Las Vegas Sun

June 22, 2018

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Where I Stand:

An American first: Russian aggression met by impotence

Mr. Khrushchev, stand down your missiles.

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

Mr. Putin, tear down our democracy and we will stand down while you do it.

Which of these statements by the president of the United States is not like the others?

Which of these statements is unlike any sentiment ever expressed by any president of the United States?

The answer is obvious, just as is the fact that the statement I have attributed to President Donald Trump is obviously false. The reality, however, is disturbingly true.

The reality is that our country has been attacked by Russia in a most brutal and effective way. It launched a direct assault on free and fair elections, which are the bedrock of our democracy, and our president, as best I can tell, has refused not only to acknowledge that attack but to retaliate against the attacker.

In 2018, cyberwarfare can be as devastating as nuclear warfare. And in some circumstances even more so.

I remember when the Cuban missile crisis took place in 1962. Fidel Castro asked our then-Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union, which was run by Nikita Khrushchev, to build him some missile silos 90 miles from the United States and put nuclear-tipped warheads in them.

President John F. Kennedy thought that was a terrible idea, and for almost two weeks in the fall of that year, he stared down the Russians until Khrushchev blinked. We avoided a nuclear war, which wasn’t a given by any stretch of the imagination, and worked our way toward the sanity of an arms-control agreement.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan went to Berlin and told Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, which was still our enemy, to “tear down this wall.” He was referring to the Berlin Wall, which the Soviet Union built in 1961 and was the symbol of the Cold War. It separated East Berlin from West Berlin and, symbolically, Iron Curtain countries (which were not free) from Western Europe (those countries that were free). The rest is history.

Today, it is a certainty that Russia — still our enemy — interfered with our 2016 presidential election. We still do not know the full impact of that interference, but suggesting there was none is a fool’s errand. It is also a certainty that Russia plans to do the same in this year’s midterms unless we do something to stop them.

And therein lies the problem. President Donald Trump promised to be a very different kind of president than his predecessors. Especially as it relates to our relations with our enemy, Russia, he is fulfilling that campaign promise to the hilt.

Every other U.S. president would have taken Russia to the woodshed by now to protect the sanctity of the United States’ election process. After all, our ability to govern ourselves through free and fair elections is the hallmark of this democracy, which has endured for the past two and a half centuries. Destroying the sanctity of the voting booth is every bit as lethal as destroying our country with nuclear bombs.

But, for some inexplicable reason, President Trump remains impotent. He is clearly not like the others. And that is what scares me because at a time when our country is under attack in a most fundamental way, President Trump is AWOL.

And now, perhaps emboldened by our lack of response to Vladimir Putin’s direct attacks on our election process, the Russian president is showing off his “invincible” new nuclear missiles.

And so the war continues. This time, however, without a leader like Kennedy or Reagan, this Cold War could very easily turn into a hot mess.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.