The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Tag: Russian Election Interference

How to Stop Russian Election Interference

Let us take as a given that Russia interfered in the last US election (though many of the accusations are unconvincing, some appear to be be true).

I’m pushing this back to the top, for what I assume are obvious reasons. Originally published Feb 1, 2018.

Why did they interfere?

They most likely did so because having a President in charge who was somewhat favorable to Russia is in Russia’s self interest. Remember that Russia is under US-led economic sanctions.

There is a case to be made that what Russia did was simply what Russia should have done: Act in its own self-interests. Russia should do what is in its self-interest.

Moreover, it is the same as the US does to other countries, all the time, including to Russia. When the US thinks that a country should have different leadership, it tries to make sure that happens. Such operations include political support, propaganda, and often support for violence. Money is funneled to opposition factions. The color-revolutions were US supported and so were the Maidan protests which overthrew the elected Ukrainian government and caused the most recent big crisis with Russia. There are many, many examples, including extensive support for anti-government forces in Iran.

The US does this because they think it is in their interest. If they think a democratic party is good for the US, they support it, but they have supported dictators and anti-democratic coups as well.

So what Russia is doing has a lot of precedent. The US is not some trembling innocent suffering some unspeakable crime. The better analogy is a serial bully who got his eye blacked by a past victim.

From the outside, Americans screaming about this look like a bully screaming, “How dare you do to me what I do to everyone else. I’m going to bury you!”

This does not induce sympathy.

Still, we can make a strong case that countries shouldn’t interfere in other countries’ internal political affairs, including–especially including–elections.

I think that the Russians might be willing to agree to that.

So the sane method of dealing with this issue, to which which virtually everyone will agree, would be to begin negotiations towards that end.

Americans and Russians get together and have frank talks, which amount to a peace treaty: We won’t do it to you, if you don’t do it to us.

They might even extend the notion to not doing it to other countries.

This is the actual road out, though it’s laughable because it really seems impossible to imagine. Both the US and Russia have been interfering in many countries for a long time, though the US has been the champion for the last 30 years or so–and by a wide margin.

But if you don’t want someone to hit you, perhaps you shouldn’t hit them?

The problem here is that this can’t stand alone. If the US retains the ability to sanction other countries economically, in ways that are so damaging that they kill vast numbers of those countries’ citizens and impoverish even more, which the US does, who is going to agree to just sit there and take it?

And the US does have this ability, for now, due to its control over the world payments system. The US Treasury can unilaterally sanction countries and firms, and no one can stop them, because banks outside the US feel compelled to obey as any transfer that touches on the US triggers US law, and the payment system is US built and controlled.

Most foreign debts are also subject to either US or British law, as the Argentinians learned to their great detriment.

But then, doesn’t the concept of sanctions fall under the general idea of interfering with other countries? Perhaps the US might also wish to stop sanctioning countries. Almost every case has done more harm than good, and the sanctions almost always hit ordinary people harder than leaders, even when they are targeted at the richest.

The way to have peace, is to leave other people alone.

I know that this runs exactly against the American character which is, “Hurt them until they do what I want.” It runs directly against how the US disciplines its own people, which is, “If you don’t cooperate, you’ll be poor and miserable.” (See how felons are treated after their incarceration for the most direct example.)

But perhaps, just perhaps, the best results in this world rarely come from hurting people until they submit, however long that takes. (See Cuba and Iran for how long it can not work.)

Oh, sure, sometimes it does “work.” The US has overthrown many countries’ governments, and they have gotten many other political parties elected. No one can deny this. But somehow, doing so often leads to even worse situations down the line. It seems that if you hurt people enough, they resist and start hating you, act against you, and try to get a government they like that doesn’t like you, and so on.

Sanity is saying “Okay, okay. Let’s stop this cycle of reciprocally hurting people.”

But that has to start and be credibly initiated by the worst abuser. And though most Americans won’t admit it, that worst abuser is the US.

This has been another episode of “Kindergarten-level Ethics for Adults.”

If you don’t like it when someone does it to you, don’t do it to other people.

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The Mueller Indictment

So, we have the latest indictments from Mueller. Twelve GRU agents are named and indicted for hacking into a variety of servers, including those belonging to the DNC, the Clinton campaign, and voter registration centers. They also got the Clinton campaign’s voter model.

The indictment is very detailed–down to hours and minutes. Donald Trump said, “Russia, if you are listening. I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by the press.”

On the same day, Russian military intelligence apparently started hacking. They released their results through Guccifer 2.0, Wikileaks and DCLeaks, among others. Guccifer 2.0 contacted Roger Stone, who was in contact with the Trump campaign, but the exchange was brief.

If the indictment is correct, then this is serious interference in another country’s election.

It is worth pointing out that the indictment offers no proof, only assertion, and because Russia is hardly going to send GRU officers to the US to be tried, proof will never have to be shown in a court of law.

And I think it is also worth noting that the US routinely interferes in other countries elections in attempts to get the candidates it wants elected. Assuming it doesn’t back a coup to overthrow an elected government, of course.

To non-Americans this looks like the US squealing about grievances much less serious than those they regularly impress on others. Still, even bullies don’t like it when someone hits them, and assault is assault.

The best solution would be for various countries to stop interfering in other countries elections and domestic politics. “You don’t interfere, we won’t interfere.”

This suggestion will strike most as clearly impossible: The US isn’t going to stop meddling and neither is Russia.

But if you won’t stop doing it other people, outsiders can be excused for not being super-concerned when it is done to you.

I will, finally, point out that, in as close an election as 2016, everything made the difference. Clinton not prioritizing swing states, the emails, the hacking, voter suppression, etc…

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Mueller’s Russian Indictments

So, Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three entities. Let’s look at this a bit closer.

In an indictment announced Friday in Washington, Mueller describes a years-long, multimillion-dollar conspiracy by hundreds of Russians aimed at criticizing Hillary Clinton and supporting Senator Bernie Sanders and Trump.

More accurately, I suspect, would be to say that Putin wanted someone who wasn’t as anti-Russian and anti-Putin. Clinton and Putin have a long-time adversarial relationship, and Clinton has been very antagonistic to Russia. In particular she wanted a no-fly zone in Syria after the Russians were there, and Putin sees her as lying to him about Libya: Reassuring him that the no-fly zone there was not about regime change.

This “information warfare” by the Russians didn’t affect the outcome of the presidential election, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters. Trump and his Republican supporters have repeatedly denounced the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and have denied any collusion. The indictment cites no instances of Russians coordinating directly with the Trump campaign.

The election was so close that I don’t see how it can be said that the Russian interference didn’t effect the outcome. Though, it is precisely because it was so close that the outcome can be “blamed” on everything, from Clinton not campaigning in key Rust Belt states, to Republican voter suppression. (The latter is probably most significant, but Clinton racked up a lot of votes where she didn’t need them and didn’t put much in the way of resources into some marginal states which mattered.)

The Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization, and the defendants began working in 2014 to interfere in U.S. elections, according to the indictment. They used false personas and social media while also staging political rallies and communicating with “unwitting individuals” associated with the Trump campaign, it said.
In a Feb. 10, 2016 planning memo, the Russians were instructed to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them).”

The operations also denigrated candidates including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Trump’s rivals in the 2016 Republican primary, the indictment said.

The 2014 date indicates plans were in place long before Trump or Sanders could have been expected to run. That Trump was the chosen candidate on the Republican side makes sense; he was consistently Russia- and Putin-friendly. As for the Democratic side, it was Clinton or Sanders, and Sanders, while not a Russia booster, was certainly better for Russia than Clinton.

I don’t see a great deal here to be excited about. The US routinely interferes in foreign elections to a much greater extent than this. The best solution would be an agreement to stop interfering in foreign elections on both sides.

I assume Mueller will continue and indict some more Americans (one American is indicted here on minor charges).

Oh, and…

They spent thousands of dollars a month to buy advertisements on social media groups, while carefully tracking the size of U.S. audiences they reached, according to the indictment. (emphasis added)

Thousands of dollars? Not millions? Or even “hundreds of thousands”? It is hard to take that very seriously.

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