Sunday, December 18, 2016

For the first time the Russian hacking story is gaining traction in the news.  Even Lindsey Graham took to the political talk show circuit to say he had been hacked too.  He wouldn't go so far as to admit the leaked DNC e-mails gave Trump an unfair advantage.  Good ol' Lindsey was willing to accept the results.

For his part, President Obama used his press conference in part to scold the press for taking the bait rather than questioning the source of these e-mails, Wikileaks.  Obama even went so far as to imply Putin was directly behind the hacks, providing the information to Assange, who in turn released a steady stream of these e-mails over the closing weeks of the campaign.  But, as one NYTimes reporter put it on CNN it is pretty hard to resist all these e-mails describing the inner workings of the DNC.  In the mind of the collective news media, the e-mails were fair game.

This points to the fundamental problem with the news media -- its inability to scrutinize the information it receives.  It has a long history of taking information from whatever source is willing to provide it.  Woodward and Bernstein never questioned "Deep Throat," or revealed his identity.  They were too excited to have something that could bring Nixon down and so we had Watergate.  Imagine if it had been nothing more than a red herring, which is essentially what these DNC leaked e-mails were.  What would have the media looked like then?  As it was, it took months of investigative work to pin the allegations on Nixon's campaign staff before charges were formally brought against him.

With the DNC leaked e-mails, the press simply ran with them, never for a moment questioning the source or its connections to the Kremlin, the much bigger story in this case.  Assange is still in exile, afraid to face charges in Sweden for two pending sexual assault cases, which he claims is nothing but a ruse to get him extradited to the US for more serious crimes.  Assange came to prominence when he pulled the plug on the Bush White House in regard to the Iraq War, then came the embarrassing State Department leaks during the Obama administration, followed by more such leaks from the DNC.  It doesn't take much effort to connect the dots here.  The Kremlin has been backing him along, because he is the "useful idiot" it needs to disseminate this information without drawing too much attention to itself.  But, when Assange took a gig at Russia Today, the cloak was off.  I assume it was a reward for all the good work he did in casting a cloud over the American State Department.

Now, the Kremlin has a "useful idiot" in the White House, one who at the very least will give them carte blanche to do whatever Russia wants in Central Asia and the Middle East.  If all goes well, Trump may even pull American troops from the Baltics and cut defense programs throughout Eastern Europe, taking away what is essentially the only line of defense these former Soviet countries and satellite nations have against Russia, which has been flexing its military muscle throughout the region.  In their wildest dreams, Trump may actually call for an end to NATO.

We shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves.  After all, we have such stalwart Cold Warriors as John McCain and Lindsey Graham in Congress to push back against Trump.  Marco Rubio and other Republicans have also voiced their concerns over Trump's links to the Kremlin.  But, so far not one of them has cast any doubt over his legitimacy as President-Elect, even if the writing was on the wall throughout the entire campaign.  The FBI was aware Russia was hacking into the Democratic National Committee database back in 2015 but when one of its special agents warned the DNC he was subsequently demoted, and the issue was treated as a prank.

Time and time again, Trump praised Putin on the campaign trail, saying our president should be tough like Vlad.  In fact, this had been pretty common throughout the GOP.  Even Mitt Romney praised Putin back in late 2013 before the Russian president invaded Crimea.  Mitt had different thoughts after that.  Not Trump.  In an effort to brush away what appeared to be an appalling lack of insight into the region, he thrust the blame on Obama for the annexation of Crimea.  In the end saying he could accept what Russia did.  In so many convoluted words, Trump backed Russia's claim for the embattled peninsula, flying against both State and UN policy.  Yet, few in the press gave this story much coverage.  It was picked up mostly by blogs like Politico, which gives it the taint of being a partisan issue.

The only question really is when Russia chose to back Trump?  Was this their plan all along, using Trump as an American version of Nigel Farage, or were they waiting to see who emerged from the GOP pack and work with that candidate to get their message out?  Trump made it easy for them, by vaulting to the lead in the polls early in the campaign and being only mildly challenged throughout the primaries.

Obama noted the double standard in the press, saying that they took up almost any story against Hillary, no matter how small and insignificant, yet turned a virtual blind eye to the connection between Trump and Russia.  There was some scrutiny of Paul Manafort, when Trump hired him in April to give his campaign a kick start after the poor leadership of Corey Lewandowski.  Manafort had extensive ties to Russia, notably through his work with former Ukrainian strong man Viktor Yanukovich.  Manafort subsequently stepped down and all seemed to be forgiven.   Pretty amazing really, since Manafort continued to lend the Trump campaign advice.

One assumes this will all eventually come out, as Manafort and others are under investigation.  In time, this could blow up like Watergate, but the problem is that Trump will already be in the White House, surrounded by his pro-Russian cabinet and most likely will have set the wheels in motion for a normalization of relations with Russia.  He will experience some push back from Congress and maybe even from his own VP Mike Pence, however it is doubtful there will be anymore resistance than there was to Bush's war in Iraq.  By that point, Russia will have gotten pretty much what it wanted, an ease in sanctions, possible troop removals from Eastern Europe, and freedom to exercise its influence throughout the world as long as it doesn't press too hard on American interests.  A modern day version of the Treaty of Tordesillas.  Russia will move from being a "regional player," as Obama often dismissed it, to a global player with far flung geopolitical interests.

I don't think the Trump administration has any idea what this implies, as one of the main aims behind this Russian "globalization" is to end the American monopoly on oil when it comes to petrodollars, allowing for greater flexibility in oil prices.  This is pretty much what it bases its economy on, and having greater latitude will allow it to be a much more powerful global player.  This won't end the mini-Cold War we have seen arise since Putin came back to the Presidency in 2012.  Instead, it will escalate it, as eventually our interests and those of Russia will clash.

It's not to say that we shouldn't try to have better relations with Russia, but we shouldn't lose sight of Putin's broader ambitions here.  He wants to rebuild the empire.  If he can do so economically that's all well and good, but as we have seen in Chechnya, Georgia, the Ukraine and Syria he has no misgivings when it comes to taking military action, essentially setting our relationship with Russia on a collision course.

I have Russian and Ukrainian friends who would argue otherwise.  They say the only way to contain America's own imperial ambitions is to have a counter weight, and that Russia provides this through its vast deposits of oil and mineral reserves along with a potent military infrastructure.  It doesn't have to be a Cold War, rather an amicable recognition of being equals on the international playing field, rather than blithely dismiss Russia as a "regional player," as Obama has done repeatedly.

But, the question remains did Russia hack into the DNC database and other databases to skew the American elections so that they got a more amenable president?  We can point to the underhandedness of Russia to do something like this, but ultimately we have to ask ourselves how did we so easily fall prey to what was a rather obvious attempt to influence the elections?  What is it in the American psyche that allows so many persons to look the other way when it was there for all to see throughout the campaign?  In that sense Trump was the perfect agent for Russia, as the media became so obsessed with his personality disorders that they didn't make much effort to examine his motives.

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