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Obama and Electiongate: Stockholm Syndrome?

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Like many of you, I was puzzled by Obama’s curiously passive response to Electiongate at his Friday press conference. While most Democrats, and even many Republicans, view Russia’s actions as a form of cyberwarfare—some have called it a digital Sept. 11—Obama’s message seemed to be: This sort of thing happens all the time. No big deal. Chill out.

The President refused to blame it directly on Putin, as his CIA and FBI have done. He refused to say it influenced the results of the election, as Hillary Clinton has charged (and most of us agree with her). Nor did Obama point the finger at James Comey, whom most of us believe violated the Hatch Act for partisan reasons. And while Obama had called, a week ago, for an investigation into Electiongate, during his televised news conference he appeared peculiarly listless: no outrage, no sense of alarm or perturbation. This was “No Drama Obama” at his coolest, but it demands an explanation. Why the lack of passion? Why is he underplaying Electiongate’s severity?

As I watched the news conference—which was delayed a good 20 minutes due, I think, to the breaking news that the FBI had signed on to the CIA’s analysis—I kept wondering when Obama would let loose and scream bloody murder. To no avail: he was relentlessly unemotional, speaking in a monotone, frequently pausing to “uhh,” and refusing to take any bait offered by a press corps that seemed as weirded out as I was by the President’s lack of affect. It was all very frustrating and puzzling to those of us who thought that here, at last, was an opportunity for Obama to come out swinging, hard—against Russia, against Comey, against Trump, against the lies and corruption that brought Hillary down and have tried to destroy him as well. And yet he refused to do so. It was almost like watching a victim of Stockholm Syndrome.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed Obama’s mealy-mouthed response to Electiongate. Yesterday’s New York Times, on the front page, called him “wary” and “cautious,” polite terms, I think, for irresolute. Saturday’s Wall Street Journal had an editorial, “Obama Goes Off the Clinton Script,” that noted, astonished, how Obama claimed “the emails stolen from John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee were ‘not some elaborate complicated espionage scheme.’” Calling the hacking and subsequent leaking “pretty routine stuff,” the most severe Obama could get was to declare that he would “take action” against Russia and Putin. But when? How? FDR didn’t wait until some future date to retaliate against the Japanese for Pearl Harbor. Will Obama release the evidence of wrongdoing on Russia’s part, which many Americans are asking for? Why is he—who has twice won the presidency—not going off the rails at how this recent election was, in effect, controlled by the Russians with, probably, inside knowledge of the Trump campaign? I mean, how bad does it have to get before the President shows some righteous anger?

So I’m scratching my head. Here we have Democrats, and tens of millions of people who voted for Hillary Clinton, outraged at Republicans; we know now that Donald Trump “won” the presidency illegitimately, we know we warned the country for months this was happening, and we are demanding that something be done about it. And here we have a President who, on Friday, live on T.V., could have and should have given articulate voice to our outrage. Obama could have been FDR speaking to Congress the day after Pearl Harbor, or JFK talking about Cuba to the American people, or George W. Bush on top of that car at Ground Zero, talking into the bullhorn. Obama could have been a President who rallied the people to a justified cause, in this acute, massive scandal. Instead, Obama chose, for his own reasons, to make it sound like he was talking about soybean subsidies.

The only explanation I can come up with—and it’s not a very satisfactory one—is that Obama feels personally responsible for a smooth transition to a Trump presidency, and is concerned about how he would look if, in his remaining month in office, he were seen as creating even more partisan divisiveness. This may be so—that theory fits in with what we know of his character, which is generally averse to confrontation. But I must say that, this time, Obama has let me down. Fortunately, he still has time to seize the moral high ground and come out swinging against what he well knows are dark, evil forces. He should remind himself—or be reminded—that his responsibility is not to ensure a smooth transition to an incompetent, mendacious incoming President, but to speak truth to History.

  1. And yet on Saturday Morning Edition on NPR there was reference to Obama’s “rant” at the Friday press conference–concerning the Russian hacking. As you describe, he was cautious and measured (perhaps to a fault). I have been very disappointed by NPR and PBS during this election cycle.

  2. I was disappointed by them as well, especially the normalization of trump.

  3. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

    “Historians are not sure where the saying originated, but it means that revenge is best served not fresh after the insult occurred, but after enough time has passed so that the target won’t see it coming.”

    [Source: Urban Dictionary online]

    Presidential candidate Trump derided the Obama administration for “telegraphing” that a battle was coming to oust ISIS — allowing their leaders to flee before an air and ground assault could commence.

    Well, Obama (stung by the criticism) may be saying little publicly about Russian hacking while doing a lot unannounced behind the scenes.

    That’s why they are called covert actions.

    Recall that Obama issued a very “cool” public announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

    We are still trying to establish guidelines on what constitutes an act of war when it comes to nation-states waging cyber attacks.

    Bibliography . . .

    Wall Street Journal “Main News” Section
    (May 31, 2011, Page Unknown):

    “Pentagon: Online Cyber Attacks Can Count as Acts of War”

    Link: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304563104576355623135782718

    By Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes
    Staff Reporters

    [Yes, from 2011 . . . not 2016. ~~ Bob]

    Wall Street Journal “Main News” Section
    (June 13, 2015, Page Unknown):

    “When Does a Hack Become an Act of War?”

    Link: http://www.wsj.com/articles/when-does-a-hack-become-an-act-of-war-1434189601

    By Damian Paletta
    Staff Reporter

    Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (May 8, 2016, Page Unknown):

    “Defining a Cyber Act of War”

    Link: http://www.wsj.com/articles/defining-a-cyber-act-of-war-1462738124

    By Mike Rounds
    [A Republican, is a U.S. senator from South Dakota]

  4. From the Associated Press:

    “Obama Retaliates Against Russia for Election Hacking”

    http://hosted2.ap.org/APDEFAULT/3d281c11a96b4ad082fe88aa0db04305/Article_2016-12-29-US–Election%20Hacking/id-d868ede8c6974ee0b435ccdec891ec6d

    Excerpt:

    In a sweeping response to election hacking and other bad behavior, President Barack Obama on Thursday sanctioned Russian intelligence services and their top officials, kicked out 35 Russian officials and shuttered two Russian-owned compounds in the U.S. It was the strongest action the Obama administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyberattack.

    “All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Obama said, adding, “Such activities have consequences.”

    In a bid to expose Moscow’s cyber aggression, the U.S. also released a detailed report about Russia’s hacking infrastructure that it said was designed to help computer specialists identify compromised systems and prevent more hacking. And Obama said more action was coming.

    “These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” Obama said in a statement released while he was vacationing in Hawaii. The U.S. has previously left open the possibility it could mount a COVERT retaliatory strike.”

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