Donald Trump’s Appeal to Russia Shocks Foreign Policy Experts

Donald Trump’s Appeal to Russia Shocks Foreign Policy Experts

Horndiplomat-WASHINGTON — After all the ways that this year’s presidential election has made history, Donald J. Trumpfound a new line to cross on Wednesday, when he said at a news conference that Russia should hack his opponent,Hillary Clinton.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said, in reference to the private email server Mrs. Clinton used while she was secretary of state. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

There is simply no precedent for this: A presidential candidate publicly appealing to a foreign adversary to intervene in the election on his behalf.

“This is unprecedented — it is one of those things that seems to be genuinely new in international relations,” said Paul Musgrave, a University of Massachusetts professor who studies American foreign policy.

After a long pause, Mr. Musgrave added, “Being shocked into speechlessness is not the sort of thing you’re really used to in the business of foreign policy analysis.”

As part of an investigation into her private server, Mrs. Clinton handed over 30,000 emails to the State Department. But she deleted a similar number of emails that she said were unrelated to her work at the department.

American presidential elections are high-stakes events. Russia would not be the first foreign power, friendly or hostile, to pursue its preferred outcome. Nor would Mr. Trump be the first politician to leverage foreign actors for electoral benefit.

But this is the first time that a presidential candidate has openly asked a foreign power to meddle in the democratic process to his benefit. More than that, Mr. Trump seemed to be suggesting that Russia should violate United States law on his behalf.


President Ronald Reagan presenting Bruce Laingen, a former hostage in Iran, with an American flag during ceremonies on the South Lawn of the White House in 1981.CreditBettmann

Were Russia to follow Mr. Trump’s suggestion, the foreign intervention into American politics would be among the most severe of the past century.

In 1940, as the United States debated whether to enterWorld War II, British spies disseminated rumors to discredit prominent American isolationists and worked to promote politicians who favored intervention.

When President Jimmy Carter ran for re-election in 1980, he lost in part because he had failed to secure the freedom of 52 American hostages held in Iran. They were released on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. Iranian negotiators later told the journalist Mark Bowden that they had stalled to deliberately hurt Mr. Carter, as punishment for his having sheltered the former Iranian shah.

Nations pursue their interests, whether other countries like it or not. Great powers in particular, including the United States, often meddle in foreign elections.

But such operations are conducted in secret because they are hostile acts, meant to subvert the will of the targeted country’s population and the sanctity of its institutions. Mr. Trump, in openly inviting such foreign interference, was undercutting one of the most fundamental national interests of a democratic state.

“Nobody ever — and I think I can be confident about this — nobody ever stood up at a podium and said, ‘Bring it on,’” said Jeremy Shapiro, a Brookings Institution scholar of foreign policy, referring to Mr. Trump’s invitation for a foreign power to meddle in his own country’s politics.

Though rare, previous American politicians have looked abroad for help with votes at home.

In 1968, as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration tried to broker peace talks in Vietnam, a Republican activist encouraged South Vietnamese officials to resist the talks, which they did. The activist, who represented herself as speaking for the Republican presidential candidate, Richard M. Nixon, said Mr. Nixon would get South Vietnam a better deal. According to documents that were later declassified, a South Vietnamese official was recorded as saying that his government had refused to participate in the talks as a way “to help Nixon.”

More recently, in 2012, the Republican presidential challenger, Mitt Romney, cultivated ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. While Mr. Netanyahu did not explicitly endorse Mr. Romney, he frequently voiced his acute dissatisfaction with President Obama in comments to the American news media.


Following the Trail of Stolen Emails From Russia to WikiLeaks

American officials have “high confidence” that Russia was behind the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee.


Three years later, as Mr. Obama tried to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, congressional Republicans invited Mr. Netanyahuto condemn the proposed accord in a speech to Congress.

While this arguably violated the norms of foreign policy by circumventing the White House on a matter of foreign relations, and by inviting an ally to intervene against the president in a domestic political dispute, Mr. Trump went a large step further in soliciting an adversary, and encouraging it to violate United States law on his behalf.

In the hours after Mr. Trump’s statement, foreign policy and legal analysts struggled to articulate the scale of his deviation from political norms.

William Inboden, a University of Texas professor who served on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, told Politico the comments were “an assault on the Constitution” and “tantamount to treason.”

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, wrote on Twitter, “I never thought a serious candidate for US President could be a serious threat against the security of the West. But that’s where we are.”

It is doubtful that Russia will alter its espionage practices based on public suggestions from Mr. Trump, which some defenders argue was meant as a joke. But Mr. Musgrave worried that such language could weaken norms, even if only slightly, against foreign involvement in American politics.

“Trump is legitimating behaviors that nobody ever thought could be legitimated,” Mr. Musgrave said, calling the incident “one of those reminders about how fragile norms are.”

Mr. Shapiro, the Brookings Institution scholar, sounded physically exhausted by Mr. Trump’s comments and suggested they were driven by something more banal than collusion with a foreign power.

“To me what it demonstrates is not that he’s necessarily in cahoots with the Russians, or that he’s intending to commit treason or sway the election by this act, but that he just has no sense of what the norms are,” Mr. Shapiro said, adding:

“He has no sense of what an extraordinary statement that was.”

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