Friday, December 16, 2016

Trump/Russia, Friday morning

Obama is concentrating a lot of his attention during his last weeks in office on the Russian hacking issue. Julian Borger reports in Barack Obama promises retaliation against Russia over hacking during US election 12/16/2016:

In an interview on National Public Radio on Friday morning, the US president said he is waiting for a final report he has ordered into a range of Russian hacking attacks, but promised there would be a response.

“I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections … we need to take action,” Obama said. “And we will – at a time and place of our own choosing.

“Some of it may be explicit and publicised; some of it may not be.” ...

Obama said he would reserve judgment on Moscow’s intentions pending a final report but he said the impact of the intervention was clear. The debate over motivation, he said “does not in any way, I think, detract from the basic point that everyone during the election perceived accurately – that in fact what the Russian hack had done was create more problems for the Clinton campaign than it had for the Trump campaign”.

He added: “There’s no doubt that it contributed to an atmosphere in which the only focus for weeks at a time, months at a time were Hillary’s emails, the Clinton Foundation, political gossip surrounding the DNC.”
That last claim highlights the excuse-making value for the Democratic establishment that the Russian hacking provides.

It's also notable that Obama's new comment makes Biden's November statement on retaliation look somewhat less definitive than it sounded at the time.

George Beebe cautions about facile conclusions in Russia’s Role in the US Elections: The Case for Caution The National Interest 12/16/2016:

On the surface, the case against Moscow is intuitively obvious. Information detrimental to Hillary Clinton was clearly stolen from Democratic National Committee and other sensitive computer servers and then leaked to the media. Forensic data traceable to Russia were found in the intrusions. The operations were consistent with cyber techniques that Russia has used repeatedly in the past against both the US and other countries, and Moscow had an undeniable preference for one candidate over the other in the election.

The conclusion that Russia hacked its way toward a Trump victory is no slam dunk, however, despite its plausibility. Although the Intelligence Community has not published its evidence or analysis regarding this case, the analytic lessons learned from post-mortem reviews of the Iraq WMD failure argue for approaching the matter with a great deal of caution. Applying these lessons to the case of the election intrusions – an analytic “pre-mortem,” so to speak – is one of the best means of ensuring that we do not fall into the same cognitive traps.
Among his cautionary reminders is, "Cyber operations rarely feature the equivalent of fingerprints or DNA evidence." And, "Attempting to understand – not justify – the perspectives of the Russians is particularly important in light of press reports that the US is considering possible retaliatory steps against Moscow."

Robert Perry makes a point that, it's important to recognize, is nevertheless compatabile with the view that Russia intervened in the American Presidential election in a way that indicates the need for some sort of reltaliatory action by the US (Making Russia ‘The Enemy’ Consortium News 12/16/2016):

The rising hysteria about Russia is best understood as fulfilling two needs for Official Washington: the Military Industrial Complex’s transitioning from the “war on terror” to a more lucrative “new cold war” – and blunting the threat that a President Trump poses to the neoconservative/liberal-interventionist foreign-policy establishment.

By hyping the Russian “threat,” the neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks, who include much of the mainstream U.S. news media, can guarantee bigger military budgets from Congress. The hype also sets in motion a blocking maneuver to impinge on any significant change in direction for U.S. foreign policy under Trump.
This is also a reasonable observation by Perry:

All of this maneuvering also is delaying the Democratic Party’s self-examination into why it lost so many white working-class voters in normally Democratic strongholds, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Rather than national party leaders taking the blame for pre-selecting a very flawed candidate and ignoring all the warning signs about the public’s resistance to this establishment choice, Democrats have pointed fingers at almost everyone else – from FBI Director James Comey for briefly reviving Clinton’s email investigation, to third-party candidates who siphoned off votes, to the archaic Electoral College which negates the fact that Clinton did win the national popular vote – and now to the Russians.

While there may be some validity to these various complaints, the excessive frenzy that has surrounded the still-unproven claims that the Russian government surreptitiously tilted the election in Trump’s favor creates an especially dangerous dynamic.
He further formulates the point like this, "Democrats now are excitedly joining the bash-Russia movement, making it harder to envision how the party can transition back into its more recent role as the 'peace party' (at least relative to the extremely hawkish Republicans)."

There is a tendency in some of the left commentary I've seen and heard to assume that Trump will try to improve relations with Moscow. I think that's highly likely. And it's a given that the Trump Family Business Administration's decision-making on Russia and elsewhere will be heavily influenced by considerations of further enriching Trump's private business and brand. But between contradictory impulses and lack of governmental competence on the part of the Trump team, it's hard to guess what their Russia policy will turn out to be at this point. And, of course, it also depends on how the Russian government acts and reacts in the coming months and years.

And, on the use of the Russian hacking issues to slime critics of US foreign policy: Russia Expert Stephen Cohen: New York Times Stokes a New McCarthyism Against Critics of U.S. Policy Truthdig 12/15/2016; What's Next for U.S.-Russia Relations? Stephen Cohen & Ken Roth on Trump, Hacking & Tillerson Democracy Now! 12/14/2016; Bill Boyarsky, Investigation Into ‘PropOrNot Blacklist Case’ Finds Shoddy Methods and an Ominous Potential Truthdig 12/15/2016

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