If you still think Russian interference into the 2016 U.S. presidential election is “fake news,” read no further. This column isn’t for you.
But if you’re inclined to see merit in the unanimous conclusion of every U.S. intelligence agency that Russia was knee-deep in the 2016 American election process, please read on.
Nice to have you aboard the sanity wagon.
What we know — those of you still with me — is that the Russian government orchestrated an extraordinarily sophisticated cyberhijacking of our national conversation throughout 2016. Its efforts included hacking, sensational news leaks, a misinformation campaign and direct voter contact in key states and election districts. In effect, the Russians acted like a hostile independent expenditure campaign in our presidential election, with neither legal restrictions nor spending limits.
Some partisans have a hard time accepting these facts because they interpret discussion about the Russian attack as a delegitimization of President Donald Trump’s victory. That’s immaterial from a practical standpoint: We could argue about the effect of the Russian campaign forever; it will not change the election’s outcome.
What Americans of goodwill — of both political parties — should be focused on instead is a.) what the Russians are up to long-term, and b.) the Trump administration’s posture toward Russia now.
The latter is especially curious.
Despite incontrovertible evidence of Russian misbehavior in 2016, the Trump administration continues to play footsie with Vladimir Putin. It’s already discussing sanction relief for a historical adversary that just tried to interfere with our democratic mechanism, while at the same time creating seemingly senseless divisions with our most trusted European allies.
I’m usually not one for conspiracy theories — I still don’t care who shot J.R. — but it’s impossible to watch this international dynamic unfolding and not ask why. Why is this administration moving closer to Russia, and further from its traditional allies, after what the Russians just did?
- Conspiracy theory one: Putin helped Trump get elected and Trump is returning the favor — the simplest hypothesis.
- Conspiracy theory two: Old-fashioned blackmail; Putin has dirt on Trump.
Both of these propositions are pure (if not semi-reasonable) conjecture, and running down the facts to support or debunk them will be the job of special counsel Robert Mueller. In other words, we should know whether there’s anything to them in time.
- Conspiracy theory three: This is what Americans should increasingly keep an eye on. Under this hypothesis, there’s a larger, more far-reaching force at play being driven by Trump chief strategist, radical nationalist Steve Bannon.
Under this scenario, Russia is viewed by Trump-Bannon as the more natural, long-term philosophical ally of the United States. Europe, seen through this prism, has become fatally progressive in its policies, particularly as it relates to Muslim immigration. Ergo, the United States can’t count on Western Europe ideologically or demographically in the long term (with the possible exception of Britain).
The philosophical underpinnings of this viewpoint are well known to people who spend their days arguing about such things. They talk about people like Alexander Dugin, the Russian political scientist and father of the “Eurasia” movement, whom Bannon is said to admire. They talk about returning to a pre-World War I world order in which national interests and the balance of power supersede the spread of democracy. But we don’t hear this discussion filtering down to the public debate.
Trump’s Twitter feed is fascinating to watch. But U.S. policy toward Russia is what Republicans, Democrats and independents need to start focusing on.
Keep an eye on it, and ask yourself why.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.