Foreign Influence in Domestic Affairs is part of the Game

The Russians are trying to influence American elections. What? No way! How dare they do such a dastardly thing.

Apparently, the fact that one nation would try to influence the leadership and character of another country, particularly a rival, comes as a shock to some people. I’m not sure what concerns me more, that there is such a degree of ignorance that this action comes as a surprise, or whether we feel that somehow the process we use to select our leaders is so pure as to be above influence. In either case, we have some seriously misinformed people in high places.

Let’s break this down a bit.

First, “everybody” tries to influence who our leaders are. Politicians raise and spend massive amounts of money trying to convince people to vote for them. Likewise, political parties, businesses, special interest groups all create Political Action Committees (PACs) to funnel money to affect who gets elected.

Today, most large corporations are multinational, often with significant foreign ownership. There are US laws about foreign lobbying, but the lines are frequently blurred. These corporations contribute millions of dollars in funding that are distributed by PACs. Do we believe that absolutely no foreign influence affects the stance of these corporations?

Perhaps the concern is a foreign agent or government is doing the influencing. This seems valid. However, when one digs deeper, the waters become murky.

We appear to condone foreign intervention and “regime change” when it suits us. The US “liberated” the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War. We installed governments favorable to our interests. It is what powerful countries have always done.

In 1953, the CIA supported a coup in Iran that ousted the Prime Minister and installed the Shah. (One might note that this is a primary reason Iran hates America today.) The CIA also “supported” coups in the Congo (1960), the Dominican Republic (1961), South Vietnam (1963) and Chile (1973). We also buttressed military action against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s. This spawned the Iran-Contra Deal (violating the law by trading with Iran in order to get supplies to the rebels in Nicaragua).

The most recent examples of our policy of forcing regime change are the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Clearly, the US objectives included replacing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein with governments friendly to our cause. Likewise, we promoted the uprisings during the Arab Spring in 2010.

We also forget that the US actually sent an expeditionary force to Russia in 1918 during their Revolution in support of the White Russian forces. Another case of foreign intervention into the domestic affairs of another country. Perhaps they are just returning the favor.

Furthermore, American companies have interfered in foreign countries, sometimes with our government’s backing. We supported a “regime change” in Guatemala (1954) when the government instituted land reforms that threatened holdings of the US-owned United Fruit Company (hence the term, “Banana Republic”).

In principal, we clearly do not oppose foreign influence in another country’s domestic affairs. It matters only when it happens to us.

This brings us back to Russia. Our current outrage about their likely interference in the 2016 elections seems a bit overblown. Russia (previously known as the Soviet Union) has been in our adversary for a century.

The Communist International (Comintern) was founded to promote world communism and supported struggles against the international bourgeoisie (i.e. the West). During the Cold War, there were numerous well-documented “dezinformatsiya” (disinformation) campaigns run by the Soviets.

In the post-Soviet era, these activities continued under Russian military doctrine and foreign policy. “Fake News” is just the latest manifestation of a program that has been ongoing for decades. In that respect, the fact that is somehow came as a surprise is, well…surprising.

Perhaps what has gotten us worked up is the fact that their operations were so effective. For that we have to thank the internet, social media and, most importantly, our own naivete.

It is concerning that another country is influencing our elections and government. However, it is not surprising that they tried it. The Cold War has morphed into Cyber War which transcends typical battle lines. However, we need to put this in the broader historical context so that we respond appropriately.

We need to take positive actions to protect American interests. First and foremost, we must acknowledge that Russia, like China, is our adversaries-our opponents in global game of economic, political and military influence.

Other steps should include investigating and enforcing existing laws, particularly with respect to foreign lobbying. Special Prosecutor Mueller is doing just that. The politicos need to let him do his job until the end. After that the legislative and executive branches can decide how to respond.

We need to review how votes are taken and counted. For all of the problems with manual voting (e.g. the infamous “hanging chads” in the 1980 presidential election), it may be that low-tech is more secure than high-tech solutions that are vulnerable to hacking.

We must enhance our Cyber Warfare, both offensive and defensive, capabilities. This may require us to reorient resources from physical assets like planes, ships and tanks toward digital competencies.

In addition, we should push social media companies to upgrade their vetting process for “advertisers” and postings.

However, none of this will matter in the end if we do not recognize the failings in ourselves. When we approach the world with a closed mind, we self-select the news we choose to accept, “fake” or not.

We would all benefit by understanding other points of view and being critical at our own. I often listen to NPR’s “Democracy Report,” even though it is frustrating and radically leftist. Why? Because it gives me a perspective I don’t otherwise get. Diversity of ideas makes us a more informed electorate, a fundamental prerequisite for a functioning democracy.

Unreliable information (aka, “Fake News”) will always be present. The objective must be to minimize its impact on our elections. Perhaps the first step is to shut down the primary mechanism of foreign interference. It is cheap and easy. Decide not to use social media as your primary source of news. It is really that simple.



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