Russian hack: Did Obama ‘choke’ on retaliation?
Early last August, an “intelligence bombshell” landed on then–President Obama’s desk, said Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, and Adam Entous in The Washington Post. Russian President Vladimir Putin had unleashed an unprecedented cyberattack “to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race,” the CIA said, and was seeking to “damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.” Faced with the political “crime of the century,” Obama secretly debated a number of bold retaliatory attacks, including a cyberassault on Russian infrastructure. Ultimately, though, he approved a modest package of sanctions after the election— dismaying some in his administration who believe he handed a victory to Putin and Trump. “We sort of choked,” said one former White House official. Obama’s inaction earned a taunting response this week from President Trump, who accused him of collusion. “The reason that President Obama did NOTHING,” tweeted Trump, “is that he expected Clinton would win.”
Has there ever been a weaker president than Barack Obama? said Tom Rogan in Washington Examiner.com. Debilitated by excessive caution, he failed to act when Russia invaded Crimea, and when Russian-backed separatists “shot down a passenger jet” over Ukraine. Then when Putin tried to inject chaos into the U.S. election by hacking the Democratic Party and spreading fake news, Obama again did nothing— allowing himself to be “out-escalated by the Russian leader.” Obama was certainly cautious, said William Saletan in Slate.com. But he had few good options. Can you “imagine the outrage” had he come out amid the bitterly divided contest between Clinton and Trump, and claimed the GOP’s nominee was a Russian stooge? It would have looked like he was “intervening in the election.”
A more forceful response by Obama certainly could have backfired, said Robert Schlesinger in USNews.com. But that doesn’t change the fact that Putin successfully undermined the integrity of our democracy while escaping “largely unscathed.” For that, though, there is “blame enough to go around.” Trump trolled Obama for his meager response, but he spent last year either encouraging the Russian hacking or labeling it “fake news.” And when Obama reached out to Republicans for a bipartisan condemnation of the cyberattack, they “balked.” For Putin, ou r own inept leaders were “the gifts that kept on giving,” said David French in NationalReview.com. Their partisanship and incompetence allowed a much weaker power to throw “the politics of the world’s most powerful nation into bitter chaos.” ■