Do you think the president is reluctant to kill anyone—Russian or otherwise—who tries to kill Americans? If so, think again. Better yet, ask anyone in the Iranian regime.
Iran just put out an arrest warrant for the president of the United States. His alleged crime: ordering an attack on General Qassem Suleimani.
That order came in January when the president received solid intelligence that Suleimani, commander of Iran's Quds Force, had deliberately targeted American soldiers in Iraq. Suleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike shortly thereafter.
There is a lesson there.
If the White House had solid intelligence about the GRU, the foreign military-intelligence agency of the Russian armed forces, offering bounties for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan (as alleged by some recent media reporting led by The New York Times), the president would take exactly the same step. He would find out who they are. He would never rest until they were punished. He would care no more about upsetting the Kremlin than he fretted about upsetting the mullahs in Tehran.
As the commander-in-chief, the president’s job is to have the back of the men and women around the world who go into harm’s way on our behalf. He has consistently done that.
The president also has a long track record of standing up to Moscow. True, Trump has kept the offer of a diplomatic channel open to Putin. So what? Most world leaders have also sought a working relationship with Russia. Just days ago, French President Macron called for more dialogue with Moscow.
Trump, however, has always dealt with Putin from a position of strength. He has gotten our allies to beef up their investments in NATO. He has helped arm Ukraine in their battle against Russian proxies. He has pulled out of the one-sided (in Russia’s favor) Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces and the Open Skies treaties. He has opposed the NordStream II pipeline, which would give Russia more leverage over Europe. And all the while he has supported sanctions on Russia.
The record is clear. Trump has taken plenty of steps to beef up U.S. military muscle and push back against Russian aggression. The last thing he would do is give Moscow a pass for taking contracts out on American soldiers.
So what should we expect the president to do about these reports of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers? We should expect the same judicious and deliberate approach he demonstrated in dealing with Iran.
The president went after Suleimani only after the U.S. fully verified claims that the Iranian had targeted Americans for attack. Once U.S. intelligence had Suleimani dead to rights, Trump gave the approval to strike. Even then, the president came in for withering criticism.
Murder-for-hire is exactly the kind of despicable, covert tactic we can expect from the GRU. It’s how the Soviets operated during Cold War, and Putin is notorious for his penchant for reaching back to the old bag of tricks to wreak mayhem on the modern world.
And there is no doubt the Russians would love to see the Afghan peace process collapse. Putin would like nothing better than to see American peace-making fail.
In dealing with Putin, however, no administration can afford to make foreign policy at the behest of haphazard reporting by the New York Times. Just having “intelligence” reports is not enough to guide international relations and life-and-death decision making.
Before they can be considered actionable, intelligence reports must go through a rigorous intelligence assessment that weighs sources and methods. The intelligence community must make sure it knows not just what is being done, but who is really behind the action.
Since the Times story came out, administration officials—including the secretary of defense, director of national intelligence and the national security advisor—have confirmed that the president was not briefed and that the intelligence wasn’t ready for prime time.
They do, however, now have something more to worry about: the intelligence leak that sparked the story. They fear it might actually put soldiers’ lives at risk by compromising on-going intelligence efforts to get to ground truth.
What if the intelligence community does verify that the Russians are offering bounties for dead Americans? Once that assessment is made, the president can be properly briefed and given suitable, credible options for responding. Then, and only then, the president should he take decisive action, just as he did with Suleimani.
This piece originally appeared in Fox News