The Washington Post reported on Friday that the CIA “…concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the Presidency….” The assessment was so secret that the CIA felt compelled to leak it to the Washington Post, which promptly put it on the front page. While the FBI acknowledged that the Russians intervened by hacking DNC and RNC servers, they were more circumspect about motives. They were apparently unwilling to say explicitly that the Russians were trying to help Trump win.
There are now various calls for the Senate to conduct an investigation of the situation. Senator John McCain joined with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer to say they will push “…to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyber attacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.”
For his part, His Majesty King Donald dismissed the story saying “It could be Russia…and it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.” (Why do they always have to pick on New Jersey?) Anyway, the Royal Transition Staff issued a statement that “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” At that, the usual chorus arrived wailing and moaning about the dire threat to “Our Democracy” and His Majesty’s apparent unwillingness to walk around the town square dressed in sack cloth and ashes to atone for his cavalier dismissal of the opinions of the intelligence agencies.
So let’s unpack all this.
Did Russia Interfere?
Is there any reason to believe that the Russian government tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election? Of course there is. They have interfered one way or another with American politics generally and U.S. Presidential elections specifically for at least 50 years. After all, who provided financing, propaganda and organizational help for communist front groups from the 1940s through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989? The Soviets did, that’s who.
So, yes, of course the Russian government tried to influence the outcome. Did Putin prefer Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton? Probably. So what? They probably preferred Obama to Romney. After all, it was Romney who in 2012 identified Russia as the greatest strategic threat faced by the U.S. And it was Obama who was caught on an open mike telling Putin to wait until after the 2012 election was over, after which time Obama could be more accommodative toward Russia.
Again, so what.
A Little History Here
Russia almost certainly preferred Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan in 1980; George McGovern to Richard Nixon in 1972; Lyndon Johnson to Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Henry Wallace to Harry Truman or Thomas Dewey in 1948. And let’s not be naïve, in addition to agit prop over elections, Russia successfully infiltrated high levels of Western governments. There was the Kim Philby affair in Britain. And to this day lots of progressives deny that Alger Hiss and Ethel Rosenberg spied for the Soviets, despite the mountain of evidence that shows they did. The British government charged Vladimir Putin with ordering the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, in London in 2006. Then there were the cases of Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansen, caught spying for the Soviets. The Guardian covers the very recent case (2010) of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley in the story at this link.
So it should hardly come as news that the Russian Government, headed by an ex KGB agent, would interfere in U.S. politics. Or, for that matter, that he would have his opponents murdered. That’s what the KGB does. But how is any of this supposed to have made a difference in the election outcome?
Who, exactly, is surprised by any of this? And why would anyone think that the Russian interference had the desired effect? The Clinton campaign obviously viewed the Russian accusation as damaging to Trump, which is why they harped on it all the time. The absurdity of the argument becomes crystal clear when you consider that the Clintonistas continue to complain that (1) they may have lost the election because of Putin’s interference, but that (2) Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of 2 million votes. So which is it? Did Putin cost Clinton votes, or did she gain them on balance? Or is the argument that the Russians concentrated their efforts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin thereby affecting the outcome. And where is the evidence that the outcome would have been different absent Putin and the KGB?
It is well known by roughly everybody who got beyond their 6th grade civics class that countries routinely interfere in each other’s internal politics, mostly surreptitiously. The U.S. spent a lot of time trying to knock off Fidel Castro (before he became Obama’s BFF) with plots that could have been concocted by the editors of Mad Magazine. The U.S. succeeded in its efforts to depose Salvatore Allende in Chile (1973), Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam (1963) and Mossaddegh in Iran (1953). It took until 1976 for the U.S. to officially ban assassination as a tool of foreign policy, which it did when then President Gerald Ford signed Executive Order 11905. That order was reinterpreted and relaxed in 1998 for targets identified as terrorists by the U.S.
On a less draconian scale, we had sanctions imposed on South Africa when it maintained apartheid. The whole point of Radio Free Europe was to support opposition to the Russian occupation of Eastern Europe, as well as to attack the legitimacy of the Russian government. And Barrack Obama injected himself into domestic British politics when he made a speech in London defending the E.U. just before the Brexit vote.
And not to put too fine a point on it, none other than Hillary Clinton is on tape as an enthusiast for rigging foreign elections. In January 2006 Hamas won a resounding victory against Fatah (whom the U.S. supported) in an election for the second Palestinian Legislative Council. In a September 2006 meeting with the editorial board of the Jewish Press, when that subject came up, Hillary Clinton said this.
“I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake,” said Sen. Clinton. “And if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.”
So much for Hillary Clinton and the sanctity of the vote.
Let’s be clear about what is going on here. It is an effort by progressives to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the November election. Because they lost. And they lost fair and square because they had a lousy candidate, a fact that they are thus far unable to admit. Which is not to say it was a great outcome. It wasn’t and it couldn’t be, given the two major party candidates. But the outcome is what the people voted for under the rules.
All of a sudden Progressives may find that the Madisonian system of checks and balances doesn’t look so terrible after all. But I am not holding my breath waiting.