National Security Strategy Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times
The annual Munich Security Conference is supposed to discuss the most important issues threatening world peace and to search for ways to stop current military conflicts and avoid future ones. This year, however, Munich was overshadowed by the indictment signed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller charging 13 Russian bloggers and three Russian firms for trying to disrupt the US presidential elections, to plant discord in American society, and ultimately to hijack American democracy.
On its face, it certainly looks like these fellows were up to no good on a number of counts although their connection to the Kremlin is not proven. But those who claim that a bunch of foreign trolls and bots (or perhaps click-bait scammers) could manipulate the conscience and behavior of the most powerful nation on earth either do not think too highly of the American people (remember Hillary’s definition of Trump supporters as deplorable?) or just want to use this indictment to divert public attention from their own misdeeds on a much large scale.
Indeed, the indictment points out what no one disputes: that whatever these Russians did, it had no impact on the election results.
While it’s unlikely this announcement was set to coincide with the Munich conference, it’s no accident it came out at a time of increased and painful scrutiny of the real collusion we know was taking place during the 2016 elections: inside the DNC and U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
In Russia, the number 13 is called the "devilish dozen” (chertova dyuzhina) and in the United States it is known as "baker’s dozen.” So when is Mr. Mueller going to get after this parallel group, which includes 11 Americans and two foreign nationals: John Podesta, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, James Comey, Bruce Ohr, Andrew McCabe, Rod Rosenstein (remember, he signed one of the FISA requests to spy on the Trump team), Christopher Steele, Andrew Wood (former British ambassador to Russia who peddled the Steele dossier), Loretta Lynch, Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama?
With these folks being sweated in the spotlight, the indictment was the perfect counterattack. "Pay no attention to our anti-constitutional conspiracy, look at these Russians!” And it’s working.
Let us be clear, foreign meddling in any country’s election process is inadmissible and the Russians must stop it. However, how does what they did compare to the kind of meddling the U.S. routinely and massively conducts in other countries, including Russia? And moreover, does so successfully, such as stealing the 1996 election for Boris Yeltsin, which at the time nobody much bothered to hide and was even applauded?
This is not even counting various "regime change” and "color revolution” operations around the world.
Of course, according to former CIA Director James Woolsey, as he recently commented to Laura Ingraham on Fox News, it’s fine when we do it:
Ingraham: "We don’t do that now though? We don’t mess around in other people’s elections?”
Woolsey: "Well … hhhmmm, nummnummnummnumm … only for a very good cause … in the interests of democracy”
Tell that to millions of "beneficiaries” of "democracy promotion” and "nation-building” missions in Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc., or to the thousands of American families whose loved ones were killed or physically or mentally crippled. Or to the American taxpayers whose trillions have been dumped down the drain How grateful should these people be?
What is relatively new in foreign meddling nowadays is the use of cyberwarfare and it was German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen who said during Munich conference that the greatest global threat today is in cyberspace. That means that it is the time that countries started cybersecurity negotiations similar to arms control talks.
In fact, last year Russia proposed that very thing to the United States, suggesting a bilateral agreement to define, verify, and counter cyberwarfare and political interference. Russia proposed an agreement to define and counter mutual interference. But the U.S. rejected the Russian proposal because the State Department said it would impede "democracy promotion.” They evidently agree with Mr. Woolsey that if the Russians or Chinese meddle it’s bad, but when we do it’s for a "good cause.”
In Munich, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is of the same mind. He also scoffed at any move to work with Russia on cybersecurity, saying "we would love to have a cyber dialogue when Russia is sincere about curtailing its sophisticated form of espionage.” But isn’t this a point to be raised during negotiations if you indeed want to make a fair deal?
Perhaps to some it’s all in good fun for the U.S. and Russia to square off in mutual recrimination. It isn’t. It’s deadly serious and dangerous. Not because of some absurd nonsense of "sowing discord” – as though there isn’t lots of that to go around in any country – but because the risk of war, probably inadvertent, is growing daily.
The sooner Washington and Moscow start serious negotiations in search of a dignified exit from this mega-crisis the better. Time is running out. The once "unthinkable” World War III is now becoming all too thinkable.
• Edward Lozansky is President of the American University in Moscow. He was one of the founding members of the Science and Engineering Committee for a Secure World to support President Reagan’s SDI program. He is the author of the bookOperation Elbe, which describes joint U.S.-Russia anti-terrorist efforts.