Starting A War On The Way Out The Door

When Bill Clinton’s staff left their desks for the final time, they’re reputed to have taken the “W”s off the keyboard. Childish, but funny. But childish.

The agency put the cost at $13,000 to $14,000, including $4,850 to replace computer keyboards, many with damaged or missing W keys.

Other “pranks” might sound more like what would be expected in this peaceful transition of power.

Six White House employees told investigators that they had seen graffiti derogatory to Mr. Bush on the wall of a stall in a men’s room. Other White House employees saw a sticker in a filing cabinet that said, ”Jail to the thief,” implying that Mr. Bush had stolen the 2000 election.

Vaguely familiar? But easily shrugged off. There was no bloodshed, just some hard feelings. The feelings are harder this cycle, and so too is the potential for harm. No one will ever know with certainty whether, and to what extent, Russian hacking influenced the 2016 election. Repeating the arguments answers nothing. There were a lot of moving parts, fingers pointing blame.

But nations spying on each other, hacking, seeking to influence outcomes, is hardly surprising. They do it to us. We do it to them. Everybody does it to everybody, friend or foe, ally or enemy. It would be a dereliction of duty otherwise. If you want something to be outraged about, our government does it to its own people.

With less than a month in his tenure, President Obama has decided to take action against the Russians for hacking and interfering in the election. Shockingly, the Russians responded in kind. What were the chances they would take a spanking by Obama, tilt their head down and say, “sorry, we were bad and promise to never do it again”?

One would suppose that this decision was made with at least the knowledge, if not the approval, of the incoming president. Anything else would have been incomprehensibly reckless on the part of the current administration, since it’s not as if Vladimir Putin isn’t aware of when his term is up. The president-elect has said that we need to “move on,” which was tantamount to throwing chum in the waters. The New York Times took the bait.

That would have been a particularly dangerous legacy given President-elect Donald Trump’s alarming affinity for Mr. Putin and stubborn refusal to accept the conclusion of American intelligence agencies that Russia’s cyberattacks were aimed at helping him and hurting Hillary Clinton. The president-elect told reporters dismissively before Mr. Obama’s decision was announced that Americans should “get on with our lives” and forget about the hacking scandal. So much for that wishful thought.

Ignoring that the president says he knew about, but withheld, the Russian hacking at a time when he could have done something to alert the public about it, President Obama is elevated to warrior status now:

His latest response shows real teeth, chiefly in the form of sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services, the F.S.B. and GRU, including four top officers of the military intelligence unit who the White House believes ordered those attacks.

Even so, he’s not forgiven for letting Russia steal the election for Trump.

Mr. Obama should have retaliated against this treatment a long time ago…

If the Gandhi quote about an eye for an eye comes to mind, there’s good reason.

Mr. Obama is in a tricky place. He has been concerned, rightly so, about tailoring a response that imposes costs on Russia and acts as a deterrent to further Russian attacks without escalating a cyberwar.

On what planet would anyone expect that there would be no repercussions, no “escalating a cyberwar”? This was sure to happen, and the president and president-elect knew it and yet chose the route anyway. Whether Trump approved is a different question.

The external consequence is that we move back to the cold war days. There are a number of potential consequences, that it will provide a strawman for anti-Trump partisans to blame for their defeat, thus causing them to misdirect their focus and angst. It will give us a joint enemy to hate that isn’t the president, as we tend to come together when threatened externally. It will test allegations of Trump’s cozy relationship with Putin, putting him in the untenable position of exposing his real relationship.

None of this does much to help Americans. There are many who desperately want to see Trump fail, to enjoy the satisfaction of knowing they were right and he is the worst person ever. And he will fail in many ways, just as every president fails. Even those of us who enjoyed prosperity under Bill Clinton know that he got lucky, as the internet boom happened on his watch, not because of anything he did.

But your schadenfreude costs food on other people’s tables. How much satisfaction will you take in people being jobless, in children being hungry? How much will you enjoy watching yet more black guys killed in the streets by cops, or prisons filled up again? You couldn’t eat or sleep because of the trauma of not being called by your preferred pronoun, but care nothing about the trauma of bullets entering bodies? Aren’t you enlightened.

As much as Trump may be the worst possible president save the other choice, praising a cyberwar comes at a price we don’t need and can’t afford. It will not mean we get a do-over. It does not put an asterisk next to Trump’s name on the list of presidents. If he’s as ill-equipped to run this country as you think, then he needs as much help to facilitate its functioning as possible or real people suffer.

So we sent a bunch of Russians packing, and the Times informs us that’s “real teeth.” And they sent a bunch of Americans packing. And we have us a new war. To the extent any good will come of America’s risky shift, this just added another complication that will make solving any problem harder. But you applaud this, because you want to see Trump fail. And with him, America, and Americans, fail. And you think you’re the enlightened ones.

13 thoughts on “Starting A War On The Way Out The Door

  1. Billy Bob

    Given that the Ruskies did in fact hack Democratic National Headquarters, how did that hurt Hillary and help Donald? That has not been explained or demonstrated. How do we not know that the alleged hacking hurt Donald, just the opposite of what the chattering classes are chanting? We have to keep reminding ourselves that Hillary won the popular vote decisively. So where is the hurt?

    You won Hillary,… but unfortunately you lost the presidency. How you lost and why you lost is up to the “political scientists” and assorted talking-heads to decipher and then explain to us in voluminous books and articles as far as the eyes can see. This is a strange essay. We’re in a weird space of transition. Stay tuned. The news this morning is that Russia will not be expelling our diplomats. PewTin Man is apparently choosing not to escalate this tempest in a teapot. He’s giving us an X-Mas present, playing nice.

    1. SHG Post author

      At the time I wrote the post, the New York Times “broke” the news that the Russians would expel a similar number of Americans as we did Russians. That’s now changed. Putin is beginning to look like the grown-up in the room, the cooler head. Or this is a strategy to make Trump look good. Or he’s just screwing with us. Or they’re drinking a lot of vodka in the Kremlin and laughing their asses off, waiting for the next round of American hysteria.

  2. B. McLeod

    I don’t have a sense that the leaked emails were very significant to the election. There were no real “smoking guns.” Basically it just made the DNC look incompetent. Still, if the Obama administration really knew where these Russians were and what they were doing all along, why wait until the election is over to do anything about it? It is almost as though he wanted to reserve an option to blame Russian hacking if the Democrats took a whipping.

  3. albeed

    Don’t blame me, I am an enlightened one! At least I voted for Harold Stassen.

    Oh, please pass me my tin-foil hat.

  4. Mr. Median

    Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger: “Still, it is true, lamb,” said Satan. “Look at you in war—what mutton you are, and how ridiculous!” “In war? How?” “There has never been a just one, never an honorable one—on the part of the instigator of the war.

    I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful—as usual—will shout for the war. The pulpit will—warily and cautiously—object—at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, “It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.” Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity.

    Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers—as earlier—but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation—pulpit and all—will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open.

    Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”

  5. PVanderwaart

    In the spirit of “never let a crisis go to waste”, the hacking creates an opportunity to take some steps for which you otherwise don’t have an excuse. The might include evicting an especially troubling goon or two.

    1. SHG Post author

      As the CIA agents told me when they tried to recruit me in law school, “we nab Ivan, they send in Igor.” There’s always another goon.

  6. Mark Draughn

    A month from now, when President Trump re-invites Russian diplomats, the Democrats can get outraged over how he’s “cozying up to Russia.” A lot of Obama’s recent actions seem like they can be explained this way. Trump can undo them, and when he does, it will enrage the Democratic base. It sounds like smart politics. Except for people caught up as collateral damage.

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