Unfortunately, President Trump Is Right, Much of the Media Is Agitating for a War With Russia

Public domain image French nuclear test at Fangataufa atoll in French Polynesia

This morning, President Trump was back on Twitter and seemed to sound confident that the toxic waste dump that was the Helsinki Summit (my gosh, was that only three days ago?) is mostly behind him…unless he can stir it up again. One of the tweets caught my interest:

Let’s leave aside the prognostication about what kind of relationship we’ll have with Russia (SPOILER ALERT: it won’t be good) and deal with the first sentence. He’s right.

To me, it is an inescapable fact that a large number of political pundits are actually pushing for some kind of armed confrontation with Russia. You can’t call what Russia did in 2016 the equivalent of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor without following through to the next logical step, because both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor resulted in extensive military operations with lots of things being blown up. You can’t credibly complain that Russia committed an “act of war” without endorsing retaliation in kind. You can’t accuse the President of “treason” without first declaring war on Russia.

Even if they aren’t endorsing a preemptive strike on Russia, it seems clear that they want our military to actively confront the Russian military somewhere in what can only be described as a penis-measuring contest. The dangerous thing about those kinds of confrontations is no one knows beforehand how it will turn out and how it can be stopped. There is absolutely no guarantee that Russia is going to sit still for a significant US cyber attack because they “have it coming.” In fact, we can speculate with nearly 100% accuracy that such an act will draw an asymmetrical attack from Russia in some other place. Like “little green men” appearing in Estonia and Lithuania and Latvia and Romania. Or a clash between US and Russian military forces in Syria or the Eastern Mediterranean. Or any number of scenarios which would, themselves, demand another retaliation by the United States.

To be clear, Russia hasn’t escaped unscathed from this. After Obama had let the Russians play around in the 2016 election, he finally responded. On December 29, 2016, the Obama administration announced sanctions against four Russian individuals and five Russian entities for what it said was election interference. It also expelled 35 Russian diplomats and ordered two Russian compounds closed. Trump followed up by imposing sanctions on five Russian entities and 19 individual Russians. And neither did we. In tit-for-tat retaliation, the Russians expelled 755 US personnel and closed two US facilities in Russia. So we won, right?

At some point, the Trump Derangement Syndrome has to stop and people need to take a deep breath. What Russia did was legally and materially no different from actions by the US government. If you want to say this is making them “morally equivalent,” well, so be it. They are. We have a sovereign right to carry out actions, including political meddling abroad, to further our strategic interests. So do the Russians. This doesn’t mean that action is always wise but it does mean that there is a huge bright line difference between the actions of the alleged Russian collective operating as “Guccifer 2.0” and a civilian hacker consortium. As I’ve said several times, if we want to criminalize intelligence activities carried out by members of the Russian military stationed in their home country, don’t be surprised when our guys get the same treatment.

Russia is not an “enemy” any more than China is. It is a competitor. There are areas where cooperation would be possible and useful. There are areas where we have no common ground. We shouldn’t allow the Russians or the Chinese or the Germans or anyone to carry out information operations in the United States with impunity. But not every offense against our sovereignty rises to the level of Pearl Harbor or an “act of war” (I’d point out the USS Pueblo is still moored in Pyongyang and the USSR shot down at least 20 US aircraft during the Cold War), there has to be a sense of proportionality and finality.

This talk of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 and “acts of war” is just stupid talk trying to wind up anti-Trump partisans. It debases and degrades any dialogue that might be taking place. It also shows that the people saying this aren’t terribly serious people and we shouldn’t be listening to them. There may eventually be a place where we have to physically confront Russia, but the time is not now and the cause is not a few hundred thousand dollars in online campaign ads and no matter how much you love Hillary Clinton, you shouldn’t want young Americans to die to avenge her imbecility.

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