanctions is on the table amid some surprisingly skeptical questioning from Brian Kilmeade. In order to get sanctions rolled back, asks Kilmeade, doesn’t Russia need to change its behavior by, say, not carving up neighboring countries like Ukraine and bombing civilians indiscriminately in Syria? To which Conway replies that Trump’s policy is “America First.” I guess that’s a “no,” Brian. Exit quotation from Trump himself, commenting at today’s press conference with Theresa May: “As far as sanctions, it’s very early to be talking about that.”