Last week The New York Times jolted Washington’s political class with an opinion article by an anonymous “senior” White House official who asserted that many of President Donald Trump’s top advisers are actually working to undermine his policies, which they consider irresponsible, immature and potentially harmful to national security.
The piece raised several serious questions about Trump’s fitness for office, the functioning of his administration, whether loyalty to him or to the country is more important and whether bureaucrats should impose their judgment over that of the people’s elected officials.
But after considering recent events in Cuba, perhaps that article takes on an ominous new tone.
A year ago, after months of complaints by its staff, the State Department recalled from Havana all nonessential personnel, including family members. The department did so after a “sonic attack” of unknown origin made at least 25 American diplomats or their relatives sick.
America also expelled 15 Cuban diplomats, despite Cuba’s denial of knowledge or involvement in the alleged attack. The Cold War with Florida’s closest foreign neighbor, it seemed, was back on.
Then, earlier this month the Times reported that doctors who had examined the diplomats concluded that microwave blasts were “a main suspect” in the illnesses. The State Department and the FBI declined to affirm the theory. But Allen Frye, a scientist who first uncovered the effect of microwave beams on the brain in the 1960s, told the Times it was possible that “Cubans aligned with Russia ... might have launched microwave strikes in attempts to undermine developing ties between Cuba and the United States.”
Last week, Dr. Douglas Smith, who headed the medical team that evaluated the diplomats, walked back the findings. He told ABC News that microwaves were “on the list, but we haven’t determined it is the source.”
Yet, the theory won’t die.
On Tuesday, the Miami Herald, citing an NBC News report, noted that “unidentified U.S. officials said federal agencies investigating the incidents have intercepted intelligence communications that point to Russian responsibility for the attacks, although the evidence is not conclusive enough to formally accuse Moscow.”
Which brings us back to the Times’ oped.
Trump has hardened America’s position on Cuba, reversing the softening implemented by President Barack Obama. Yet Trump has been criticized for being soft on Russia and Putin, although U.S. policy has been tougher than Trump’s rhetoric.
In the oped, Anonymous referenced Trump’s supposed “preference for autocrats and dictators,” especially Putin. Additionally, the author pointed out Trump’s reluctance to punish Russia for “its malign behavior.” But, Anonymous offered, “his national security team knew better,” that actions such as sanctions “had to be taken to hold Moscow accountable.”
The State Department, including this week, has insisted that its position on the Cuban incident has not changed and that the investigation continues, the Herald reported. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert urged reporters to be “very skeptical” of NBC’s story.
Someone in Washington seems itching for a fight with Russia, and it’s not Trump.
A version of this editorial originally appeared in the Lakeland Ledger, a sister publication of the Daily News with Gatehouse Media.