Friday, February 17, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Russian roulette

The American people deserve to know if our nation’s chain of command has been compromised by Russian intelligence operatives.

Arkansas’ congressional delegation should join Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and others in their condemnation of Donald Trump’s admiration of Russia.

Arkansas’ congressmen should convince President Trump to release his tax returns to ease worries that his fondness for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is not due to any financial ties with that country.

Every president since Richard Nixon, except Gerald Ford, has released his tax returns. It is just part of the job. None of them brought with them any suspicion of foreign espionage and interference that has shaken our democracy so dramatically.

The National Security Agency, the CIA and the FBI have determined that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the Democratic National Committee officials to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign in order to promote Moscow’s favored candidate, Donald Trump, a political novice who has taken positions that undermine traditional American foreign policy.

This week, it was reported that several top Trump campaign officials were frequently in contact with Russian spies. The communications were captured by NSA surveillance. Trump’s national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, resigned after lying to the vice president, and perhaps the FBI, about the nature of his discussions with the Russian ambassador in Washington, who is a high-level intelligence agent operating with official cover and full diplomatic immunity.

The National Security Council remains in turmoil after retired Vice Admiral Robert S. Harward, Trump’s choice to succeed Flynn, said Friday he wasn’t intrested in the job.

In the campaign and since taking office, Trump has advocated cutting back our military operations in Europe by telling NATO allies to pay more for their security or the U.S. will do less for them. Putin couldn’t have written that policy position better himself.

Trump’s vitriol toward U.S. intelligence agencies and attacks on the press are also reminiscent of Kremlin-style propaganda.

Russia is on the rise. We must prepare for a military confrontation. A Russian spy boat has been cruising the eastern seaboard this week. It was spotted just 30 miles off the Connecticut coast. Russian fighter jets continue to buzz U.S. Navy ships to show Moscow’s brazen contempt for international security, but the close encounters are also mock attacks.

The U.S. must prepare for the worst with Russia. We should not be planning to team up to defeat ISIS in Syria.

Russia’s barbaric military operations in Syria have only helped ISIS grow stronger by butchering the democratic opposition while allowing Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad to hold on to power.

Few, if any, of Russia’s bombing targets have focused on ISIS terrorists. Mostly, they’ve targeted civilians who have fled to Europe, creating political divisions that in turn play into Putin’s bloody hands.

Russia’s activities in Syria are war crimes by any measure. Moscow is as much to blame for the rise of ISIS as it is for the world’s refugee crisis.

Russia is every bit as brutal and repressive today as it was under communism. It’s willingness to indiscriminately kill civilians in Syria, invade Ukraine, murder journalists, imprison Putin’s political opponents and business rivals must not be mistaken for strength.

Mississippi-native Shepard Smith of Fox News said of the President on Thursday, “He keeps repeating ridiculous throwaway lines that are not true at all and sort of avoiding this issue of Russia as if we’re some kind of fools for asking the question. Really? Your opposition was hacked, and the Russians were responsible for it, and your people were on the phone with Russia on the same day it was happening, and we’re fools for asking the questions?”

Former Republican Congressman Joe Scar-borough from Florida, now on MSNBC, in a column last week in The Washington Post blasted Trump’s glowing reviews of Putin.

“Despite what Trump would have the world believe, the historical record is unambiguous. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia. That much is clear. What is not is why Trump would so gleefully continue to spread this dangerous lie,” Scarborough said.

Putin can only re-establish Russia as a world power by compromising, blackmailing and coercing politicians around the world. That must not happen in the United States.