What must our Gold Star families think?
Our country is suffering not only from COVID19 but from President 45 as well. Hopefully, there will soon be a life-saving vaccine for the first, growing from science and the best, but possibly incomplete, knowledge we have. The eradication of the other must come through an election, based on what we know.
We can argue, often in a partisan way, about many things President 45 has done, but the reported Russian bounty on American military lives is not one. It should be beyond partisanship. Silence from Republicans in the Senate should end. A rare whisper is not enough.
The White House explanations of what the president knew, if anything, have been ludicrous.
At first, The White house took an adamant stance that President 45 was never briefed on the allegation/likelihood that Vladimir Putin’s government had provided a bounty for Americans killed by the Taliban — something not likely to have been done without authorization from on high, as it demands cash beyond a Russian general’s weekly allowance.
Then they said the intelligence was not definitive and beyond question — “unverified” — so there was no reason to brief the president. But that is the nature of much clandestine-gained information.
As the outrage grew and Republican senators were briefed on the matter, the description changed to the president not being “fully read in” on the details.
President 45, predictably, declared “I think it’s a hoax. I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.”
Now we know the information was included in the president’s written Daily Brief, which apparently, he does not read. The White House now maintains he wasn’t “personally briefed” — but insists he “does read” and is “the most informed person on planet Earth.”
But the information was put in front of the president.
No president gets casual rumor, unlikely tales, or spy-thriller first drafts. If it gets to his desk, it has been reviewed not once, but many times at several levels. It is considered fact with any necessary caveats explained.
I watched the process long ago and close up. During the Vietnam war, I worked for Hubert Humphrey, then Vice President of the United States. Even when President Johnson was angry with him, Humphrey was regularly briefed by a CIA agent assigned to our office and, for a while, by a military aide who later became a three-star Marine general. Humphrey also had a foreign policy expert, a Harvard Ph.D., on staff who read classified documents daily. What they all read was not an algebra book with balanced equations the end of a chapter — it was the best that could be gleaned from both open and covert agents around the world, from their transmissions and in-depth research. Agents often worked at great danger to provide the president with information so that he could take informed action. They did not supply bathroom reading.
None of this is irrelevant today, half a century later. A president must function; he must make decisions; he must act on what we think we know. Not to act and instead waiting for truth chipped in stone when our sons and daughters are dying so others can be paid a bounty should elicit more than grunts of “I didn’t know.” Russia should hear from us and not in a whisper.
Every Gold Star family now must think, did my son/daughter die for a payoff? Every veteran who has served our country and survived, must ask, “Could that have been me?”
Military death and its impact on a family is not abstract for me. In World War II, my brother, a 24-year-old Navy pilot, died when his plane crashed at sea. His crew survived, but he did not. His body was never recovered.
For my immigrant parents it was a blow that plagued them for years, as their land of opportunity robbed them of a son.
Yet, they took pride in knowing he served their adopted country. They didn’t know the word “bounty,” I’m sure, but if he had died for someone’s gain, they would have wept for many more years. They understood love of country, but not guns for hire.
Our president — God spare us another term — should hear now from every person who has served honorably for our country and lives today in deserved pride for answering our nation’s call.
All of us — including our senators — must ask, “Did our Commander in Chief strangely do nothing?” And then, if the answer is “yes,” we need to demand why.
“I didn’t hear, I didn’t read, I didn’t know” doesn’t cut it — and is just as deadly as COVID-19.
Norman Sherman was Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s press secretary, including during the 1968 convention and campaign. He edited Humphrey’s autobiography. During his decades in Washington, he worked in the House, Senate and Executive agencies. He has managed political campaigns in his home state of Minnesota. He held a chair at Louisiana State University as Professor of Political Communication. He is the author of “From Nowhere to Somewhere: My Political Journey,” a memoir covering his various work — paid and otherwise — for Minnesota politicians Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale, Wendy Anderson and Don Fraser.
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