If you’ve already told Putin you won’t retaliate, why should he believe you now?
I hate the word “hacking.” It’s too vague, too innocent and wholly inadequate to describe how nations, terrorist networks, and others conduct espionage and sabotage by intercepting and manipulating supposedly secure communications transmitted on the internet.
The more accurate term is cyberwar. Russian cyberwar may have been the cause of the cyber intrusions that leaked Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails that WikiLeaks published during the campaign, to the Democrats’ embarrassment. WikiLeaks denies these reports, contending that the disclosed documents came from either disgruntled Democratic campaign staffers or WikiLeaks’ own cyber intrusions.
President Obama, Podesta, and their media gang are consumed by their desire to delegitimize Trump’s election and have seized on the Russian cyberattacks to skew the November election results. Their point — which is entirely unproven — is that Putin aimed to elect Trump instead of Clinton.
But both the president and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson have admitted that there is no evidence whatever that anything the Russians did affected the counting of votes.
There’s a lot more to this. Whatever the Russians did or didn’t do, they apparently did try to affect or discredit the election. At least that’s what Obama claimed three months ago.
On September 5, President Obama had a ninety-minute meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in China. One of the items discussed was the reported Russian cyberattacks on the U.S. election system. Obama acknowledged the attacks after the meeting, saying that although America had problems with “cyberintrusions from Russia in the past… [o]ur goal is not to suddenly in the cyber arena duplicate a cycle of escalation that we saw when it comes to other arms races in the past.… What we cannot do is have the situation in which suddenly this becomes the wild, wild West…”
Last week Obama said something entirely inconsistent: “So in early September when I saw president Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn’t happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out and there were going to be serious consequences if he didn’t. And in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process — but the leaks… had already occurred.” He said he’d handled the Russian cyberattacks just as he should have.
If you believe what Obama said in September, he decided not to escalate the ongoing cyberwar with Russia to avoid an internet arms race. If you believe what he said last week, he got tough with Putin and told him to knock it off or face terrible consequences after which — he claimed — Putin backed down.
The truth is not something in between, but something altogether different. Putin knows Obama probably better than Obama knows himself. He remembers that in 2012 Obama told Dmitry Medvedev — Putin’s surrogate — that Obama would have more flexibility on things such as killing our missile defenses after the 2012 election. He remembers the phony reset of relations presided over by Hillary Clinton that affirmed America’s retreat from leadership. So when Obama said in September that he wouldn’t respond to Russian cyberattacks by causing a cycle of escalation in cyberwar, Putin knew Obama didn’t intend to respond, far less retaliate, to Russian cyberattacks on our elections.
As Donald Rumsfeld was fond of saying, weakness is provocative. Obama’s consistent weakness toward Russia has been a license for Russian aggression in cyberwar, Ukraine, Syria, and everywhere else Putin has seen an opportunity to push Russia into the vacuum left by Obama’s constant retreat.
Let’s not forget how used to Obama’s weakness our enemies have become, and how it often it provokes them to action. When Obama warned Bashar Assad against using chemical weapons with his infamous “red line” statement, Assad promptly used chemical weapons again and Obama didn’t respond. Russia and Iran did by taking control of the Syrian war to defend Assad’s regime.
China sees the same American weakness and has been provoked repeatedly to aggression. The latest example is in the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (yes, that’s what they call it) seizing an American underwater drone from a U.S. Navy ship last week about fifty miles northwest of the Philippines in the South China Sea.
USNS Bowditch is a surveying ship, not a warship. It was doing an undersea survey (at least that’s what the Navy said) and had two drones on the surface. A Chinese naval ship came alongside one of the drones, picked it up and sailed away. It was at least an act of piracy and, if we wanted to consider it so, tantamount to an act of war.
The Chinese benefited from the seizure in at least two ways. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been trying to make it clear to China that he’s willing to abandon his nation’s alliance with America in favor of an alliance with China. By seizing the drone fifty miles from the Philippines, China is telling Duterte that he’d better finish his realignment because China is stronger and more determined than we are in the region.
The second benefit comes from the fact that what the Bowditch was doing ain’t necessarily the same as what the Navy said it was doing. Depending on how they’re equipped, undersea drones can be capable of gathering intelligence — i.e., spying — on lots of things. If, for example, the drones were recording sounds emanating from Chinese submarines, we could have learned a lot about the subs and their sound “signatures” which are invaluable to our submarines in anti-submarine warfare. The sound signatures identify each sub with almost the precision that fingerprints identify people.
If the drone was doing something such as that, by seizing it the Chinese could disassemble it (as they no doubt have already done) to discover what sensors we have and how good they are (and copying their design). Other secret equipment would also have been compromised to China’s benefit and our disadvantage.
No one would suggest that we should go to war over a stolen drone. Obama did as little as he could by sending a diplomatic protest. The Chinese apparently have agreed to return it some time. The Chinese theft of the drone is another example of how Obama’s weakness provokes our enemies to more and greater aggression.
On January 20, Donald Trump will begin reasserting American strength to regain the superpower status that Obama has thrown away. The task Trump faces was described all too well by a former president back in April. He said, “Unlike when I became president, a lot of things are coming apart around the world now.” He also said that if we all come together, we might overcome the “awful legacy” of the last seven years.
All that came from the mouth of William Jefferson Clinton. I guess even he can tell the truth once in a while.