Over the weekend the news stories began to appear: the Russians, through selected release of Clinton-damaging documents, but not their Trump-damaging counterparts, tipped the scales of the November election, and in effect got Trump elected. The themes of the articles I’ve read are similar: look at the circumstantial evidence, and besides, it’s what the Russians wanted.
That the Russians hacked and selectively released documents embarrassing to the Clinton campaign now seems well-established. But as for the Russians’ intent, I see nothing in publically-available information to suggest that Russia tried to alter the election outcome, even if they could have done so.
The history of the Russian intelligence services is clear enough: they are ruthless and tough – but also practical. Russian intelligence was apparently convinced that Clinton would win, so why waste time trying to change that? Trying to get Trump elected would really have been a wild throw. On the other hand, distracting a Clinton administration with varied embarrassments could weaken a US government and its foreign policy – something both achievable and useful for an adversary.
In addition the Russians, from long experience with the autocratically-inclined, might very well have eyed Trump more clearly than we did in the US: as random, isolationist, besotted with the military, emotionally insecure, and heedless of existing conventions. Instead of being desirable, might a meta-stable Trump regime represent what Russia’s government, with its deep-seated conservatism and suspicion of the West, fears most? It’s hard for us to be certain, of course. Still, the notion that Russia sought to weaken an expected Clinton administration seems at least as plausible, and perhaps moreso, than the idea they sought to anoint Trump as the US president.
The stakes are significant, and the information seems incomplete. This being an analytics blog, may I just say it: now would be an excellent time to not jump to conclusions.