Friday, June 23, 2017

Obama's Legacy: He Didn't Do Enough to Prevent America 2.0

"So, I hate to put a little pressure on you but the fate of the Republic rests on your shoulders. The fate of the world is teetering." -November 2, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

No sir. It rested on your shoulders and you didn't do enough.

He knew. The fate of the Republic, and of the world, hung in the balance. And yet, even at that late date, even after Comey's October surprise probably resulted in America 2.0, when he spoke those true words he did so in a casual way that his young auditors took as overstated for effect, humorous. Look at their faces. Every one of them is smiling, most broadly. He was not joking but his manner and delivery belied the alarming truth of his words.

He knew. He had known three months before:

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.
The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report’s distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid.
In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement.

But other administration officials look back on the Russia period with remorse.

“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” said a former senior Obama administration official involved in White House deliberations on Russia. “I feel like we sort of choked.”
The Washington Post is withholding some details of the intelligence at the request of the U.S. government.
Officials described the president’s reaction as grave.

Then why did he not speak with grave tone? Not on November 2, back in August or September or October? Even an idiot blogger urged a JFK Cuban Missile Crisis type address to the American people. More importantly, Oh my God how much more importantly, why did he not ACT with a gravity that matched his reaction?

"Don't Do Stupid Shit"

Throughout his presidency, Obama’s approach to national security challenges was deliberate and cautious...Obama’s approach often seemed reducible to a single imperative: Don’t make things worse. As brazen as the Russian attacks on the election seemed, Obama and his top advisers feared that things could get far worse.

They were concerned that any pre-election response could provoke an escalation from Putin...

It was paralysis by analysis. You have to consider the reaction but you can talk a thing to death! You. Must. Act. He. Did. Not.

They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. 

So they did nothing. Nothing but worry. 

By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.

“Our primary interest in August, September and October was to prevent them from doing the max they could do,” said a senior administration official. “We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures.”

The election was rigged, for Trump. And they knew it. "Hey, the Russians are rigging the election. What should we do to unrig it? Let's wait until after the election." WAIT. WHAT. With "the fate of the republic" on their shoulders, they "made the judgment" to wait until that fate was sealed. (!)

When U.S. spy agencies reached unanimous agreement in late September that the interference was a Russian operation directed by Putin, Obama directed spy chiefs to prepare a public statement summarizing the intelligence in broad strokes.

With Obama still determined to avoid any appearance of politics, the statement would not carry his signature.

To some, [Here!] Obama’s determination to avoid politicizing the Russia issue had the opposite effect: It meant that he allowed politics to shape his administration’s response to what some believed should have been treated purely as a national security threat. 

Right? Here was an unfamiliar attack by a hostile power directly at the heart of America and the Obama administration first was too dull to recognize its scope:

"...the Russians were playing this much bigger game, which included elements like released hacked materials, political propaganda and propagating fake news...We weren’t able to put all of those pieces together in real time..." [Ben Rhodes] 

And then they were too fearful of repercussions if they acted. 

...the principals and their deputies had by late September all but ruled out any pre-election retaliation against Moscow. They feared that any action would be seen as political and that Putin, motivated by a seething resentment of Clinton, was prepared to go beyond fake news and email dumps.

Not on our shoulders! Obama, his "principals and their deputies" put the fate of the republic on voters' shoulders. Incredible!

The White House also worried that they had not yet seen the worst of Russia’s campaign. WikiLeaks and DCLeaks, a website set up in June 2016 by hackers believed to be Russian operatives, already had troves of emails. But U.S. officials feared that Russia had more explosive material or was willing to fabricate it.

Look at that: the number of times, just in these excerpts so far, that Obama fretfulness is cited. "Worried" (2 xs);"feared" (3xs); "choked"; "concerned". 

Instead, the administration issued a series of warnings...Obama confronted Putin directly during a meeting of world leaders in Hangzhou, China. Accompanied only by interpreters, Obama told Putin that “we knew what he was doing and [he] better stop or else,” 

Or else. I see.

Election Day arrived without penalty for Moscow.
“The White House was mortified and shocked,” said a former administration official. “From national security people there was a sense of immediate introspection, of, ‘Wow, did we mishandle this.’ ”

They got that right.
Obama’s darkened mood... In mid-December, as Cabinet members took turns citing drawbacks to various proposals for retaliating against Russia...

Astonishing. I loved Barack Obama. His legacy will be that he was the last American president, however. The fate of the republic was on his shoulders and he shirked it.