President Donald Trump’s reality television-like Rose Garden announcement that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate pact was his latest break with Western leaders. That could bef a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump strode into the White House Rose Garden just after 3 p.m. Thursday on a picturesque spring day in Washington for an announcement that was orchestrated much like an “Apprentice” season finale.
With his presidency under a cloud of suspicion — and with former FBI Director James B. Comey due on Capitol Hill to testify in mere days — Trump again seemed to steer the U.S. toward Moscow rather than away from it.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburg,” he said, “not Paris.”
By withdrawing, he added the United States to a class of countries not participating in the emissions-reduction effort that previously featured just two members: Nicaragua and Syria.
Even amid a tidal wave of headlines and a handful of investigations about possible nefarious ties between his presidential campaign and Russia, just as Moscow was allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s decision moves the United States further away from European leaders. And, by definition, that moves Putin closer to achieving many domestic and foreign policy goals, experts say.
Out with the old
Trump’s move comes as transatlantic partnerships like NATO are already showing signs of fraying. Even a temporary end to agreement on climate policy will further weaken the post-Cold War order. And that has long been Putin’s dream.
“Countries are peeling off the old international system, right and left. What Trump has done has accelerated that process,” said Gordon Adams, a former White House national security official and international affairs professor at American University. “Putin’s got to love that.
“We’re seeing a retreat to the days before the [World War I-ending] Versailles Treaty,” Adams said. “Putin is a master at exploitation. He’s a really clever player. And when there’s daylight between the U.S. and Western Europe — and under Trump there is daylight economically, politically, and on security — it is to Putin’s advantage. There’s no question about it.”
Putin seemed pleased enough with Trump’s decision during an economic forum in Russia on Friday. “It’s not even come into force yet. It should come into force in 2021. So we still have time, if we work constructively, we still have time,” Putin said in his native tongue, before adding in English: “Don’t worry, be happy.”
David Koranyi, a onetime senior adviser to former Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, said the withdrawal “drives a wedge between the United States and the European Union in a major way that will have spillover effects on policies related to Russia — and also trans-Atlantic goodwill.”
“So in an indirect way, yes, this is a major win for President Putin,” he said, adding: “My fear is, from a Russian perspective, this is a gain for Putin.”
“It will be more difficult to get unity on new sanctions on Russia, or unity on any issue that goes against the Kremlin’s interests,” Koranyi said. “There’s not just a huge mistrust that will stem from this.”
Just days after European and Western leaders pleaded with Trump to keep the U.S. a part of the carbon emissions-targeting agreement during private meetings at his first G7 summit, the still-new president made clear he had determined that the climate pact would hurt American businesses and hinder economic growth.
“The European leaders must feel insulted and betrayed,” said Koranyi, also a former EU official now with the Atlantic Council think tank. “They must feel like, to Trump, their opinions simply do not matter. That will no doubt affect many things going forward.”
Remaining in the climate pact would render the U.S. unable to compete globally, Trump said, calling the deal a major “redistribution” of America’s wealth “to other countries.”
Staying would trigger brownouts across the country and lower standards of living for many Americans, he said.
Trump and his senior aides in recent days have stressed that the president heard from “both sides” before making up his mind. But, even after hearing Western leaders’ best sales pitches, it turns out there was little they could do to alter Trump’s “America First” outlook.
“The decision to leave the Paris accord is essentially a political statement, and one that is completely unnecessary and very ill-advised,” said James Rubin, who served in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division for 15 years.
“U.S. continued participation in the accord would basically come at no actual cost,” Rubin said. “A lower [emissions] target or reduced U.S. financial commitments would itself [have sent] a powerful message — but not one so very unhelpful, unnecessary or unwise as complete disengagement from the rest of the world on one of the most critical issues of our time.”
Rep. Patrick Meehan, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, said Thursday that the decision would “diminish America’s leadership role on the world stage.”
But for Trump, the decision was one part economic and another part national pride. He said the Paris Agreement “punishes” the United States while going easy on some of the world’s “leading polluters.”
“At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?” he said of other world leaders. “We want fair treatment for its citizens and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers. We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won’t be. They won’t be.”
He called the pact “the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers — who I love — and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.”
Trump said his decision was about restoring a balance of fairness between the United States and other countries, and helping the “forgotten” American worker, whom he said would be hurt by the Paris accord.
On one hand, Trump left the door open to negotiating a revised agreement or even a new pact. But on the other, he quickly added it would be “fine” if neither happened.
Experts and Democratic lawmakers warned that leaving the accord would lessen America’s role on the global stage. To that end, the country’s two strongest economic competitors — China and the European Union — moved to fill the vacuum even before Trump spoke.
“The cooperation of the European Union with China in this area will play a crucial role especially in regards to new technologies,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said standing alongside Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Berlin on Thursday. For his part, Li announced that China had “stayed true to its commitment” of combating climate change in recent years, which included assisting the Obama administration in pushing for the Paris pact.
Ultimately, Trump chose a move that will be applauded in Moscow instead of standing with the EU and China. Russia has not yet ratified the pact.
For Putin, “America First” will often mean the United States breaking with other Western countries. But there are few reasons to believe the Paris pact withdrawal will be the last such move by the 45th president.
Just consider what his chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, told reporters last week in describing how Trump would ultimately make his decision.
“If those things collide, growing our economy is going to win. The president ran on growing our economy,” he said. “If we have a 3 percent-plus GDP [growth rate] three years from now, everyone’s going to think the president is doing a great job.”
Cohn added a take-our-word-for-it assurance about the administration’s other climate efforts: “We’re not going to pollute the air to do that. We’re not going to be rampant polluters.”
As Trump strode back to the Oval Office on an 82-degree June afternoon, the offices of Republican lawmakers were busy firing off statements applauding the move. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan praised the president for “fulfilling his commitment to the American people and withdrawing from this bad deal.”
“The Paris climate agreement was simply a raw deal for America,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement. “Signed by President [Barack] Obama without Senate ratification, it would have driven up the cost of energy, hitting middle-class and low-income Americans the hardest.”
For one day at least, Ryan and some other GOP members were fully onboard with the president’s “America First” mantra — though some moderates objected.
Trump the elected politician appears to have won out over Trump the businessman.
Just last week, a group of senior GOP senators that included Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky wrote to him urging “a clean break” from the accord. They used his plans to rev up the engine of American businesses in making their case.
“It’s clear you share our commitment to reducing the regulatory burden our businesses face in order to create jobs and grow the economy,” the letter said. “A key risk to fulfilling this objective is remaining in the Paris Agreement.”
Arguments about the effects on U.S. workers and the overall economy, which Trump believes is growing too slowly, hit home with him more so than those from the CEOs of major U.S. firms such as Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and Apple. Those industry giants supported remaining in the Paris pact.
As European leaders grapple with how to move forward without their longtime red, white and blue ally, it appeared late last week that Trump disagrees with them not only on climate policy but also on the benefits of Western countries sticking together.
“For now, this is the end of American multilateralism,” said Adams of American University. “Anything he’s doing with our friends and allies is saying there will no longer be a multilateral arrow in the American quiver. It’s not who he is.”
Rema Rahman contributed to this report.