The man interferes with the presidential election in the United States and threatens a nuclear attack with a hypersonic missile that would overcome any existing or future U.S. anti-missile system. He interferes in elections in other Western democracies, annexes territory of and promotes rebellion in the Ukraine, threatens neighboring East European countries, and provides support to the genocidal regime in Syria. He assassinates opponents in his own country as well as those who betray his government, regardless of where they may be residing. The man is the Russian President, Vladimir Putin—and this is the man the President of the United States has honored with an invitation to meet at the White House. While Putin certainly represents a threat to our national security, the threat from within is even greater.
No country can afford to have its leader open its doors to its greatest adversary who makes no secret of his desire to damage our democratic way of life. Yet that is just what this President is doing. From his total inability to ever criticize Putin to his failure to initiate a meaningful coordinated response to Putin’s contemptible activities, the President is acting more like a Russian puppet than the leader of the strongest country in the world. And the failure to respond with actions that would inflict pain on Putin’s world only emboldens him to be even more aggressive in the future.
The Lack of Response
That is not to say nothing has been done. In December 2017, on the recommendation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the President approved licensing the commercial export of lethal weapons to Ukraine to provide more firepower in their defense against further Russian aggression there. But little else was done to punish Russia for its actions in the United States.
Look at other responses thus far. In the summer of 2017 Congress gave the President the power to impose sanctions on Russia as punishment for its interference in the 2016 election, aggression in the Ukraine and support for the Syrian Assad regime. Yet in January 2018 the State Department found no need to implement such sanctions, stating, “Sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent.” Talk about naivety. The deterrent was so effective it didn’t deter the Russians from an attempted assassination of a former spy turned double agent now living in the United Kingdom.
Finally, in March, after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted thirteen Russian individuals and three companies for interference in the U.S. election process, and Russia was identified as the source for the nerve agent attack in the U.K., the President acted. Based on the indictments and cyber- attacks targeting critical infrastructure, the U.S. applied sanctions on five entities and nineteen individuals, barring them from traveling to and freezing their assets in the United States. For the nerve agent attack, the U.S., in concert with more than twenty-four other countries, expelled sixty Russian diplomats and closed the Russian Consulate in Seattle. In retaliation the Russians expelled sixty U.S. diplomats, closed the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg and expelled diplomats from countries that had joined in the concerted action.
Effectiveness of the Response
Were the U.S. actions effective in punishing the Russians? On balance, no. The concerted action taken with allies and other countries was impressive and important to demonstrate that there still is a strong commonality of interest among those countries, despite the President’s negative attitude toward NATO and treatment of allies in general. It was also probably somewhat embarrassing to Russia, but that’s of little import to Putin in pursuit of his overall strategy to damage the democracies. His tit for tat response leveled the playing field so nothing has really been gained in punishing Russia. As for the individuals and companies sanctioned, they are not of sufficient importance to alter his actions.
The Enduring Danger
And that brings us back to the fundamental issue of the national security threat from within—a President who not only refuses to acknowledge Putin’s aggression, but fails to take the necessary steps to protect the country by directing all available resources to prevent future cyber-attacks against our electoral systems and infrastructure. Frankly, it matters not why Donald Trump refuses to take action against Putin’s aggression. He apparently will not, and the Republicans’ failure to hold him accountable—perhaps because of their fear that confronting him will result in their loss at the primary ballot box—makes this an even more perilous situation.