During last year’s impeachment process directed against President Donald Trump, Congress obtained testimony from a parade of witnesses to or participants in what was inevitably being referred to as UkraineGate. It centered around an investigation into whether Trump inappropriately sought a political quid pro quo from Ukrainian leaders in exchange for a military assistance package.
The prepared opening statement by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, described as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council (NSC), provided some insights into how decision making at the NSC actually works. Vindman was born to a Jewish family in Ukraine but emigrated to the United States at age three. He was commissioned as an army infantry officer in 1998 and served in some capacity in Iraq from 2004-5, where he was wounded by a roadside bomb and received a purple heart. Vindman, who speaks both Ukrainian and Russian fluently, has filled a number of diplomatic and military positions in government dealing with Eastern Europe, to include a key role in Pentagon planning on how to deal with Russia.
Vindman, Ukrainian both by birth and culturally, clearly was a major player in articulating and managing U.S. policy towards that country, but at that time it was sometimes noted that he did not really understand what his role on the NSC should have been. As more than likely the U.S. government’s sole genuine Ukrainian expert, he should have become a good source for consideration of viable options that the United States might exercise vis-à-vis its relationship with Ukraine, and, by extension, regarding Moscow’s involvement with Kiev. But that is not how his statement before congress, which advocated for a specific policy, read. Rather than providing expert advice, Vindman was concerned chiefly because arming Ukraine was not proceeding quickly enough to suit him, an extremely risky policy which had already created serious problems with a much more important Russia.
Part of Vindman’s written statement (my emphasis) is revealing: “”When I joined the NSC in July 2018, I began implementing the administration’s policy on Ukraine. In the Spring of 2019, I became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency. This narrative was harmful to U.S. government policy. While my interagency colleagues and I were becoming increasingly optimistic on Ukraine’s prospects, this alternative narrative undermined U.S. government efforts to expand cooperation with Ukraine.”
Vindman was also interested in promoting a policy that would limit any damage to the Democratic Party. Note the following additional excerpt from Vindman’s prepared statement to Congress: “…. I was worried about the implications for the US government’s support of Ukraine…. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”
So Alexander Vindman clearly was pushing a risky alternative policy that had not been endorsed by either the president of the United States or the secretary of state, who were and still are the responsible authorities for making decisions relating to foreign and national security issues. It is therefore tempting to conclude that Vindman was an integral part of the Washington inside-the-beltway Deep State, which believed the solution to the Ukraine problem was to send arms to Kiev to enable an attack on Russia that would in turn weaken President Vladimir Putin. Along the way, Vindman attempted to make the absurd claim that the political situation in Kiev was somehow important to U.S. national security, asserting that “Ukraine is a frontline state and a bulwark against Russian aggression.” He did not care to ask the inevitable next question, “Aggression against whom?” The combined visions of Russia as an aggressive, expansionistic power coupled with the brave Ukrainians serving as a bastion of freedom is so absurd that it is hardly worth countering.
It is perhaps not surprising to learn that Colonel Vindman is at it again, joining the chorus of former government officials who are seeking to bring about the defeat of Donald Trump in November. And this time around he has the useful bully pulpit provided by the New York Times and The Atlantic, which have featured a Times op-ed co-authored by him followed by a recorded and transcribed interview as well as another article based on yet another interview with The Atlantic. The Times op-ed revealed that Vindman has not learned anything about how the government works since he made the statement to Congress last year. In a piece entitled “Trump Has Sold Off America’s Credibility for His Personal Gain: From China to Ukraine, this president has acted at odds with American foreign policy. Imagine what he could do with four more years” it cites Vindman’s perspective that “…the president and his associates asked officials in Kyiv to deliver on Mr. Trump’s political interests in exchange for American military aid needed to defend Ukraine… This was not a unique instance of Mr. Trump’s personal priorities corrupting American foreign policy. As the 2020 election grew closer, the president increasingly ignored the policies developed by his own government and instead pursued transactions guided by self-interest and instinct.”
Colonel Vindman is wrong in not realizing that when it comes to foreign policy “his own government” is the president whose decisions are binding, whether one likes it or not. And he also fails to understand that bilateral international agreements and understandings are a process of horse trading, with favors being done by both sides. Trump was certainly within his rights to want to know about possible illegal activity carried out by the son of a former Vice President.
The Atlantic piece, written by editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg, former Israeli prison guard and now leading anti-Trump malcontent, quotes Vindman and editorializes as follows: “’President Trump should be considered to be a useful idiot and a fellow traveler, which makes him an unwitting agent of Putin,’” he says. Useful idiot is a term commonly used to describe dupes of authoritarian regimes; fellow traveler, in Vindman’s description, is a person who shares Putin’s loathing for democratic norms. But do you think Russia is blackmailing Trump? “’They may or may not have dirt on him, but they don’t have to use it,’” he says. “’They have more effective and less risky ways to employ him. He has aspirations to be the kind of leader that Putin is, and so he admires him. He likes authoritarian strongmen who act with impunity, without checks and balances. So he’ll try to please Putin.’” Vindman continues, “’In the Army we call this ‘free chicken,’ something you don’t have to work for—it just comes to you. This is what the Russians have in Trump: free chicken.’”
It is very easy to despise what passes for foreign policy in the Trump White House, but the alternative of rule by agenda-driven bureaucrats like Colonel Alexander Vindman is even more unpalatable from a constitutional point of view. His original testimony before Congress, wrapped in an air of sanctimoniousness and a uniform, should be regarded as little more than the conventional thinking that has produced foreign policy failure after failure in the past twenty years. Russia the perpetual enemy requiring “friends” like Ukraine with little regard for the actual threat level or the potential consequences. The fact that Vindman is how exploiting a bully pulpit on the largely discredited New York Times while also getting into bed with the scoundrel Jeffrey Goldberg should tell one all that is necessary to know. Trump is right about ending America’s love affair with foreign wars, even though it is a subject that neither he nor Joe Biden will be discussing. Vindman is little more than an apologist for why those useless wars are promoted and are continuing.
Philip M. Giraldi, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, a 501(c)3 tax deductible educational foundation (Federal ID Number #52-1739023) that seeks a more interests-based U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Website is https://councilforthenationalinterest.org, address is P.O. Box 2157, Purcellville VA 20134 and its email is [email protected].