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NATIONAL VIEW: Would Biden really be tougher against Russia? - Odessa American: Guest Columns

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NATIONAL VIEW: Would Biden really be tougher against Russia?

THE POINT: He wasn’t in the past.

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Posted: Friday, July 3, 2020 2:30 am

It is going to be something to behold, on Jan. 21, 2021, when President Biden takes revenge on Russia for paying the Taliban to kill Americans in Afghanistan. He’ll task the CIA with killing the Russian agents behind the bounties, send lethal aid to Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression, work with allies to oust Russia and Cuba from Venezuela, withdraw from the arms deals Russia is violating, and ratchet up sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany.

Of course Mr. Biden will do none of that, which ought to put into context the latest Washington uproar over the alleged Russian bounties and President Trump. The stories, leaked by anonymous sources, are another dive into the murky Washington nexus among intelligence, the media and politics.

Mr. Trump is cast again as the villain who knew the intelligence and did nothing, or should have known but didn’t, and in any event he must be in hock to Vladimir Putin. Mr. Trump and his advisers say he wasn’t briefed on the bounties intelligence, but sources (again anonymous) say it did appear in his daily intelligence briefing that he rarely reads. U.S. intelligence chiefs are denouncing the leakers, who no doubt want to damage Mr. Trump before the election.

Our first reaction is that the Taliban have been killing Americans for years for the religious pleasure of it — why would getting paid make all that much difference? Iranians have been paying them to kill Americans, and so have jihadist elements in Pakistan, including some in the intelligence services.

A second point is why anyone is surprised that Mr. Putin’s Russia would try to make trouble for America? He’s been doing it for at least 12 years, across three Administrations, since he invaded neighboring Georgia in 2008. Mr. Biden’s reaction to that affront was to blame the George W. Bush Administration and call for a “reset” with Russia.

Mr. Putin is interfering in America’s backyard by propping up the Maduro regime in Venezuela. He is trying to drive a wedge in NATO by selling S-400 anti-aircraft missiles to Turkey. He is propping up the murderous Assad regime in Syria. He is blocking an extension of the United Nations arms embargo against Iran.

His agents traveled to the U.K. and tried to kill a Russian defector with a deadly nerve agent but killed an innocent Briton instead. His government recently imprisoned a former U.S. Marine on what are almost certainly trumped up spying charges. And, by the way, he interfered in the 2016 U.S. election under the nose of the Obama-Biden Administration. Paying to kill Americans is hardly a giant leap of bad faith for Russia’s president for life.

In the face of all this, Mr. Trump’s continuing personal solicitousness toward Mr. Putin is strange bordering on the bizarre. It’s accomplished nothing except damage his own political standing. But then Mr. Trump has toughened sanctions against Russia, has sent Javelin antitank missiles to Ukraine that Obama-Biden refused to send, has withdrawn from two arms deals Russia is violating, and has tried to stop Nord Stream 2. He’s been far tougher on Russia than Obama-Biden ever was.

What we’d like to hear from Messrs. Biden and Trump this year is what they’ll do in response if the intelligence about Russian bounties is verified. Does Mr. Trump still want to reward Mr. Putin with an invitation to the G-7? If he does it would rival his near-invitation last year to the Taliban to visit Camp David as an insult to Americans who gave their lives in Afghanistan.

As for Mr. Biden, has he learned anything since his last go-round with the Russian? He now talks tough about Russia and says Mr. Putin has “no soul,” but that was true when Mr. Biden sought his Russian reset in 2009, and when Barack Obama attacked Mitt Romney as an unreconstructed Cold Warrior in 2012. Is there anything specific that Mr. Biden would do that would deter Mr. Putin from further attacks on Americans or U.S. interests?

Concern about deals Mr. Trump might strike with Mr. Putin in a second term is legitimate. If only we could trust that Mr. Biden would be any better, and he might be worse.

Odessa, TX

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