The March 6 New Yorker contains an excellent article by Evan Osnos, David Remnick, and Joshua Yaffa, “Active Measures What lay behind Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – and what lies ahead?” Osnos, Remnick, and Yaffa provide the context for understanding Putin’s efforts to tip the 2016 US presidential election, a context that is necessary to understand Trump and the precarious position of our democracy. In particular, they detail the history of both Russia and the US during the Cold War to sway elections, the rampant Western opportunism to the embarrassment of Russia with the fall of the Soviet Union, and the determination of Putin to restore Russia as a world player. After the US invasion of Iraq, the article notes that Putin “had grown deeply disenchanted and came to feel that the West was treating Russia as a ‘vassal’.” In 2007, Putin “charged that the United States had ‘overstepped its national borders in every area’ and that the expansion of NATO was directed against Russian interests.” When, in 2014, the pro-Russian leader of the Ukraine was overthrown, the authors note that Putin feared the Ukraine would gravitate toward the West. In response, Russia invaded Crimea. Into this context came the embrace of active “hybrid war” against the West, using cyber tactics and disinformation as “an essential component of Russia’s efforts to exert influence…” The 2016 US presidential election provided an excellent opportunity for Russia to carry out it’s increasingly mature cyber war and disinformation tactics – particularly in opposition of Hillary Clinton who Putin viewed as an anti-Russian hawk.
The effectiveness of those tactics, and the Trump electoral victory, have played strongly to Russian interests by destabilizing the Western alliances. The authors quote Strobe Talbott, a former adviser to President Clinton, to the effect that “Trump, by showing so little regard for the institutions established by the political West in the past seventy years, is putting the world in danger.” Noting that the West is in danger of losing a second Cold War, Talbott notes that, were that to happen, the “not quite apocalyptic” result would be years and years before a liberal world order could be reestablished. He notes that an even graver scenario would be “‘an unravelling,’ in which we revert to ‘a dog-eat-dog’ world with constant instability and conflict even if it doesn’t go nuclear. But, with the proliferation of nuclear powers, it is easy to see it going that way, too.”
The extent to which Trump played an active part in the Russian undermining of the 2016 electoral process remains uncertain, if subject to increasing suspicion. Of course, the numerous contacts of Trump aides, such as Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, with Russian officials is being documented on a daily basis. Mr. Flynn has now resigned. Mr. Sessions has unaccountably perjured himself at his confirmation hearing. The specter that is looming, the elephant in the room, is that Trump may have directly colluded in action that, by any standard, constitutes the deliberate undermining of the Western liberal democracies and treason against our state.