Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Too little, too late Obama": the Russian hacking and the current President's sad obsession with "bipartisanship"

Cenk Uygur's verdict on Obama's Friday press conference in which he addressed the Russian hacking issue was that it show the outgoing President as a display of "too little, too late Obama" (Obama Talks Tough On Russian Hacking 12/16/2016):

Leaving aside the nuances for a moment, Obama has openly accused Russia and its President Vladimir Putin of directly interfering in the US Presidential election to prejudice the outcome against Hillary Clinton and for Donald Trump. And Obama's response?

One way I do believe that the president-elect can approach this that would be unifying is to say that we welcome a bipartisan independent process that gives the American people an assurance not only that votes are counted properly, that the elections are fair and free, but that we have learned lessons about how internet propaganda from foreign countries can be released into the political bloodstream and that we have got strategies to deal with it for the future. [my emphasis]
Obama and the Democrats have made a drastic charge against the Republican President-elect. But the announced response is bizarrely disproportionate to the accusation.

The Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, which has a $600 million business contract with the CIA) has a full transcript of Obama's press conference, Transcript: Obama’s end-of-year news conference on Syria, Russian hacking and more 12/16/2016.

I've expressed at some length in earlier posts my reservations about how the Democrats have approached this and about various closely-related issues. But it looks at this point very much like the Democrats struck a position on the Russian hacking issue on which they and President Obama were not prepared to respond in a way that would be obviously commensurate with the accusation. I can't see how this is an especially effective issue for them at this point, whether it should be or not.

The candidate that won the popular vote by a clear margin in the Presidential race also addressed the issue - in a meeting with her donors (David Smith and Julian Borger, Clinton accuses Putin of acting on 'personal beef' in directing email hack Guardian 12/16/206).

George Beebe argues for care on the Russian hacking issue and its implications in Russia’s Role in the US Elections: The Case for Caution The National Interest 12/16/2016:

The stakes are high. The intrusions highlight the importance of addressing broader questions of how we protect the integrity of our political system and deal with other cyber actors who might have an interest in intrusions. Retaliation could preclude working with Moscow against ISIL and other terrorist groups, encourage further cooperation between Russia and China against US interests, and even escalate into kinetic warfare. Failure to draw a tough enough line, on the other hand, might invite even more damaging Russian interference in US affairs. Crafting an effective policy depends to a great degree on a rigorous and objective analytic approach to understanding exactly what occurred and why.
Beebe cites this analysis from immediately after the eleciton by Maxim Trudolyubov, The Paradox of Russia’s Support for Trump Wilson Center Kennan Institute 11/10/2016;

The [Russian] Duma MPs applauded when they heard the news of Trump’s electoral triumph during a plenary session. Russia’s most famous pro-Kremlin politicians (other kinds are not invited to be on the major networks) welcomed the Trump win. The communist Gennady Zyuganov said President Trump would “make life easier for Russia.” The veteran populist Zhirinovsky was reported to have thrown a celebration party in the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

And yet it was clear yesterday that the Clinton upset was as much of a surprise for the Russian elites as it was for the establishments in many other countries. Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the International Relations Committee of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, told Russia One that he did not expect Trump to win because he “went against the system.” “And the Americans have taught me that the system always prevails,” Kosachev was quoted as saying.

“The system” is an important term in the Russian political vocabulary. This vague word usually refers to a combination of direct and indirect influence that the government institutions, media, and punditry have over society. A clever system, in the Russian establishment’s view, is the one that can keep its grip on power while holding elections and paying lip service to other democratic institutions. Many in Moscow are convinced that this is how the U.S. system works and that this is what Russia has to learn from the Americans: the system should always prevail.
Paul Pillar reflects on the possible implications for policy toward Russia from the Trump Family Business Administration of the diverse attitudes toward Russia and Putin within the Republican Party in Partisan Tribalism and Attitudes Toward Russia The National Interest 12/16/2016, including:

A farther-reaching explanation portrays admiration for Putin as part of a transnational wave, including Trump’s win and the advances by xenophobic and right-wing European parties, which places high value on “strong” (even if authoritarian) leadership and on “traditional” (even if illiberal and intolerant) values. There may be something to this explanation, although it does not go as far as the other ones. There first is the matter of how to interpret a positive response in a poll about someone perceived as a strong leader. One can admire an adversary for strongly advancing his side’s objectives and interests but still see him very much as an adversary. Moreover, as far as values are concerned, it is unlikely that more than a very few respondents have any knowledge of Putin’s policies on matters such as abortion or LGBT rights or the status of Muslims in Russia.

Marcy Wheeler continues her careful reading of the reports on what intelligence agency and/or anonymous leaks are saying about the Russian hacking story, Just Before Obama Weighs In On the Russian Hack, John Brennan Tells Everyone What He Says Others Said Emptywheel 12/16/2016.

Thomas Wright makes a stab at sorting out the major strains of foreign policy thought in the assembling Trump Family Business Administration foreign policy team in Trump’s team of rivals, riven by distrust Brookings Institute 12/15/2016. "Though Trump’s own foreign-policy views are captured by his “America First” slogan, his administration will be split between three national security factions — the America Firsters, the religious warriors, and the traditionalists — each of which distrusts the others but also needs them to check the third," he writes.

Additional reading and listening:

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