The president tweets while our troops are targeted in the field
Somewhere in the white fog generated by the White House, amid all the chaotic tweets and other calamities, is a single act that would have been enough to bring down any president in a normal time. I am talking about the way that Donald Trump handled the intelligence report that Moscow has offered bounties to Afghan militants to kill American soldiers.
The president disputed the finding last week when he said, “It was never brought to my attention, and perhaps it was never brought because I did not consider it to be real.” He said, “I think it is another Russia hoax.” But the finding was in fact included in one of the White House daily briefings earlier this year. Trump was evidently focused on other priorities, like we saw from his tweets on how the coronavirus is “under control” and how Fox News had high ratings since it covers our “favorite president.”
It is not that the president has his head in the sand. It is that he has it fixed on social media. Trump declared last week that he had spoken to Vladimir Putin but did not raise the issue over bounties to kill our military members. The president explained, “That was the phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that is an issue that many people said was fake news.”
It is not fake news. Trump can legitimately claim there were dissenting views within the administration on the certainty of the assessments by United States Special Operations Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Central Intelligence Agency. But he dismissed the severe problem instead of getting to the bottom of things. When the National Security Council convened and drafted a menu of options, Trump was focused on Prince Harry and his wife coming to the United States.
When the Russia bounties became public this summer, Trump was writing tweets about how his rally in Oklahoma established more historic ratings for Fox News. In his recent interview with Axios, the president was asked about the warning by a top United States military commander that Russia was arming Taliban militants who fought American soldiers. Trump simply answered, “We supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia.”
What baffles me is that many of his supporters appear to be fine with this. Trump famously boasted, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I would not lose any voters.” However, we now view a military corollary. He could allow Afghan militants to shoot our soldiers in the middle of a highway in Kabul and would not lose any voters.
The response of his base is the chant of fake news, despite the report from his own administration and the tortured twist of logic in order to grant the president the benefit of the doubt. Several of his supporters have told me that it is unfair to criticize him because “intelligence is a sensitive matter” and “it could be different behind the scenes.”
As if an identical report by the administration of Barack Obama would not have those same tongues lashing or calling him a traitor on Fox News. The darkest danger in all this is that we have become numb to everything. The most heinous act of a commander in chief seems to have fallen on us like one discordant note in a loud rock concert. The people, according to the Electoral College, wanted something different four years ago. They got a president who turns his back on his soldiers while he simply tweets and defends Moscow more vigorously than he defends our fighters.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and was the chairman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.
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