Election meddling has become the new normal of US diplomacy

Election meddling has become the new normal of US diplomacy
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Foreign interference may well now be a permanent feature of elections in the United States. With a wink, a nod (“Russia, if you’re listening…”) — and maybe more — from Donald Trump in 2016, Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties We have now reached a code red moment in American democracy Jane Harman: NATO must use its brain cells to battle these threats MORE ordered the release of emails with damaging information about Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats battle for Hollywood's cash The House Judiciary Committee's fundamental choice Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE, the targeting of the election infrastructure in all 50 states, and a sweeping and systemic social media disinformation campaign. In 2019, President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE told George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosImpeachment can't wait Biden reverses, says marijuana isn't a gateway drug Democrats look to next steps in impeachment MORE of ABC News that if he were offered dirt from another country on a Democratic rival, “I think I’d take it … You don’t call the FBI … give me a break – life doesn’t work that way.” Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told CNN “there’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.”

In stark contrast to the president who appointed them and to Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden: 'No party should have too much power' Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills MORE (R-Ky.), who has refused to allow the U.S. Senate to vote on legislation designed to protect the integrity of elections, FBI director Christopher Wray and former Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE have warned that Russia is locked and loaded for the 2020 presidential campaign. And, it now appears likely that President Trump has pressured the leader of Ukraine to supply him with damaging information about Joe BidenJoe BidenPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump Warren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Trump: Giuliani to deliver report on Ukraine trip to Congress, Barr MORE, the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Less well-noticed is President Trump’s flouting of the diplomatic norm, observed by all of his predecessors, barring foreign leaders from meddling in the internal politics of other countries. Trump frequently criticized British Prime Minister Theresa MayTheresa Mary MayBoris Johnson is under pressure to stand up to Trump on climate change Report: Trump UK ambassador fired deputy for mentioning Obama in speech The US needs a Secretary of Loneliness MORE, for example, for “doing a very bad job with Brexit. It’s a disaster and it shouldn’t be that way.” During a state visit (and much to the embarrassment of Queen Elizabeth as well as May), he met with several Conservative party Brexiteer “friends” during the “executive time” carved out for him, and turned down Jeremy Corbyn’s request for a sitdown, dismissing the leader of the Labour Party as a “negative force.” Trump subsequently supported the candidacy of Boris Johnson to replace May in Number 10 Downing Street. “I think we’re going to have a great relationship,” he predicted. “I think Boris will straighten [Brexit] out.”


President Trump also played a “starring role” in the re-election campaign of Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE, Israel’s prime minister. Reversing decades of American policy, and without consulting Congress, Trump announced in March (two months before what proved to be an inconclusive election) that the United States would recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the strip of land seized by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War. The decision, according to Jonathan Rynhold, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, was “a clear intervention in the Israeli electoral process.” When Netanyahu declared that his government would soon put Jewish settlements in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty as well, the Trump administration declined to comment.

And on Sept. 14, just days before another election in which Netanyahu, who has been charged with corruption, was running neck-and-neck with the centrist Blue and White party led by former chief of Israel’s armed forces Benny Ganz, Trump indicated he had discussed with the prime minister the possibility of a Mutual Defense Treaty “to further anchor the tremendous alliance between our two countries.” In an interview on Israeli TV Netanyahu declared “I’m going to get us a defense pact that will provide us with security for centuries but for that I need your votes.”

The downside of meddling in elections in other countries in such blatant ways should be obvious. It is disrespectful. By conflating the personal preferences or political interests of a leader with those of his or her people, it invites corrupt bargains. It can be counterproductive (especially if the “other” candidate wins). It invites leaders of other countries to put their thumbs on the scale as well. Most important, meddling is an affront to the integrity and autonomy of national elections, the essential feature of democracies.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of Rude Republic:  Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.