With phrases like, “In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy;” “That spectacle has obscured the magnitude of Moscow’s attempt to hijack a precious and now vulnerable-seeming American democratic process;” “”Russia violated our sovereignty, meddling in one of our most sacred acts as a democracy — electing our president,”” you could be forgiven for thinking that the Washington Post’s in-depth look at President Obama’s response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election actually provided evidence for the central claim that “The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.”
I wrote back in January detailing the available evidence that the Russian government may have “hacked the election.” The only evidence we really had back then was that John Podesta and the Clinton campaign were gullible enough to allow his email to be phished by a person or group, who may or may not have any ties to the Russian government, and that’s how the emails ended up being published by WikiLeaks during the course of the election. Over five months later we have been provided with no further evidence that the Russian government had anything to do with that leak, or that they even actually tried to influence the election at all. We have testimony from government officials and reports from security agencies stating that this is the case, but no evidence proving these assertions has been made available to the public.
But let’s assume for a second that the claims made about Russia hacking the DNC and the Clinton campaign are true and that they leaked this information to WikiLeaks for publishing. The first question is why shouldn’t Vladimir Putin have preferred Trump becoming president to Hillary Clinton? Clinton spent the campaign being openly hostile to Putin and Russia which is not to mention her time as Secretary of State in Obama’s administration, whereas Trump consistently claimed that he felt he could get along with Putin and restore a sense of diplomacy to relations between the two governments. Anyone with any sense would prefer to have the candidate win who is being diplomatic rather than hostile towards them.
And we know that the United States has a long history of meddling in the elections of other countries to get a desired outcome, and it’s not always to the benefit of the people in that country. The U.S. helped prop up the brutal dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt for decades until the Arab Spring forced them to drop their support for Mubarak as he was ousted in 2011. That said, the second the furor of the Arab Spring died down the U.S. backed the Egyptian military in deposing the democratically elected president and essentially keeping power for themselves. The U.S. has also backed the regime in Saudi Arabia for decades despite the fact that it doesn’t even pretend to be democratic, and continues to sell arms to them even as they are purposefully targeting civilians in their war in Yemen that has created what is possibly the worst humanitarian crisis in the world right now.
And let’s not forget that the United States and the European Union worked together to lead a coup right on Russia’s doorstep in Ukraine by helping to oust a Russian-friendly and democratically elected government and installing an anti-Russian government with ties to neo-Nazi groups. In an article titled Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault, John J. Mearsheimer writes:
Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president — which he rightly labeled a “coup” — was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.
The idea that the U.S., along with other western governments, can go around the world and meddle in other people’s elections with impunity while demanding that their own elections remain off-limits is morally insane and delusional. It only makes sense that other governments would want to influence U.S. elections as the U.S. government maintains its right to interfere in the affairs of every other government on the planet. As rational beings it’s fairly obvious why foreign government officials would want a U.S. president to be open to diplomacy with them rather than hostile towards them. It’s simple self-preservation.
So we can see that the Russian government has every reason to want to influence the American election, and the U.S. has no right to complain when they interfere in elections all the time or even prop up un-elected regimes against the will of the population of that country. Despite that, what is Russia actually being accused of doing? They’re accused of hacking the servers of the DNC and the Clinton campaign and leaking private emails to WikiLeaks, who then published those emails. From a statement made by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence:
The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.
But what exactly was leaked? Emails were leaked that showed collusion between the DNC and the Clinton campaign during the Democratic Party primary in an effort to ensure that Hillary Clinton was the Democratic Party nominee for President instead of Senator Bernie Sanders. This leak led to the resignation of Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as Chairperson for the DNC, and her replacement as DNC Chairperson, Donna Brazile, was fired from CNN for leaking debate questions to the Clinton campaign prior to a CNN-hosted debate between Clinton and Sanders.
So the way that the Russian government attempted to “hack the election” or influence the election so that Trump would win over Clinton is by releasing evidence of illegal and unethical actions being done by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. In other words, the Russian government, if we assume they actually were behind the hacks of the DNC and the Clinton campaign, actually improved democracy in the United States by informing the electorate that one of the two major political parties worked together with a political campaign to influence the election so that their preferred candidate would win the Democratic Party nomination.
So it seems to me that whoever is behind the hacks, whether it’s Russia or anybody else, performed a public service for American voters.
That said, the one critical point to remember is that the Washington Post in its in-depth look at the Obama administration’s response to alleged Russian hacking provides absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Russia was actually behind the hacking. This is par for the course when it comes to these major stories involving Russian hacking, we’re just meant to assume that Russia is behind the hacking or to take government officials at their word. And in many cases the stories end up getting corrected or retracted, as in the case of a story CNN ran last week accusing a Trump ally of having ties to Russia, which prompted them to say that any stories on Russia must be approved internally by higher-ups.
Of course the Washington Post itself has a history of publishing lies about the Trump administration, as I noted last month. In that particular case they published a story with a deliberate lie as the headline and then quietly corrected it later with no editorial note informing their readers of the change.
The problem here is that the media which is supposed to hold the Trump administration accountable has no credibility when they brazenly lie about what he says and uncritically report anything that could be seen as damaging to the Trump administration without any evidence. And we know that this type of reporting, where we’re supposed to simply accept what government officials or national security “experts” tell us with no evidence or critical thought, has led to some of the most expensive and bloodiest embarrassments in U.S. history. From the fictitious Gulf of Tonkin incident which led to the Vietnam War to the non-existent weapons of mass destruction which led to the Iraq War, and plenty of other examples as well, the American media class should be more wary of accepting these types of claims with no evidence. The problem is that they never face any consequences for being wrong, and controversy and a boogeyman boost television ratings and sells more subscriptions.
This is not to say that Russia definitively did not hack or attempt to hack the United States during the course of the campaign season, or that they didn’t try to influence the election. As I pointed out before they have every incentive to want to influence the election in the most positive way for themselves, and it would be naive to assume that Russia isn’t trying to hack the United States all the time. This is what governments do in the modern era, to enemies and allies alike. We know from the Snowden disclosures that the U.S. government, along with the U.K., hacked Israel’s drone feeds, and Israel is one of the U.S. government’s closest allies. Which is not to mention the U.S. spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
So it would be far more surprising if Russia hadn’t been trying to hack the United States. The point, however, is that it’s reckless to publish claims from the government without evidence as if they’re fact, and it’s worse to craft policy to punish alleged crimes with no evidence. As bad as the Vietnam and Iraq wars were, and still are in the case of Iraq, continuing to provoke nuclear-armed Russia would be far worse, but that’s exactly what many in the government and the media want and what they’re trying to push us toward for their own benefit.