Donald Trump’s response to Russia’s attempts to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan is a dereliction of duty, and yet another sad reminder that the actions of the US president cost American lives.
Numerous reports detail how the Trump administration – and the president himself – were aware as early as 2019 that Russia had been offering bounties to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan to kill US soldiers. The United States reportedly has evidence of money transfers from a bank account controlled by Russian military intelligence to a Taliban-linked account and has identified a possible middleman who helped distribute the cash to the Taliban. These bounties have been linked to the deaths of American soldiers.
Despite the fact that this information was known to the Trump administration for at least months, there is no indication that the president has done anything to punish Russia. The White House has not even attempted to convince the public otherwise. To the contrary, Trump has continued his obsequious behavior towards Vladimir Putin. Since the intelligence on bounties was reportedly provided to Trump in February 2020, Trump has spoken with Putin numerous times, praised Putin publicly, invited Russia to rejoin the G7 group of democracies, and announced the withdrawal of thousands of troops from Germany without consulting US allies – a giant gift to the Russian president.
In its attempts to deflect from the story, the White House has trotted out a dizzying mix of contradictory excuses – including arguing that the information was not briefed to Trump because it was uncorroborated, yet simultaneously serious enough to justify warning US allies. Trump has claimed the whole thing is a hoax. The national security adviser tried to blame one of Trump’s intelligence briefers for not highlighting it for Trump.
It is impossible to believe that Trump was somehow unaware. Every other senior official in the government would have been made aware of the information; it was widely distributed within the intelligence community by May; and it would have been included in each of the briefings for Trump before his calls with Putin in the last few months. Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA and NSA, made clear that the intelligence agencies regularly brief the president on information that is not 100% verified – that’s how intelligence works. And the former national security adviser Susan Rice explained how she would have dealt with information: “Had I, as national security adviser, received even ‘raw’ reporting that Russia was paying to kill US service members, I would have walked straight into the Oval Office to brief the president.”
In its attempts to deflect from the story, the White House has trotted out a dizzying mix of contradictory excuses
Which leads to the disturbing reality: Trump knew that Russia was paying people to kill American soldiers and he not only did nothing to stop it, but he continued to praise and do favors for Putin. Since the moment Trump asked Putin to hack personal information from Trump’s political opponents in 2016, everyone has wondered why Trump acts as though he is in debt to Putin. Whatever the reason for Trump’s consistent attempts to ingratiate himself with Putin and seek his help at the expense of the American people – from the 2016 campaign to taking Putin’s word over that of the US intelligence community – the result is clear: Putin believes he can act with impunity against the US. In addition to doing so by targeting US soldiers, he is probably attempting to interfere in our election this year, yet again, to help Trump.
This story is, of course, much bigger than the Trump-Putin relationship. It is about the danger that lies at the core of the Trump administration. The American president, it has become disturbingly clear, is not looking out for the American people. Trump looks out only for himself – whether it’s asking Russia, China, or Ukraine to help him advance his personal political agenda or continuing to profit off his personal business while in office.
Beyond Afghanistan, one need only look at Trump’s disastrous response to the pandemic, which has already killed more than 128,000 Americans and is currently raging through the country without the slightest hint that Trump will take the actions necessary to save lives.
Whether it’s US soldiers in Afghanistan or the thousands of Americans that have died in the pandemic, it seems every day like the president can’t be troubled to do what’s necessary to protect the American people.