While both the Obama and Bush administrations failed to successfully address the Russian intelligence based attacks due to a focus after 9/11 on terrorism, President Obama took a huge step when he called Russian President Putin on the “Red Phone” and said any interference in the election would be seen as “armed conflict”, MSNBC analyst, author of How to Catch a Russian Spy and former double agent Naveed Jamali told Sarah Jones of PoliticusUSA in an exclusive interview.
Threatening armed conflict was the only way to stop Russia, and Obama did this. Faced with such a threat, Jamali says Russia would not want to risk the consequences by interfering in our election by changing votes.
“International law, including the law for armed conflict, applies to actions in cyberspace,” was part of the message Obama said to Putin over the Red Phone on Oct. 31, 2016, according to a senior official at the time. “We will hold Russia to those standards.”
Pointing out that we don’t know exactly what Obama said but the readout included the term “grave” and that he called them on the Red Phone — “a pretty serious thing,” Jamali said.
“It was a very clear message to the Russians and I think they listened. I really do. I think they wouldn’t be crazy not to. And people forget that… President Obama was still in office until January 20th, so it’s not like Trump won the election and Obama left the next day.”
“So the Russians knew that he was going to be looking at things. A lame duck president is always a dangerous time. But I do believe that if President Obama had detected that the Russians had done something, there would have been a very serious consequence. I don’t think he would have just sat back and done nothing.”
“So again, think of it as from a Russian perspective. President Obama calls Vladimir Putin and said, if you do this, we’re going to, we could, we make it as an act of war, right? If Russia wants that, they’re not going to do some piddly thing like messing with our election. That’s the least of their concerns. They’ve got nuclear weapons if they want to go to war with us.”
President Obama threatening them is the bigger deal, with the bigger impact, Jamali said.
So that’s another reason to trust that the Russians did not change votes or attack our election systems in a way that would have invited armed conflict.
“The reality is that… President Obama threatening Russia directly, these are things that actually have a much better impact.”
The Red Phone is used in grave moments of crisis, like 9/11. The mere use of it by a President as careful and prepared as Obama conveys a seriousness. Obama had not used the phone before, officials told NBC News at the time.
Jamali, who has insider knowledge regarding the psychological motivators of Vladimir Putin, explained that the Russians have felt humiliated since the fall of the Soviet Union, and desperately want to be a super power. Their goal is to make us question our elections, not actually invite war. If they wanted war, they’ve got nuclear weapons.
All they have to do on election night is get us to question our results, and this fuels their success. This is a much better bet for them than risking serious repercussions of attacking us directly and engaging in armed conflict.
The problem is Vladimir Putin.
“In order for Russia to be a superpower, they have to confront the United States, they have to do all these things so that they can be treated with respect and fear. That’s his (Putin‘s) ideology. And as long as he’s in power, that ideology is not going to change. So that’s the problem,” Jamali said.
The Russians attacked our election to instill fear in us, like a playground bully. Our weakness is that “a priority was not placed on counterintelligence, on the Russian threat writ large.”
When Republicans try to blame Obama for allowing Donald Trump to conspire with Russia, it’s a desperate ploy to distract from the fact that trump and his campaign took the Kremlin bait of offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. This is no one’s fault but their own.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.