A gentleman recently asked what kind of action I thought the president should take to punish Vladimir Putin for his hostile acts against the United States. The question was in response to my insistence that our top intelligence officials and Congress speak out and demand presidential action to counter Russian aggression against this country.
In addition to clearly acknowledging Russia’s intervention in the 2016 elections, the president must personally and publicly call out Putin, punish him and his cronies for their aggressive acts, and warn them that severe countermeasures will be taken if it ever happens again. An American president’s forcefully-spoken word carries great weight around the world.
When President Kennedy warned Premier Khrushchev that Soviet nuclear missiles had to be removed from Cuba, or else, the Russians got the message and the missiles were gone. When President Reagan issued his famous demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” the Berlin Wall came down shortly thereafter. Neither of them left it to their underlings to make these important statements. This is an important responsibility of our elected leader.
When this country is attacked, when our election process is subverted, when Russia carries out numerous hostile acts against the interests of the U.S. and our allies, silence and appeasement do not work. Strong words and actions by our Commander in Chief are absolutely essential. This is not a job to be delegated to subordinates. We have not yet had the kind of words directly from our president that are necessary to protect the vital interests of the United States.
The president could take a page from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s playbook. In response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a Putin enemy in her country, PM May promptly and forcefully called out the Russians for their criminal act, expelled 23 Russian officials, and promised other punitive actions. She appears to be a tough, stand-up lady. I hope our president can be at least as tough. And, while he’s at it, he should personally and publicly condemn and punish Russia for deploying a deadly chemical weapon on the soil of Great Britain, our closest ally. The joint statement issued with our allies is nice but does not carry the weight of forceful words from our president’s mouth.
Next, the president could and should impose all of the sanctions Congress authorized by a veto-proof vote last year in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which is now Public Law 115-44. Those include an array of punishing sanctions against Putin and the cronies who have helped him plunder his country’s assets. The administration has just tiptoed into imposing some of those sanctions, but much more needs to be done. Congress also authorized a $250 million fund to counter nefarious Russian activities, but nothing has yet been done with those funds. The Russians must be shown that we will not roll over when they carry out activities that strike at the very heart of our democracy.
The president should also direct his attorney general, the Treasury Department and the FBI to vigorously investigate and prosecute Russian oligarchs who have clandestinely transferred billions of dollars out of Russia and laundered them through phony deals involving real estate and other assets in the U.S. They and those who have assisted them must be dealt with harshly.
Those are just a few of the things we should do to punish Putin and prevent future aggression. If the president acts publicly and decisively, the message will get through. Vladimir Putin understands strength, but attacks when he senses weakness.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice, and a former Idaho attorney general.