Amer­i­can pot, meet Rus­sian ket­tle

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky

Last Fri­day was in­au­gu­ra­tion day in the United States, but hang­ing over Don­ald Trump’s swearingin as pres­i­dent were con­tin­u­ing ques­tions about whether Rus­sian gov­ern­ment ac­tions were partly be­hind his elec­tion.

Trump op­po­nents are aghast that a for­eign na­tion might get in­volved with sway­ing a demo­cratic elec­tion in the United States, and you can un­der­stand that, to a point.

You might also want to stop and think about whether what’s fair for the goose is fair for the gan­der — even if the gan­der, in this case, is the United States of Amer­ica.

Back in 1996, not only did Amer­i­cans get in­volved in the cam­paign to elect Boris Yeltsin in Rus­sia, but af­ter the fact, they hap­pily boasted about what they did.

The Time Magazine cover for July 15, 1996 boldly pro­claimed “Yanks to the Res­cue.”

Here’s how the story was pro- moted: “For four months, a group of Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tants clan­des­tinely par­tic­i­pated in guid­ing Yeltsin’s cam­paign. Here is the in­side story of how these ad­vis­ers helped Yeltsin achieve the vic­tory that will keep re­form in Rus­sia alive.” (You can read it on­line at http://ti.me/2j4BLPH, though the date on that full ver­sion of the ar­ti­cle is listed as June 21, 2001.)

Now, it wasn’t fake news or the hack­ing of web­sites.

But maybe it rep­re­sents new tools in an old fight that has al­ways in­cluded its fair share of dirty tricks. Heck, the Amer­i­can op­er­a­tives brought in to help Yeltsin win the Rus­sian elec­tion cer­tainly weren’t above ad­mit­ting they leaked fake pub­lic opin­ion polls to try and goose turnout.

The story be­gan, “Last week Rus­sia took a his­toric step away from its to­tal­i­tar­ian past. Democ­racy tri­umphed — and along with it came the tools of mod­ern cam­paigns, in­clud­ing the trick­ery and slick­ery Amer­i­cans know so well. If those tools are not al­ways ad­mirable, the re­sult they helped achieve in Rus­sia surely is.”

And if you think that hir­ing Amer­i­can elec­tion ex­perts is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than state-spon­sored in­ter­fer­ence, you’d be right — but the Time Magazine ar­ti­cle spelled out some pretty high-level in­ter­fer­ence in the Rus­sian elec­tion, too. Amer­i­can elec­tion ad­vis­ers called on Dick Mor­ris, a po­lit­i­cal aide to Bill Clin­ton, to help im­prove Yeltsin’s im­age.

“Com­mu­ni­cat­ing in code — Clin­ton was called the Gover­nor of Cal­i­for­nia, Yeltsin the Gover­nor of Texas — the Amer­i­cans sought Mor­ris’ help. They had ear­lier worked to­gether to script Clin­ton’s sum­mit meet­ing with Yeltsin in mid-April. The main goal then was to have Clin­ton swal­low hard and say noth­ing as Yeltsin lec­tured him about Rus­sia’s great-power pre­rog­a­tives. ‘The idea was to have Yeltsin stand up to the West, just like the Com­mu­nists in­sisted they would do if Zyuganov won,’ says a Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial. ‘ By hav­ing Yeltsin pos­ture dur­ing that sum­mit with­out Clin­ton’s get­ting bent out of shape, Yeltsin por­trayed him­self as a leader to be reck­oned with. That helped Yeltsin in Rus­sia, and we were for Yeltsin.’”

Yep — all the way to the top, and bluntly proud of it.

Don’t get me wrong — I think Trump will be a colos­sal eco­nomic and eth­i­cal fail­ure as the leader of the United States, and to­day is a dark day for a some­times-great na­tion. His plan to take Amer­ica back to a myth­i­cal great­ness by cre­at­ing an in­su­lar is­land of pro­tec­tion­ism will work only un­til those poli­cies bring about higher prices that Amer­i­cans won’t be able to stom­ach.

Trump might have been able to beat Hil­lary Clin­ton — I think it’s less likely that he’ll be able to beat Wal­mart.

That said, com­plain­ing about for­eign elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence is more than a lit­tle pre­cious for a coun­try that has spe­cial­ized in geopo­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence to sat­isfy its own po­lit­i­cal ends for decades.

Turn­about, they say, is fair play.

Back in 1996, not only did Amer­i­cans get in­volved in the cam­paign to elect Boris Yeltsin in Rus­sia, but af­ter the fact, they hap­pily boasted about what they did.

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