Monday, December 12, 2016 at 8:51 AM

The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected Outcome of US Election…

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

640x-1The issue is whether Russia intervened/interfered. Period.

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

(Washington Post, December 10, 2016)

Whether the intent was to sway this election in favor of Trump, undermine confidence in all U.S. elections (to make them seem every bit as rigged as Russia’s), or just stoke partisan discord is beside the point. After all, if the police catch a burglar in your home, you would not demand they show proof that he actually stole something or let him go.

The break-in itself (or, in this case, the hack) is the thing that should cause alarm and warrant not just outrage but punishment. Moreover, that punishment should be so open and notorious, inciting such “shock and awe,” that it deters other would-be state hackers.

I am all too mindful that, despite clear and compelling evidence, Russia is categorically denying any state involvement in hacking — even challenging its accusers to prove it.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Russia is still categorically denying any state involvement in doping — even challenging its accusers to prove it. Of course, its denial in both cases is about as infuriating as your child denying he even touched the cookie, despite your catching him in the kitchen with cookie crumbs all over his face.

The problem is that punishing a country with nuclear weapons poses far greater challenges than punishing a child with sticky fingers. Yet the categorical imperative to punish the former is far greater than the latter. Therefore, it will take the wisdom of Solomon for Obama to order the right punishment….

As it happens, I presaged the CIA’s “secret assessment” in “Hey Media, Wikileaker Assange Is Still a Self-Promoting, Bail-Jumping Rape Suspect!” August 29, 2016, and “It Should Be Treason for US Media to Abet Russian Hackers,” September 15, 2016.

More importantly, though, President Obama and Hillary Clinton say this assessment is credible; whereas President-elect Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin say it is incredible. In a December 10 interview with TIME, Trump exclaimed, rather mischievously, that:

These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction…

[The hacking] could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.

No doubt claims about Iraq’s WMDs constitute an intelligence failure that will live in infamy. But it’s plainly foolhardy to use that failure to justify mocking and dismissing claims about Russia’s intervention in this presidential election. After all, this is rather like refusing to believe scientific evidence that the world is round because scientists used to claim that it is flat.

Except that we are entering Trump’s post-fact, post-truth world. And in that world, his refusal to believe the truth of what no less than 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have found about Russia’s intervention is entirely consistent with

  • his refusal to release his tax returns;
  • his efforts to intimidate, undermine, and otherwise curtail the freedom of the press;
  • his refusal to separate his business interests from his presidential duties … and powers.

And let’s face it, he has yet to suffer any negative consequence for denying generally accepted truths or defying norms of presidential behavior.

Never mind the surreality and foreboding inherent in the president-elect of the United States siding with Russia’s FSB (née KGB) instead of America’s CIA on any question of intelligence. And don’t get me started on the irony and hypocrisy inherent in him whining about the intelligence community conspiring with Democrats to delegitimize his election.

After all, he’s the conspiracy nut who spent the past eight years trying to delegitimize Obama’s presidency — variously insinuating that Obama was not born in the USA (aka the “birther” madness) and that his Harvard degree is a fraud. Now he’s adding insult to that offense by making pronouncements, engaging foreign leaders, and strong-arming corporations as if he is already the president of the United States.

Vladimir PutinMore to the point, though, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Trump’s political values are more akin to those of Vladimir Putin than Barack Obama’s (or that of any previous president for that matter). Not to mention reports that he’s assembling a cabinet that seems designed more to appease Russia than to “Make America Great Again.”

Frankly, besides Putin manipulating his infantile ego, the only thing that explains Trump’s antic infatuation is the same Russians who hacked the DNC making it clear to him that they have compromising, if not incriminating, information on him and/or his family. Notably, given the plainly suspicious lengths to which Trump has gone to hide his tax returns, just imagine the control Putin would have over him if his cyber spies managed to hack those returns.

In any event, it won’t be long before the bromance between Trump and Putin has its day of reckoning. Because, like the scorpion that stings the frog, it’s simply in Putin’s nature to provoke confrontations with U.S. presidents. He suffers congenital super-power envy. Which is why, despite George W. Bush’s infamous swooning, their bromance fizzled in the waning years of his presidency — a fizzling I actually presaged in “Russia’s Putin: Soul Mate Scorned Courts Iran,” March 3, 2005.

The world should be afraid, be very afraid, when that day of reckoning comes in this case. Granted, for his preternaturally narcissistic reasons, Trump will continue tweeting while Russia hacks.

Moreover, Putin will be keen to give the appearance of making concessions to Trump; this, not just to manipulate Trump’s ego, but also to moderate his duplicity. But I suspect Putin will use the same “deny and lie” strategy in his dealings with Trump that fatally undermined his bromance with Bush and his “reset” with Obama. The irony, of course, is that this is the same strategy Trump uses in his dealings, well, with everyone.

Whatever the nature of their He-man courtship, that fateful day could come

  • when Putin makes military incursions in Eastern Europe or the Baltic States, forcing NATO to react;
  • when Putin realizes that his puppet strings are no match for congressional and judicial powers, which place checks and balances on presidential powers; after all, he’s betting he can get Trump to use those powers to ease the sanctions that are crippling Russia’s economy and cramping the lifestyles of Russian oligarchs who help him misappropriate and launder tens of billions. (Reports are that Russians are already showing signs of buyer’s remorse …)

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-8-56-21-am

Hell, Trump’s cartoonish thin skin is such that it could come when magazines like TIME and Forbes begin ranking Putin as the most powerful person in the world (i.e., ahead of a President Trump). Trump has premised his presidency on being the smartest and most powerful SOB in the world. Therefore, he’s bound to overreact: not to defend America’s honor so much as to save his own (orange) face.

Meanwhile, Putin has cultivated his strongman image to the point of ridicule — complete with PR stunts involving everything from riding bare-chested on horseback to wrestling bears. So, when Trump overreacts, Putin will have no choice but to do whatever is necessary to show the world that he, not his presumed puppet/useful idiot, is master/stronger — with all of the potential for military confrontation that would entail.

(Of course, an equally ominous day of reckoning seems in store for Trump’s blustering blather on China, especially with respect to trade and its “One China” policy on Taiwan.)

All the same, there’s no denying that this post-fact, post-truth buffoon was duly elected president of the United States. Which moved me to exclaim the morning after: “WTF! President-elect Donald J. Trump?! America. What. Have. You. Done.”

I fear all that’s left to be said is: You made your bed, America….

Related commentaries:
Hey media
Russian hackers
U.S. election e-mails
Russia’s Putin
WTF! Trump president-elect

* This commentary was originally published on Saturday at 2:05 p.m.

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