As the outrage among Democrats grows about alleged Russian involvement in US elections, Lyle Jeremy Rubin feels that it is time to get a little perspective on the issue.
I was trained at NSA headquarters as a signals intelligence officer in the Marines. This was about a decade ago, and I was by no means an area specialist. That said, I was privy to relevant briefs. At the time I learned that U.S. cyber operations in Russia, across Russia’s periphery, and around the world already dwarfed Russian operations in size, capability, and frequency. It wasn’t even close, and the expectation was that the gap was about to grow a whole lot wider.
This should hardly come as a surprise. Just compare the defense budgets of the United States and Russia. The president recently signed a gargantuan $700 billion gift to the Pentagon, with marginal dissent from either party or their affiliated media outlets. The budget increase alone ($61 billion) exceeds Russia’s entire annual expenditure ($46). The U.S. military budget now equals more than the combined budgets of China, Russia, Britain, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, and France. As Vice concluded, “it’s 14 times larger than the Kremlin’s budget.”
Furthermore, covert American operations are deeply invested in interrupting democratic processes not only in Russia, but everywhere else. This includes the heart of Europe, where corporate media is now pretending the United States has always respected happy norms and decorum. It is as if the Snowden leaks never happened. The Defense Department’s tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone never happened. The Obama administration’s spying on the German press, including Der Spiegel, never happened. The same administration’s outing of German government whistle-blowers never happened.
Electoral meddling in particular happens all the time, both to us and by us. The U.S. government rigged the Russian election for Yeltsin in 1996, and then they bragged about it in a cover story for Time. (You can still find the cover online.) This followed the disastrous capitalist “shock therapy” of the early nineties and preceded the rise of the Russian oligarchs. Putin’s brand of nationalist resentment grew out of this moment of extreme collective humiliation. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is happily on record pushing for the tampering of Palestinian elections in 2006.
Political scientist Dov H. Levin has constructed a database of interventions in the elections of other countries by US and Russia between 1946 and 2000 and found that the US intervened at least 81 times while Russia had at least 36. And this is just for electoral interventions and does not include the violent overthrow of governments.
This does not include the U.S. government’s violent overthrow of dozens of governments during this same period, including democratic governments in places like Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), and Chile (1973). As recent as 2009, Hillary Clinton’s State Department played a complicit role in the brutal deposition of democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya’s government in Honduras. No other country, including Russia, even approaches this level of wanton disregard for the norms of sovereignty. Around the world, organizations that the U.S. “fund[s], support[s] and direct[s] are openly dedicated to manipulating foreign elections, creating U.S.-friendly opposition movements and even overthrowing governments that impede U.S. interests worldwide.” In 1999, President Clinton sent three advisers to Israel to try to swing the country’s elections for Ehud Barak. The New York Times reported that they were “writing advertisements, plotting strategy and taking polls” for the candidate. Imagine what the reaction would be if Putin had literally dispatched three top deputies to join the Trump campaign.
He says that the meddling by other countries in the US takes many forms.
Prominent think tanks in Washington are funded by the Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates contributes generously to the coffers of the Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Center for American Progress (CAP). The Brookings Institute graciously accepts millions from Qatar. The Atlantic Council and Center for Strategic and International Studies enjoy similar arrangements with other oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia.
Our politicians, of course, are being flooded with cash from foreign-related interests. Pro-Israel billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban have bought themselves outsized influence in both parties, with Adelson successfully financing Trump’s rise to power and Saban effectively blocking Keith Ellison’s bid for Democratic National Committee chair. The Turkish lobby, likewise, continues to prove itself another bipartisan force, with everyone from former House leader Dick Gephardt to disgraced national security advisor Michael Flynn being enlisted to secure Ankara prerogatives while whitewashing various crimes against the Armenians and Kurds. As for explicit electoral interference, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been implicated in foul play in the 2016 election. Same goes for Ukraine. Same goes for Israel in 2012. And these are just the instances so brazen that they have made their way into Wikipedia.
As Rubin states, just because other countries do it too doesn’t make it right.
Look, by all means, let’s protect the integrity of our voting systems.
But let’s also stop swallowing state and corporate propaganda hook, line, and sinker. Let’s stop being blind to military-industrial stakesin escalating U.S.-Russia tensions in Syria, Yemen, Iran, Ukraine, and the Russian periphery, never mind the cyber arena altogether. Let’s spend more time exposing the ways the conversation around Russia points to liberal and progressive acquiescence toward (one might say collusion with) imperialist narratives that only guarantee further death and destruction for poor and working people everywhere.
In another interview Levin elaborates on his findings.
One interesting example was the American intervention in the 1948 Italian election. In this case, the United States was extremely worried that the Italian Communist Party may win that election, a case in which the United States was worried would lead to Italian democracy ending and also that Italy would become communist and become an ally of the Soviet Union. As a result, the United States began a massive covert and overt operation designed to prevent the Italian voters from voting for the communists. This included, for example, increasing massively American foreign aid to Italy. The United States increased by about $250 million its aid to Italy in the months before the election. The election day, which by the way in today’s money I think is about $1.8 billion aid increase.
At the same time, it was multiple times threatening that all U.S. aid to Italy would be completely cut if the communists would win power in Italy, and also did some covert operations at the same time. For example, the CIA was giving the Christian Democrats, the main anti-communist party then in power under the leadership of Italian Prime Minister De Gasperi a lot of campaign funding to the tune of about $10 million, or in today’s money it’s around $80 million. It also sent in a very large number of campaigning experts that did everything from preparing campaigning materials for the Christian Democrats as well as teaching them various mobilization techniques for this purpose.
Levin also describes how the US intervened to aid the election of Boris Yeltsin in Russia in 1996.
Other examples abound, such as the blatant intervention by the US in the Ukraine election in 2014.
And there’s more.
In Haiti after the 1986 overthrow of dictator and U.S. ally Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the CIA sought to support particular candidates and undermine Jean-Bertrande Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest and proponent of liberation theology. The New York Times reported in the 1990s that the CIA had on its payroll members of the military junta that would ultimately unseat Aristide after he was democratically elected in a landslide over Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official and finance minister favored by the U.S.
While nations should seek to protect the integrity of their elections, the US should cool off the sense of outrage when such interventions are done to them and stop acting like a righteous nation wronged by a uniquely evil foe.