Operation American Greatness: Russiagate Links 12 Dec 2016

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

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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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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