Columns » Ernest Dumas

Glass houses


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Having gotten a deep security briefing and probably a confidential glimpse of our own vast cyberspying operation, Donald Trump is no longer pretty sure that the Kremlin didn't hack Democratic computers or employ other tactics to help his election. But he's still sure it didn't actually affect the election and, besides, the country should move on.

Do Trump and his defenders have a point, or points? They do, but it has to be observed that the old showman proved again that he has the propagandist's gift for radically changing people's ideas — to admire things they once hated and to loathe things they once liked, or at least not to care any more.

The most remarkable thing about the zany strife over the Russian hacking is the outpouring of support not just for Trump but also for Vladimir Putin and Russia and for the notion that America should cozy up to them, as the president-elect says he will do. Even a few Republican members of Congress have softened on Russia. Six months ago, you couldn't have packed a taxi stand with all the Americans who thought Putin would make a reliable friend, even after the two men exchanged glowing hymns.

Trump didn't always trust Russian leaders — only Putin. In 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev, who was dismantling the Soviet empire and leaving the satellites to choose their own destinies, visited the United States to seal his friendship with President Reagan. Trump said Reagan should not trust the leader of the Evil Empire. He warmed a little when the Russians invited him to build a hotel like Trump Tower in Moscow. A year later, when Gorbachev arrived in New York for a three-day visit with President Reagan and Vice President Bush, Trump heard that the Russian was shaking hands outside Trump Tower, rushed into the street to greet him and told him how honored he was the premier came to his tower. It was a Gorbachev impersonator from New Jersey, birthmark and all, named Ronald Knapp and a video of the event went viral. Knapp wrote a book about it, "The Guy Who Got Trump."

But they do have a couple of points about the piety of everyone who expressed horror at news the Russians were trying to influence the election, mainly the glass-house syndrome. Interfering in elections and leadership struggles of other countries, friendly and inimical, is a modern American strategy. It isn't in the charter of the Central Intelligence Agency, but it is what the CIA does. One of the agency's first missions was to see that Christian Democrats in Italy maintained power over the insurgent Communist Party in the 1948 election and it funneled more than $10 million into the election to move voters to Democrats. The agency was off and running. In 1953, when the newly elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, tried to prevent what later became British Petroleum from controlling Iran's oil reserves, Churchill persuaded President Eisenhower to have the CIA overthrow the regime and give full power to the shah. The Iranians never got their full democracy back and never forgot it.

Most infamous was the 1973 overthrow of the democratically elected government of Chile and the installation of a brutal dictatorship, all arranged by President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The Pinochet regime was more brutal even than Putin's, where critics who were poisoned, shot, jailed, ruined or "disappeared" numbers only in the hundreds, not hundreds of thousands. A tea party Republican congressman, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, had the chutzpah to lecture his colleagues about getting upset over Russian meddling in U.S. elections when we have meddled in 81 foreign elections since World War II — a Carnegie Mellon professor's statistic.

Then there is Putin's point: turnabout is fair play. Hillary Clinton tried to overthrow him, calling him a tyrant who was rigging his re-election and encouraging anti-Putin protesters in the 2012 election. He blamed Clinton for Pussy Riot, the female punk-rock band that razzed the old KGB thug at concerts. Putin had three of the women imprisoned after a church appearance. Clinton met one of them at the Women in the World Summit in New York in 2014 and tweeted a picture of the two posing. It has been retweeted 10,000 times. What could she expect Putin to do?

Putin is not a man to be praised, and we can only hope that the United States is not conscripted into Putin's schemes in the Middle East or Asia through a naive president. Congress should thoroughly expose the Russian scheming and it should demand the new president's tax records to see if there are sinister business connections. The intelligence report of the security agencies last week noted that Putin had worked well with past Western leaders whose personal business interests made them amenable to Russian dealing, like Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder.

But skip the piety and stop trying to assess whether it elected Trump. Clinton lost to a thousand cuts, as Shakespeare would say.


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