Friday, June 28, 2019. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)By the A report for the Joint Chiefs of Staff says Russia continues to undermine free societies around the world through propaganda, misinformation and other means short of military force. And it warns that America isn’t pushing back with the kind of global promotion of democracy that it once did.
The report’s authors undoubtedly knew better than to directly suggest that their boss, President Donald Trump, has exacerbated this abdication of America’s leadership of the free world with his coddling attitude toward the Kremlin, but that’s the unavoidable message between the lines. Congressional Republicans should heed it and stop giving Trump cover on this issue.
The 150-plus-page white paper, titled “Russian Strategic Intentions,” warns that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is undermining democratic nations with various methods, including “threatening other states militarily, or compromising their societies, economies, and governments by employing a range of means and methods to include propaganda, disinformation, and cultural, religious, and energy coercion.”
It warns that the U.S. lacks the compelling “story” of democracy that it has spread in the past, and that it must “better articulate U.S. interests and strategy to both ourselves and others.”
One passage reads like an accounting of everything Trump isn’t doing that needs to be done. “As during the Cold War, the most effective antidote to propaganda is free press, backed up by resilient democratic institutions,” it states. “To counter Russian military proxies, the United States can increase the capabilities of allies and partners. Meanwhile, Russian threats to use force can be mitigated by demonstrating U.S. resolve and capability to deter and defeat Russian aggression.”
Overlay those words with the actions of this president: He attacks the credibility of the free press, musing openly about how it could or should be made less free. He undermines democratic institutions like the courts and Congress, seeking to circumvent their oversight. Rather than increasing “the capabilities of allies and partners,” he kneecaps them with unprovoked trade wars and threats to dissolve NATO.
As for “demonstrating U.S. resolve and capability to deter and defeat Russian aggression,” how does that jibe with Trump’s shameful display in Helsinki last year, when he publicly accepted Putin’s denials of the election interference that U.S. intelligence agencies had already confirmed? He followed up last month at the G-20 Summit in Japan, jokingly warning Putin, “Don’t meddle in the election, president.” Then the two shared a smirk over it.
The white paper is a promising sign that even within Trump’s administration, foreign policy experts understand the threat that Russia continues to pose to democracy around the world. But as long as Trump himself refuses to address or even acknowledge the situation — and as long as Republican leaders who know better continue to allow this abdication of presidential duty — the threat will continue.