It seems like the plot of a Tom Clancy novel, but it’s also a question more than one national security professional has asked: how could Russia go about actually blackmailing an American president?
At first blush—and this is a blushing matter—it sounds like creating uncertainty and chaos may be the best possible use of any leverage Putin might have.
Trump would have liked to pursue warmer relations with Russia. That idea by itself is not bereft of benefit. Obama attempted such a “reset” with Russia at the beginning of his presidency. However, Obama’s experiment proved that it is naïve to attempt a warming of relations with a devious, ambitious autocrat like Vladimir Putin.
However (hard as it is), we should give Trump credit for something that, in a perfect world, might have been possible and even desirable.
But, is that the whole story?
Assuming all the salacious information in the now-infamous dossier is true, the most powerful and significant use of that truth might be to create the kind of uncertainty and ambiguity that has surrounded Trump’s behavior in the last year.
If Russia were to expose the relevant films etc., that revelation would be quite a bombshell. However, it would put an end to further speculation as well, and remove any further possible Russian leverage over the president.
How and why Trump thought he could handle that in the long run is a mystery. But that would simply be one more Trump mystery.
As Trump has said, he could shoot a person dead on 5th Avenue and still be elected—which he managed only due to our archaic election system that privileges rural white voters. So, it is at least possible that revealing his Moscow romps might not bring down his presidency. Since the alleged behavior certainly falls short of murdering someone in the middle of Manhattan, Trump may have gambled that he could weather the storm such a release would create.
Yet the whole country has been mesmerized by his Moscow trip and Putin has been able to exert a shadow threat while remaining clever enough to maintain his leverage by refraining from revealing the story.
I think most of us (on the left and right) are ready to put the dossier aside and get back on track without its continuing uncertainty. Whether Trump favors Russia because they have leverage over him, because he feels he owes them for his election, or because he personally likes Putin is secondary to the fact that his policy towards Russia undermines American security and our interests abroad.
It is time to deal with the facts of Trump’s behavior, not speculation over his motives.