Michael G. Roskin: The Russian Connection
Thursday, October 27, 2016 10:45 AM
My first memory of an election is the 1948 Truman-Dewey contest. As a nine-year-old, I didn’t understand much about it, but I do recall the hatred directed at Henry Wallace, who had been FDR’s vice president but was dumped in 1944 in favor of Truman. In 1948, Wallace ran as a Progressive but was accused of communist sympathies.
I remember anti-Wallace play money that said something like “one thousand buckskis if Wallace is elected,” implying he would turn us into a Russia. Wallace, an old prairie populist back when that slanted left, was a naive pacifist rather than a communist. He ran against Truman’s Cold War policies and won 2.4 percent of the popular vote.
Accusations of being pro-Russian have returned in the current campaign. Even if exaggerated, it’s a stain that doesn’t wash off. This time, the Trump campaign is getting tarred with it and doesn’t understand how damning the accusations are. If the Democrats are clever, they could make Trump another Henry Wallace.
The presumed flow: Hillary-hating Putin has Russian hackers, the world’s best, read Democratic e-mails. Redacted and taken out of context, they are passed on to WikiLeaks, whose chief Julian Assange is an Australian anti-American with special hatred for Hillary. He is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to prevent his extradition to Sweden (and thence to the U.S.), but Ecuador is reportedly tiring of its four-year guest. WikiLeaks puts out the hacks, the U.S. media pick them up and give them a fair amount of play.
Who gets hurt here? The revealed Democratic e-mails are mostly campaign trivia. Hillary’s talks to Wall Street firms are standard free-trade and pro-growth, but she kept them private to avoid giving Bernie ammunition.
Trump, however, now looks like an unregistered Russian agent. He publicizes Kremlin propaganda, lightheartedly shrugging off intelligence warnings of Russian hacking and asking for more hacks. His surrogate Roger Stone boasts of his “back channel” to Assange, as if that’s a plus.
In light of Trump’s other, more scandalous problems, all this might not amount to much on election day, but it’s a heads-up on the Kremlin’s “information warfare,” which now, using what Lenin called “useful idiots,” seeks to undermine American confidence in our electoral process. Moscow routinely puts out “disinformation” to splinter European democracies. To secure their future, Republicans must break away from Trump and these hostile Russian acts.
Putin is convinced that Secretary of State Clinton sponsored demonstrations against the rigged 2011 Russian legislative elections and set up the ouster of Ukrainian president Yanukovych in 2014. Putin sees Hillary as a direct threat to his power and is now retaliating against her. Putin aims to show that America is no better than Russia in terms of “rigging” and its democracy a pretense. I doubt it will work.
We have a curious reversal from the Cold War when Republicans denounced Democrats as “soft on communism” to help Ike win the presidency in 1952 and 1956. Now, if they don’t watch it, the Republicans might appear soft on Russia and the Democrats fierce. Actually, NATO’s eastward expansion — which Putin takes as a threat — came under presidents of both parties, Clinton in 1999 and Bush in 2004.
We’d better get used to Russian paranoia — deeply rooted in Russian history — about getting invaded and conquered. Tsars, communists and Putin all sought protective belts against invasions from both east and west, and there is little we can do to assuage their fears. Geographic vulnerability makes Russia permanently suspicious of other powers. This is nothing we can fix.
How do we handle Russian hacking? As with other high-tech weapons systems, you don’t want to reveal all your capabilities too early. That would give your adversary time to defend against them. Instead, you want to hint that your capabilities are devastating, so your adversary better cease and desist.
Cyberwarfare parallels nuclear war. Both are hard to defend against, so the adversaries attempt to deter each other to not risk it. They warn: Breach my servers and I’ll fry yours! But you want to follow through on that only in a real showdown. You may not be able to use it a second time.
The U.S. is likely preparing cyber-retaliation. Anonymous hackers could reveal Putin’s vast personal wealth, its sources and where it is banked and invested offshore. He is reputed to be one of the world’s richest individuals — skimmed from trade deals — which, of course, is unmentioned in state-controlled Russian media. Perhaps it can be released through WikiLeaks. The message to Putin: See, we can hack too. How far do you want to take this?
The big question is whether cyberwarfare could escalate to “kinetic” warfare (stuff that goes “bang!”)? Or is there a natural firebreak between the two? One safe prediction is increased U.S. appropriations for the U.S. Cyber Command. Another is that our next president will have worse relations with Russia. Please, do not try another reset button.