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Friday, November 27, 2020

Behind Obama’s Waiting Game

US president can now use Russia’s alleged interference in US polls to corner Trump.

Written by Vappala Balachandran | December 15, 2016 12:58:09 am
Barack Obama, US President, donald trump, Barack obama, vladimir putin, russia, us elections, UP president elect donald trump, US news, donald trump news, world news President Barack Obama. (Source: Reuters)

Why did President Obama delay in taking official cognisance of the national security breach through Russian interference in US presidential elections although credible indications had surfaced in July? The Washington Post had published ‘The Post’s View’ on July 25 on alleged Russian meddling. On July 27, NBC News warned that Hillary’s election could be sunk by Russian hacking of her deleted e-mails. On the same day, Trump appealed: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” The New York Times interpreted this as: “urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyber espionage against a former secretary of state”.

The Washington Post added that Trump’s action violated the 1799 Logan Act, which bans private citizens from having any contacts to influence foreign powers with which the US is having disputes. Following this, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill demanded that Trump be investigated for violating the Logan Act. On October 7, James Clapper, director of National Intelligence and Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security chief, said that “Only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorised these activities”.

Yet Obama asked for a formal report only on December 9. As the highest constitutional authority, he could not have upset natural developments during a Presidential election, unlike FBI director James Comey who ruffled the process on October 28. Obama could not have used the old Logan Act which was enacted under different circumstances and which would have meant curbing free speech.

Also, there was no evidence of Trump’s direct involvement, unlike a 1968 incident where Richard Nixon’s clear role had surfaced. Nixon’s idea was to sabotage the chances of Hubert Humphrey, sitting Democrat vice-president, in the 1968-69 presidential elections. Humphrey was facing Nixon who wanted to take advantage of the unpopularity of President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam war which was killing 1,000 Americans every month. Johnson offered a bomb halt if Hanoi would allow South Vietnam’s regime in the Paris peace talks. On October 9, Hanoi agreed to South Vietnam’s presence. Humphrey’s chances improved. Only Saigon’s consent was needed. The elections were on November 5, 1968.

But that did not happen. Max Frankel, editor of The New York Times (1986-1994), then White House correspondent, gives details of the sordid drama played by Johnson himself. He says in his The Times of My life and My Life with the Times that Johnson “found Humphrey lacking in Johnsonian tenacity and guile”. On the contrary, Johnson “thought Nixon was more likely than Humphrey to justify the war, to persist in it and rescue something of Johnson’s reputation”. Hence the President who knew about Nixon’s deceitful activities did not alert Humphrey till “five days before the election day”. Tim Weiner, author of Enemies: A History of the FBI gives CIA-FBI evidence how that was done. The CIA’s

interception of Saigon traffic revealed Nixon’s approach to South Vietnamese President Thieu through Anna Chennault, a Washington socialite, asking him not to agree. The FBI found that Chennault was visiting Nixon’s campaign office far too often.

Thieu backed out and Nixon won the elections by a narrow margin.

Obama’s strategy is to do something politically to arrest Trump’s impetuous affinity for President Putin. He knows Trump has annoyed the Beltway’s security and intelligence establishment by mocking their findings on Russian interference and not caring to be attentive during their intelligence briefings. He wants to “box” Trump politically by producing an official report to bind him down to stick to the traditional bipartisan American foreign policy evolved over the years.

He wants to take advantage of the bipartite Congressional support for action against Russia.

In this, he is encouraged by the fact that Trump has split with the Republicans in Congressional intelligence committees. He feels this would be the best bet against Trump’s impulsive policy detours based on advice from his military-dominated security team who could play havoc with American or European security through whimsical foreign and security policy shifts.

Obama also wants to ally with the European leadership which is alarmed at the increasing “fake news” against Russia’s opponents, reminding them of the Cold War KGB tradecraft of disinformation. The latest victim is German Chancellor Angela Merkel who criticised Russian tactics on November 23. On the same day the European Parliament passed a “non-legislative” resolution to respond to the “Information warfare by Russia through RT and Sputnik News Agency”.

The writer is a former special secretary, cabinet secretariat.

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