Americans are right to be outraged at the outrageous Russian interference in their 2016 presidential elections. They are correct to be appalled not only that their Putin-puttana-ed president continues to pretend that what happened didn’t happen, but also that their commander-in-chief and his principle-free, me-too Republican Congressional congregation refuse to act to prevent more and worse in 2018 and 2020.

And yet…

And yet the US mainstream news media does their readers and viewers — not to mention the rest of a connected world swamped in the swamp of US cable news hegemony — a disservice by pretending the United States is somehow the wounded innocent in a new worldwide war for democracy.

It isn’t.

The United States has been — and continues to be — the main global player in using whatever means necessary to disrupt, displace and (even if not necessary) replace foreign governments it doesn’t like.

Consider 1948 Italy. Or 1953 Iran… 1954 Guatemala… 1964 Brazil… 1969 Thailand… 1973 Chile… 1980s Nicaragua… 1983 Grenada… 1989 Panama… 2002 Venezuela… 2009 Afghanistan…

Well, you get the unpretty picture. It continues.

In fact, the US has even blatantly — and proudly — intervened in Russia’s electoral process. In 1996, Bill Clinton’s government took credit for altering the course of the Russian presidential election by supplying its own favoured-but-losing-in-public-opinion-polls candidate, then-president Boris Yeltsin, with “political consultants” and pressuring the International Monetary Fund to loan Russia $10-billion just four months before the vote.

Yeltsin won. Oops…

Just three years later, Yeltsin’s corruption and economic mismanagement led to the emergence of Vladimir Putin.

Be careful what you plot for. And against.

Consider Cuba. The US has been considering — and been confounded by — Cuba for more than a century. Go back to 1898 when US armed forces invaded the island to intervene in Cuba’s war for independence against Spain, then passed the Platt Amendment soon after to give it unilateral authority to intervene in Cuban affairs in perpetuity.

Since the success of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, the United States has never not been intervening in Cuban affairs. The Church committee investigation into CIA covert activities, for instance, documented “concrete evidence” of CIA involvement in at least eight different plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. The Cubans claim there were actually 638. (Regardless of which number you choose, it is undeniable the CIA traditionally favoured assassinations as weapons of clandestine war against other countries and their leaders: the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo, the Republic of Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, the Republic of Vietnam’s Ngo Din Diem… and on and on.)

Just as it does in virtually every left-leaning country in the world, the US government continues to intervene in Cuban affairs today, if  in less lethal but no less targeted (and no more successful) ways.

Ever wonder where Russia’s troll factories got their inspiration and learned their tradecraft? Look no further than USAID, the United States Agency of International Development, a kinder, gentler CIA whose goal is also regime change,

Let’s look at just a few of USAID’s recent regime-change programs against Cuba.

In 2010, USAID covertly co-opted Cuban hip hop artists by recruiting them “for projects disguised as cultural initiatives but really aimed at… stoking a movement of fans to challenge the government.” And then there’s ZunZuneo, a USAID secretly created and funded “Cuban Twitter” social media scheme aimed at young Cubans. Its initial goal was to build a subscriber base by posting non-controversial messages about sports, music and weather updates. As soon as membership reached a critical mass, however, its American organizers had planned to “introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs’ — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban spring, or, as one USAID document put it, ‘renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.’”

Donimir Trumputin (TIME)

“We’ve been doing this kind of thing since the C.I.A. was created in 1947,” acknowledges Loch K. Johnson, a professor at the University of Georgia, who once served as a senior staff member to various US Senate intelligence committees. “We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners — you name it,” he told the New York Times earlier this year. “We’ve planted false information in foreign newspapers. We’ve used what the British call ‘King George’s cavalry:’ suitcases of cash.”

In September 2016 — ironically just a few months before the Russians helped elect Donald Trump 45th president of the United States — a Carnegie Mellon scholar named Dov Levin published the results of a study showing that between 1946 and 2000, “the US and the Soviet Union/Russia have intervened in about one of every nine competitive national-level executive elections” in the world, targeting 60 different independent countries in the process.

A careful, precise academic, Levin defined “partisan electoral interventions” as ones that happened when one country “intentionally undertakes specific actions to influence an upcoming election in another sovereign country in an overt or covert manner which they believe will favour or hurt one of the sides contesting that election.”

Interestingly, 69 per cent (81) of the “interventions” Levin counted were undertaken by the United States against other countries; just 31 per cent (36) by the Soviets/Russia. (That number may underestimate the extent of Russian meddling because it is more difficult to find public information on Russian actions.)

While not all such interventions achieve their objectives, Levin concluded that “an electoral intervention in favour of one of the sides contesting the election has a statistically significant effect, increasing its vote share by about three per cent.”

What does that mean?

“Such a swing in the vote share from the winner to the loser in the 14 US presidential elections occurring since 1960,” Levi word, “would have been sufficient to change the identity of the winner in seven of these elections.”

Stop and think about that for a second.

“I’m not in any way justifying what the Russians did in 2016,” Levin later told the Times. “It was completely wrong of Vladimir Putin to intervene in this way. That said, the methods they used in this election were the digital version of methods used both by the United States and Russia for decades: breaking into party headquarters, recruiting secretaries, placing informants in a party, giving information or disinformation to newspapers.”

So, yes, Americans — and the rest of us — have good reason to be outraged by what the Russians did in 2016. But we need to temper our moral outrage with a dose of equal-opportunity political reality while never forgetting that such meddling can have real and frightening consequences.

Like Donald Trump.

Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. “So, yes, Americans — and the rest of us — have good reason to be outraged by what the Russians did in 2016”

    No, we don’t. Not unless the western media and US intelligence agencies have magically morphed into trustworthy sources while I wasn’t paying attention. But I won’t assume that, and so will save my outrage until there is some credible evidence, not just that the Russians engaged in some nefarious activities, but that, in the litany of 100 factors that explain the election of Donald Trump, there aren’t 99 a lot closer to home than the Kremlin (I expect I’ll be waiting a long time). Otherwise I’ll just play into the hands of a doctrinal system that routinely manufactures exactly this kind of hysteria about the enemy du jour to justify extremely regressive and dangerous policies.

    1. (In case that was misinterpreted, I didn’t mean to suggest that Stephen Kimber was promoting the Russiagate hysteria that has led us into a new Cold War, just that there’s a danger of playing into it if we accept that there’s a “good reason” for the outrage against Russia. Apart from a couple of sentences, I thought his article was very good!)

  2. I assume most people, including Americans, are well aware of that country’s long history of interference in the elections of other countries, as well as the sponsored coups, assassinations, invasions, and so on. And many people, including many Americans, have long been outraged about that.

    Much of the current outrage is not that the Russians interfered in the American election – that should not come as a surprise to anyone. The outrage is that the current American President denies this happened, despite the evidence presented by American intelligence agencies, and his possible personal reasons for doing so.

    1. Unfortunately, most Americans are completely unaware of US meddling in elections, assasination plots, etc. They aren’t covered in history classes (to my knowledge) and if they are mentioned, it is all about “Introducing democracy” in their minds, even if it means they funded Bin Laden and Ghaddafi etc etc.
      It reminds me a bit of “civilizing the natives” – and is as full of wrong self-congratulation as that phrase is.
      I hope this article is made open after a bit or picked up by the Washington Post because it needs to be shared widely. I only knew of what the US was up to all over the world when I moved away from it and went to the LSE. Canada isn’t blameless either. Seems to be a regular hobby to try to force elections…

  3. Consider that the same media and intelligence organizations that are raising a hue and cry about supposed Russian interference in the 2016 election are the ones that lied to support both invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, bombing Libya and so on – in many cases, it is literally the same talking heads promoting these narriatives. In fact – the intelligence agencies which orchestrated much of the American interference in foreign governments are the primary source of evidence that the Russians unduly influenced the 2016 election. Why are you taking them at their word about this?

    1. Plus, after two years of investigation, these CIA and FBI crusaders for truth and justice have yet to present a single piece of actual evidence of Russian state meddling in the 2016 elections. Instead, we’ve seen a ceaseless barrage of headlines and unproven allegations and innuendo from people who have made lucrative careers from lying and dissembling to the public for decades — and who, just coincidentally, were counting on a Clinton presidency in order to continue beating the drum for war against Russia. These people are insane. They may get their way yet (and what could possibly go wrong if they do?) but they won’t be able to lay blame for whatever disaster follows at the feet of the sh*theel currently in the White House.

      1. Seriously – the only proven Russian ‘meddling’ is some Facebook and Twitter ad buys that amounted to a fraction of a percent of what was spent on those platforms by 2016 candidates, that was done by private Russian citizens, not the Russian state. I have no idea what the legality of that is, and perhaps those Russians or the platforms they bought ads on broke the law, but the idea that it changed the election outcome is fairly absurd.

        And frankly, Hilary could have won if she had listened to her own analysts and bothered to campaign or throw some bones to voters in the Midwest. It was her election to lose, and she put on a clinic in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

        Hopefully the Democrats come up with a reasonable candidate for 2020 and beat Trump fair and square, but I really doubt that they will – and honestly, Trump being impeached without any sound evidence would be a disaster that will likely have more severe consequences than whatever he does in 2020-24. Maybe by 2024 the Democrats can figure out how to reorganize their party, but from my perspective, the schism between the Ocasio Cortez/Maxine Waters and the Diane Feinstein/Hillary Clinton wing of the party is irreconcilable for now.

  4. Whether Russia meddled or not is besides the point, the 2016 election should have been the easiest election to win in the history of elections. That it came so close was embarrassing. How do you lose to an asshole rich guy at a time when wages have stagnated for decades, healthcare is in shambles and everyone is up to their eyeballs in debt? I guess you say things like “well maybe we can do 12 an hour” or “fixing the banks won’t stop racism”.

    This Russia hysteria is nothing more than a giant excuse for the failure of the whole of the liberals. It’s apparently easier to blame the Russians than it is to recognize your own shortcomings. And it’s quickly turning into nationalist war mongering, what with half these clowns being *against* peace in Korea and in favor of building up NATO in Eastern Europe.

    1. It’s not “what-aboutism” to point out the inconsistencies between the US proclaiming democratic ideals and then completely shitting on them where ever they go.