“I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber-operations aimed at the U.S. election,” President Obama announced this week. He added, “These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.”
Obama’s statement was an explanation for his expulsion of 35 Russian intelligence operatives, and the sanctioning of five Russian entities and four individuals as a reaction to Obama’s charge that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign. Democrats contend that Russian hacking probably altered the outcome of the election in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump.
The president is giving the Russians 72 hours to get out of the country.
Obama stated that all Americans “should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” however, because it interfered with U.S. election process.” While Obama and other leading Democrats are not explicitly saying so, the impression has been left with many Americans that the Russians somehow hacked voting machines, switching votes from Clinton to Trump. This is reminiscent of the widespread but inaccurate belief that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. While the Bush administration never said directly that Iraq was behind 9/11, they certainly led millions of Americans to think so.
A similar ploy appears to be in the making with this “Russian hacking” story. Many Americans mistakenly believe that if the Russians “hacked” the election, this means they changed the results recorded on voting machines. The clever use of the word “election,” instead of “campaign,” for example, would understandably lead the casual observer to conclude that a foreign power, Russia, “stole” the election for Donald Trump.
What Obama, Clinton, and the DNC are complaining about is that the released e-mails demonstrated that Clinton and her allies at the DNC were involved in many questionable activities. The e-mails were published by WikiLeaks (which has flatly denied obtaining them from the Russians). In a clever political move, however, the Democrats have diverted attention away from the content of the leaks to the source of the leaks.
Obama recently said that he directly told Russian President Vladimir Putin in September to “knock it off” in his alleged hacking activities, supposedly directed toward altering the outcome of the U.S. election. Obama added that this alleged hacking was greatly reduced after this “stern” warning, which leads one to wonder why the Russian agents were not expelled then, instead of now.
One could conclude that Obama’s actions,only three weeks from the end of his term, were taken more for domestic political advantage than a true retaliatory action against the Russians.
Obama also claimed that American diplomats had “experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year," adding, "Such activities have consequences.”
In addition to the expulsions, Obama also announced that the State Department will shut down two Russian compounds, one in Maryland and the other in New York, that are used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement charging the Russians with other actions that had led to Obama’s reaction. “The Russian government has impeded our diplomatic operations by, among other actions: forcing the closure of 28 American corners which hosted cultural programs and English-language teaching; blocking our efforts to begin the construction of a new, safer facility for our consulate general in St. Petersburg; and rejecting to improve perimeter security at the current, outdated facility in St. Petersburg.”
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) added their own complaints about the Russians. While supporting the president’s actions, they contended that the measures were inadequate, stating, “These intrusions are not just hacks. They were attacks on the United States by a foreign power and should be treated as such. Therefore, today’s action alone by the White House is insufficient.”
Then, the DNC statement revealed that its members intend to use these allegations of Russian hacking as a political weapon against the Republican Congress and the soon-to-be Republican president Donald Trump: “Now it’s time for resident-elect Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress to put our national security before politics and show the American people that they are serious about protecting our democracy [sic].”