On October 28, 1962, Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced he was pulling from Cuba the nuclear missiles he had deployed there. Here’s how The Week summarized the entire event:
Modern day historians note that the standoff nearly turned into a global calamity. With bombers in the air and nearly 3000 American nuclear weapons alone in a state of readiness, the Cuban Missile Crisis could have led to the end of the world in mere minutes.
Now it seems quite plausible, as Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, insisted, that the perceptions of this crisis were different in America than they were in Russia. The history of Europe has been a history of “enemies at the gates,” and as such the government and people of Russia didn’t panic when, say, “Americans placed missile bases in Turkey or any other European country.” They just tended to deal with it as a part of their reality as Europeans, wars and more wars and more wars.
The American public, though, historically protected by two large oceans and with no contemporary enemies on their borders, saw the threat of nuclear missiles in Cuba as an extraordinary threat. “This created a panic,” Sergei Khrushchev said, which made Americans “anxious to remove missiles from Cuba,” which of course eventually happened. “But,” Khrushchev went on, “nothing really changed.” Why? For the very simple reason that “the Soviets had their missiles on their mainland [with] only 20 minutes difference in their delivery. . .” Did it really matter if we were annihilated in 10 minutes as opposed to 30? Khrushchev said it did matter to us: “It was an American psychological crisis.” And that psychological crisis made the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba a “very, very dangerous” situation.
The lesson here is that we Americans, whether it makes logical sense or not, don’t like to have our well-being so directly threatened. Putting nuclear missiles so close to our border was unacceptable. Today we face another crisis engineered by Russian behavior. This one doesn’t involve the deployment of nuclear arms in Cuba. But it does involve a direct threat to our well-being, to our free, democratic society.
We’ve known since the summer that the Russians were trying to get Donald Trump elected. On July 22 WikiLeaks published 20,000 stolen emails from the DNC and immediately American intelligence agencies suggested very strongly—with “high confidence”—that the Russians were behind it. On July 27 we had Trump chime in. Here’s the lede from a Times article:
DORAL, Fla. — Donald J. Trump said on Wednesday that he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, and encouraged them to publish whatever they may have stolen, essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage against a former secretary of state.
This extraordinary position taken by a major party presidential candidate should have been the end of his campaign. It should have branded him as unpatriotic, a threat to the country. Republicans, especially, should have condemned him, should have demanded he drop out. The press should have never let this go. Journalists should have dogged him day after day, grilled his spokesman interview after interview. None of that happened, of course. Republicans were mostly silent. The press moved on to focus on the content of the stolen property, and more “questions” about the Clinton Foundation, and you know how that all ended.
Now, after it is too late—unless the Founders’ Electoral College saves us from the Founders’ distrust of democracy—we have a frightening confirmation of what we already knew:
A shocking secret CIA assessment has concluded that Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election expressly to help Donald Trump win, according to an exclusive report Friday by The Washington Post.
Until now, intelligence sources have indicated that Russian hacking throughout the campaign that repeatedly exposed information overwhelmingly embarrassing for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was an effort to undermine Americans’ faith in their government.
Now the intelligence community has concluded that Russia was clearly after a Trump victory and manipulated information to that end, according to sources who spoke to the newspaper.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” a senior U.S. official briefed on the CIA assessment told The Washington Post. “That’s the consensus view.”
The New York Times did add some new reporting to this months-old story, saying the Republican National Committee was also hacked during the campaign but, of course, no documents were released, which is partly why intelligence officials concluded that the hacking was deliberately done to hurt Clinton and help Trump.
Trump’s response to the latest revelation continued to confirm just how thoroughly corrupt he is and just how unpatriotic are his reflexes. Instead of expressing concern about Russian involvement, he blamed the messenger, the CIA, and insisted that “It’s time to move on.” Well, it appears from what I am finally seeing from the press, no one will just move on because Trump said so or because Trump will stir up another ridiculous controversy to deflect.
This is, and always has been, the biggest story since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Russians have essentially not only threatened us with anti-democratic and anti-Democrat Party missiles, they actually launched them at us in the form of stolen emails and other material. Those Wiki-warheads landed right in the middle of an existential election and they have left a lot of toxic fallout, including a loss of faith in our democracy and, the most toxic fallout of all, a president-elect named Donald Trump.
Trump has gone out of his way time and again to defend the ex-KGB thug who now runs Russia; he has aligned himself with Putin’s view of NATO and the annexation of Crimea and the fight with Ukraine; and he has surrounded himself with people connected to Russia, one of whom will soon become his National Security Advisor—fake news promoter
and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn—and another who may become Trump’s Secretary of State—ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, described by The Washington Post as having “extensive business dealings and ties to Russia.” Tillerson, who has known Putin since 1999, is opposed to international sanctions against Russia. To show its appreciation for Tillerson and a mutually beneficial business deal in 2011, the Russian Federation decorated him with the Order of Friendship in 2012. A former aide to John McCain said Tillerson “would sell out NATO” for oil and for “his pal, Vlad.”
That’s all horrifically bad. But Trump and his family have their own financial ties to Russia, if we are to believe his son, Donald Jr., who said “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” and “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” And if we are to believe Michael Crowley, Politico’s senior foreign affairs correspondent, who wrote, “Trump has repeatedly explored business ventures in Russia, partnered with Russians on projects elsewhere, and benefited from Russian largesse in his business ventures.”
We don’t know the extent of Trump’s involvement with Russia, or other adversaries of the United States. Does he owe a lot of money to banks in lands hostile to the U.S.? We don’t know because Trump won’t tell us, and that has caused smart people, people like Richard Painter—a former ethics lawyer in George W. Bush’s White House—to argue that the Electoral College should reject Trump if he doesn’t completely strip himself of his business interests. ThinkProgress quoted Painter’s appearance on CNN:
I don’t think the electoral college can vote for someone to become president if he’s going to be in violation of the Constitution on day one and hasn’t assured us he’s not in violation.
The Electoral College, if it is worth anything at all besides devaluing the vote of people who live in big cities, should divest Trump of the presidency if he refuses to divest himself of his life-long need to make a buck. But, come on. That won’t happen.
What will happen is that, upon the orders of President Obama, intelligence agencies in our government will “conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process” and report back before January 20. I’m guessing the agencies conducting the review won’t include the FBI, whose director, James Comey, was accused today by outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of “deliberately” keeping from the public information about Russia’s involvement in the election. Comparing Comey to the controversial J. Edgar Hoover, who abused his power while directing the same agency, Reid said Comey had “let the country down for partisan purposes.” It’s hard to know if partisanship was the reason for Comey’s strange behavior, but we have reason to be suspicious, since Comey injected himself in the election by publicly howling about Secretary Clinton’s email situation not once but twice, and by clamming up about Putin’s widely-acknowledged assault on the Clinton campaign. We still don’t know if the FBI is investigating the matter or not.
In any case, we now know for sure that members of Congress, of both parties, were briefed in September on what the CIA knew about Russian interference (according to Reuters, as early as last year “top congressional leaders” were told “that Russian hackers were attacking the Democratic Party”; that’s apparently why, God bless her, Nancy Pelosi spoke up in August, to no avail). Vox summarized just why that September intervention by our intelligence agencies did no good. Hint: Republicans were involved:
The Washington Post also reports that doubts from Republican leaders in Congress dissuaded the Obama administration from responding more forcefully to the alleged Russian attacks. In mid-September, intelligence officials organized a classified briefing with senior congressional leaders and laid out the evidence of Russian hacking and the danger that Russia could try to interfere with voting systems on election day itself. They hoped the meeting would lead to a bipartisan statement condemning Russian interference with US elections.
But according to the Post, not all Republican leaders were convinced. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics,” the Post reports. “Some of the Republicans in the briefing also seemed opposed to the idea of going public with such explosive allegations in the final stages of an election.”
All this has led some people to, gently and not so gently, criticize President Obama for not speaking up anyway, for not informing the public of what our government knew with, again, “high confidence.” The great Charles Pierce is on the gentle side:
This president has been a good one, probably the most progressive politician we’ve seen in that office since LBJ was kicking ass in 1965. But he has made mistakes, and every single serious mistake he’s made has been because he assumed good faith on the part of his political opposition, misjudged the depth and virulence of his political opposition, or both. It’s 2016. Why would he still believe Mitch McConnell would act with dispassionate patriotism instead of partisan obstruction on anything? Why would he believe it of anyone in the congressional Republican leadership? Hell, he even admitted as much in an interview on NPR last July. I respect the president’s confidence in the better angels of our nature, but those angels have been deathly quiet since 2009.
While I tend to agree with this analysis, and it is part of the larger story, I don’t want to get distracted by throwing rocks, even tiny ones, at a man who has done everything he can, before the election and after, to preserve what’s left of public confidence in our democratic system. Sure, we can look back now and see that it wouldn’t have hurt a thing, since Trump won anyway, for Obama to rat out the Russians in a forceful way. But he didn’t. And we are where we are.
We shouldn’t take our eyes off the fact that we now have a man heading to the Oval Office who was the beneficiary of a hostile government’s interference in our election, but refuses to either acknowledge it or condemn it. We have a president-elect who pleaded for more Russian espionage against the United States, against the Democratic Party presidential nominee. He has praised Putin repeatedly. He has surrounded himself with advisers and potential cabinet members who side with Putin and Russia on important international matters, including sanctions for invading Crimea. His campaign successfully watered down a provision in the GOP platform related to military assistance to Ukraine, which is fighting a Russian-backed separatist movement. Trump has expressed doubt about NATO, the only force that can prevent the establishment of a new Russian Empire.
The decades-old Cuban missile crisis represented only a threat to our national well-being. There was no attack and the matter was settled peacefully. What Putin’s Russia did this election cycle was much more than a threat. It was a successful attack on our democracy. And the fact that our soon-to-be president has directed his hostility toward the CIA who revealed the attack and not the Russians who executed it, tells us all we need to know about his loyalties. And this issue should dominate the news from now until Trump leaves office, whether that be before or after his term expires.