Schultheis: None dare call it treason

Friday, March 2, 2018 10:35 PM
Illustration by David Holub/Durango Herald; images via Associated Press and Rob Schultheis
Rob Schultheis

Three or four weeks ago, I found myself marching in front of the San Miguel County Courthouse with a crowd of sign-carrying demonstrators.

Most of the other placards dealt with women’s rights, environmental concerns and such, but mine was a little different:

“IMPEACH THE COMMIE SPY.” it read. I would have written “TRAITOR” instead of “SPY,” but “Spy” fit best.

For those readers already scratching their heads in bafflement or choking with rage on their coffee, let me explain my sign and what led to it.

Way back in 1984, I began reporting on the then-Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan, and what I witnessed there turned me into a passionate foe of Moscow and all it stands for. The Red Army regularly wiped out vast areas of the Afghan countryside, exterminating men, women and children and driving the survivors into exile, as refugees. Babies were burned alive, women were raped and then thrown out of helicopters, mosques and schools were desecrated and destroyed. Eventually, almost a quarter of Afghanistan’s people, 4 million people in all, were jammed in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran, and at least a million and a half civilians were dead.

Some people laughed at him back then, but Ronald Reagan was 100 percent correct when he called the Soviet Union “the Evil Empire.” Putin’s shrunken version of the USSR today is no better. Putin is invading neighboring countries like Ukraine, bombing civilians in Syria and attempting to interfere in the electoral process here and in Western Europe.

We Americans seem to be nearly amnesiac when it comes to history, but this is the exact same Russian system that produced Stalin, the Russia that allied itself with Hitler until he turned against them and the Russia that killed at least as many people in its infamous Gulag system as the Nazis did in their hellish concentration camps.

Today, Hitler is reviled in his homeland, but Stalin continues to be venerated as a national hero in his own homeland.

Here is a quick look at Trump’s collusion with Moscow:

At the last Republican Convention, the party’s platform included a plank calling for the U.S. to arm Ukraine after Russia invaded that country and occupied Crimea. Trump and company succeeded in having the plank removed, virtually inviting Moscow to continue interfering in Ukraine. Trump callously shrugged off the Russian invasion: “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly praised the Russians for releasing stolen WikiLeaks documents about Hillary Clinton and asked them for more. On July 28, 2017, a reporter asked Trump if he would tell Moscow not to interfere in our elections. “I’m not going to tell Putin what to do,” he replied. “Why should I tell him what to do?”

Last August, Congress voted overwhelmingly for the “Countering America’s Adversaries Act,” which imposed a Jan. 31 deadline on Russia; unless Moscow ceased interfering in our elections and backed off on its aggressive foreign policy, we would impose new economic sanctions on Putin’s regime.

When Jan. 31 rolled around, the Russians were busier than ever, working to sabotage our next elections, but Trump refused to enact the new sanctions. He still does. Thank god he wasn’t the chief executive on Dec. 7, 1941.

In a Congressional hearing this week, Adm. Michael Rogers, head of the NSA, warned the senators: “I believe that President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion there’s little price to pay here, and that therefore (he) can continue this activity.” He and the other intelligence chiefs in attendance were unanimous in saying they have received no orders from the White House to mount an organized counterattack on Russia.

I lost many good friends when I was in Afghanistan and Iraq, trying to do my part to defend our nation’s values. It absolutely nauseates me to see our highest elected official and his cronies betray that same precious heritage.

Is “treason” too strong a word to describe what is going on today in the White House and Trump Tower? Webster’s defines the word, in part, as “betraying the state into the hands of a foreign power; disloyalty; treachery.” Whether our president is a victim of blackmail or a willing partner in crime, he is betraying his own country. That’s the point, and it’s crystal clear.

“None dare call it treason,” Sen. Barry Goldwater once wrote. It’s about time to aim the phrase at our current administration and demand the guilty be brought to justice before it is too late.

Rob Schultheis has covered Afghanistan and the Middle East for Time, CBS, NPR and The New York Times. He also writes about climbing, the arts and environment from his home in Telluride. Reach him at