The Illogic of Russian Hacking
Never in the last half century has the American left believed the Soviet Union or Russia capable of a single nefarious act against the United States or the West. President Obama, and even some Republicans in Congress, have given credence to the notion that Vladimir Putin directed his intelligence services to hack into the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's top aides and then directly or indirectly pass them on to Wikileaks. By so doing, we are led to believe, this has brought Donald Trump the presidency. It is of little consequence that few, if any, of the hundreds of thousands of citizens who attended Trump rallies, or the millions who voted for him, ever saw what Wikileaks published. Clearly, we are told by the CIA, this had to be the work of the Russians.
Let us state for the record: the Russian FSB has many thousands of the best hackers in the world. The People's Liberation Army in China has hundreds of thousands within their intelligence apparatus involved in cyber espionage. Every minute of every hour of every day, their targets—when they are not engaged in stealing intellectual property or industrial espionage—are those aspects of the U.S. Government and financial system that would in any way affect their interests. This includes White House and Administration personnel, congressmen, diplomats, intelligence agencies, business leaders and the like. Retaliation is difficult because there is no perfect method by which to ascertain who exactly is engaging in such hacking. So-called cyber signatures are themselves not perfect evidence. Russian or Iranian hackers could be hired by the Chinese or vice versa. This is simply the practice of modern intelligence. What they choose to do with any of that intelligence is quite another matter.
We are being asked now to believe that the Russians wished to influence a U.S. presidential election. This master stroke of statecraft by Putin was designed, however, to bring to power a man, Donald J. Trump, who has pledged to rebuild the United States militarily and economically. Trump has detailed his intent to build a national missile defense, modernize our strategic arsenal to match that of Russia and China, ensure our ability to dominate the high seas with an expanded and more technologically advanced navy, guarantee our ability to project power with an improved air force, and have an intelligence and cyber capability second to none. How any of this is in the Russian strategic interest is yet to be explained.
By contrast, Hillary Clinton, following the policies of Barack Obama, stated she would, by not building missile defenses—no small strategic matter—continue the policy of vulnerability to Russian, Chinese, and Iranian ballistic missiles; delay the upkeep and modernization of our nuclear weaponry; and, pursue a reduction of our conventional military forces. On traditional strategic grounds, it defies logic that Putin would have preferred Trump to Clinton.
On economic affairs the contrast is even more stark. Trump has called for “complete energy independence” with expanded oil, fracking and natural gas production. Hillary Clinton has opposed each of these on environmental grounds. Russia, whose economy and wealth is based on exporting their vast oil and gas reserves, would very much desire a world where the United States is dependent on world oil markets for their energy requirements. Energy independence is the last policy the Russians would want a U.S. president to pursue. Here again, a Clinton presidency was in the Russian interest.
If Putin's goal was to demonstrate that he could mettle in U.S. politics and in so doing shake our faith in our democratic institutions, he could certainly have done so without hurting the political fortunes of Hillary Clinton. Surely the good of Russia’s economy and Russia’s strategic position in the world outweighs whatever short term benefit there might be in embarrassing the United States and interfering in our political process.
There can be little doubt that the Obama presidency and one of Hillary Clinton was not ideal for Russia. Today Europe—Russia's main market for its energy—is being transformed by Islamic migrants that bring with them a destructive anti-western ideology that has demoralized the peoples of Europe. The current wave of Muslims and the economic and cultural dislocation they have caused, can be traced directly to Obama and Clinton's embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Arab Spring, and the ensuing crisis in Egypt, Libya and Syria. Certainly, Russia would prefer that this downward trend for Europe not continue. But to want Trump as president is quite a different matter.
In their effort to discredit Trump, the Obama Administration has portrayed his desire to have good relations with Russia as some sort of vice. Trump knows well that Russia is no ally. It is Russia that has armed and continues to support the terrorist regime in Iran and has abetted international terrorist networks, including al Qaeda, against us to this day. The Russian nuclear arsenal, which has become even more sophisticated during the Obama years , is built for war with the United States. Mr. Trump knows that must be checked and can be without leading us to a new Cold War. That President-elect Trump’s future Secretary of State Rex Tillerson knows Mr. Putin is a good thing.
On the anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is quite ironic that Pravda-like disinformation should emanate from President Obama and his CIA in the hopes of undermining the legitimacy of the President-elect. Let us trust that the American people have the continued good sense to see through such deception.
Brian T. Kennedy is President of the American Strategy Group and a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute.