As we noted two days before the presidential election in our article describing Russian influence operations, Russia certainly seeks to promote Western candidates sympathetic to their worldview and foreign-policy objectives. But winning a single election is not their end goal. Russian Active Measures hope to topple democracies through the pursuit of five complementary objectives:
- Undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance
- Foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures
- Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions
- Popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations
- Create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the linesbetween fact and fiction
From these objectives, the Kremlin can crumble democracies from the inside out creating political divisions resulting in two key milestones: 1) the dissolution of the European Union and 2) the breakup of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO). Achieving these two victories against the West will allow Russia to reassert its power globally and pursue its foreign-policy objectives bilaterally through military, diplomatic, and economic aggression. Russia’s undeterred annexation of Crimea, conflict in Ukraine, and military deployment in Syria provide recent examples. (Clint Watts)
At first i accepted that Putin's objectives were mainly to embarrass or hurt Clinton, and that he didn't care one way or the other about Trump, and that he was smart enough to understand that Trump was too crazy to be a reliable ally. But former FBI counterintelligence guy Clint Watts pointed out in his testimony this week before the Senate Intel committee and in the article quoted from above that the Trump's election is far more disturbing than at least I imagined it to be.
It's clearer now Russian glee about Trump's election was not just about keeping Clinton out of the White House, but in subverting American political stability. The election of one of the most ridiculous candidates for the presidency in U.S. history, as improbable as it was, makes more sense if it can be proved that Russian interference played a role that most of us thought equally improbable. Certainly no other candidate could fulfill the Russian strategic goals outlined above better than Donald Trump.
Clearly Russian interference could only be effective if there were social and political dynamics inherent in the American society for the Russians to exploit. The Russians did not cause the Democrats to abandon the white working class; the Russians did not invent the Koch brothers and Right Wingnuttery; the Russians did not gerrymander the U.S. congressional districts after the 2010 Census; the Russians did not produce the toxic social and political attitudes that shape the thinking of people who live in the Deep South and on Wall Street; the Russians do not finance and produce Fox News; the Russians did not promote the Neoliberal policies that have pushed more and more working Americans into poverty and hopelessness.
But the Russians can take all this stupid, self-destructive stuff that Americans do to themselves and then find ways to amplify their negative effects. And we're learning that they are a lot better at it than most of us thought, but they could not be so successful if we weren't already in a self-destructive mode. The question is to what degree their amplification of our stupidity has been just enough to push us over the edge or whether we are still teetering on the edge and able to pull back from it.
I'm feeling more encouraged lately that we will be able to pull back. Trump is creating the crisis that I am cautiously optimistic Americans have needed to give them the slap upside the head to bring them to their senses. The self-deluded we shall have always with us, but there's still hope that we can push them back to the fringes where they before 1980 they festered.