EDITORIAL: Donald Trump in his own cold war
President-elect Trump’s tweeted plan to revamp the intelligence structures in the wake of the election hacking revelations in the US may backfire
It is almost inconceivable that US President Barack Obama would expel 35 Russian diplomats without having solid intelligence to support his actions, particularly so with less than a month left in office and his legacy at stake.
So why did president-elect Donald Trump so rapidly take to Twitter to defend Russian President Vladimir Putin and the creator of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange? Trump’s claim was that the US intelligence community had no evidence of the Russians hacking into the computers of the Democratic Party to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the election.
But the intelligence community insists that the Russians did mount a cyberattack to improve Trump’s chances of getting elected and that this must have come from Putin himself.
We are all well aware by now that Trump is a great tweeter. Indeed, his use of Twitter has caused outgoing Vice-President Joe Biden to advise him to "grow up" and the Chinese media to advise that foreign policy is not a teenage toy.
The Russians have been remarkably restrained in their response to Obama’s move. After initially threatening to respond in kind and to send a similar number of US diplomats packing, Putin, who has a reputation for belligerence, has remained relatively silent on the matter.
Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results. Voting machines not touched!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 7, 2017
The Russians have, of course, reminded the world that there have been some spectacular failures of US intelligence, not least the mistaken conclusion that then Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. As we now know, this triggered the invasion of Iraq, and many lives and billions of dollars later, no weapons of mass destruction have been found.
After a briefing by the intelligence community, Trump again insisted on Twitter that there was no clear evidence that the Russian attack, if it happened at all, affected the election in any way. He said there was no evidence of interference with voting machines — but this fails to consider the reputational damage that the hacking might have caused to the Clinton campaign.
Trump has also tweeted that he plans to revamp the intelligence structures in the US. However, he cannot fire all its chiefs and taking them on in such a public way may prove to be a serious mistake.
He has demonstrated his loathing for the Democrats by ruling that all political diplomatic appointments made by Obama will be recalled with immediate effect once he takes office. The normal convention is that these diplomats would be given weeks if not months to get their affairs in order. A little vindictive, perhaps?
The legitimacy of Trump’s election victory has already taken a few hits. Like another Republican president, George W Bush, Trump lost the popular vote, but won a landslide in the electoral college to become the next president.
Now, in what appears to be a desperate attempt to save his presidency from suggestions that the hacking could have had a significant effect on the outcome of November’s poll, Trump has taken on the might of, among others, the National Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
He also appears to have underestimated the rage felt by Americans over any perceived interference in a US election by the Russians.
In public hearings on the hacking allegations in the Senate defence committee for intelligence, Republican and Democratic senators alike expressed their anger and dismay and Trump did not feature all that well.
It seems that before taking office, Trump has made significant enemies who have the ability to outlast him. It is going to be a long, cold four years, with even some of his Republican colleagues taking issue with him.