Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The DNC Emails … And Russian Involvement in American Politics

My personal Twitter troll has asked (demanded? challenged?) me to comment on the revelation that the staffers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) engaged in email discussions regarding the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders that included strategizing against his campaign. While I ordinarily like to follow a “don’t feed the trolls” approach, I thought that this issue was at least worth discussing (and, hey, it’s pretty cool that I have my own Twitter troll, isn’t it?). Before diving into the issues, let me offer one major caveat: I haven’t read the emails. I’ve read a few news stories and brief excerpts, but I’m sure that I don’t know all of the facts and, as always, I’m willing to reconsider my views as additional facts are learned or as mistakes that I make (as if!) are identified.

So, on to the emails…

It is my understanding that, at the heart of the matter, were discussions or even actions by some DNC staffers to either help Hillary Clinton’s campaign and/or hinder Bernie Sanders’ campaign together with some … er … less than generous descriptions of Sanders. Now, there is a part of me that says, “Gee, that’s not fair” and I certainly would like to think that the DNC would always play fair. But then there is the part of me that remembers that this is the Democratic National Committee and that, until he needed the ballot access that the Democratic Party had, Sen. Sanders was not a Democrat. Or, to phrase it differently, why shouldn’t the DNC work to help its own members to the detriment of an outsider? That point is even more compelling given the work that Hillary Clinton has done over the years both for the Democratic Party and for other Democrats. (And let’s not forget that Sanders endorsed the primary challenger for the House seat held by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, so I think she can be forgiven at least a bit of pique directed toward Sanders.)

As to the notion that the primary system was rigged, the only answer is “bullshit”. The primary system was in place long before Sanders announced his candidacy. He knew what the system was; he didn’t have to run and he didn’t have to run as a Democrat. But he did. He could have sought the nomination of the Green Party or run as an independent, but that wouldn’t have given him the ballot access he needed or the ability to get the sort of news coverage that helped propel his campaign. And let’s not forget the allegations from several months ago that the Sanders campaign was, itself, hacking into the DNC database to obtain information improperly. I guess that was OK, right? Look, I’m not saying that the democratic primary system is a good system or that it shouldn’t be modified. But the system was the same for Martin O’Malley, Lawrence Lessig, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, and others, and I don’t recall hearing their supporters whining about the system or booing the party’s leaders at its convention.

I also find it interesting that so many of the people who are almost giddy about the disclosure of these emails from the DNC seem to so quickly gloss over the apparent source. The emails were released by WikiLeaks. Now, first, we should think back to what people had to say about WikiLeaks when it was responsible for other document dumps; I recall hearing plenty of people call for criminal prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (and accusations that he was a “traitor” even though he isn’t American). I wrote about the massive WikiLeaks disclosure of US diplomatic cables in December 2010 (Wikileaks? I’m Not Sure). Yet apparently, if the information WikiLeaks discloses harms those who you oppose on political grounds then that disclosure is peachy keen. if would be interesting to see how people would react if WikiLeaks were able to obtain and disclose Donald Trump’s tax returns (especially if they included something damaging). But I digress.

More important is the source from which WikiLeaks itself apparently received the emails in the first place. WikiLeaks doesn’t do the hacking; rather WikiLeaks discloses documents obtained by hackers. And in this case, there is apparently ample evidence that the hackers who took the emails from the DNC are part of the Russian intelligence services, in particular the FSB (the successor to the KGB) and the GRU (military intelligence), both under the control of Vladimir Putin … you know, the same man to whom Donald Trump, just a few days ago, gave a green light to invade our NATO allies (Did Trump Just Give Putin Carte Blanche to Invade Eastern Europe?). As Arsenio Hall once said, “Things that make you go ‘Hmm.’” Don’t forget the extent to which Trump has praised Putin, so much so that the phrase “bromance” has been used to describe Trump’s relationship with Putin (or maybe it’s just a mancrush). So was the release of the emails to WikiLeaks the quo for Trump’s quid suggestion that he might abandon NATO and the Baltic states?

Think back to when Edward Snowden stole data from the NSA before fleeing, eventually to Russia. How many of you called him a traitor? How many of you worried about Russia having access to the information he obtained? Yet now, some people (mostly those opposed to Democrats in general or Hillary Clinton in particular) are practically cheering over Russia hacking into data belonging to a political party (including, donor data, opposition research, and the personal email accounts of Democratic staffers)? Really? I seem to recall that the last time criminal activity was aimed at obtaining private information from one of the political parties, things didn’t end so well. For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, here is a hint: The data one party tried to steal was located in an office located at the Watergate hotel. Ring any bells?

One thing, however, that really troubles me about the information in the emails is the apparent discussion about using Sanders’ religion (or atheism, perhaps) as a weapon against him. That sort of conduct is reprehensible. Period. The saving grace, I suppose, is that it doesn’t appear that this discussion evolved into actual action; rather, from what I’ve read, it appears to have been a suggestion made as part of a strategy discussion that was not followed up. But to even discuss using a person’s religion against them (or their lack of faith, as the case may be), is simply un-American and wrong.

A critical thing that must be recognized about this entire mess is that the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned. And then the interim chairwoman of the DNC, Donna Brazile apologized. Publicly and sincerely. While people cannot go back and change what happened, they can take responsibility, apologize, and learn from mistakes. So far, that appears to be what the DNC is doing in the wake of these disclosures.

Of course, noting that the chair of the DNC resigned and that the DNC’s new chair apologized does make me wonder when we’ll see similar actions from Republicans in regard to the xenophobia, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, and so forth being spewed by the Republican Party’s candidate and his supporters. I’m not holding my breath.

I do hope that over the next days and weeks we will learn more detail about possible Russian involvement in the hack of the DNC servers. Perhaps more importantly, I hope that we’ll learn more about whether the Trump campaign had any knowledge about that hacking or any involvement in the decision to disclose the emails (I certainly hope that not even Trump would stoop that low…). But even if the Republicans and the Trump campaign were completely in the dark and innocent, we should have a serious national discussion about why Russia might want to harm Democrats or Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. What did Russia hope to gain by hacking the DNC servers and what did Russia hope to gain by releasing the stolen emails to WikiLeaks for public dissemination. And ask yourself if you’re comfortable knowing that another country, and especially Russia, is inserting itself, via its intelligence agencies, into the American political system and presidential election. Does that scare you as much as it scares me?

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Did Trump Just Give Putin Carte Blanche to Invade Eastern Europe?

In January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech to the National Press Club in which he articulated the United States’ defense perimeter in Asia. However, when Acheson described the defense perimeter, he excluded South Korea. Several months later, North Korea (backed by the USSR) invaded South Korea. Most historians cite Acheson’s exclusion of South Korea from the defense perimeter as one of the important factors that led the decision by North Korea and the USSR to invade the South, operating under the perception that the United States would not intervene militarily because South Korea was outside the Asian defense perimeter.

In July 1990, April Glaspie, the United States Ambassador to Iraq, told her Iraqi counterpart that the United States did not have an opinion on Iraq’s escalating dispute with Kuwait (over oil) and that the United States would not start an economic war against Iraq. Most historians cite Glaspie’s comments as one of the important factors that led Saddam Hussein to conclude that the United States would not intervene in an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Why do I cite these two historical examples of comments that led to war? Consider what Donald Trump told The New York Times yesterday:

SANGER: I was just in the Baltic States. They are very concerned obviously about this new Russian activism, they are seeing submarines off their coasts, they are seeing airplanes they haven’t seen since the Cold War coming, bombers doing test runs. If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

SANGER: That’s true, but we are treaty-obligated under NATO, forget the bills part.

TRUMP: You can’t forget the bills. They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing. You can’t say forget that.

SANGER: My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations ——

TRUMP: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.

HABERMAN: And if not?

TRUMP: Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.

How do you think Vladimir Putin will view those comments by Trump? How do you think our NATO and other treaty allies will view those comments?

From my perspective, Trump just told our allies that they may not be able to rely upon the United States and essentially gave our adversaries (or potential enemies) carte blanche to take aggressive actions without fear of intervention by the United States. Trump’s statement is even more dangerous than the statements of Acheson or Glaspie because in those instances, the United States wasn’t suggesting that it would ignore treaty obligations. Moreover, those statements dealt with Korea and Kuwait, not Europe and not America’s most important defense alliance.

Perhaps Trump isn’t aware that Article 5 of the NATO treaty provides that an attack on one NATO member is deemed to be an attack on all NATO members and obligates the other NATO members to assist the country that was attacked. And perhaps Trump doesn’t understand that a treaty has the force of law; complying with treaty obligations isn’t optional. But if he isn’t aware of such a cornerstone element of our national defense structure, then he certainly isn’t qualified to be the Commander-in-Chief. And if he is aware of what Article 5 means and he is still willing to suggest that it might be ignored, then he is … well … dangerous isn’t quite a strong enough word. Perhaps his machismo is spoiling for an armed confrontation with Vladimir Putin and the Russian bear. I just hope America is ready to pay the bill of blood and treasure when Trump’s statements or inaction lead to the armed conflict.

Look, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t make efforts to have our NATO allies fulfill their treaty obligations. They should and we should try to hold them to the terms of the treaty. But to suggest that failure to pay a bill is reason enough to abandon that country to a Russian invasion is lunacy. Dangerous lunacy. (Of course, Trump’s business modus operandi appears to be to leave bills unpaid, so this is something he should be quite familiar with…)

When Donald Trump opens his mouth, what we hear is hate, bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and a complete lack of understanding of the complex issues facing our nation and the world. He’s already suggested that nuclear proliferation to South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, might be a good idea. These statements about NATO are just the most recent example. And you can bet that Vladimir Putin and the people of Europe heard Trump loud and clear. I just wonder how far into Europe Russian tanks will be permitted to drive during a Trump presidency.

And I wonder whether any country would ever trust America again.

Is that what Trump means when he talks about making American great again?

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