By Alexander Victoria | Contributing Writer

The U.S. government released some 3,000 ads the Russian government bought during the last election. (Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)

When I first heard allegations of Russian tampering in the 2016 Presidential Election, I must admit that I, alongside many other Americans, was skeptical of these charges. At the time, there simply was not very much evidence available. However, with the passage of time, the body of evidence has grown exponentially. The most recent additions to this body come from a compilation of Facebook advertisements that lawmakers recently released as a part of their continued investigation into the allegations of Russian interference. These ads were found to come from organizations with ties to the Kremlin.

Interestingly, these ads did not have have a single political outlook or message, but instead they covered a wide range of viewpoints and issues. The majority of these ads worked in some way against the Clinton campaign, with some appealing to Trump’s conservative base, while others attacked her from the left by showing support for Bernie Sanders as well as more radical leftist groups. Many ads did not directly invoke the name of any candidate but offered often inflammatory positions on hot-button issues like gun control and immigration. Ironically, there are even some explicitly anti-Trump ads in the mix.

The mixed nature of these ads is evidence of the likely strategy of the Russian, foreign espionage apparatus: the creation of pure chaos. Sure, Trump stood to benefit from many of these ads, but if the only goal was to support him, then the presence of ads that oppose him and his positions would make no sense. Instead, the support for Trump expressed in many of these ads was an effort to feed the most lucrative creator of chaos on the American political scene and not some act of pure support.

The ideological preferability of Trump just made him the most obvious horse to back. After all, what reason would Russian president and ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin have to give no-strings-attached support to the future leader of a long-time geopolitical rival? Especially considering the continued and ever growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia, it does not seem that Putin saw Trump as a friend, but rather as a means to the end of confusing the American political scene.

In any case, this should be a rallying point for the American people and for the government against foreign agitation. Unfortunately, this has become too often the case in these troubled times, and decisive and clear action is still a ways off. Though the congressional investigations and hearings into this matter (as well as parallel efforts such as the Mueller investigation) are bound to continue, the question of if and when any concrete measures will appear is still a mystery. Despite the sensitivity and potential magnitude of this issue, it is still one among many fighting for attention in this confused political climate. It will be necessary for the time being to prepare for a long and complicated struggle to resolve this matter.

Further complicating the issue is the long history of U.S. interventions into foreign elections. Any appeal made to the international community for action against the Russian government will surely be met with resistance and cries of hypocrisy. According to a database compiled by political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University, the U.S. has intervened as many as 81 times in elections between 1946 and 2000. This already large number would be inflated if Levin had also chosen to include military coups and regime change efforts instead of only the more subtle political influence operations to which he chose to restrict his analysis. In a majority of these cases, the side which the U.S. was supported ended up winning the election.

Among the many examples of U.S. election meddling is a case of U.S. interference in Russian affairs during the critical 1996 elections. Though I am in no way attempting to justify the current affront to our own electoral process, we would do well to remember our own complicity in this dirty business of electoral influence. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has grown accustomed to being the sole superpower, but with the resurgence of our formal rival, it’s about high time we sobered up to the reality of the situation and handled the new reality in a serious and honest way.

Ultimately, the only truly desirable outcome to this mess would be if we both presented a strong case proving Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election and began the process of answering for our own crimes. Any outcome not including both of these conditions simply will not suffice. To accuse the Russians, we must be justified, and to be justified we must rectify our own wrongdoings or else end up perpetuating the endless cycle of needless, careless interventionism.

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