It’s hard to imagine anything worse than secretly paying a bounty to enemies who kill our soldiers as they trod their last agonizing miles across the rocky kitty litter that is Afghanistan. But that is apparently what the Russians have done.
The White House has known about this for quite some time and can’t seem to muster up a response that is appropriate. This is why President Trump is actually so bad at what presidents are supposed to do. He now knows about a scheme to reward the killers of our soldiers who are in not quite full retreat from that ghastly place, and does nothing about it.
I’m hoping stupidity is the explanation, as it is with so many other Trumpian things, but I’m afraid it could be worse than that. It could be the president thinks he has somehow bonded a relationship with Vladimir Putin that will help Trump in the long run. He could not be more wrong about anything.
Trump may well still believe the Russians helped him get elected, when their real objective was warping our Democracy beyond all recognition because disruption is what the modern Russians are all about. When he was up there shouting about how the Russians could help by finding Hillary’s missing e-mails, the Russians were sitting back and figuring ways to just get to all that stuff and do not much of anything with it, just to show that they could.
What would be the benefit of that?
Maybe they are as flawed as our own president, doing things just to show they can still do things in a world in which their influence has been vastly diminished over the past two decades. When I lived in Russia during the Cold War, I was scared much of the time, but not of Leonid Brezhnev or a host of other Soviet luminaries. It was the rank and file that scared me, the people who would sell you out for access to a suit from Finland. There were plenty of those.
Those people all had to work someplace, and many of them flocked to domestic spying and intelligence work. Many of them are at it still, hiding in plain sight while they turn in friends and neighbors, basically for access to new suits from someplace that is NOT Russia. Or new cars. Or new dollars. Who can say?
One of the things I loved and hated about the Russia I lived in was that it was such an easily bribed place. There was no risk to it because as an American, you were the goose with golden eggs. Who’s going to hurt that thing? Six packs of Marlboros, a quart of vodka, a box of Champion spark plugs and some great chocolate and you could get just about anything you needed in Russia.
You could even play in the black market world of currency by using your golden American dollars to buy electronics (tape players, mostly) and then selling them to black marketeers for dirty roubles. (They were literally dirty roubles that had been used, unlike the perfect new roubles you got at the bank. Something you paid $120 for would bring thousands of dirty roubles if you sold it to the right person. Risky? You bet. But very profitable. In the real world inside your head, it finally gave you a figure for the actual value of a rouble. The state was asking $1.73 in those days, but the market was saying 3 or 4 cents.
Of course that was all illegal and wrong. But, now you see where it leads, to intelligence operatives with no scruples who pay bounties for the heads of American soldiers.
What we can say is that this is so typical that any amateur intelligence operative would know how to handle it. Find their communications pathways with the Taliban or whatever other group is working the other side, screw them up so completely no one will ever be able to use them again then move on to the next abomination. In the interim, steal whatever they are saying to warn our troops that they are being marked for death by an enemy they can’t see. It could save a life, or not. Also, spread around some dollars in Moscow and watch them draw the fish. They remain a kleptocracy, after all.
There is, of course, a longer story here about Afghanistan and how it has always been able to mix violence, money, opium, whatever in to a fatal stew for anyone who sits down for dinner. The best part of this story is that it means the Russians are still highly invested a place where they, liked everyone else, have already lost many a war.
We could use that to our advantage if our president had half a brain.