Trump’s two-fold challenge now is to warn Russia, unite America

Trump’s two-fold challenge now  is to warn Russia, unite America
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U.S. foreign policy towards Russia has been most effective when we have focused as much on working together as we have on countering and deterring Russia’s espionage and military aggression. The latest examples of this aggression include Russia’s violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity and illegally annexing Crimea; downing a civilian airlinerenabling the Syrian government and  Iran to commit crimes against humanity; poisoning former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent; and interfering in elections, both in Europe and the United States.  

President Obama’s verbal threat to Vladimir Putin to “cut out” the hacking or face the consequences months prior to the 2016 presidential election only reinforced a lesson learned going back to the days of George Kennan’s containment strategy: Deterring the Kremlin requires action, not just words alone.

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It’s a lesson we would do well to keep at the forefront as President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE and Putin continue their attempted rapprochement.

 

In Helsinki last week, Putin sought to elevate Russia to the same stature as the United States. He wants to soil U.S. soft power by linking it with Russia’s KGB authoritarianism, thereby ensuring that our allies and Russian human rights advocates threatening Putin’s regime security do not derive inspiration from the United States as a beacon of freedom, liberty and democracy.   

Second, Putin wanted to drive a wedge between the United States and our allies. Under the guise of Soviet-style “collaboration,” Putin emphasized the United States could not solve any of the world’s problems without Russia, especially the ones Putin himself exacerbated, such as Syria. Putin wants to entangle U.S. and European foreign policy with Russia to dilute and distort NATO’s influence.  

Nothing scares Putin more than neighboring Ukraine, an aspiring NATO and European Union member with a sizable Russian-speaking population and commitment to democracy. Alarmed over the Trump administration’s provision of Javelin anti-tank weapons to Kiev, with whom Russia is at war, Putin wants the United States to be perceived as Russia’s global partner to degrade the U.S.-Ukraine relationship.  

Third, Putin wants to soil our democracy. He holds a black belt in Judo, a key principle of which is to use an opponent’s strength against them. Our core strength as a country derives from the First Amendment, freedom of the press, liberty and our democratic institutions. We are inherently vulnerable to influence operations, including disinformation, which quickly gain traction in our free and open cyberspace.

Make no mistake, Putin is ruthlessly focused on shaping our political discourse and stimulating partisan bickering by simultaneously supporting extreme, antithetical positions.

There was no better example of this tactic than the Kremlin bots staging simultaneous post-election rallies in favor of Trump and protesting Trump’s election. Putin deliberately left a trail of breadcrumbs and a Kremlin return address during intrusions in our cyberspace because he knows he can most effectively soil our institutions by adding a measure of conspiracy and association with Russia.  

The even bigger prize for Putin would be to fracture the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan, under whose leadership the United States ended the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union — to Putin, the greatest geopolitical catastrophe in the 20th century.

Last week, National Intelligence Director Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Facebook co-founder calls for breaking up company | Facebook pushes back | Experts study 2020 candidates to offset 'deepfake' threat | FCC votes to block China Mobile | Groups, lawmakers accuse Amazon of violating children's privacy Experts are studying mannerisms of 2020 candidates to help offset threat of 'deepfake' videos Bolton held unexpected meeting on Iran with top intel, military advisers at CIA: report MORE said Russia was the “most aggressive foreign actor” whose cyber threats were “blinking red.” Having missed an opportunity in Finland, President Trump now should publicly announce that we know Russia interfered in our 2016 elections and will make Russia pay a price for continuing what national security adviser John Bolton rightly called an “act of war.” If Russia does interfere in the 2018 midterms, then the United States can take the serious countermeasures that the National Security Agency and Cyber Command have discussed to deter future attacks.

Simply put, Vladimir Putin hates Democrats and Republicans. For Putin, a KGB operative and former Director of Russia's infamous Federal Security Service (FSB), all of us are the Kremlin’s “Main Enemy.”  

We need President Trump to deliver a direct and unambiguous warning to Putin. This might be his last, best chance to induce a change in Russia’s behavior, and unite the Congress and our nation in collective defense before the next Russian cyber onslaught.  

Daniel Hoffman is a former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He reported on the Trump-Putin summit from Helsinki for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.