Meddling in elections: Are Americans getting a dose of their own medicine?

Russia wants Donald Trump to be re-elected in the presidential polls; China wants him out and Iran is supposedly all set to play a major social media role by way of spreading misinformation

Putin-Trump
Russian president Vladimir Putin with US president Donald Trump. File photo: Twitter

In the midst of a ravaging virus pandemic that has pushed America close to five millions infections and nearly 1,60,000 deaths, the political elite, intelligence bureaucracy and media are worried about another thing as the country nears the November 3 Presidential elections.

The concern is regarding foreign countries meddling in the American political process, aside from the usual suspects in Russia, China has now included Iran in the list. How does this fan out? Russia wants Donald Trump to be re-elected; China wants him out and Iran is supposedly all set to play a major social media role by way of spreading misinformation and disinformation.

At least one top intelligence official has said that while the roles of China and Iran are unclear as of now, Russia is back to the old game of 2016 when it was supposed to have rigged the process to favor the election of Trump through the use of social media and by activities like hacking into e-mail accounts that ultimately led to the appointment of a special prosecutor.

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The Robert Mueller report, seen in some quarters as being neither here nor there, detailed Russian interference but stopped short of accusing the Trump campaign of colluding with the Russians. Even today, Trump bristles at the notion that Moscow helped him win the showdown with Hillary Clinton, but is convinced that China is all set to put “Sleepy Joe”—meaning former Vice President Joseph Biden—in the Oval Office so that it can “buy” America. Wonderful logic indeed!

“Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’. This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia”, said William Evanina, the Director of National Counterintelligence and Security Center. He also named at least one pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who has been instrumental in putting out claims of corruption in an effort to attack the candidacy of Biden.

The top intelligence official also said that apart from the actions of “Kremlin-linked actors”, there has also been an attempt to boost Trump’s candidacy through social media and Russian television.

The China story is different and could be seen to be much more in the open and less clandestine. “We assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win re-election. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China,” Evanina said.

He further listed the grievances Beijing has on Trump, starting with the handling of COVID-19, Hong Kong protests, South China Sea, closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston, and the crackdown on TikTok and WeChat.

The storyline on Iran is only driven by the obvious: that Trump will continue the hardline policies including sanctions and hence Teheran would be better off without that self-proclaimed super genius!

In the era of globalisation and revolutions in information technology, America and perhaps the rest of the world may have forgotten who wrote the book or perhaps even the encyclopedia on meddling in elections, especially in foreign countries: THE UNITED STATES.

In the post-Second World War era, there is not a region of the world in which Washington has not intervened in the name of democracy.

However, today, American political elites and politicians seem to be scandalised that someone from the outside is even trying to dabble with the American democratic process!

Ask the Central Intelligence Agency about its dubious track record in unsettling “uncomfortable” regimes and governments—barely a year after its inception the CIA opened its account in Italy in 1948 and then there was no looking back.

Trapped in the relics of the Cold War, American Presidents openly and secretively authorised meddling operations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The motto had been: If a regime is left-wing, it has to go, but if it is a right-wing totalitarian tin pot dictatorship, we will make sure you stayed on.

The Iranians have not forgotten how the CIA and Britain’s MI-6 got rid of a duly elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, only to be duly replaced by the Shah Reza Pallavi, who dutifully danced to the tunes of Washington for 25 years until his overthrow by way of the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Or, you could ask the people of Vietnam how successive American Presidents cozied up to corrupt Generals and politicians of South Vietnam. Better still, ask the Filipinos who suffered through the years of Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, all with the help of Washington. Meddling in the elections of Philippines or looking for pliant leaders worldwide was indeed the rule of the game.

The American political spectrum is perhaps watching in horror and dismay that what goes around comes around! It may be physically difficult for any country to get involved in the U.S. electoral process with a view to changing the minds of voters, Republican or Democrat.

But sitting half way around the world, operatives are able to manipulate social media by posting literally anything they want to, and with minimal expenditure. Some in the American intelligence community may wish for a return of the good old days of the yesteryear operations, but many others are convinced that there is always a flip side to technology that even the mighty nations will have to be apprehensive about.

(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations.)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal.)

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