Russia | So what if Russia tried to influence the US election?

So what if Russia tried to influence the US election?

M.K. Bhadrakumar January 8, 2017 2:46 AM (UTC+8)
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The report of the United States’ top three intelligence and security agencies on the alleged Russian hacking during the presidential election in November has become available for public scrutiny.

Typically, on the eve of the exclusive briefing on the report slated for Friday with US President-elect Donald Trump, the Barack Obama administration ‘leaked’ it to two select media organs with a view to take an early lead in an upcoming brutal media war.

It only underscored that what is unfolding is quintessentially an unprecedented partisan war in American politics.

What comes to mind is Edward Gibbon’s classic work on the fall of the Roman Empire where he describes the Roman era’s declension as a place where “bizarreness masqueraded as creativity.”

The title of the US intelligence report has been carefully worded – Assessing Russian Activities And Intentions in Recent US Elections. The title may convey the impression that Russia interfered in the November elections and successfully stage-managed Trump’s victory. Far from it.

On the contrary, however, the report does not even weigh in on that issue. If anything, buried deep within the report is a curt admission that Russia was “not involved in vote tallying.”

The bottom line is that Russia’s crime is nowhere near the crime committed by the Democratic National Committee functionaries who plotted to kill Bernie Sanders’ candidacy and facilitate the rise of Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee in the November election.

Russia’s crime is not even comparable to the unpardonable chicanery of the CNN anchor person who reportedly shared with Hillary Clinton beforehand the questions she could expect to be put to her get at her crucial primary with Trump.

What does the report say? Its assessments are as follows:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the interference in the US election campaign “when it appeared” to him that Hillary was likely to win the November election.
  • Putin’s motives could have been: a) to avenge the Panama Papers disclosure; b) to avenge the Olympic doping scandal; c) to avenge the alleged US interference in the 2011 Russian presidential election; d) to avenge Hillary’s disparaging remarks about him (‘Adolf Hitler’, etc.); e) “a clear preference” for Donald Trump; f) to influence the US foreign policies under the new president to move in a direction toward working closely with Russia to defeat the Islamic State; g) the expectation that Trump would turn out to be like former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi or German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (“Western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia”); h) to weaken public faith in the US democratic process; and, i) to undermine Western liberalism as a whole.
  • The Russian military intelligence (known by the acronym GRU) began the cyber operations circa March. The GRU in turn relayed via intermediaries the materials it hacked to WikiLeaks for dissemination.

Don’t laugh. The above is a faithful rendering of what the top US intelligence agencies have managed to come up with as “assessment” of Russian activities and intentions.

The report lacks detail. In reality, the bulk of the report consists of a verbose analysis of the awe-inspiring working methods of the two key state media organs in post-Soviet Russia – the television channel RT and the news agency Sputnik – to propagate their country’s point of view among foreign audience.

Clearly, RT has become a thorn in the American flesh, beating the US media culture in sheer sophistication in the art of winning friends and influencing people abroad.

The report has not provided any technical data to substantiate Russian culpability and this shows up in the ultimate analysis as a failure of the intelligence agencies to definitely prove their case.

In fact, in this joint report by three agencies – Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency – while the first two have “high confidence” in the report’s assessment, the NSA has pleaded “moderate confidence.”

What could be the Obama administration’s game plan in hastily ordering such a report with just about a fortnight left for to begin walking toward the exit door?

Without doubt, the sole purpose seems to be to demonize Russia – Putin, in particular – in the public opinion to a point that Trump would hang his head in shame if he were to try to improve US-Russia relations. But that is a tall order – naming by implication and shaming someone as forceful and unconventional as Trump who is an conventional politician too.

Yet, at no point in the entire report has there been any intelligence assessment that Russian interference was decisive in the outcome of the November election.

Why this brouhaha? Hasn’t the US interfered in Russia’s domestic politics? Hasn’t the US viewed some Russian politicians favorably?

The US, actually, played a key role to ensure Boris Yeltsin’s re-election in 1996 against heavy odds when it transpired that his Communist Party opponent was close to smelling victory. None other than Bill Clinton gave a helping hand to Yeltsin.

Aren’t there instances where the US tried to bring about desired outcomes in democratic elections in foreign countries? Hasn’t the US overthrown foreign governments that didn’t serve American interests? Doesn’t the US government fund media organs to propagate views abroad? Doesn’t the US intelligence bribe journalists, think tankers and academics in America and abroad to plant ideas and create opinions?

At the end of the day, therefore, to a foreign observer, all this looks most curious. America’s political class is fighting among themselves with tooth and claw over an issue that is commonplace in the contemporary world, and in that process, their country, the ‘lone superpower’, becomes the laughing stock of the world community.

If this standoff continues much further into 2017, the centenary year of the Bolshevik Revolution may also turn out to be the watershed year marking the end of the dominance of the United States in world politics. The point is, if the fig-leaf of America’s ‘exceptionalism’ gets torn asunder so savagely and irreparably, the Emperor looks naked.

M.K. Bhadrakumar
MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for the Asia Times since 2001.
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