by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Here is what the Democratic establishment seems to think: This time Vladimir Putin has gone too far. He has dared to publish secrets from the Democratic Party’s inner sanctum that are designed to put a Republican in the White House. Judging from the administration’s swift reaction, Obama thinks that Putin’s affront is worse than all others. It cannot go unrecognized and unpunished.
Vladimir Putin has invaded Georgia, annexed Crimea and redrawn European boundaries by force, caused 10,000 war deaths in eastern Ukraine, shot down MH17, pumped secret money into right and left-wing parties in Europe, and bombed relief convoys in Aleppo. He has suffered few consequences for his international outlawry because the West plays along with his game of plausible deniability. In each of the above, Putin has kicked up dust, blown smoke, issued denials, run 24/7 propaganda, and falsified evidence to create enough uncertainty to give the West (welcome) excuses to avoid taking action. Western leaders pretend they are not certain whether there are Russian troops in Ukraine, whether the people of Crimea, even Crimea’s Tartars, welcome forced incorporation into Russia, whether Russian planes deliberately bombed relief columns in Syria, and whether perhaps a Ukrainian fighter downed MH17. We even give Russia a role as peacemaker at the Minsk negotiations even though it is calling the war shots in east Ukraine.
When the West’s patience periodically exhausts itself, it imposes some toothless sanctions and then begins to talk about lifting them, or, horror of horrors, threatens not to engage in diplomatic talks with Russia. The US government has yet to use the word “lie” to describe Putin’s denials. Instead, we bemoan what we call his false claims. If we say “lie” he might get upset and do something even worse. What can we do? After all, he denies everything, he represents a sovereign power, and we really don’t have proof beyond a shadow of doubt. Moreover, Putin has his own apologists in the West who claim he is simply defending himself against the world’s number one enemy, the United States. Many on the Left agree with this view of their country.
The cyber-attacks that seem directed at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party, and Clinton’s inner circle have changed the US administration’s reaction to Putin’s “plausible deniability” routine.