There’s some massive rethinking going on, but perhaps the Russians are now the French of long ago. France helped us win our first revolution. The Russians will help us win this one – to take back America from the wrong sort of people among us, and to dismantle almost all of government as we know it – no regulation of much of anything, where the good guys with guns will take care of the bad guys with guns and that’s that. The government will do next to nothing. We’ll be free at last. That seems to be the second revolution here. At least that seems to be the general concept. There’s some dispute about the details. Traffic lights are useful.
As for the parallel to the French, Washington had Lafayette. Trump has Putin – and for those who don’t remember, on October 19, 1781, at Yorktown, American Continental Army troops, led by General George Washington, and French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau, won the day. Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis surrendered. Britain surrendered. Cornwallis’ movements in Virginia had been shadowed by a Continental Army force led by the Marquis de Lafayette. Admiral Comte de Grasse had the French fleet parked out in Chesapeake Bay – the British Navy couldn’t swoop in to save Cornwallis – they had to stand out to sea. The French made the United States possible.
Lafayette became the symbol of that. Of course Putin prefers cyberwarfare, but just as every state now has some town named Lafayette, perhaps, in the future, every state will have a town named Putin.
And there’s no ambiguity now, as it was Putin:
U.S. intelligence officials now believe with “a high level of confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, senior U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.
Two senior officials with direct access to the information say new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.
This is no surprise to anyone. Russia is his country. Trump has often said that “only he” can make America great again – he’s the one man who can do that, the only man. That’s how Putin has run Russia for many years, and perhaps why the two understand each other so well. This was a “one man” thing, although Putin seems to have stumbled into his victory:
Putin’s objectives were multifaceted a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore,” the official said.
Ultimately, the CIA has assessed, the Russian government wanted to elect Donald Trump. The FBI and other agencies don’t fully endorse that view, but few officials would dispute that the Russian operation was intended to harm Clinton’s candidacy by leaking embarrassing emails about Democrats.
In short, he was just going to stick it to Hillary, but then he saw he could throw our whole election system into disarray. Cool – but then he saw he could get more. He could get Trump. The world would laugh at America. Russia would come up smelling like a rose. Things fell his way, but he alone seized the opportunity:
Now the U.S. has solid information tying Putin to the operation, the intelligence officials say. Their use of the term “high confidence” implies that the intelligence is nearly incontrovertible.
“It is most certainly consistent with the Putin that I have watched and used to work with when I was an ambassador and in the government,” said Michael McFaul, who was ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014.
“He has had a vendetta against Hillary Clinton – that has been known for a long time because of what she said about his elections back in the parliamentary elections of 2011. He wants to discredit American democracy and make us weaker in terms of leading the liberal democratic order. And most certainly he likes President-elect Trump’s views on Russia,” McFaul added.
That’s the transition, step by step, which David Filipov puts this way:
A year ago, Russia faced a united Europe, an expanded NATO alliance, a paucity of geopolitical allies and the possibility of four more years of poor relations with the United States under a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Today, Putin’s military contingent in Syria just helped the government essentially retake Aleppo. The CIA has concluded that his hackers worked to help elect Donald Trump, who has dismissed commitments to Europe and touted better ties with Russia.
In Washington, London, Berlin and Paris, Soviet-style propaganda is back. It’s been thoroughly updated, though, and comes packaged as fake news, cyberattacks and WikiLeaks. Whether or not the Kremlin is guilty of doing all the things Western accusers say it is, Russia is now considered a master purveyor of geopolitical disorder. And that, for Putin, is a win.
“Of course the Kremlin likes the fact of such an atmosphere of chaos,” Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Putin adviser, said in a recent interview. “Because we are traders of chaos. We sell it, and the more chaos there is in the world, the better it is for the Kremlin.”
Sure, but two can play that game:
Putin’s successes, if that is what they are, are tactical and temporary, said Fiona Hill, a Brookings Institution scholar and co-author of a biography of the Russian leader. For years, Putin has been the world’s leader in geopolitical disruption, and the United States under President Obama has been a predictable force and therefore an easy target, she said. If Putin really did contribute to Trump’s victory, he may just have handed his crown over to his biggest rival.
“The land of unpredictability and surprise is the land that Putin and the Kremlin have inhabited for the last part of the last 10 years,” Hill said. “But now they’re not alone. Trump is going to be the great disrupter.”
In the long run, Russia needs the United States to be, if not a friend and a partner, then a neutralized, inward-looking force, she said: “No one knows if Trump is going to make it that.”
No one actually knows what Trump will do next. He’s new at the governance thing. A neutralized, inward-looking America is only one of many possibilities, and some in Moscow know that:
“The fact that there are people who are convinced that Russia acted on behalf of Donald Trump is frightening,” one senior Russian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said Tuesday. “In the long run it could be very dangerous for people to think that Russia may interfere with other people’s elections.”
This explains the considerable efforts on the part of Putin and his aides to temper their enthusiasm for the new administration, at least in public. Consider Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s reaction to Trump’s choice of Tillerson.
“It’s absolutely illogical to make any forecasts, not to mention to cherish some dreams, that everything will all of a sudden change instantly and everything that couldn’t gain traction and was barely moving will suddenly follow some amazingly successful scenario,” Peskov said. “We are sober enough and realize that this won’t happen.”
Similarly, Putin and his aides repeatedly and vehemently deny allegations of interference in the Brexit vote, as well as the U.S. intelligence accusation that the Russian government helped provide WikiLeaks with hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign staff. They also deny any intention to interfere in upcoming German elections.
And he did nothing over here:
Putin dismissed the U.S. allegations as “hysteria” intended “only to distract the attention of the American people from the substance of what hackers had put out.”
On Wednesday, Peskov called the charges “myths, bedtime stories and boogeymen” and suggested that unsuccessful politicians in the West are trying to blame Moscow for their failures.
That’s a joke:
The allegations have not hurt Putin’s approval rating at home, which jumped from 81 percent in June to 86 percent in November, according to the Moscow-based Levada Analytical Center.
Everyone knows that Putin pulled off the most amazing coup in history. A British military band is said to have played The World Turned Upside Down when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. It’s like that, unless it isn’t like that. Trump could be in on this. One could infer that:
The White House on Wednesday suggested Donald Trump knew Russia was behind a series of hacks that interfered with the U.S. presidential election when he invited Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.
The president-elect has continued to deny U.S. intelligence assessments that highlight Russia as the culprit behind infiltrations of Democratic institutions, including the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal email account.
But White House press secretary Josh Earnest contended Wednesday that it’s entirely feasible that Trump was well aware of Russia’s interference well before the intelligence community confirmed as much in October, a month before the election.
“There’s ample evidence that was known long before the election and in most cases long before October about the Trump campaign and Russia – everything from the Republican nominee himself calling on Russia to hack his opponent,” Earnest told reporters. “It might be an indication that he was obviously aware and concluded, based on whatever facts or sources he had available to him, that Russia was involved and their involvement was having a negative impact on his opponent’s campaign.”
“That’s why he was encouraging them to keep doing it,” Earnest continued, referring to the then-GOP presidential candidate’s invitation during a late-July news conference for Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails. At the time, Trump added that Russia would “probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Trump was in on it. That’s a logical inference. Putin arranged leaks of stuff that would mess up the Democrats – the internal effort to sink Bernie Sanders and the internal chit-chat about how hopeless Hillary was at this and that – and released nothing of what they had hoovered up from the Republican systems. Trump told them to keep at it, and then, on someone’s advice, decided to say he was “just kidding” when he said that. Perhaps he was covering his tracks, but it’s more than that:
Earnest on Wednesday also reminded reporters that Trump has praised Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s leadership and chose a campaign chairman in Paul Manafort who had “extensive, lucrative, personal financial ties to the Kremlin.”
That was long before the Rex Tillerson nomination, and there was Carter Page too – and Trump’s new national security advisor, General Flynn, has been paid to appear on Russian television and likes to sit next to Putin at banquets in Moscow. Some things are intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer, and some disputes are beside that point:
“It was obvious to those who were covering the race that the hack-and-leak strategy that had been operationalized was not being equally applied to the two parties and to the two campaigns,” he said. “There’s one side that was bearing the brunt of that strategy and another side that was clearly benefiting from it. Now, I know there’s a lot of reporting that there may be some disagreement in the intelligence community about whether or not that was the intent – that’s a question that they should ask and a question that they may attempt to answer – but there certainly was no doubt about the effect.”
Okay, but why didn’t Obama do anything about this? Try this answer:
Earnest praised President Barack Obama for going “to great lengths to protect the intelligence community form even the appearance of being used as a political weapon,” warning that doing so would create long-term consequences for future presidents.
Given the political environment, Earnest said, it would have been “inappropriate” for any administration officials to pressure the intelligence community to release its conclusion sooner. Earnest explained that such logic is why it was the intelligence community – not the president himself – that made the formal announcement.
“It would have been inappropriate for White House figures, including the president of the United States, to be rushing the intelligence community to expedite their analysis of the of this situation because we were concerned about the negative impact it was having on the president’s preferred candidate in the presidential election,” he said.
“That would have been all the more damaging in an environment in which you have the Republican nominee without evidence suggesting that the election is rigged.”
In short, there was no need to make things worse, but still, things were pretty bad:
Earnest lamented the fact that that the official revelation didn’t stop any media organizations from reporting on what essentially amounted to stolen and leaked information provided by Russian agents to influence American voters.
The media unwittingly helped Putin, and that’s a shame, but what were they supposed to do? They got juicy stuff on the Democrats from WikiLeaks, day after day, right on schedule. WikiLeaks wasn’t posting what they’d found on the Republican systems. You go with what ya got. It wasn’t their fault. Putin is a clever man.
Putin may also be the new Republican hero, as David Weigel documents here:
After Donald Trump seized the Republican presidential nomination, pollsters found the party’s voters shifting their opinions on trade to match up with the candidate. On Wednesday, new polling by YouGov finds a similar phenomenon moving Republican views of WikiLeaks and Russian President Vladimir Putin, with the party’s voters increasingly fond of both.
The Economist-YouGov poll, which has tracked partisan sentiment about WikiLeaks since 2013, now finds a majority of Republicans viewing the organization favorably. In the summer of 2013, WikiLeaks was viewed more negatively than positively by Republicans by a 47-point margin; Democrats, by a 3-point margin, also viewed it negatively. Now, Republicans view WikiLeaks favorably by a 27-point margin, a 74-point swing; Democrats have swung against it by just 25 points.
That’s probably a result of the presidential campaign, which closed with 33 days of WikiLeaks dumps from the stolen emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. On the stump, Trump frequently drew applause simply by saying the word “WikiLeaks,” then drew more as he gave a quick-and-dirty version of an allegation from the emails. “Boy, we love WikiLeaks!” he told a mid-October crowd in North Carolina. Despite steady media coverage of the stolen emails, Trump also accused the press of suppressing their revelations.
That explains the seventy-four point swing, and then there’s this:
There’s been similar movement on the Putin question. In the summer of 2014, both Democrats and Republicans held negative views of the Russian president. His net negative rating with Democrats was 54 points; with Republicans, it was 66 points. At the time, the mainstream Republican foreign policy opinion was that a wily, aggressive Putin was rolling over U.S. interests in Europe. There was some punditry about Putin as a greater leader than President Obama, but it did not shift views of Putin himself.
Trump’s campaign did so. There’s been a 56-point positive shift among Republicans in their views of Putin; his net negative rating is now just 10 points. While Clinton voters view Putin negatively by 72 points, Trump voters do so by a slim 16-point margin.
Putin is Lafayette!
Well, he is, on one side of things now, or getting there fast, but this may make Trump very angry with him:
Forbes magazine has declared Russian President Vladimir Putin the world’s most powerful person, with President-elect Donald Trump coming in second.
Putin has now topped the list every year since 2013. Trump, meanwhile, jumped 70 spots from his ranking in 2015.
“The world’s most powerful person for four years running, Russia’s president has exerted his country’s influence in nearly every corner of the globe; from the motherland to Syria to the US presidential elections, Putin continues to get what he wants,” Forbes wrote, adding that Putin’s “reach has magnified in the recent years.”
“In second place, President-elect Donald Trump has a seeming immunity to scandal, both houses of Congress on his side, and a personal net worth in the billions,” Forbes wrote.
Ah, but he is NOT number one, and he will NOT be humiliated! Putin is about to be hacked, and for reference:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel came in third; Chinese leader Xi Jinping came in fourth; Pope Francis finished fifth.
President Obama was ranked No. 48.
Trump’s choice for secretary of State, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, came in at No. 24.
They’re all safe, for now, and Trump has his people:
Donald Trump’s supporters have sky-high hopes for the president-elect’s ability to create drastic change in Washington, and – so far – they are willing to give him almost limitless leeway to achieve those results in his own wildly unconventional and controversial way.
A focus group of 12 Trump voters in Cleveland made clear on Tuesday night that they will demand that Trump deliver on two major domestic campaign promises: to overhaul the Obama-backed health care system and to create a flood of new jobs.
But they also remain almost entirely unbothered about Trump’s potential family business conflicts, his refusal to disclose personal financial information, his lack of government experience and his reliance on wealthy business executives to fill out his team.
It’s all good, and Putin isn’t a problem either:
These Ohio voters – half of whom supported Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012 – were deeply skeptical of the CIA’s allegation that Russia acted to influence the election in Trump’s favor.
“I just think that it’s nonsense. I don’t think there’s anything substantial to it. I think the media just is trying to blow it up, everything, after this election, they want to make any excuse in the world,” said Derek, an engineer…
“I remember seeing Hillary Clinton get on TV and blame the Russians automatically,” said Kevin, a 32-year-old deputy sheriff. “Well, I don’t really care who gave us these. I care about the content of what was in the emails.”
Many also echoed Trump’s optimism about closer ties with the nation ruled by President Vladimir Putin, whom participants branded with labels ranging from “devious” to “leader” and “badass.”
Putin is their kind of guy, a devious badass. No one ever said that of the Marquis de Lafayette, so it may be time to rename a few towns across America, but not quite yet:
President Obama on Monday hit a 59 percent approval rating in Gallup’s daily tracking poll – territory he hasn’t seen since July 2009. The president’s approval rating dwarfs that of Donald Trump, who is still under water according to a PPP survey released Friday. It showed just 43 percent view Trump favorably, compared to 51 percent who don’t.
It’s not Yorktown. The world hasn’t turned upside down quite yet. Maybe it won’t.