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By Daniel Larison,
The American Conservative,
11 February 2017

Trump, New START, and U.S. - Russian Relations

Reuters reports that Trump didn`t know what New START was, but was sure it must be a bad deal:

In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the call.

When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was [bold mine-DL], these sources said.

Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration [bold mine-DL], saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.

The account rings true, and it fits in with Trump`s views on agreements made during the Obama years. If an agreement was reached with another government when Obama was president, Trump takes it for granted that it must be a bad deal that benefits the other side more. This is what he always thinks about deals not made by him, and it is typically paired with total ignorance of the substance of the agreement that he is criticizing. This is how he concludes that the nuclear deal is a "very bad deal" despite the fact that he appears to understand nothing about it and gets basic facts about it wrong. He doesn`t concern himself with the details because he already knows that the deal must be to our disadvantage, since he takes it as a given that the U.S. has been getting "ripped off" in everything. The result is that the supposed deal-maker is against any successful diplomatic agreement that has already been negotiated.

In the case of New START, it was conventional hawkish boilerplate back in 2009-2010 that Russia benefited more from the treaty, but this wasn`t true. It represented the continuation of a mutually beneficial arms reduction process, and it ensured that reductions by both sides would be verified by inspections. Romney made a point of denouncing the treaty ahead of his second presidential campaign, and he made his opposition to the treaty a major part of his anti-Russian/anti-Obama rhetoric as a candidate. If Trump is now echoing the shoddy arguments against New START, that suggests that he doesn`t understand that arms control is one of the major areas where U.S.-Russian cooperation is very important, and it also means that he is getting very bad advice from the same kinds of people that Romney was listening to back then. That`s bad news for improving relations with Russia.


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