by Chris J. Krisinger
Russia could have achieved its objectives — more easily and at less cost — with the pliable globalist President Hillary Clinton.
Had Daniel Patrick Moynihan been around for today's politics, fellow New York Democratic politician Representative Hakeem Jeffries may well have provided the inspiration for his astute quote: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."
During the recent House Judiciary Committee hearing, Representative Jeffries asserted that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report showed that Moscow "artificially" placed President Donald Trump in the White House. As the House Democratic Caucus chair, and not said as some off-the-cuff remarks, Jeffries further insisted that "Russia interfered with our elections, attacked our democracy for the sole purpose of artificially placing someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
Jeffries's contention flies in the face of the Mueller report's clear and unambiguous conclusion: yes, Russia did interfere in the election, but the investigation "did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple efforts from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign." Jeffries overlooks the fact that two years of intense investigation by a Mueller team of handpicked lawyers — largely Democratic donors and Clinton-supporters — did not return any findings supporting the charge of "collusion" (to the dismay of Democrats.)
Had Congressman Jeffries approached his solemn congressional oversight duties with objectivity, impartiality, and an open mind, the idea of Russia "colluding" with Donald Trump and his campaign — or even Russian support for Donald Trump — would never have made any sense to him.
Congressman Jeffries, like most Americans, must watch enough TV crime dramas to know that their favorite TV sleuths always seek to establish motive for a crime. Motive goes a long way to explain "who done it" and, more importantly, why. With Russia, TV's best would also have been at a loss to make a case against President Trump because there was never a persuasive explanation for collusion comporting with events and information tempered by a dose of perspective. What was Russia's motive, and what did the Russians stand to gain from colluding with Donald Trump?
Russia could have achieved its objectives — more easily and at less cost — with the pliable globalist President Hillary Clinton. In reality, autocrats, dictators, and warlords around the world wanted the more malleable Hillary Clinton instead of the nationalistic and assertive Donald Trump who campaigned on, and then adopted, a more aggressive "America first" leadership approach to defense and foreign policy.
That point is even more compelling, given the Trump administration's more uncompromising U.S. policy vis-à-vis Russia. Russia felt — in the Trump administration's first year alone — consequences of a more assertive United States. In November 2017, the U.S. approved the $10.5-billion sale of Patriot anti-missile systems to NATO ally Poland to counter perceived Russian aggression. In December, the U.S. authorized the transfer of anti-tank weapons to Ukraine to help that nation defend against Russian-backed separatists. U.S. troop presence in Eastern Europe was increased over Obama-era levels to bolster European defenses, while the U.S. imposed monetary sanctions targeting individual Russian actors and companies (rather than punishing that nation's sovereign debt.)
Further, the Trump administration persisted in convincing U.S. NATO allies to increase defense spending. In even more direct confrontations, Russian mercenaries and other pro-Syrian regime forces attacking U.S. troops in Syria were killed, while U.S. opposition to Russian president Putin's largest geo-economic project, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe, threatens to pinch billions of dollars in revenue from an energy-dependent Russian economy.
Instead, Russia would fondly remember President Obama's secretary of state. Her inane "reset button" set the tone. Mr. Putin had surveyed the Hillary Clinton of Benghazi infamy and noted the facilitation of the transfer of large uranium assets to Russia. The U.S. obliged the Kremlin by removing missile defense systems from Central Europe and never did more than complain about Crimea's annexation. The Obama administration's fuzzy line-in-the-sand indecisiveness over Syrian chemical weapons made way for Russia's effective military intervention in Syria. President Putin surely approved of Mr. Obama's concessions to Iran on the nuclear deal, and it was President Obama who notably told former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev that Vladimir Putin should give him more "space" because after his election he would "have more flexibility." He had, in essence, passed out samples of what a Clinton administration would allow.
In Hillary Clinton, Russia saw a candidate more interested in globalists' demands from Paris, Katowice, and Davos than tough issues like global proxy wars, Russian revanchism, nuclear proliferation, and NATO solidarity. Given the world's pre-election political and media consensus, a Clinton victory was almost assuredly a given inside the Kremlin. Albeit speculative, Vladimir Putin was probably just as surprised as CNN to wake up that November Wednesday morning in 2016 to learn the "impossible" had materialized.
Did Russia interfere in the 2016 election by other means? That answer is assuredly "yes," but there was no organized scheme of coordination, conspiracy, or "collusion" with the Trump campaign. It wasn't necessary and would pay no dividends. Clinton was Russia's preferred candidate.
So why would Russia interfere? Quite simply, to sow (more) discord and acrimony among the political parties and voters to undermine American government, society, and leadership. After the Trump victory, the Russian agitprop apparatus shifted to organizing anti-Trump demonstrations that American media all too obligingly covered. For all that, Kremlin actors likely exchanged high fives and fist bumps for their handiwork's amplified effects. You can bet they'll be back with more meddling in 2020.
All 400-plus pages of the Mueller report — redacted or not — are now a historical document. The more important question now is, whom does Russia — and whom do other global bad actors — wish to see in the White House come 2020? Whom would Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping prefer to face in a stare-down with the stakes higher and the objectives being the Baltics, Central Asia, or the South China Sea? Which candidate does Iran or North Korea prefer to see in the White House? If our 2016 experience is prologue, such actors will both overtly and covertly default to the Democratic candidate.
U.S. competitors and adversaries want to see us fiscally exhaust ourselves on social programs instead of defense and security. They hope we are more interested in Davos, Paris, and climate change than Russian adventurism. They seek the further breakdown of societal mores and law and order and will take pleasure in watching Americans further divided by identity politics, bathroom protocols, and political animus.
One last, but not small, point for Congressman Jeffries and others. With Russian (and likely other) interference in the 2016 presidential election, one person was ultimately responsible for this nation's defense and security as "commander-in-chief." That was Barack Obama. With the known determined organized foreign interference, he ultimately failed in oath-sworn responsibilities to keep the nation's democratic processes secure and free from that interference.
In any thorough and continued forensic untangling of relevant events, shouldn't Americans know more about what all really happened? For the future, if we can acknowledge it in objective, impartial, and even bipartisan ways, our national security apparatus can be more and better prepared to combat, and maybe prevent, any new foreign interference during the 2020 campaigns, election, and beyond.
Chris J. Krisinger (colonel, USAF ret.) served in policy advisory positions for both the Pentagon and the State Department. He was a National Defense Fellow at Harvard University.
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