It does not take someone with 30 years experience at the CIA, MI-6 or Mossad to imagine what must be going through the mind of former KGB Lt. Col. Vladimir Putin, now president of Russia. Who is this fellow Donald Trump, the newly elected leader of the United States? What and how does he think? What are his strengths? Where are his Achilles’ heels? How can I best manipulate him?
The shrinks and analysts at FSB and GRU (military intelligence) headquarters must be burning a great deal of midnight oil (and plenty of vodka, too) in providing a dossier on Trump for President Putin. And unlike the 35-page sordid dossier compiled by former MI-6 operative Christopher Steele and released by BuzzFeed, this one could really be explosive because the Russians at least know fact and truth as seen from Moscow. Fact and truth are interesting words when translated into Russian.
Truth is translated as pravda, also the name of Russia’s leading newspaper. But pravda is akin to Trump’s “alternative facts,” in that there is latitude in how far truth can be stretched. The more precise word for truth in the purest meaning is istina. Putin’s analysts will understand the difference between pravda and istina.
In the United States, the so-called “Goldwater rule” is an ethical demarcation that is meant to prevent psychiatrists from diagnosing patients without an actual, in-person examination or risk debarment. During the 2003 Iraq war, nonsensically, one psychiatrist was nearly brought up on charges for providing to the Bush administration and CIA his psychiatric evaluation of Saddam Hussein. FSB and GRU physicians do not labor under such burdens.
Given Trump’s behavior over the past two weeks, and his 50 years in the real estate and television business, a wealth of data is available to provide both pravda and istina for Putin. But perhaps Trump’s phone calls to the Mexican president and the Australian prime minister, along with his mocking of movie star and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for low ratings as the new host of Celebrity Apprentice, offer better insights. And his cavalier approval over the dinner table of the Seal Team 6 raid against an al-Qaida target in Yemen, in which a navy chief petty officer was killed, three others wounded and a $70 million Osprey aircraft destroyed, is also quite instructive.
From these data points, Russian analysts will conclude that while Trump is supremely cocky, arrogant and often a bully, at the same time he is marvelously thin skinned and far more sensitive to self-doubt than he would ever admit, perhaps even to himself. Further, Trump’s appointment to high office in his inner sanctum of very successful and usually but not always very rich individuals, most without any experience in governing, suggests a serious case of cognitive dissonance — that is deluding one’s self in the belief that no experience is the best means of resolving the toughest and most complex problems in an entirely different sector.
“So how should we approach him?” asks Putin. One answer might proceed along these lines. “Mr. President, we conclude that President Trump really believes he is the world’s greatest deal maker. He thinks a ‘grand bargain’ with you is achievable and, most importantly, highly desirable. He knows you are a strong leader because he has said so. Now, we need to make him think that you are 10 times richer than he is.”
“That will be easy to do as the Western press reports your wealth to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Thus, when you meet face to face, for the first time, in an informal way before serious discussions begin, you should take Mr. Trump aside and ask him this:
“Donald, you have made no secret of your wealth. And you have commendably refused to reveal your taxes. I would not like to brag. But frankly, you are not even a footnote compared to my holdings. I need your advice.
“My money is hidden away. How do you think I can leverage it in foreign investments and do so as discreetly as you have? I would be grateful for some ideas. Now, let’s get down to work.”
While all of above is complete speculation, here is a bet. There will be a grand bargain between America and Russia. But that is not the bet. The bet is that Trump’s hotel in Washington will have a new owner. Any guesses as to whom that may be?