20 May The Most Important Takeaway from the Mueller Investigation; A Reader’s Comment on “The Return to Truthiness” in the May 15th TLR*
The Most Important Takeaway from the Mueller Investigation
The most important takeaway from the Muller Investigation is that Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election achieved a level of success light years far beyond Russia’s wildest dreams. Above all, America’s response to the Mueller Report must deal with the fallout from that interference.
“A Simple Takeaway from the Mueller Investigation” in the March 29th TLR addressed the single, straightforward and uncontested conclusion reached by the Mueller Report that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election “in sweeping and systematic fashion.” It’s the consequences of that interference that now requires America’s attention. The impact of Russia’s 2016 interference in America’s political system has built on itself in ways that Russia, as well as virtually everyone else, never anticipated. The evidence of the ever-increasing success of fallout from that interference virtually obliterates litters the American political, legal and social landscape.
Before examining the far-reaching and potentially calamitous tragic effects of Russia’s electoral interference on America, it is necessary to understand why Russia decided to interfere in America’s electoral process in the first place.
TLR’s April 3rd commentary “America at War” focused on why “war” is the appropriate label to attach to America’s relationship with Russia (as well as with China, North Korea, Venezuela and Iran). Dictionaries define “war” as “a state of open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations.” However, although America’s conflict with Russia (as well as with China, North Korea, Venezuela and Iran) is not an armed conflict, it is a “war”: whether labelled a Cyber War or a Trade War or a Currency War or an Economic War or a Sanction War or all of the foregoing. That war has not yet flared into an “armed hostile conflict” (unless cyber-weapons are considered armaments). Nevertheless, America is engaged in a hostile conflict with Russia [China, North Korea, Venezuela and Iran] the interests of which are blatantly antagonistic. That is the nuclear era’s 21st Century’s definition of “war.”
Russia is seeking to enlarge its Empire and covets a return to Great Power status. It has become adept at modern geopolitics and is well-practiced in the uses of the newest weapons of war. It learned both through its uncontested support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. President Putin’s Syrian success enabled him to establish a significant Russian presence in the Middle East. Russia now enjoys close relationships with all sides in the region, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Putin knows that Russia cannot yet win a direct military conflict confrontation with America or NATO. He accordingly will not yet mount a direct challenge to America’s or NATO’s military. Instead, he will mount indirect challenges … as he did so well in Syria. Through his incursions in Georgia, Ukraine and Chechnya, and by pressuring the Balkans and contiguous states, Russia continues to chip away at the weakest parts of Eastern Europe. Russia also is chipping away at the NATO alliance by using a combination of economic inducements/pressure (for example, through its Nord Stream pipelines), military threats (through a build-up of armed forces on NATO’s borders, incursions into NATO airspace and national waters, and missile development (see “The High-Tech Arms Race” in the May 13th TLR)), sales of military armament to former allies of the U.S. (most particularly Turkey, a member of NATO), support of populist parties throughout Europe, and cyber attacks.
The U.S. has shied away from confronting Russia directly (both in the Middle East and Europe) or challenging Russia’s expansionist activities militarily. For example, when Russia in 2018 completed a bridge (the Kerch Strait Bridge) connecting Russia to Crimea (a strategic region it had forcibly annexed from Ukraine), one of its goals was to establish Russian sovereignty over the Azov Sea. This followed its occupation of a portion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. Consistent with its creeping effort to absorb all of Ukraine into its expanding Empire, in 2018 it seized Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch Strait and arrested the Ukrainian nationals on those vessels. It then used that “Kerch Strait Incident” to prevent Ukrainian vessels from accessing Ukrainian ports on the Azov Sea, all in violation of international law and its 2003 treaty with Ukraine. Instead of taking action, the U.S. asked Prime Minister Merkel to send German warships under the Kerch Strait Bridge and through the Kerch Strait to make the point that the Azov Sea and its entry points are international waters (making a similar point to the one American warships make each time they enter the South China Sea through the Taiwan Strait). She refused. The U.S. did not suggest that its own warships accompany Germany’s, which would have made the point that further Russian attempts at military expansion would run the risk of military confrontation with a unified NATO. As a result, the Azov Sea appears to have become a Russian lake. Russia’s success in absorbing contiguous regions has led some military analysts to resurrect the Domino Theory.
Russia, like all aspiring empire-builders, tests the limits of its adversaries. When it pushes and meets feeble resistance, it pushes harder. That’s been a successful strategy in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Should it meet Western resistance, it likely would retreat … but it hasn’t met such resistance.
Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and has met little resistance.
Russia’s goal in interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was to weaken American democracy by creating electoral chaos. If that chaos also produced a Trump presidency rather than a Clinton one, so much the better. Russia utilized significant cyber resources to conduct its U.S. electoral campaign. The Mueller Report states that the social media accounts of Russian troll farms and bots pretending to be American activists “reached tens of millions of U.S. persons.” The success of that outreach achieved far more than electoral chaos. Large factions of the voting public as well as elected officials have become inflamed over a broad range of issues and are fighting over how America’s democracy is supposed to function … effectively making parts non-functional. Extremism of all kinds flourishes. 2-1/2 years after the election there remain unanswered questions about the validity and durability of America’s electoral system (some Democrats want to end the Electoral College) and its methods of voter identification (Republicans are demanding the adoption of higher hurdles). More importantly, Americans are arguing about everything: capitalism versus socialism, taxing the wealthy, the limits of legal immigration and the treatment of illegal immigrants (which will now wind a tortuous path through the Federal courts and eventually reach the Supreme Court), how far executive power permits a President to impose tariffs (which will now wind a tortuous path through the Federal courts and eventually reach the Supreme Court) and reallocate monies budgeted by Congress (which will now wind a tortuous path through the Federal courts and eventually reach the Supreme Court), how and to what extent a President and members of the Executive Branch of government must respond to subpoenas (which will now wind a tortuous path through the Federal courts and eventually reach the Supreme Court), the definition of “national security” (which will now wind a tortuous path through the Federal courts and eventually reach the Supreme Court), what are or may be impeachable offenses (which will distract occupy the House for many months), the limits, if any, on executive privilege (which will now wind a tortuous path through the Federal courts and eventually reach the Supreme Court), whether prior Supreme Court decisions on abortion, executive privilege, the ability of the House of Representatives to oversee the Executive Branch and other core matters of America’s democracy constitute enforceable precedent (which will now wind tortuous paths through the Federal courts and eventually reach the Supreme Court), and the fine lines to be drawn in all of the foregoing by the U.S. Constitution (which will now wind tortuous paths through the Federal courts and eventually reach the Supreme Court).
Make no mistake. America is entering a period of Constitutional Crisis. The fundamental underpinnings of American democracy are being questioned. In one corner are advocates of an Imperial Presidency (and a revisionist interpretation of Federalism and States’ Rights) while in the other corner are those who believe in a Balance of Power among the President, Congress and the Judiciary. That developing Crisis will reshape America and its government. Its consequences will weigh on America for years to come. Russia is content happy thrilled. For that matter, so are China, North Korea, Venezuela and Iran.
The fact that America’s institutions are under attack by Russia and others both the left and the right undermines America. The fact that America’s divisions are becoming increasingly caustic undermines America. The fact that Americans are now fighting over foundational Constitutional issues undermines America. The fact that America’s judicial system is being inundated by foundational Constitutional issues undermines America. Russia … China, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran and other countries that choose to side with them … will do whatever it takes they can to exacerbate America’s divisions.
A Reader’s Comment on “The Return to Truthiness” in the May 15th TLR
“Truthiness is just the current term for ÔÇÿmy opinion,’ which is what show hosts should be stating. If someone merely stated this was my opinion then this is open to challenge and comment. But by attaching some form of truthfulness even to most outlandish statements it becomes ridiculousness.”
The reader may be correct that “my-opinion-attached-to-lies” may become ridiculousness. All too often in today’s charged political and social environment, however, it may be mistaken for reality – that is, a(nother) separate reality.
Finally (a second reader’s response/comment to “The Return to Truthiness”)
*┬® Copyright 2019 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.