President Obama, who once dismissed Russia as a regional power, is now seeking to settle personal and political scores with Vladimir Putin on his way out.
The lamest of lame ducks — a president transitioning out while his successor prepares for swearing-in on Jan. 20 — Obama has been issuing last-minute regulations, sanctioning land grabs the size of Delaware, and pardoning drug dealers.
“The CNN TV channel and other Western media have again spread false information citing official American sources.”
Obama has yet to release solid proof of the hack.
But sanctions placed upon Russia for alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee have perhaps done the most damage to the 2017 foreign policy agenda, leaving a new president with a huge mess to clean up.
On Thursday, President Obama issued sanctions through the U.S. Treasury Department that targeted several Russian citizens; the country’s primary security services, known as the FSB; and its main intelligence directorate. The sanctions are not likely to truly hurt these people and institutions, as they likely do not do business in the United States or with U.S. financial institutions.
The United States also expelled 35 Russian diplomats and intelligence agents.
And the United States denied access to two government-owned compounds in the U.S., one in Maryland and the other in New York, according to TASS and The Weekly Standard. Russian officials mocked the move, saying the properties are used by children for winter activities.
In a twist used to make Obama look even more petty, Russian President Vladimir Putin refused a recommendation by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to expel 35 U.S. diplomatic workers.
And after reports that Putin would close two schools used by Americans in Russia, a Russian spokeswoman lashed out, saying the reports were false. She accused CNN of spreading fake news.
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“That’s a lie. Apparently, the White House has completely lost its senses and began inventing sanctions against its own children,” said Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. “The CNN TV channel and other Western media have again spread false information citing official American sources.”
The Russian embassy in London has mocked Obama as a lame duck. Some media outlets have been disappointed by the move.
The New York Times editorial board praised the sanctions, but whined they were “too late.” The Times used the opportunity to bash Trump.
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But why would a president start a war of sanctions with Russia in transition? Obama is tacitly suggesting he doesn’t trust the incoming chief executive, a petty insult and something that is damaging to American democracy.
And it’s personal too. Some pundits believe Obama just can’t get over the fact that his hand-picked Democratic successor, Hillary Clinton, lost to Trump in one of the biggest upset elections in modern U.S. history.
Obama is engaged in “an ugly bid to snub voters and tie Trump’s hands,” said the New York Post editorial board.
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“Memo to the president: You lost,” the Post wrote. “It’s one thing for Obama to have delusions about the popularity of his agenda. It’s quite another to try to preserve a discredited legacy by handcuffing America’s next democratically elected president.”
It’s made all the more petty because Obama and Hillary Clinton famously said they would reset Russian relations in 2009. In a 2012 debate, Obama even mocked his opponent, Republican Mitt Romney, for saying Russia was the top geopolitical threat.
Also curious about the impotent sanctions being loudly issued on Thursday is how they compare to sanctions issued against China for its hacking. Quite simply, they don’t compare at all. Even these small sanctions against Russia are large measures compared to what President Obama did to China for a huge 2015 attack on U.S. security.
The actual attack on the Office of Personnel Management may have started before the spring of 2015, when federal workers noticed it. The OPM handles applications for security clearances and building permits, among other sensitive data.
As a result, it has fingerprints, mental health data, and more.
The hack was likely the largest such cyber-theft in U.S. history. The personal data of 21.5 million government workers was stolen, and as many as 5.6 million government employees also saw the Chinese get their fingerprint records.
The hack was so severe, and left the federal government so initially crippled, that the State Department processed applications by hand, instead of via the web, in the summer of 2015. It was likely a time-consuming process.
The Chinese government has denied its role, but is seen as the hacker. It’s likely China that needs the stern attention.
Trump said on Thursday he wants to move on from the Russian hysteria, but he will let intelligence officials brief him, before he is sworn in, on the alleged Russian hack.
But Trump needs to remind people that Russia’s alleged hack into Democrats’ emails accounts did not alter the election.
Voters heard about the charge over and over before they voted. The verdict is in, and was in on Nov. 8: It’s time to move on.