Yesterday I overheard a long NPR segment on Russia’s digital interference in US politics. This was a few hours after I read an article about how a state department employee was seen meeting with leadership of the Hong Kong protests. I feel like a broken record, but we consistently and constantly interfere in the domestic politics of other nations. It’s who we are. Yet we maintain the expectation that no one should do the same to us.
It really doesn’t matter whether I’m in agreement with the Hong Kong protestors or the the government in Beijing. I can disagree strongly with the religious government of Iran, but when the US government is openly aiding a protest movement against it, the calculus changes. As a nation we can interfere to advance our goals or we can interfere to protect freedom in the case of corrupt dictatorial regimes. And we have to accept those definitions are subjective to some degree. Regardless, there are costs for our actions no matter the purity of our intentions.
Those costs will most commonly be born out by other nations interfering in our domestic politics to advance their own interests. Maybe we were relatively immune in the pre-social media and digital world … but that’s not the world we live in anymore. I’m consistently surprised at well-informed Americans not seeing the connection, or if they do believing that it’s somehow different. Don’t be surprised that US political factions are happy to get Russian assistance and will fight efforts to stop it. We’ve relied on political factions in other countries being happy to have our interfering assistance. Our games wouldn’t work if people in those countries weren’t happy to have us to further their own political goals.
Remember, the political world we’re inhabiting today is the one we’ve made for a great many other nations. That doesn’t make it ok. It merely indicates that if we want something different we’ll need to treat the disease rather than individual symptoms.