It’s in the nature of nation-states, especially those with pretensions to global influence, to insinuate themselves into the domestic operations of their neighbors near and far, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not exactly disguised its ambitions. Just ask the beleaguered residents of Ukraine and the Baltic states. According to the Washington Post, the CIA has concluded with “high confidence” that Russian interference in this year’s presidential election — primarily the thousands of e-mails leaked from the Democratic National Committee and others — was designed to boost Donald Trump’s electoral prospects, not merely to shake Americans’ faith in the integrity of their electoral system. If true — and that’s a big if as of now — Russia is more brazen than one might have thought.
Of course, interfering in an election by exposing sensitive information, as Russia seems to have done, and, say, tampering with Diebold machines are two different things — a distinction that Hillary Clinton partisans have conveniently forgotten. Since the report broke late last week, eminences such as Paul Krugman have called the election “tainted,” high-profile commentators have gone so far as to suggest we have a “revote,” and the Clinton campaign has announced that it supports a demand from ten presidential electors (among them Nancy Pelosi’s daughter) for an intelligence briefing in advance of the Electoral College’s December 19 vote. Needless to say, this is all part of the ongoing effort to find excuses for Clinton’s loss other than Hillary Clinton. Kremlin machinations make for a helpful addition to the list that also includes Madisonian republicanism, James Comey, and “fake news.”
Amid so much panic, it’s worth recalling precisely who has been responsible for America’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia for the last eight years. The president-elect is not the one who oversaw the Russian “reset,” or who allowed Russia to gobble up Crimea and invade Ukraine with impunity, or who enabled Putin to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, or who permitted American diplomats to be harassed in Moscow. It’s not Donald Trump who has created a nearly global safe space for Russian adventurism. Additionally, it’s not President-elect Trump and his secretary of state who exchanged classified communiqués over an unsecured e-mail server, and it was John Podesta, not Kellyanne Conway, whose password was . . . “p@ssw0rd.” High-ranking Democrats were laxer about data security than the average Apple store, and now they’re stunned that a foreign power may have exploited those vulnerabilities.
Obviously, what is needed isn’t a “do-over election.” It’s a full congressional investigation to determine exactly what happened and why. The CIA has not yet provided public evidence to support its conclusion (the Post relies on anonymous officials making vague, unprovable assertions), and there is reportedly pushback from the FBI, as well as from members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. A congressional inquiry would be well advised, followed by a hardening of American defenses against future hacking efforts.
Also advisable would be a more responsible approach from the president-elect. In typical form, Trump called the CIA report “ridiculous” on Sunday morning and in an official statement sought to dismiss wholesale the agency’s credibility. A bit of outrage at news that a foreign power tried to sway American voters would be entirely warranted.
One hopes President-elect Trump’s illusions about Russia are soon dispelled. The CIA’s assessments have often been wrong, certainly, and responsible agencies have become woefully politicized under Barack Obama. But the Kremlin is, ultimately, not pro–Donald Trump, it is pro-Kremlin, and it will not hesitate to exploit weaknesses wherever it finds them. There is evidence that Russian hackers targeted the Republican National Committee as well as its Democratic counterpart, and if the Kremlin has information on Republican operatives, it’s entirely plausible that it is withholding it for future leverage.
For eight years, the Obama administration has failed to properly distinguish America’s friends from its foes. Congress and the president-elect can defuse left-wing conspiracy-mongering without making the same mistake.