Someday, soon, America will have to look at and make sense of Russia’s years of attacks on our interests, its penetration of our political system, its brazen manipulation of our President. It will be a very ugly but necessary process. It is possible that news of Russia waging a successful campaign of assassination of US and UK troops in Afghanistan will be the impetus for a thorough public accounting of Putin’s slow burn insurgency against the US and the West — and it should.
The Jan 2017 Intelligence Community report on Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election starts this way: “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.”
Escalation here is the key. Since its successful installation of a friendly in the White House, Russia has worked hard to leverage this new valuable new ally. As NDN has written, over the past several years Trump has worked diligently to align the US with Russia’s interests in Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Iran, Europe, and the UK, and has systemically weakened core pillars of the US-imagined global order including the G7, NATO, the WTO, WHO, the CIA and the FBI. He has feted autocrats in the White House, and supported Putin friendly right wing politicians in Europe working to weaken the EU and democratic institutions there. And the US itself if far weaker today — tens of million unemployed, a virus raging unchecked, racial division, rising right wing domestic political violence — and our standing in the world perhaps permanently diminished.
Reviewing the news in recent months, it is clear that Putin’s strategic campaign against the US is still very active, and evolving. Russia has waged an expansive campaign to forge online relationships here in the US with military veterans: is helping turn white supremacy into a transnational terror movement with US affiliates; is stepping up efforts to cyber exploit new remote working arrangements by the US government and companies; is working to once again influence/intervene in our domestic politics and elections; and now we learn of this new campaign of assassinations of US troops in Afghanistan.
What remains so concerning is that not only has the US government not launched a sustained and public effort to get Russia to back off, the Trump White House keeps creating space for Russia to execute its campaigns against the US. Trump has downplayed or ignored rising right wing violence in the US and abroad, so much so that our European allies are unhappy with current levels of cooperation; fired the acting DNI over briefing Congress about Russia’s operations targeting the US; has worked to exonerate Mike Flynn and Roger Stone, aides who most directly conspired with Russia against US interests in 2016 and 2017; resumed his rancid campaign to re-admit Russia to the G7, and this year blew up the G7 itself; just last week brought the illiberal Polish leader, Duda, to the White House days to bolster his re-election; and has now on the issue of the Russian assassination campaign issued a statement which could have been written by Putin himself.
NDN believes that when it comes to Russia, the President has been committing treason or its philosophical equivalent since the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016. However the illicit bonds were formed, the US has become aligned with Putin, acting as a global partner and ally in advancing his dark agenda, here and abroad. It is critical that US policy makers use this new Putin outrage to launch a sustained discussion about what’s happened, begin to plan a sustained response to roll back the gains Putin has made, and put the US back on the side of the global liberal order we’ve built and led for decades. There are many messes which will have to be cleaned up form this terrible chapter in our history — but Trump’s appeasement and embrace of Putin may be among the important and consequential for the world and the future of our once inspiring republic.