Public discourse today is obsessed with the question of Russia’s alleged electoral meddling in the presidential campaign of 2016. The House Intelligence Committee has just concluded that there was no such meddling, while the equivalent committee in the Senate has determined that there was.
In any case, in an international system where every country enjoys full authority over its own governance, such meddling is an unacceptable breach of its sovereignty — and the Russians are to be rightly condemned.
Sadly, however, the international system of today is no longer one of independent sovereign states. Rather, it has become one of “complex interdependence.”
In such a system, the action of each country affects and influences the actions and responses of others. Plainly, this means that everyone’s business is everyone else’s. Interdependent countries will always find reasons to meddle in the affairs and elections of other countries in order to protect and promote their own interests.
Indeed, in a previous writing, I went so far as to say that in an interdependent system, “no one is allowed to have a civil war in peace.” At a minimum, the internal decisions of one country, such as critical elections, triggering the external meddling of another into these elections has almost become a norm — however condemnable.
The long history of the Soviet Union/Russia in such meddling provides a powerful illustration. As far back as 1919, just after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Communist International (called the Comintern) set up communist political parties throughout the world to overthrow the ruling governments of the international system.
One such attempt orchestrated by local communist and leftist forces supported by the Comintern in Moscow was the bloody Mexican Student Movement of 1968. The Mexican government prevailed, but only after sending the army into the National University of Mexico City.
The German Bundestag (legislature) elections of 1983 witnessed a determined Russian attempt to defeat the Christian Democratic Party and its plan to deploy American Pershing II missiles directed against the Soviet Union. It barely failed, and the missiles were deployed.
More recently, in the Orange Revolution of the Ukraine, the Russian interference to reverse the pro-Western results of the elections of 2004-05 and again in 2010 is well documented. Russia paid for fully half the campaign expenditures of the pro-Russian party, and Russian agents even are believed to be responsible for throwing acid in the face of the pro-Western presidential candidate. Though disfigured, he won anyway.
Though not as extreme, the United States has its own history of meddling. The most celebrated case was in 1948. In that year, Italy and France faced national elections.
At stake was whether U.S. Marshall Plan wheat could sway voters away from the communist exploitation of the post-World War II European wartime devastation and impoverishment.
When the ships arrived, communist stevedores refused to unload the wheat. In response, the newly formed CIA hired Mafia thugs “to change their minds.” With the wheat quickly distributed, pro-American parties prevailed in these elections. These elections paved the way for the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) the next year. NATO has been the anchor to American foreign policy ever since.
A little less nobly, in 1953, the United States and England meddled in Iran by overthrowing its duly elected president who committed the sin of nationalizing Western oil companies. Less successfully, Washington long has funded India’s pro-American and pro-business Swatantra (Freedom) Party that has never won a national election.
More recently in 2014, with the war in Iraq against ISIS going badly, Washington colluded with domestic Iraqi and foreign groups to pressure Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to resign in favor of Haider al-Abadi, even though Maliki had just beaten Abadi in national elections. The outcome here was the defeat of ISIS.
All of this is to say that, however unsavory, electoral meddling has become endemic to the interdependent international politics of today.
In the Gospel of John, a group of religious leaders brought a woman to Jesus who had been convicted of adultery to see if He would endorse the prescribed punishment of stoning. In regarding the fallen woman and her accusers, Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” One-by-one, the accusers silently left.
As in adultery, so in electoral meddling, no Russians — or Americans of any partisan stripe — should be picking up any stones.