In one way, it’s not exactly surprising that President Donald Trump reportedly shared with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak some “highly classified” information about a specific threat from ISIS, setting off alarm bells inside the intelligence community that the president himself had just “jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.” After all those kind words traded back and forth and awash in the good cheer that was evident in those now infamous photos of their meeting last week, he just seems to have overshared a little.
But one reason the alleged presidential disclosure is hugely significant—even aside from its likely impact on Trump’s already strained relationship with his own intelligence community, and the likelihood it will damage intelligence-sharing relationships America depends on—is that it is yet another fruit of a strategy the Kremlin has long stuck to: telling the West that Russia is its ally on counterterrorism. This was, after all, what the Kremlin said Putin and Trump had discussed on their call two weeks ago, and it is the one area of cooperation that Putin continues to hold out to the West.
It is a brilliant ploy. After every terrorist attack—Nice, Berlin, Paris—Putin reaches out and offers his empathy. He feels it, too, because he too knows the burden of fighting terrorists. Why not work together to defeat a common enemy? It is a difficult proposition to say no to. And it’s easy to see how Trump, who spent his whole campaign railing against the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism,” and who does not see the harm in being friendly with Russia, not only didn’t say no, but decided to really, truly cooperate and share some information he thought would be useful in their common mission. He seemed to say as much this morning, when he tweeted that, “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”