With all zeal of a convert, in the waning days of his presidency Barack Obama has abandoned the Russian reset policy and reprised the Cold War rhetoric that he mocked back in 2009, when he said:
“…great powers do not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat other sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over.”
To date, there is precisely zero evidence that Russian hacking actually distorted the voting process of the US election. However, this has not prevented President Obama from stating that United States would retaliate for Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election.
In fact, Russia’s cyber-espionage and disinformation activity has nothing to do with a nefarious plan to install Donald Trump as a Putin puppet. Rather, the Russian president’s goal is much more grandiose: to destabilize the western alliance and reassert his country as a great power. As a result, intelligence agencies and high-level officials in Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and elsewhere have all voiced concerns over the threat of cyber sabotage by Russia.
How could such an intelligent, sophisticated statesman such as Barack Obama have missed Russia’s numerous attempts to influence Western European elections? Occam’s razor is a principle that suggests that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
Since it’s patently absurd to think that Obama wasn’t aware of repeated Russian attempts to organize small minorities of angry people with the goal of dividing fearful majorities in Western Europe, the simplest yet most elegant answer is that he well understood Putin’s modus operandi and even accepted, however reluctantly, that there is some value in supporting groups that can influence the outcome of an overseas election.
Obama’s transformation from starry-eyed idealist to cold-blooded realist is glaringly apparent in his attempt to toss Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of office. Unlike the Russian hacker story, which is being fueled by circumstantial evidence, a US Senate inquiry published in June 2016 actually found that the US government supported a group that had tried to unseat Netanyahu in the 2015 Israeli elections, to the tune of nearly $350,000.
Vladimir Putin is undoubtedly an autocrat who talks like a democrat. Yet Barack Obama’s soaring rhetoric is similarly contradicted by the findings of this report, which harshly criticized the State Department for having failed to prevent funds from being used, albeit legally and indirectly, to influence an allied country’s internal political process.
How can one explain the Obama State Department’s support of OneVoice, a group of young grassroots activists in Israel and the Palestinian Territories that was openly and actively anti-Likud and anti-Netanyahu?
Again, let Occam’s razor be our guide. There’s no tangible evidence to suggest that the 44th President of the United States is obsessed with weakening Israel and demonizing the Jewish state on the international stage.
No, the most probable explanation for funding a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment, with taxpayer dollars, against the leader of the US’s closest Middle East ally is that such meddling in the internal affairs of friends and foes alike has worked like gangbusters for Russia.
Barack Obama, ever the student of history, took a page from Vladimir Putin’s chapter on realpolitik that is quickly turning Russia into an indispensable nation. It turns out that while Obama never tires of signaling his own personal virtue, underneath the radiant smile and winning personality beats the heart of an astute, calculating political operator. The die was cast once Netanyahu accepted House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress and speak out against Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative, the Iran nuclear deal.
It’s interesting to ponder how different the balance of power in the Middle East might be today had Barack Obama channeled his inner Machiavelli at the outset of his presidency, instead of being content to be adored as the nice, compassionate, liberal former lecturer on constitutional law.