Operation American Greatness: Russiagate Links 12 Dec 2016

(You got a better name for it? Anything else you’d like to add?)

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Just as the Central Bank was involved in recent mobilisation exercises, predicated (rightly) on the fact that any major conflict with the West would also be fought with economic instruments, I wonder how far Moscow is coming to terms with the fact that the one-way ‘political war‘ currently being waged against the West might become a two-way one, at least to a limited extent. Those who live by the hack risk dying by it, too.

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Obama is famously resistant (some have said he’s “allergic”) to escalating conflicts, especially if the conflict doesn’t threaten vital U.S. interests. But the United States has few interests more vital than assuring that a foreign power doesn’t tilt a presidential election toward a candidate that it favors. Obama and his White House aides are said to have mulled what to do about this Russian hack for “months.” I’d say they waited too long.

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Perhaps the most amazing revelation in the Post’s report is, “Some of the Republicans in the briefing also seemed opposed to the idea of going public with such explosive allegations in the final stages of an election.” Almost immediately afterward, Republicans in Congress trumpeted explosive (but ultimately empty) allegations from a different agency. Of the many causes of the election outcome, one was simply that Trump’s supporters in government were willing to put the system at risk in order to win, and Clinton’s supporters were not.

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Carle, the retired CIA officer, said Trump’s temperament had played into Russia’s hands and put the president-elect on a collision course with the CIA.

He said: “Look, in my professional assessment as an intelligence officer, Trump has a reflexive, defensive, monumentally narcissistic personality, for whom the facts and national interest are irrelevant, and the only thing that counts is whatever gives personal advantage and directs attention to himself.

“He is about the juiciest intelligence target an intelligence office could imagine. He groans with vulnerabilities. He will only work with individuals or entities that agree with him and build him up, and he is a shockingly easy intelligence ‘target’ to manipulate.”

Were Trump an intelligence officer himself, Carle said, “he would be removed and possibly charged with having accepted the clandestine support of a hostile power to the harm of the United States”.

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Talk of Russian hacking puts Republicans in one last bind. Many senior figures on Capitol Hill distrust Mr Putin. But they know that grassroots conservatives see much to like in a Russian-style approach to fighting Islamic terrorism, if that means an unsqueamish willingness to back secular autocrats in the Middle East, and attack targets in Syria with ruthless indifference as to who is underneath. Mr Trump is clearly tempted to do a deal with Mr Putin in which America applauds as Russian warplanes carry out the Trumpian campaign promise to “bomb the shit out of ISIS”, with little thought for collateral damage. The bet in Trump Tower is that the other side of any such deal, perhaps involving the lifting of sanctions on Russia or a promise not to back any further enlargement of NATO, will be greeted by the American public with a yawn.

...Some may wonder if this latest squabble matters. There is no evidence of actual collusion between Mr Trump and Russia. Mr Putin’s fierce dislike of Mrs Clinton, who as secretary of state questioned the validity of the 2011 elections in Russia, is more than enough motive to want her defeated. It is unknowable whether the last-minute leaks of Democratic e-mails affected the result. Most straightforwardly, a close election is over and Democratic leaders are not questioning the result.This squabble does matter. When the next president of America takes his oath of office in January, officers of Russian intelligence can savour a historic win. And that astonishing, appalling fact has divided, not united, the two parties that run the world’s great democracy. That should be enough to unsettle anyone.

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Was there coordination?

Was information shared in any way, or did anyone directly or indirectly connected to the Trump campaign offer any advice to any foreign entity about where and how to hack—beyond the president-elect’s own public encouragement? What compromising information might Russia have upon persons connected to the Trump campaign—including of course the president-elect himself?

Are there financial ties?

The Senate inquiry should also subpoena any Trump organization business records that might shed light on any debt or obligation that the Trump family might have in Russia and any significant income flows from Russia. Beyond the obvious political ties Trump has to Putin, do Russian interests have any hold upon him and his family—financial or otherwise?

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Trump, being new to Washington, doesn’t know that when you declare war on the spies, the spies always win in the end. The IC cares little if anything for partisan politics, but they will protect their turf and their reputation when they’re impugned by politicians. Our spy agencies fight among each other nonstop, but woe to the pol who gives them common cause by insulting them in public.

True to form, this morning the president-elect was tweeting insults, mocking the CIA assessment of Russian hacking as a “conspiracy theory,” adding, “Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?”

In reality, Western intelligence has caught Kremlin-linked hackers in the act, many times, while this knotty matter was publicly brought up on numerous occasions over the summer and fall, including in my column. We are now living in the interesting times which ancient Chinese sages warned of.

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Trump actually congratulated Erdogan on the outcome. Trump apparently thought it was a good thing that, despite all the flaws in the process, a bare majority of Turkey’s citizens voted to strengthen their populist leader. I don’t think any other post-Cold War president would have congratulated a democratic ally that held a flawed referendum leading to a less democratic outcome. This is not that far off from Trump congratulating Putin on a successful referendum result in Crimea if that event had been held in 2017 rather than 2014.

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

For all the talk about Trump’s moderation, for all the talk about an Axis of Adults, it’s time that American foreign policy-watchers craving normality acknowledge three brute facts:

  1. Donald Trump is the president of the United States;
  2. Trump has little comprehension of how foreign policy actually works;
  3. The few instincts that Trump applies to foreign policy are antithetical to American values.
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He sensed that the public wanted relief from the burdens of global leadership without losing the thrill of nationalist self-assertion. America could cut back its investment in world order with no whiff of retreat. It would still boss others around, even bend them to its will...

There was, to be sure, one other candidate in the 2016 field who also tried to have it both ways—more activism and more retrenchment at the same time. This was, oddly enough, Hillary Clinton... Yet merely to recall Clinton’s hybrid foreign-policy platform is to see how pallid it was next to Trump’s. While she quibbled about the TPP (which few seemed to believe she was really against), her opponent ferociously denounced all trade agreements—those still being negotiated, like the TPP, and those, like NAFTA and China’s WTO membership, that had long been on the books. “Disasters” one and all, he said. For anyone genuinely angry about globalization, it was hard to see Clinton as a stronger champion than Trump. She was at a similar disadvantage trying to compete with Trump on toughness. His anti-terrorism policy—keep Muslims out of the country and bomb isis back to the Stone Age—was wild talk, barely thought through. But for anyone who really cared about hurting America’s enemies, it gave Trump more credibility than Clinton’s vague, muddled talk of “safe zones” ever gave her.

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As they war with the right, though, Trump and Kushner would gain no quarter from Democrats—unless Democrats were allowed to set the all the terms. This is Bannon’s central point. Democrats have no incentive to prop up Trump’s presidency for half-loaf compromises that many will suspect are contaminated with seeds of Trumpism. Trump can adopt or co-opt the Democrats’ infrastructure platform outright if he likes, but he can’t easily entice them to compromise with him, and he can’t entice House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to advance a trillion dollar direct-spending bill filled with environmental and labor protections that the GOP exists to oppose.

Which is just to say, Kushner wants Trump to chart a new course that leads to a substantive dead end for at least another 19 months. Bannon’s path, at least, preserves the hope of keeping his base consolidated through the legislative ebb. He can deregulate, scapegoat, and unburden law enforcement to turn his Herrenvolk fantasy into reality—all while keeping congressional investigators at bay.

There’s no real logical rebuttal to this, except to point to three months of chaos and humiliation as indicative of the futility of continuing to do things Bannon’s way. That is really an argument that Trump should get rid of both of his top advisers, but Trump is unlikely to grasp that in a contest between loyalists, both might deserve to lose. Family loyalty, and the beating his ego will take when the stories of his first 100 days are written, will pull him toward his son-in-law. And that’s when the real fun will begin.

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State of the Discussion

+ Wade, your last paragraph is crucial to your argument. Certainly it expresses economically the source of the weight of a country's foreign policy, and [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic
CK MacLeod
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ Not sure where you got the idea that I ever wrote “[President Trump] doesn’t know what he’s doing!!!!!!" - bob's idea for a possible rallying [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic
Wade McKenzie
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ The conversation that you and Bob were having at the time that I wrote my comment had everything to do with the recent missile strike [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic

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