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Thursday, January 11, 2018


The unasked question about "Russiagate"

As I see it, there are four facets or different aspects to the whole Russiagate issue:

1) Is it true? Who hacked into or leaked emails from the DNC and John Podesta? Did the Russian government place ads on Facebook or just some random politically active Russians (or even the CIA)? I'm not going to address that here, just putting this out as issue #1.

2) Did it have any effect on the elections? Did something come out in the Clinton emails that really send voters fleeing to Jill Stein or Donald Trump? Did $40K of FB ads really change anyone's mind? Personally I've seen zero evidence of any of this, but in any case it's issue #2.

3) The "US has done much worse and even done it openly" argument, and that just goes for influencing elections with its media or buying elections with its money, and doesn't even include overthrowing governments with bombing and/or invasions (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Panama, Grenada) or organizing or lending its backing to military coups (Iran, Honduras).

But the fourth aspect is one I haven't seen discussed anywhere else — why shouldn't Russia (or anyone else) have a say in American elections? (Not a vote, but a say). I'm not addressing here the legalities involved (what is or is not legal right now), just the morality or philosophy of the issue.

My point is best illustrated by using Cuba, not Russia, as an example. How many Americans are affected by American policy towards Cuba? Some certainly, but a small percentage of the entire population. People wanting to visit, farmers wanting to sell products to Cuba, patients with diseases which could be treated by medicines developed in Cuba, people who like good rum, and so on. Again, definitely some people, but probably just a few percent.

On the other hand, how many Cubans are affected by U.S. policy towards Cuba? Pretty much every single one. Whether it's directly affected (people renting rooms in their homes through AirBnBs, for example), or indirectly affected by the fact that Cuba loses billions of dollars each year because of the blockade, money that could be used for all kinds of improved services and development, there are few if any Cubans who aren't affected by U.S. policy.

So, given those facts, why shouldn't Cubans have a say (by placing ads on FB, just for example) if there's one candidate whose policies promise to improve their lives and another whose policies promise to make them worse.

When the argument is applied to Russia, of course it's not quite so dramatic. Russia is a much bigger country, further away, with a stronger economy, and so on. But even so, there is little doubt that U.S. policy towards Russia affects a far higher percentage of Russians than it does Americans (actually it affects hardly any Americans at all, except those profiting from the increased war budget that having Russia as our "enemy" promotes). So again, why shouldn't Russians, or the Russian government, be able to voice its opinion about that policy, including how different candidates might change that policy? It seems perfectly reasonable to me.

And why, returning to point #3 above, would I still say it's wrong for the opposite, that is, why it's wrong for the U.S. to try to influence elections in other countries? Because it's the U.S. which is the 800-lb gorilla in the world. El Salvador's foreign policy towards the U.S. matters, more or less, not a whit. U.S. policy towards El Salvador (for example, its position on Temporary Protected Status), on the other hand, matters immensely. And that's precisely why I would argue that other countries should have a say in U.S. politics, while the U.S. should butt out of theirs.

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