The president's actions are as dangerous as his words
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In the vice presidential debate last week, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris blasts GOP for confirming Amy Coney Barrett: 'We won't forget this' GOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg The painstaking, state-by-state fight to protect abortion access MORE (D-Calif.) raised a topic that had faded from the churn of daily headlines. She pointed out that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE has failed to address, or even raise with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinScarborough: Putin more likely to take tough question than Trump Kremlin: Biden encouraging hatred of Russia President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him MORE, the revelations that Russian intelligence units may have offered bounties to kill American service members fighting in Afghanistan. “Joe Biden would hold Russia to account,” Harris said.

It reminded me of any number of discussions I witnessed in the White House about how to approach challenges such as the one about the Russian bounties. During my government service in the George W. Bush and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump is cruising for a bruising State lawmaker Elizabeth Fiedler discusses the top issues for Pennsylvania voters Joe Biden's transit plan: Party like it's 2009 MORE administrations, one constant stood out: the women and men meeting in the White House Situation Room treated their responsibilities for our nation’s security as a solemn duty.

On issue after issue, I watched as the president of the United States, Democrats and Republicans, civilians and military, pored over every detail, weighed every action, considered the cost of every move. To have served in administrations that took their duty seriously has long been a source of pride. As a military family member, I drew a sense of comfort from this. It’s never easy to see loved ones, friends, or colleagues sent into harm’s way; but I knew first-hand that these actions were not taken lightly.


It is because of the days I spent in the situation room that I still am baffled that the White House has never responded to the June 26 revelations that Russian intelligence units may have offered bounties to Taliban fighters to target U.S. service members. Like so many other norms, President Trump — with his silence — has upended his solemn duty to servicemembers and those who love them. It has been more than 100 days since this information was reported, and President Trump’s actions have been clear. He has never addressed the bounties beyond dismissing the report and the underlying intelligence as “another hoax.”

Much has been written about why President Trump seems unwilling to confront Russian provocations — from interference in U.S. elections, to attempts at undermining our NATO allies whom we are sworn to defend. As a professional, I am deeply troubled by President Trump’s treatment of Russia, including when it runs against U.S. interests.

But as a military family member, my reaction is stronger — it’s outrage. The commander in chief has no more sacred duty than to protect those in service to our country and has a responsibility to their families to do everything in his power to bring their loved ones home safely. Any other commander in chief would have focused on this danger until he was certain that no Americans were at risk. Any other would have seen immediately the need to speak publicly — not only to signal to Russia, but to signal to other adversaries who might levy similar threats against U.S. troops. Even if the intelligence were imperfect, they would have made clear to Russia that it should cease such provocations. But President Trump does not put defending U.S. servicemembers first.

The Atlantic and Bob Woodward’s new book recently shared President Trump’s views of the military, and his comments on acts of service and ultimate sacrifice. The president has been clear with his words time and again — whether he was downplaying the effects of servicemembers’ traumatic brain injuries, ridiculing a Gold Star family, or denigrating the late Sen. John McCain. His actions, including those that are lost in the rapid news cycle, are as dangerous as his words are offensive.

Actions, and words, matter. The presidents I have observed displayed both courage and humility as they weighed difficult actions that would affect the lives of American servicemembers overseas, and the security of our nation at home. The servicemembers I have known (including one whom I married) display bravery and sacrifice when they take the oath to put their own lives at risk for their country, and so do their families. They, and all Americans, deserve a president who takes threats against them seriously, defends them, and treats the office with the seriousness it demands. They deserve better.

Elisa Ewers served in the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations, in a variety of positions including at the White House, State Department, and in the field. She is married to a U.S. Marine.