Of all the ways that Republicans are signaling Trumpian fealty to Mother Russia, of all the ways they’re trying to deny or excuse the unprecedented breach of our democratic process, Thom Tillis of North Carolina took first prize at yesterday’s Senate hearing.
He blamed America.
He basically said that we have no right to knock Russia for whatever it did, because it’s America that meddles most often in foreign elections. He cited a recent Carnegie Mellon study which says, in his words, that “the United States has been involved in one way or another in 81 different elections since World War II. That doesn’t include coups or regime changes.” All told, “we live in a big glass house and there are a lot of rocks to throw.”
Factually speaking, Tillis was absolutely right. We have meddled in foreign elections, on virtually every continent, often undercutting or overthrowing the results that were not to our liking. But how ironic it was to hear a Republican senator apologize for America – because that’s a stance Republicans are typically loath to take. And Tillis took it for all the wrong reasons.
Still, that Carnegie Mellon study is real and the history of American meddling is indeed beyond dispute. The incidents are too numerous to list, but this small random sampling should suffice:
Italy, 1948. We sent piles of money and campaign strategists, and the CIA bankrolled various political parties, to ensure that the Christian Democrats defeated the Communists. In the words of Carnegie Mellon’s study author, “we threw everything, including the kitchen sink” at that free election.
Iran, 1953: We were unhappy that secular president Mohammad Mosaddeq had won a free election, so we overthrew him in a military coup. As the CIA later acknowledged, the elected leader’s overthrow was “carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government.”
Chile, 1973. We were unhappy that a socialist, Salvadore Allende, had won a free election, so we overthrew him in a military coup. The subsequent right-wing dictator killed thousands of citizens, and jailed tens of thousands more.
Nicaragua, 1990. We didn’t want Daniel Ortega to win that year’s free election – he was leader of the leftist Sandanistas – so the CIA leaked stories about alleged Sandanista corruption to the newspapers. Ortega’s America-backed opponent used the stories against him. He lost.
Russia, 1996. America helped orchestrate a $10-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to buttress President Boris Yeltsin’s shaky economic creds and his re-election prospects. American campaign strategists worked for Yeltsin, and helped him beat his rival (a Putin-style nationalist). And after Yeltsin won, Time magazine’s cover headline declared: “Yanks to the Rescue.”
Israel, 1999. We didn’t want Benjamin Netanyahu to win the election, so the Clinton administration sent a team of strategists – most notably James Carville – to help the Labor candidate, Ehud Barak. Barak lost that race, but the Carnegie Mellon study says that, across the globe since World War II, the side that received foreign assistance won the election 59 percent of the time.
Yes, Senator Tillis was right on the facts. But he made the argument for the wrong reasons – most notably, he invoked it simply to protect Trump, to avoid confronting the truth about the most invasive breach of an American presidential election. And even if we acknowledge our serial meddlings abroad, there’s still a big difference between what we’ve done often out in the open (sending advisers, orchestrating loans, financing parties) and what Vladimir Putin’s tech geeks did in secret.
Indeed, the cyberinvasion evidence continues to mount. Trump is slated to be briefed today – for all the good that will do – and the latest Washington Post story spills the beans:
“Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome…
“Other key pieces of information gathered by U.S. spy agencies include the identification of ‘actors’ involved in delivering stolen Democratic emails to the WikiLeaks website, and disparities in the levels of effort Russian intelligence entities devoted to penetrating and exploiting sensitive information stored on Democratic and Republican campaign networks. Those and other data points are at the heart of an unprecedented intelligence report being circulated in Washington this week that details the evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign…”
It’s clear we’ve been given a massive taste of our own meddlesome medicine. Our meddlings are indeed a matter of record. But we shouldn’t use them to excuse Russia’s historic perfidy. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Isn’t that what our moms always told us?