Hackers

The Other Way the Debate About Russian Hacking is Like the Debate About WMDs

Don't be distracted into debating the wrong things.

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Todd Frantom

The debate about Russia's alleged hackscapades has a lot in common with the debate about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. That's not just because, as Scott Shackford pointed out today, in each case we've been asked to put our faith in government sources who may not deserve it. It's because both disputes focused relentlessly on the wrong things.

During the run-up to the Iraq war, I doubted those claims that Saddam Hussein had a secret stash of WMDs. But I also thought those weapons were beside the point. The more important question was whether Hussein was a threat to Americans, with or without weapons of mass destruction in his arsenal. Whatever ambitions he had were confined to his corner of the globe, so he didn't really have any reason to target us—except for Washington's sanctions and sabre-rattling. The focus on WMDs distracted from the deeper case against the war. Indeed, it led even some antiwar voices to speak as though those sanctions and sabre-rattling were appropriate. (Hence all the references to "containing" Saddam.)

Just as it was conceivable to me then that Saddam was lying about WMDs, I think it entirely possible now that Russian agents hacked the Democratic National Committee. That may not have been proven, but it's plausible—certainly more plausible than that rapidly-crumbling story that they hacked Vermont's electrical grid. Yet vast swaths of the center-left wing of the establishment seem to think this would mean Russia "installed" Donald Trump as president. (I'm quoting Paul Krugman, but he's hardly alone in using words like that.) Trump's lack of interest in investigating the question has led some pundits to start slinging around the term "treason." Meanwhile, in the news pages, headlines routinely describe the intrusion at the DNC as "election hacking," a habit that helps explain why half of Hillary Clinton's supporters believe that Moscow interfered with the actual vote count, according to a December YouGov poll.

Now, if Putin was working to help Trump become president—or even just to spread doubt about American electoral integrity—that's certainly worthy of note. But in terms of its actual impact, that would basically mean he was among the many forces spreading oppo over the course of the campaign. I'd be hard pressed to name a presidential election where various groups didn't publicize embarrassing information. Releasing the DNC emails wouldn't even be the most egregious way the Russians have messed with our information ecosystem. The Kremlin is known to spread actual disinformation, as in stories that aren't true. That seems more destructive than releasing authentic documents, but it doesn't have that spooky word "hacking" attached to it, so I guess it's harder to work people up into a fever about it.

Needless to say, it's hard to name a recent presidential campaign that didn't contain any disinformation either. Even here, Putin's electoral "interference" amounted to being one of the goons spraying signals into the ether.

So keep Putin in perspective. He's a repressive thug with nuclear weapons, but he's not a grand puppetmaster moving American voters like chess pieces. And keep your eye on the ball. Just as focusing on WMDs yielded too much ground to the argument for war, focusing on Russia's alleged election antics yields too much ground to Trumpism. We may be entering an ugly age of paranoid nationalism. If you want to fight that, you shouldn't put paranoid nationalism at the center of your critique of the new order.

NEXT: 5 Republicans Liberals May Learn to Love in the Trump Era

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  1. Lawrence Summers is angry that markets aren’t crashing in fear of a Trump presidency, and wants you to know about it.

    Article ends with:
    “The vast majority of the companies who have large overseas cash also have substantial amounts of domestic cash,” he said. “The reality is that cash that is brought home will be used to pay dividends, to buy back shares, to engage in mergers and acquisitions, to rearrange the financial chessboard, not to invest in large amounts of new capital. It is a chimera to suppose that there will be large increases in capital investment as a consequence of that repatriation.”

    Then why was your old boss pimping this so hard, Summers, and why weren’t you calling him out for it?

    1. Why does anyone even give a shit what this clown says?

      And shouldn’t he be in PC-Siberia re-education for his womynz-intrinsically-inumerate outburst at Harvard? What does a connected lefty exactly have to do to get the PC patrol on him?

      1. Make mildly freedom-oriented remarks.

    2. Wow, he has impressive psychic abilities. He knows what thousands of companies of dozens of different business types will do with their money. Asshole.

      Fact is, the tax on domestic companies repatriating (already-taxed) profits is one of the stupidest laws, even among a massive number of competitors.

      1. Wow, he has impressive psychic abilities. He knows what thousands of companies of dozens of different business types will do with their money. Asshole.

        Is it really so hard to believe that a high priest of TopMenism would think like this? They still have no solution to the economic calculation problem other than to insist that if you put the right people in charge, everything will work out.

    3. “The reality is that cash that is brought home will be used to pay dividends, to buy back shares, to engage in mergers and acquisitions, to rearrange the financial chessboard, not to invest in large amounts of new capital.

      And why wouldn’t they? free enterprise responds to the incentives created by government’s meddling in the market. when the cost of new capital-investment is high and risky and promises a low return, NATURALLY they’re going to spend their cash on their own shares and get an instant (and tax-free) improvement on their ROA and ROE

      Maybe if you and your ilk stopped costantly signaling desires to interfere with / mandate what businesses do with their money, they’d be more likely to risk it in business expansion.

      1. He’s also implying that paying dividends is the equivalent of lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills. When in reality it’s the best use of a corporation retained earnings.

  2. Yes, Russian hacking is the new Iraq’s WMDs and Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Something that is clearly demonstrably false, yet the media just takes it for granted as true.

  3. I can’t exacty say it’s funny, I guess farcical would be the more accurate term to describe watching all the Dems suddenly going all team Wolverine. And so anti-Russian they would have have gotten kicked out of a John Birch society meeting for being too out there.

    1. After all, have you ever seen Putin drink water?

      1. Of course not, there’s fluoride in drinking water.

    2. It’s hilarious that the Dems don’t even try to deny the content of their exposed emails. AND – they got caught actually rigging their own primaries.

  4. Releasing the DNC emails wouldn’t even be the most egregious way the Russians have messed with our information ecosystem

    I’ve seen The Manchurian Candidate and No Way Out, so I know what they’re capable of.

    1. I saw No Way Out, I think… all I remember are Sean Young’s boobies.

      1. and a gorilla… what’s that about?

          1. Jamie Lee Curtis’s boobies, that’s all I remember about that movie.

            and orange juice….

      2. I recommend watching the movie again, Lee. For me it is one of those stories that, when I go through it again after a year or (a few years) have passed, I notice and can appreciate hints and nuances that I missed the first time. I reread a few books at random intervals, among them The Shadow of the Torturer series (The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe) and the first two Dune books by Frank Herbert.

        I do not intend that I found the movie to be on the same level as the books I’ve mentioned, but I think you might enjoy it a second time for more than the two reasons that you remember.

        1. You should also watch The Big Clock. Charles Laughton is quite good. All three leads (Laughton, Ray Milland, and Maureen O’Sullivan) also appeared together a good 15 years earlier in another excellent movie called Payment Deferred.

          1. Thank you for the suggestions.

            My searching skills seem to be lacking, Ted, since I cannot currently find either movie in a decent format. In point of fact, I somehow stumbled onto a “nollywood” link. I am certain that several commentators will experience a hearty and well deserved laugh, yet now I have that incident on my permanent record.

      3. Linda Darnell was excellent in it.

  5. The 80’s called and want their foreign policy back.

    Every press-approved zinger uttered by the Lightworker in retrospect is completely wrong.

    Not just a little wrong, but like perfectly opposite antimatter-wrong.

  6. We’re all locked in Putin’s cave, just puppets being shadowed by his minions of hackers that obscure the truth that Hillary was a benevolent goddess.

    1. Plato Mongo?

      Is this something new?

    2. Do deformed rabbit, it’s my favorite.

    3. +1 blinding sun

  7. I’m fairly certain The Manchurian Candidate involved the chicoms, not Russkies, it’s right there in the title.

    1. You’d be wrong. The Soviets were the Chicom’s puppet masters, just like how the majority of the media is being controlled by Putin.

      1. Fair enough, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, I forgot about that Russian guy giving the chicoms their orders.

  8. Is it at all possible GOP operatives just aren’t dumb enough to fall for phishing schemes?

    1. Seems unlikely, but its not that Podesta and the DNC got penetrated that’s the story, its what the penetration revealed – the quasi-royalist tendencies of the DNC, the collusion with the media, etc. I could believe that the RNC got penetrated, but its email was dull as dishwater, so it never got “leaked”.

      1. The closest I saw on the GOP was video of the party leaders having a shit-fit over Trump at some dinner. They were quite perturbed that the voters would dare to challenge their divine guidance. I don’t like Trump, but the GOP leadership deserved him.

      2. I could believe that the RNC got penetrated, but its email was dull as dishwater, so it never got “leaked”.

        Even this assumes a level of control over the American media that the Russians can’t exercise without voiding the whole narrative.

        Patraeus lost his job for ‘leaking’ secrets to his biographer/mistress. Weiner, OTOH, is in his third or fourth sexting scandal with a minor and people are wondering if it’s going to cost Hillary the election.

        Even if it was only as spicy as an Italian Meatball, the democrats and/or media are just as culpable for not slathering it in sriracha and serving it with a side of ghost peppers like they’ve done with every closeted Senator and non-catering pizzeria that they’ve come across in the last decade.

      3. Other than Podesta’s statement that Hillary “is beginning to hate ordinary Americans” and some weird references to pizza and spirit cooking, there wasn’t much at all unusual about the DNC and Podesta e-mails. Of course the press was in bed with the journos. Of course the leadership of the DNC was in cahoots with Hillary’s campaign and conspiring against Bernie.

        1. I suppose I was also surprised at how poorly written the e-mails were.

    2. Podesta himself didn’t fall for phishing scam. He did his due diligence and sent the suspicious mail to his (elite) IT clowns who were like “Do it!”

      1. It was a typo! He meant to say it was illegitimate!!

      2. (elite) IT clowns volunteer labor

        The parties are cheeeeeeaaaaaaap

        1. I remember looking at the Bernie Sanders website. His interns were making $12 an hour.

    3. I think it’s more that the Republicans know that when it’s time to hire an IT firm, you don’t have to go with the hot startup whose uncle donated a million to your charity.

  9. http://www.foxnews.com/politic…..icies.html

    Ford to scrap Mexico plant, invest in Michigan; CEO cites Trump policies

    Before he’s even taken office, President-elect Donald Trump has proven to be quite the job creator.

    Ford Motor Company announced Tuesday it will cancel a $1.6 billion plant planned for Mexico and will instead invest $700 million in a Michigan assembly plant, directly tying the decision to “pro-growth policies” championed by President-elect Donald Trump.

    Trump had previously been critical of Ford’s plans to build in Mexico. After the announcement, Trump tweeted a link to a story about the Ford decision and then added in a subsequent message: “Instead of driving jobs and wealth away, AMERICA will become the world’s great magnet for INNOVATION & JOB CREATION.”

    “We’re doing this decision based on what’s right for our business,” Ford CEO Mark Fields told Neil Cavuto on Fox Business Network. “As we think about the investments here in Michigan, as you can imagine, Neil, we look at a lot of factors as we make those. One of the factors that we’re looking at is a more positive U.S. manufacturing business environment under President-elect Trump and some of the pro-growth policies he said he’s going to pursue. And so this is a vote of confidence.”

    1. Didn’t they already try building cars in Michigan?

    2. Holy shit, Ford is going to invest in Michigan? When there are so many better (read: not under the UAW’s thumb) places in this country to put a plant?

    3. Ford Motor Co.announced Tuesday it is cancelling plans for a $1.6 billion factory in Mexico and will instead invest $700 million in a Michigan factory that will create 700 new U.S. jobs….

      …In an interview on the FOX Business Network’s Cavuto: Coast-to-Coast, Ford CEO Mark Fields said the company’s decision to cancel the Mexican plant is a result of a decrease in demand for small cars in the U.S.

      ‘We are doing this decision based on what’s right for our business. As we think about the investments here in Michigan, as you can imagine Neil, we look at a lot factors as we make those. One of the factors that we are looking at is a more positive U.S. manufacturing business environment under President-elect Trump and some of the pro-growth policies that he said he is going to pursue,’ Fields said.

    4. Ford to scrap Mexico plant, invest in Michigan; CEO cites Trump policies

      Kevin Williamson and Keith Ellison hardest hit.

  10. We may or may not be entering an ugly age of paranoid nationalism.

    Remember, the meaning of any sentence with “may” is not changed by adding “or may not”. So, sure, maybe.

    I can do without paranoia, but honestly, a little “nationalism” in the sense of “our government does things that are in the country’s interest” wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

    1. Well, look at Nazi Dean over here.

    2. I’m a fervent believer in American exceptionalism, which seems to be one of the starkest dissimilarities between me and many commenters here. A sharp, unapologetic patriotism is a virtuous characteristic for a decent American statesman. In interacting with foreign entities, Trump ought to be implacable in his stances and pronouncements.

      His faults are innumerable and multifarious, and commentators could rightly castigate him for his actual shortcomings, but the tendency to conflate patriotism with nationalism is as tiresome and idiotic as it has ever been, and no less erroneous now that Trump’s election is its most common trigger.

      In a world of impenitent despots and malignant foreign powers, having a gutless appeaser for a President would have been completely disastrous and intolerable.

      1. In a world of impenitent despots and malignant foreign powers, having a gutless appeaser for a President would have been has proven completely disastrous and intolerable.

  11. Meanwhile, in the news pages, headlines routinely describe the intrusion at the DNC as “election hacking,” a habit that helps explain why half of Hillary Clinton’s supporters believe that Moscow interfered with the actual vote count, according to a December YouGov poll.

    This is pretty hilarious Re: Hillary’s election. Assuming YouGov had some way of vetting ‘Hillary Supporters’ with some manner of veracity, 50% of Americans *still* fall into the “She’s that fucking stupid/crooked.” bin. Assuming they don’t have any way of vetting supporters, 50% of people publicly identifying as Hillary supporters still put her in the “She’s that fucking stupid/crooked.” bin.

  12. Every argument I have ever heard of read against the Iraq invasion assays out to pacifist hogwash. Mind you, I admire the few genuinely committed pacifists I have met, I just don’t buy the idea that we should never, ever use force.

    That said, we did not initiate a new war againt Iraq, we simply began to fight an existing one seriously. Before 9/11 an argument could be made for wearing down Saddam gradually. After, there was no longer time. We absolutely HAD to establish that agreements entered into with us were serious, and that abrogating them was likely to have unpleasant consequences. Saddam never came close to meeting the terms of the surrender to which he agreed at the end of the Kuwait campaign. That meant he was still at war with us, amd following 9/11 it was necesssary that his neighbors think seriously about the consequences of that.

    1. I argued here every day against the Iraq War for strategic reasons.

      Did you think of Brent Scowcroft as a pacifist?

      http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1029371773228069195

      Suffice it to say, all the reasons not to remove Saddam Hussein from power in 1991 were still good reasons in 2003.

      My objections to the Iraq War were about humanitarian concerns and the best interests of the United States.

      Bush using terrorism as a pathetic excuse to trample on our Constitutional rights didn’t help any, but I was especially concerned about Iran’s ambitions in the region. Then as now, I consider Iran to be a much greater long term threat to American security than Saddam Hussein ever was, and removing Saddam Hussein from power played directly into their hands.

  13. I wrote this earlier today in another thread:

    “In the run up to the Iraq War, the problem wasn’t just that the media bought into untrue narratives about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program. The bigger problem was that the media bought into the assumption that Saddam Hussein’s WMD program justified an invasion.”

    https://reason.com/blog/2017/01…..nt_6653825

    I underscored my point with the observation that most of us laughed at Obama’s empty red line threats against Assad. Point being, just because Assad had WMD and was using it, that doesn’t necessarily mean that invading Syria is in the best interests of the United States.

    It was the same thing in Iraq.

    It’s the same thing now.

    Even IF IF IF Putin was personally complicit in hacking DNC servers, what exactly are we supposed to do because of that?

    1. what exactly are we supposed to do because of that?

      Void the election, of course.

      1. Not void it, exactly. Just disqualify the winner, and give the trophy to the second-place finisher. What was her name, again?

        1. I say we void the results and give the office to the actual winner: Did Not Vote.

      2. Absurd, isn’t it?

        They won’t even say that out loud.

        I also suspect they may want to do things like refuse to confirm Rex Tillerson–ostensibly–on that basis. They don’t really care about his association with Putin; they care more about his association with Exxon–and what his nomination means for the State Department’s global warming policy.

        I think Obama is genuinely interested in undermining Trump’s efforts to get Putin on the same page with us in terms of fighting ISIS–much like the Allies coordinated with Stalin in fighting the Imperial Japanese and Hitler.

        The Democrats are at heart neocons, too, and they don’t want America pursuing its interests if that means working with people who don’t have hearts of gold.

        Whatever your opinion is of that, it shouldn’t have anything to do with any alleged hacking. Do you think FDR would have refused to coordinate with Stalin in defeating the Nazis or chasing the Japanese out of China–if Stalin had hacked the DNC’s servers?

        Moreover, Obama hates Putin for making Obama look foolish (over and over again). Making Obama look foolish is the unpardonable sin on the left.

        1. Tillerson and ExxonMobil acknowledge the so-called scientific consensus of AGW and advocate a carbon tax as a means to reduce GHG emissions. They have been public about this since 2009.

          1. The question isn’t whether he’s a climate change denier.

            The question is whether he’s going to abide by climate change agreements and pursue more at the expense of fossil fuel companies.

            They don’t want the ex-CEO of Exxon running the Department of State Climate Change Treaties.

      3. The other reason the left is pushing this is because progressives cannot come to terms with the fact that America just isn’t that into social justice warriors, identity politics, and political correctness. The progressives would rather blame James Comey, Fake News, Citizens United, or Russian hackers than come to terms with the fact that they can’t demonize white, blue collar, middle class, Americans for eight years–and then depend on them to show up on election day to vote for a crook.

  14. I can’t believe it is almost 10 years to the day that they executed Saddam Hussein. How did I miss that one?

  15. That meant he was still at war with us, amd following 9/11 it was necesssary that his neighbors think seriously about the consequences of that.

    Why? What did 9/11 have to do with Iraq or its neighbors? The US promptly and thoroughly invaded Afghanistan and deposed its rulers following 9/11. Was that not a powerful enough lesson about what happens when you support an attack against the US? How could anyone look at that response and conclude that they didn’t need to take the US seriously? Saddam’s shenanigans could have been handled by increased sanctions or by maybe admitting that we have no business playing politics among sovereign nations on the other side of the world.

    1. This squirreled response was to Schofield.

  16. I’m a fervent believer in American exceptionalism, which seems to be one of the starkest dissimilarities between me and many commenters here. A sharp, unapologetic patriotism is a virtuous characteristic for a decent American statesman. In interacting with foreign entities, Trump ought to be implacable in his stances and pronouncements.

    His faults are innumerable and multifarious, and commentators could rightly castigate him for his actual shortcomings, but the tendency to conflate patriotism with nationalism is as tiresome and idiotic as it has ever been, and no less erroneous now that Trump’s election is its most common trigger.

    In a world of impenitent despots and malignant foreign powers, having a gutless appeaser for a President would have been completely disastrous and intolerable.

    1. What was exceptional about America was our freedom. Take that away, and we’re a Modern Roman Empire.

      1. ^ BINGO ^ *This cannot be repeated too many times*

  17. Also, I’d be remiss in my responsibilities to my fellow commenters if I didn’t break out this old saw:

    “WASHINGTON (AP) ? Nearly seven in 10 Americans believe it is likely that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, says a poll out almost two years after the terrorists’ strike against this country.

    Sixty-nine percent in a Washington Post poll published Saturday said they believe it is likely the Iraqi leader was personally involved in the attacks carried out by al-Qaeda. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents believe it’s likely Saddam was involved.”

    USA Today
    September 6, 2003.

    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com…..iraq_x.htm

    It is human nature for people to forget that they were fooled, but what they don’t forget is their distaste for the media for fooling them.

    Six months after we invaded Iraq, some 70% of the American people still believed that Saddam Hussein was personally complicit in 9/11, presumably because of the anthrax attack and because Colin Powell, George W. Bush, and others went on television and told us that Saddam Hussein both had a WMD program and was actively collaborating with Al Qaeda.

    There were reasons to be skeptical, but to believe that Saddam Hussein had no WMD program, most people had to go against the assessments of everything they were hearing and reading in the news.

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