I had never heard of Lt Col. Alexander Vindman until the Trump-Ukraine telephone call.
This was the infamous phone call where Trump asked the Ukraine President to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden in exchange for foreign aid and a visit to the White House. Vindman and others were listening in on the call.
Vindman knew the gravity of reporting this conversation, but he did it anyway. The fallout impacted Vindman personally and professionally, as well as his twin brother, who was also a military officer.
The fallout from his testimony was immediate. Vindman was branded a lot of things, his military career was essentially over, and he received threats on his life. Naturally, Trump, along with some GOP members of Congress, the conservative media and the far-right attacked the messager, not the crime. Vindman was called a traitor, and colluded with the Deep State to bring down Trump.
Here, Right Matters, is Vindman’s story, published this year. Vindman would not have written this book, and few people would know his name, if he had not been privy to that telephone call between Trump and the Ukraine President. Vindman immediately believed that Trump had crossed a line in pressing for dirt on Biden, then, likely his Democratic opponent.
Vindman’s book is a better read than I imagined. Here is a man, who fled to America as a boy with his family, knew nothing of this country or its language, but became an Army officer and held a national security position high up in our government. The American Dream? Absolutely.
One of the book’s chapters is “The Moral Compass” which could have been the title of the book, because values are really at its core. Vindman does not paint himself as a saint, noble and oozing goodness. As he recounts his life, military career and own value system, he is contrite and offers up many mistakes and lessons learned.
Vindman served in numerous hot spots, primarily Korea and Iraq. He commanded combat troops and was wounded by an IED while on patrol during his deployment in Iraq. Vindman also served as a training officer and coordinated strategy for counter-insurgency. He was not a desk jockey who read reports and make presentations; Vindman was in the field and on patrol. He saw fellow soldiers die and was himself under fire.
Having fled the Ukraine in 1979, Vindman ironically, later returned there on military assignment. He already spoke fluent Russian, but learned Ukrainian, and traveled extensively throughout Asia. He soaked up the history and culture of his ancestors, wanting to better understand those who he would work with in his role as political officer. The Ukraine and Russia would become his specialty as he moved up the career ladder and eventually joined the National Security Council in the Trump Administration.
Vindman was stationed in the Ukraine when Putin invaded the Crimea. He observed first-hand what was called hybrid warfare, conventional military action along with the soft war: cyber attacks, false news, disinformation, third-party bad actors and election interference. Sound familiar?
Skipping ahead, Vindman worked for the Joint Chiefs before going to work at the NSC. The Ukraine and Russia were his areas of expertise as Vindman had lived the early part of his life under the old Soviet Union. His relatives lived and died under Stalin and at the hands of the Nazis. Vindman grew up in America, rising from a poor immigrant to a very successful intelligence officer at the highest level of our government. His experience overseas in commanding combat troops and observing Russian intrusion into a neighboring sovereign state, put Vindman in a valuable and unique position to provide analysis and assessment to the White House. With the Joint Chiefs, his role involved in developing military strategy and operations towards Russia, and Russian influence throughout the world. At the time, the hottest spot was Syria, where both Russia and the U.S. were fighting ISIL.
Of course, under Trump, policy towards Russia took an about-face. Trump had in essence a “hands-off” approach to addressing Russia’s meddling in the Ukraine, while sending Rudy Giuliani to the Ukraine pushing the claims against the Biden’s. As he pressed for the investigations, Secretary of State Pompeo recalled the U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine. The White House then put a hold on $400M in aid earmarked by Congress for the Ukraine.
That aside, Vindman provides readers a journey of his life, highlighting his leadership evolution and development of his moral compass. Here, right matters. This is the basis for reporting the Trump telephone conversation. I will not get into Trump’s denial of doing anything wrong, or his impeachment, those things are easy to find elsewhere. The interesting part of the book is Vindman’s motivated and his sense of duty. You may agree or not agree with what he did or with Trump.
Most of us will never have to make the decision that Vindman did, to testify before Congress, knowing that your life will change forever. Vindman did not hesitate reporting Trump’s telephone call, he felt bound by his military officer responsibility and his oath to defend the Constitution. However, he grappled with being an officer testifying against his commander in chief, and dealing with the retaliation that immediately came his way.
The White House prepared a list of six charges against Vindman and directed the army to investigate them. The army did, and found no evidence to support the charges. Trump was vindictive, firing Vindman, and also his brother who worked at the Pentagon as a lawyer, and having them escorted out by security.
Although Vindman was still active-duty, the army did not know what to do with him. Whatever they decided, it would be an invisible job. On track to become a full colonel, that didn’t happen. Trump’s White House held up the army’s promotions list. Vindman, seeing no military future, retired. The promotions list was released two days later, with Vindman’s name. Ironic.
Today, Vindman is pursuing a doctorate in international studies, in addition to writing and speaking.
Vindman’s story is incredible on several levels. The kid from the Soviet Union achieved the American Dream. He spent much of his military career advising his new country on his old one, while keeping Russia always in his view. There is a lot of irony in Vindman’s story. If you read the book, you’ll discover it.