Far from working to effectively counter the evolving Russian threat to American democracy, the United States has failed to come to terms with Moscow’s attacks on the 2016 presidential election, something American University Professor Alan Lichtman characterizes as the “biggest intelligence coup probably in the history of the world.”
He was one of three panelists to take part in an ICWA discussion in Washington on May 9, “Russia and the US: What next?” moderated by the institute’s executive director, Gregory Feifer. They agreed that social media and other new tools have greatly enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin to leverage Moscow’s weak hand.
“Russia has been unabashed in taking advantage of the United States to the point of essentially rigging an American election,” Lichtman said. “And there’s going to be a lot more to come out about that from the [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller investigation,” including Russian attempts to “undermine our democracy, turn Americans against one another and turn America against our allies.”
The US government has failed to learn the lessons, said Brookings Institution fellow Alina Polyakova. “Right now there’s not a coherent strategy or policy from the US administration to try to counter or respond to Russian misinformation attempts, the trolls and bots and other amplifiers online,” she said. More than that, “we’re not really looking ahead to try to predict some of the emerging threats that will come at us in the very very near term as technology advances,” including the use of artificial intelligence and automation.
Meanwhile, the debate over the Russian threat and investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia is turning a foreign policy issue into a major domestic political problem, said the veteran journalist Marvin Kalb, senior adviser to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Once staunchly anti-Communist, “the Republicans are pusilanimously in bed with the White House on conveying an impression that [Russian meddling] is simply probably not true, probably the work of fake media, probably a political stunt.” Now it’s the Democrats who are warning about the threat from the Kremlin.
“Where Russia sits is terribly important in the way legislation will get passed, in the way in which budgets will get passed, in the way the president will take a position on any number of foreign policy issues.”