July 07, 2020

Duckworth on Russia bounties: How dare Trump still call himself our commander in chief?

Source: USA Today


While President Donald Trump has spent the past couple of weeks golfing, campaigning and making sure the buck stopped anywhere but with him, American service members in hot spots around the world likely were wondering whether there might be a bounty hanging over their heads — and whether the president of the United States would even care enough to respond if that were the case.

In a report confirmed by other major news organizations, The New York Times wrote on June 26 that Russia paid Taliban-linked militants to murder U.S. troops, a bounty scheme that U.S. intelligence suggests has led to the deaths of several Americans. Yet while Trump reportedly was told of the plot in writing in February, his administration still hasn’t taken any apparent steps to push back against Russia’s blatant and provocative act of aggression.

And while the administration’s excuses, obfuscations and explanations keep changing, there is now reporting that indicates earlier and earlier briefings, going back to last year, informing the president and the White House of these threats. That leaves us with just a couple options.

First, Trump didn’t read any of his written briefings and his intelligence officers didn’t bring it up to him in person, because they either fear what he would do with the information or consider him so counterproductive to the running of the country that they thought it necessary to hide critical information about our national security. Well, ignorance here is not exculpatory. “I didn't know that our adversary was helping kill American troops because no one told me” isn’t an excuse for the commander in chief of the greatest military on earth. It’s a confession of incompetence. 

Second, he knew, and this “America First” president simply decided to place Russian interests ahead of American lives. He kept right on trying to score Russia an invitation back into the Group of Seven leading industrial nations, to make it the Group of Eight, even as he received information that Russia was conspiring with terrorists to kill Americans in exchange for cash — a dereliction of duty or worse. Then, when the story finally broke, he decided to lie about what he had known all along, focused more on protecting his own personal reputation than protecting the troops sacrificing for our country overseas.

Neither option absolves him. Both reinforce the grave threat Trump poses to our nation’s security

Even if one swallows the pill that Trump never knew, it still wouldn’t explain his response now that he has been told. Not once since the story broke has the president expressed his sorrow for those who lost a loved one or expressed awe at the bravery of the service members who were in harm’s way because they loved their country so much, they were willing to go to a war zone for her.

He has had time to call former Vice President Joe Biden names and tweet then delete a video of a Trump supporter shouting "white power" at protesters, but not once has he found the time to express horror that Americans are dead or condemn the adversary that helped kill them. Perhaps most notably, not once in the past six days has he given even the slightest indication that his administration will now finally take action. He's still not telling us how or whether he’s planning to better protect our troops going forward.

Trump should be outraged — and we, the American people, should be outraged that he’s not.

Of course, Trump not responding here is a response in its own way, and one that further endangers our national security. Just as he did when he pandered to another tyrant and announced he’d sweep our troops out of Syria last fall, and just as he did when he wanted to look tough by ordering the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani last winter, he put Americans in war zones in even greater danger than they were already in or needed to be in.

By refusing to call out this wrong then decrying the reports as fake news — by being incompetent in matters ranging from foreign policy to common decency — Trump has made it more likely that other hostile powers will work with other terrorist networks to exchange other American lives for stacks of cash. He has made it more likely that more spouses will be widowed, and more moms and dads turned into Gold Star parents. 

Yet somehow as shocking as this news is, it’s not entirely surprising. Rather, it’s consistent with the disgraceful, inexplicable subservience he has shown to Russian President Vladimir Putin since the opening days of his presidency if not before, from taking Putin’s word over our own intelligence officers when it came to interference in the 2016 election to spilling secrets to Russian officials in the Oval Office. So much for “America First.”

I first ran for Congress so that when the drums of war started beating, I’d be in a position to ensure that our elected officials fully considered the true costs of war: not just in dollars and cents, but also in human lives. I never imagined I’d have to use my position to point out that the American president should care when another nation puts a bounty on the heads of our troops.

Trump has never understood what words like “sacrifice” or “courage” mean. How dare he let his own personal cowardice — his inability, or worse, his disinterest in standing up to Putin — lead to a reality where those Americans actually brave enough to serve are put at greater risk?

How dare he let his own personal insecurities endanger our national security?

In the face of all he has done and all he refuses to do, how dare he still call himself our commander in chief?

By:  U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth