What will Obama do about Russian hacking? Nothing

So what will Obama do about reports of alleged Russian hacking attempts to interfere in the US elections? In short, the most likely answer is that he will do nothing.

Of course, interference with the US election process would have been, at any other time in history, a cause for war. So any sitting US President must at least talk tough. But Obama does not have the time to mount anything like a measured response. And he is most likely to judge that it would serve nobody to lash out blindly.

This “measured approach” has been Obama’s hallmark modus operandi in foreign affairs. And indeed, it was just the approach he promised he would take while he was campaigning for office. After the years of misguided military adventurism under President Bush, the American people welcomed this kind of approach enthusiastically.

It is sad to say, however, that this approach has been as much a failure as the ‘bull in the china shop’ approach of Bush. In the early years, the new language from the Leader of the Free World was welcomed everywhere. The promised reset of policy in the Middle East sounded like just what the world needed. It was enough to win him the Nobel Peace Prize.

But vision is not enough. In the brutal and chaotic world of geopolitical struggles, one must be willing to put force behind one’s vision. Even, as it turns out, when that vision is a deeply humanitarian one whose primary aim is long term stability and peace.

America needs to overwhelm and cripple Russia’s hacker networks and get on the ground in Syria to effect a stable and lasting federalization

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

The red line

This truth was ultimately revealed during the early days of the Syrian civil war. The single-most notable error that Obama made during his entire administration was to draw a red line over the use of chemical weapons against civilians by Assad, and then to fail to intervene to enforce that red line when the regime finally crossed it.

An American President had promised war over a humanitarian crisis where most of the rest of the world would have agreed intervention was needed, and then he failed to deliver. For the first time perhaps since WW2, America would no longer be able to wield the credible threat of force as a diplomatic weapon.

This, combined with Obama’s ever-consuming concern about being drawn into the conflicts which undermined his predecessors, gave America’s rivals just the signal they were looking for: they could act with impunity in whatever they designated as their “spheres of interest”. America would not be drawn out. And the world has been a free-for-all ever since. Pax Americana crumbled.

Would it be worth to retaliate against an issue such as hacking at this point? By now it would be too little too late for Obama. It would be the strop of someone who knows has lost. A man of vision, ambition and intelligence yes.

But also a man who, for all his conviction that he is “on the right side of history”, has been repudiated by world events, and repudiated by American democracy. The incoming President is the opposite of everything he has stood for.

Nevertheless, a retaliation is necessary. America needs to reassert itself on the world stage, and it needs, more than anything else, signal that when it threatens reprisals it means business. It needs to overwhelm and cripple Russia’s hacker networks and get on the ground in Syria to effect a stable and lasting federalisation.

Telling Putin to “cut it out” won’t do anything. Forcing Putin to back down will. Shame that America has just elected an ill-suited person for the job: a ‘tough-talking’ reality TV star who, by all accounts, loves Putin more than he loves democracy and the institutions who put him in the chair of the most powerful man on Earth.
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Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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