Our nation declared its independence 242 years ago but securing freedom is a continuous battle that must involve both conservatives and liberals. It has become obvious after the 2016 election that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a major threat to our democratic processes and our freedom.
Putin is a former KGB security and intelligence agent who has been ruling Russia since 2000. He was recently reelected but had very scant opposition; his major political opponents and detractors seem to experience grave misfortunes, like being imprisoned, poisoned or shot.
In January of 2017 the CIA, NSA, and FBI produced the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) that detailed interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by Putin and Russia.
The ICA found that:
- Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election demonstrated a significant escalation in the level of activity compared to previous operations.
- Russian activities were conducted against multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.
- Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate candidate Hillary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.
- Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for candidate Donald Trump and aspired to help Trump’s election chances by discrediting Clinton.
- Russia’s intelligence services conducted cyber operations in 2016 against both major U.S. political parties and gained access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks.
The Republican-controlled Senate Select Committee on Intelligence just released an unclassified, bipartisan report of its in-depth review of the ICA. It found that:
- The ICA is a sound intelligence product.
- Analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions.
- Since January 2017, there have been additional examples of Russia’s attempts to sow discord, undermine democratic institutions, and interfere in U.S. elections.
- Extensive efforts by Russia to manipulate social media outlets to sow discord and to interfere in the 2016 election and American society have been exposed.
- All individuals the Committee interviewed verified that the so-called “Steele dossier” did not in any way affect the analysis in the ICA – including the key findings.
Assuming that all of these Russian efforts were done without President Trump’s knowledge or complicity, I keep wondering why he is so enamored with Putin and Russia? If not for its petroleum reserves, 4,000 nuclear tipped missiles and 18,000+ tanks threatening Western Europe, this huge country with only 144 million people would be a minor player on the world stage.
Still, Trump has been highly complementary of Putin both before and after the election. You can see the admiration on Trump’s face and in his body language when they are together. Is he envious of Putin’s authoritarian powers? Is Trump currying Putin’s favor? It would appear so.
At the G-7 summit in Canada last month Trump angered the participants by claiming Russia should be allowed back in that organization, despite its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Reports indicate that Trump also demeaned NATO during that meeting, comparing it to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement he has threatened to cancel. No doubt Putin was thrilled.
Putin’s objective is to breakup NATO or create divisions among its members. He apparently has ambitions to reestablish Russian dominance over Eastern European countries. NATO stands in his way and the key to the cohesiveness of this organization is the United States.
Yet Trump has continuously and publicly criticized NATO and railed against some of its members for not contributing their share of the joint defense, particularly Germany. And tensions are already high between the U.S. and the European Union after Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and imposed tariffs on EU steel and aluminum.
Next week is the yearly NATO meeting in Belgium. If he treats our European defense partners the way he bullied and criticized our G-7 trading partners in Canada, it will be an ominous sign going into his summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland a few days later. It has been reported that they will meet one on one, perhaps with no American translator present. This is highly unusual and disconcerting.
The Senate put a bipartisan stake in the ground that Russia and Putin attacked our democracy in 2016 and is not letting up. Trump has pushed back hard against these facts and most Republicans in Congress have cowered under his threats. If they are afraid of him, every American should be doubly so, conservative and liberal alike.
A recently released annual democracy report by the V-Dem Project rates the status of liberal democracy across 178 countries. It assesses whether there are free and fair elections; whether civil liberties are protected and whether leaders are constrained by the rule of law and oversight by the legislature and the judiciary. The United States fell 24 places in the country ranking on democracy over the past two years, from seventh in 2015 to 31st in 2017. This downgrade resulted from weakened restrictions on the executive branch, i.e. Trump.
This great experiment in freedom that was launched by the Declaration of Independence in 1776 depends on the separation of powers, the rule of law, a free press, and a government deriving its power from the consent of the governed. If it becomes subjugated by a president who governs without constraints, the Declaration’s promise of an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will be destined for the scrap heap of history.