Obama’s Feckless Response to Russian Interference Is the Real Scandal
Previous president did little to protect the nation's democratic institutions when under siege
Obsessed with delegitimizing and destroying Donald Trump’s presidency, the mainstream media have ignored the real Russian scandal and its prime culprit — Barack Obama.
Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, and Adam Entous published a devastating account in the June 23 Washington Post detailing President Obama’s ignominious non-response over a five-month period to Russia’s “unprecedented and largely successful attack on American democracy.” President Obama received from the CIA in early August 2016 an “intelligence” bombshell” establishing “Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.”
So why did Obama largely withhold from the American people even the basic information about what the Washington Post writers termed the political “crime of the century” until after the election of 2016? Why did it take until December 2016 for the administration to impose only “modest” and “targeted” punishment, which even Obama’s former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, conceded fell woefully short of the magnitude of crime? Surely Obama did not want Hillary Clinton to lose. Her presidency would have made it more difficult to reverse his legacy. Trump’s imperils it.
An insidious combination of President Obama's arrogance and ignorance, along with the feckless premises impelling his dangerous foreign policy doctrine, accounts for his dereliction of duty. Convinced Hillary Clinton would win, Obama deemed it unnecessary to inform the American people of Russia's assault on the integrity of America's political institutions. Convinced that the United States should engage its foes in niceties rather than stand up to aggression, the president remained obsessed with salvaging his already failed "reset" with Russia.
President Obama has enabled Putin's express ambitions to reverse the outcome of the Cold War more than any national figure in American politics. With few honorable exceptions, the liberal Democrats have supinely endorsed Obama's perilous policy conciliating Putin at the expense of American allies and interests. Obama's obliviousness towards the audacity of Putin's campaign to subvert American political institutions culminates years of turning a blind eye to the gathering Russian danger.
Obama emboldened Putin while demoralizing our democratic pro-American allies in Eastern Europe — by slashing the American military budget and canceling the deployment of missile defense in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Obama signed a nuclear arms control agreement with Russia that Gov. Mitt Romney rightly denounced as a terrible deal, allowing the Russians to build up their nuclear arsenal, forcing us to reduce ours, and imposing restraints on our research and deployment of missile defense vital for ensuring credible deterrence against rogue regimes.
In 2012, an open microphone picked up Obama assuring Dmitri Medvedev — Putin's stooge — that the U.S. would be even more forthcoming to Russian demands for the U.S. to restrict its ballistic missile defense program once he won a second term, when he would no longer face political constraints to making even more sweeping unilateral concessions. During the second presidential debate of 2012, Obama mocked Mitt Romney for identifying Putin's Russia as a foe requiring robust deterrence.
Neither Putin's subversion of Ukraine's independence nor his patronage of the militant mullahs in Tehran or the murderous Assad regime in Syria induced Obama to adjust to reality. On the contrary, Obama stoutly resisted imposing effective sanctions on Russia's banking and energy sectors when Putin annexed Crimea. Obama refused to arms Ukrainians resisting Russia's illegitimate ambitions. Obama refused likewise to reverse his imprudent decision canceling the deployment of missile defense or his precipitous cuts in American defense spending, which created power vacuums in vital regions that rogue regimes — including Russia — have exploited.
Obama's feckless reset accounts best for why Obama took such a relaxed view towards Putin's campaign to sow rancor and discord in the United States. Putin understands that an America distracted by a lacerating debate over Donald Trump's real and imagined shortcomings would lower the barriers to his aggression.
It was President Obama– not President Trump — who rendered the United States less secure, faith in our political institutions less robust, and America's deterrent less credible than it was eight years ago. Putin would like nothing better than for the partisan investigations of Trump to drag on interminably. Do Americans of goodwill really want to aid and abet Putin any more than we already have? Let us hope not. Or more trouble looms for the United States and our decent democratic allies.
Robert G. Kaufman is a professor at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and author of "Dangerous Doctrine: How Obama's Grand Strategy Weakened America."