Russia has already won in the US presidential election
Whoever prevails in the vote, Russia and Putin have already carved unprecedented influence and clout inside the American political landscape
Whoever prevails next Tuesday in the US presidential vote, Russia and its President Vladimir Putin have already carved unprecedented influence and clout inside the American political landscape that will go well beyond this one election.
With the latest revelations that the server of the Republican nominee Donald Trump was communicating with a Russian bank and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) looking into his ex-Manager Paul Manafort’s ties to Moscow, the Kremlin shadow will be one of the major hallmarks remembered of this campaign regardless of the fate of Trump’s candidacy.
Coming on the heels of the recent quarreling between the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the FBI director James Comey, and the continued Wikileaks dump of the Democrats’ hacked emails, Putin has every reason to be ecstatic about this election.
Not in Putin’s wildest dreams would the former KGB operative have envisioned a US candidate amplifying his propaganda, while questions are being raised about the independence and legitimacy of institutions that are at the heart of American democracy.
If you had somewhat just returned from a two and a half decades’ exile with zero access to the news, and turned on the TV and listened to Trump, you could fall under the impression that Russia has won the Cold War.
Trump’s rhetoric from day one has been complimenting, defending and justifying Putin’s actions, and at times putting him at a higher standard of leadership than US President Barack Obama. His embrace of “rigged election” slogans, and accusation that “Obama founded ISIS” sound like a carbon copy of headlines in Russian propaganda outlets.
Not in Putin’s wildest dreams would the former KGB operative have envisioned a US candidate amplifying his propaganda, while questions are being raised about the independence and legitimacy of institutions that are at the heart of American democracyJoyce Karam
Even when Russia was accused by 17 US intelligence agencies of hacking the DNC servers, Trump refused to blame Moscow, joking that it “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
The connection grows deeper as the US intelligence investigates Trump’s adviser Carter Page as well as Manafort for their ties to the Kremlin. These connections have not stopped at electoral politics, with Trump forcing policy adjustments to the Republican platform before he was nominated.
The GOP platform was gutted from any anti-Russia stance on Ukraine ahead of the convention, hours before Trump backtracked on a major commitment to NATO refraining from defending Eastern European allies if they were to face Russian aggression.
A bet on polarization
The slanderous, vicious and polarizing nature of this US Presidential campaign has also been a gift that keeps on giving to Russia and the Kremlin.
The current split between the FBI and the Justice Department over Comey’s letter examining Huma Abedin emails, and the sparring between him and the Clinton campaign could further undermine confidence in US institutions. These divisions and doubts will unlikely go away whoever wins on November 8th, making the mission of unifying the country a priority and a challenge for the next president.
Absent of a landslide for one of the candidates on voting day, however, a limited electorate mandate will only complicate the job of bringing America together. If Trump wins, Russia would have landed itself a chance at complete policy realignment with the US at the expense of NATO.
But even if Trump loses, the rumors about the possibility of launching a “Trump TV”, will mean that Russia at the very least will have a friendly outlet in the United States. There are also reports of Trump possibly running again in 2020, which implies he will remain a force in US politics after the vote.
The extreme rhetoric and divisive forces that 2016 has unleashed will not go away whether Trump wins or loses, and they will remain a useful tool for Russia to meddle in American politics.
For now, Putin has every reason to smile big at the US Presidential race and perhaps wishing it never ends. Russia has already won, thanks to a rhetoric that has bolstered his policies, undermined US institutions and could grant him long-term influence within American politics.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on US policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam