US intervention in the affairs of other nations comes back to haunt
Claims by special counsel Robert Mueller that Russia meddled in the presidential election via social media come as no surprise and a change in attitude is needed
Americans should not be surprised by US special counsel Robert Mueller’s allegation that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The claims have been swirling for more than a year and gathering pace despite fervent denials by President Donald Trump and attempts to shut down investigations.
The inquiry will continue and may yet include the leader himself, but whatever the charges laid and measures taken to prevent a repeat, that will not be the end of the matter.
That is because the United States has a decades-long record of intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries that spurs adversaries to follow the same bad example.
Mueller last week released a 37-page indictment naming 13 Russians and three Russian companies operated by a businessman with close links to the Kremlin. It amounts to a detailed charge sheet, providing names, places, bank transactions, social media posts and emails that cannot easily be dismissed.
The product of months of work by US investigators, it reveals a well-funded plan to prevent Hillary Clinton, disliked by Russian President Vladimir Putin, from entering the White House and offering support to her rivals, Trump among them. Facebook was used extensively to circulate information and communicate ideas.
Mueller does not believe the outcome of the election was much affected, although the investigation is continuing. No court has tested the findings, so they remain allegations.
They are in line with accusations in Europe in recent years that Russia used funding and social media to influence the outcomes of votes, mostly in central and eastern Europe, and damage the image of Western democracy. Putin and other Russian officials have denied such claims.
Trump remains at odds with some in his administration over how to respond. Facebook and Google, the main vehicles for the interference, are under fire for their role.
But lost in the discussion is the fact that the US has a history stretching back to the late 1940s of doing exactly what Russia is accused of.
Transparency through the regular declassification of documents has revealed electoral interference in many countries, Japan and Italy among them. Promoting US-style democracy to counter communism and autocratic regimes has generally been the aim.
With relations between the West and Russia at a low ebb, Moscow’s actions during the US election are perhaps understandable, although inexcusable. No nation should interfere in the domestic affairs of others. But preventing such efforts in a digital age of connectedness is near impossible, especially when free speech is at stake. That puts the onus on news publishers and social media users to be discerning and not blindly accept all that is read as fact.