To cap off one of the most unusual years in American political history, the Obama administration announced Thursday that they were imposing sanctions on Russian agencies and individuals believed to have hacked into the Democratic National Committee and other political servers.
Though top Obama officials – including the president himself – have said that part of the American response to the hacks would remain covert and unpublicized, few believe that these sanctions will do much to deter Russia from further meddling.
All the same, they are one of the U.S.’s strongest responses – if not the strongest – to cyberwarfare in the digital age. And lest there be any confusion, Russia was not the only target audience.
From the NY Times:
The sanctions were also intended to box in President-elect Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump has consistently cast doubt that the Russian government had anything to do with the hacking of the D.N.C. or other political institutions, saying American intelligence agencies could not be trusted and suggesting that the hacking could have been the work of a “400-pound guy” lying in his bed.
Mr. Trump will now have to decide whether to lift the sanctions on the Russian intelligence agencies when he takes office next month, with Republicans in Congress among those calling for a public investigation into Russia’s actions. Should Mr. Trump do so, it would require him to effectively reject the findings of his intelligence agencies.
Judging by Trump’s reaction to the hacks thus far, it’s hard to imagine that he will stand by any punitive action taken by the Obama administration. On Wednesday, when asked about the impending sanctions, Trump was not terribly enthusiastic.
“I think we ought to get on with our lives,” he said. “I think that computers have complicated our lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind of security we need.”
It’s clear that even now, Trump has his doubts about the Russian government’s involvement in this episode. In the broader picture, though, the Kremlin’s interference – to the extent that it exists – is standing in the way of Trump’s ultimate goal, which is to pursue normalized relations with Russia. At his core, Trump is a pragmatist. He knows we can play the sanctions game until the universe collapses or we can start mending fences and moving forward.
Alas, until January 20th, Obama still has the ball.