The Democratic National Committee’s server was hacked last week, and embarrassing (although not very surprising) emails publicly released. The obvious intent was to create division right before the Democratic Convention, and to feed suspicions about Hillary Clinton’s nomination.
Voters and pundits can draw their own conclusions about the contents of the emails. The more intriguing–and troubling–question involves the source of the mischief. A number of media outlets have noted that the FBI’s investigation is focused upon Russia and Vladimir Putin.
My first reaction to the suggestion that Putin might be interfering with America’s election was a very pronounced eye roll. (I’m not much for conspiracy theories. In a different context, that sounds like the sort of wild accusation Trump would come up with.)
And yet..the FBI says the hackers were Russian, and this article by Anne Applebaum in the Salt Lake Tribune does give one pause.
The secret plot to control America, launched from abroad, is an old theme in American pop culture. “The Manchurian Candidate,” a film made in 1962, imagined a Chinese scheme to engineer a coup d’etat. Aficionados of paranoid thrillers may also recall “Lucky Bastard,” a 1998 Charles McCarry novel, which featured a U.S. president controlled by a Soviet case officer who happens to be his wife.
But now it is 2016, truth is stranger than fiction, and we finally have a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, with direct and indirect links to a foreign dictator, Vladimir Putin, whose policies he promotes. And yet it is not secret, it is not a plot, there is no conspiracy. No one has been hypnotized or recruited by foreign intelligence. Just as Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, openly accepts Russian money, the Trump campaign advertises its Russian links and pays no real political price.
Applebaum details Trump’s considerable business connections with Russia, and his efforts to attract Russian investment in his real estate projects. As she notes , Trump has also surrounded himself with “people whose deep links to the corrupt world of Russian business would normally disqualify them from U.S. politics.” She cites campaign operatives, among them Carter Page, a foreign policy aide who has long-standing connections to Russian companies and who supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who worked for several years in Ukraine for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president ousted in 2014.
Although Applebaum doesn’t mention it, the LA Times reports that retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn,another close Trump advisor, flew to Moscow last year to attend a gala banquet celebrating Russia Today, the Kremlin’s propaganda channel, and was seated at the head table near Putin. Flynn is evidently a regular guest on Russia Today.
Russian state media is actively supporting Trump, and Applebaum says that whatever resources Putin is investing in Trump’s campaign, they are paying dividends.
For even if Trump never becomes president, his candidacy has already achieved two extremely important Russian foreign policy goals: to weaken the moral influence of the United States by undermining its reputation as a stable democracy, and to destroy its power by wrecking its relationships with its allies. Toward these ends, Trump has begun repeating arguments identical to those used on Russian state television. These range from doubts about the sovereignty of Ukraine — earlier this week, Trump’s campaign team helped alter the Republican party platform to remove support for Ukraine — to doubts about U.S. leadership of the democratic world. The United States has its own “mess” to worry about, Trump told the New York Times on Wednesday: It shouldn’t stand up for democracy abroad. In the same interview, he also cast doubt on the fundamental basis of transatlantic stability, NATO’s Article 5 guarantee: If Russia invades, he said, he’d have to think first before defending U.S. allies.
None of this, of course, is absolute proof that Putin and the Russians were behind the hack of the DNC. But it once again underlines the manifest dangers of Trump’s capture of the GOP–and the unthinkable consequences of a Trump Presidency.