27 May 2018

The U.S. also has a history of meddling in foreign elections


On June 12, 1987, Pres. Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate separating East and West Berlin. In a memorable speech, he said to the leader of the Soviet Union, "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"  In the years to follow, the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union began to thaw. Gorbachev's program of "perestroika" ("restructuring") and "glasnost" ("reform") led to democratic reforms and improved relations with the West. Communist governments were swept out of Eastern Europe and in November 1989, the Berlin Wall finally came down.

Gorbachev's reform agenda destabilized Communist control and was met with resistance by the Soviet Union's hard-line Communist elite. As the Soviet Union began to dissolve, an anti-establishment figure named Boris Yeltsin, who supported democratization and economic reforms, rose to prominence. In June 1991, he was elected as the first President of the Russian Federation.

On Christmas Day 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned his post as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Soviet hammer and sickle flag was lowered over the Kremlin for the last time and replaced by the Russian flag. Boris Yeltsin was now in power.

The 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has brought Russian election interference to the forefront of debate. Russian cyber attacks, fake social media news stories, and an organized propaganda campaign were implemented in an effort to divide our nation's citizens and create discord. Many would suggest the Russian plan succeeded.

Americans disturbed by Russian election meddling should understand that the U.S. itself has a long history of interfering in other nation's elections - including Russia's. Dov Levin, a researcher with the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, created a historical database that tracks U.S. involvement in foreign elections. According to Levin, the U.S. meddled in other nation's elections more than 80 times worldwide between 1946 and 2000. Examples include Italy in 1948; Haiti in 1986; Nicaragua and Czechoslovakia in 1990; and Serbia in 2000.

A more recent example of U.S. election interference occurred in Israel in 2015. A Washington Post report in 2016 revealed U.S. taxpayer dollars were used in an effort to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to a bipartisan report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), $350,000 in grants from the U.S. State Department were used "to build valuable political infrastructure—large voter contact lists, a professionally trained network of grassroots organizers/activists, and an impressive social media platform" not only to support peace negotiations, but to launch a large anti-Netanyahu grassroots organizing campaign.

Through the years, the U.S. has also gone so far as to fund the election campaigns of specific parties; make public announcements in favor of the candidates they support; and threaten to withhold foreign aid should voters favor opposition candidates.

During the Cold War, the U.S. produced propaganda designed to discredit the Soviet Union and its communist ideology. In addition, the FBI solicited journalists to write fake news stories discrediting the Communist state.

In 1996, Boris Yeltsin was running for re-election against Gennady Zyuganov, a hard-line member of the Russian Communist Party who called for a return to socialism. Zyuganov was a leading critic of Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost, and blamed Western capitalists for the dismantling of the Soviet Union.

In an effort to prop up Russia's failing economy and support the election campaign of Boris Yeltsin, President Bill Clinton endorsed a $10.2-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund linked to privatization, trade liberalization and other measures aimed to push Russia toward a capitalist economy. To bolster his popular support, Yeltsin used the money, in part, for social spending before the election, including payment of back wages and pensions.

On December 31, 1999, Boris Yeltsin resigned as Russia's president. His successor was a former Soviet KGB officer and then-Prime Minister well versed in U.S. election meddling. His name? Vladimir Putin.

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