Donald Trump's administration will celebrate Robert Mueller's report which couldn't conclude collusion with Russia and did not prove obstruction of justice on Trump's part. But was it even possible for Mueller to prove collusion?
Some things that seem extremely important in the US do not register at all outside of the country. Things such as baseball or American football, which are inscrutable. American basketball, however, is a matter of intense interest among Turkish sports fans. LeBron “King James” James is far more famous than Special Counsel Robert Mueller here, and always will be.
Of course, in the United States, the long-awaited and just completed Mueller report has consumed spring’s first news cycle. Although the exact details remain unknown, there are no further indictments from Mueller in store.
President Donald Trump’s son will not face Mueller charges, nor will the rest of Trump’s corrupt and incompetent family members (although Mueller already indicted dozens of non-Trumps, including Trump’s lawyer and campaign manager, for various crimes).
In the US, the right-wing rejoiced at the news; the “rule of law” #Resistance centrists were disappointed and confused; and the left sighed an “I told you so,” as it long saw the furore over Russian election interference as an overhyped distraction.
Everybody’s wrong. The issue of foreign election interference is beyond the philosophical or legal scope of Mueller’s investigation.
Indeed, what Mueller was tasked to prosecute was a violation of the rules of a long-running cyberwar between Moscow and Washington. And since there are no rules, really, in cyber war as we fight it today, there aren’t even laws for Mueller to use to prosecute the crime. There’s not even a court to present the evidence.
In fact, the Mueller investigation contributed directly to what US intelligence officials said was the Russian aim all along: sewing division and distrust among Americans, undermining our trust in the electoral process and just generally stirring things up.
What they may have failed to calculate is that no “deep state” emergency brake would stop Trump from actually winning, which has so far yielded mixed results for Moscow’s ambitions. He won the most electoral votes, in the right states, so he got to be president.
Here’s the question Democrats don’t know how to answer: How is an election supposed to be completely sovereign in a world where everyone is connected by fibrous undersea tubes? How can any country, especially a country where most people speak English, decide which advice from across borders is legitimate and illegitimate?
Indeed, American voters make decisions that have mortal consequences for foreigners, who never get the chance to cast a ballot. Only a tiny sliver of the world’s population votes in an American election, but America has the power to destroy all life on Earth.
Whether Trump was involved directly or not, beyond his brazen “Russia, if you’re listening” boast, or impulsively firing the FBI director he inherited from the previous administration, is mostly irrelevant. Trump is just another cog in the machine. Him going to jail for being a traitor or whatever would not make the US whole again, but instead send his most ardent, deranged supporters into an unquenchable frenzy.
Russian election interference, even the alleged hacking, and distribution of Democratic party emails in 2016 were totally uncool. But the reason it was uncool is not because of the effect it had on Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects. The reason it was uncool is that it put civilians in the crosshairs of an ongoing, long-running and more-or-less undeclared cyberwar between the United States and Russia.
What Russian election interference requires is not some Republican G-man, Mueller, coming to the rescue of the US Constitution or whatever. The US Constitution is not going to cut it this time, as it was written by people for whom broadband communication was a letter carried on horseback, and for whom the Russian Empire, then under the rule of Catherine the Great, was irrelevant. Catherine the Great was not particularly concerned about the US Constitution either.
There are some problems that the United States cannot solve on its own, and Russian election interference is one of them. Unlike Trump, Mueller did indict last year members of the Russian intelligence unit deemed responsible for using social media to target the brains of American voters.
Congress passed stricter sanctions on Russian oligarchs. In general, diplomatic relations between the countries have become even more grim, especially regarding the question of whether the two countries will annihilate each other with nuclear weapons.
However, as Putin said out loud to nervous laughter, in a nuclear war, millions of vaporized Russians can expect to receive their reward in heaven. Vice President Mike Pence probably thinks the same thing, as he and other evangelicals yearn for the sweet release of the rapture. That the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals are under the command of apocalyptic death cultists is, well, it is also seriously uncool.
And messing with each others’ political processes does not make the world safer, nor does it respect the sovereignty of individual human minds trying to make sense of a complex, confusing and threatening world. Even if Mueller decided to personally lead Trump out of the White House in shackles, this would do nothing to rewrite the rules of cyberwar in a way that makes civilians off limits to state-sponsored attacks.
Cyberwar is a real thing, however, and countries are constantly testing the limits of what they can get away with. The 2016 US election was an example of Russia doing just that, without understanding what it would do.
The same goes for the US and Stuxnet, the worm that caused Iranian nuclear centrifuges to break. That sort of code, of course, could conceivably be put to far more nefarious purposes. Why not make a civilian nuclear power plant meltdown? What’s stopping anybody besides money and means?
The world needs an international convention on the rules of cyberwar. No country needs to admit to its strengths or weaknesses, but just agree that some targets should be off limits, just as other conventions keep hospitals, refugees and aid workers off limits.
An international cyber war convention could say the same for civilian social media networks, email accounts and chat messages. Prohibiting the targeting of political dissidents, a favourite habit of certain countries, would also be wise. Those are just some suggestions.
But writing these rules is the task of a more responsible international community that the one we have today. Following them and enforcing them is another matter, but as of now, we don’t even have a document telling us what is right and wrong and why. Mueller’s report was never going to form the basis of a new branch of international law, but that’s what the world needs.
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