The Biggest Winner of 2016
He’s a billionaire, an entertainer, and he has an affinity for the opulent, but the biggest winner of 2016 isn’t Donald Trump - it’s Vladimir Putin. Nobody is on a hotter winning streak than the authoritarian Russian president. Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has paraded himself before the Russian people as the strongest possible leader since the fall of the Soviet Union. And, this is Russia after all, he’s showcased his vision and strength by looking to expand Russia’s territory and influence around the world.
Putin’s consolidation of power in Russia is legendary. Whatever liberals accused Dick Cheney of doing, Putin actually did. A former KGB officer, he served briefly as Director of the FSB before becoming president after Boris Yeltsin’s resignation on New Year’s Day in the year 2000. From there, he likely staged a false-flag terrorist attack to retain his presidency with a war in Chechnya. From the seat of power, he installed loyalists and rewarded them with control of Russia’s vast public utilities. He infamously silences dissent the Soviet way - through midnight disappearances and unsolved murders. He controls the media and has unquestioned oversight of his country’s elections, censorship police, and supposedly democratic lawmaking bodies. He holds elections, but like all dictators, they’re only for show. In the West, this earned him the reputation of a “thug” and a “gangster.” Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced his election in 2011 as illegitimate. But Putin didn’t just want condemnation from the West, he needed confrontation.
Putin explained part of his foreign policy in an address to the United Nations in 2015 and a nauseating op-ed published in the New York Times in 2013. He basically took a victory lap after he had called President Obama’s bluff on declaring the use of chemical weapons in Syria a “red line.” As President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry lobbied Congress to pass an Authorization of the Use of Military Force in Syria by promising an “unbelievably small” campaign, Putin offered them a helpful way to save face: Russia would remove Syria’s chemical weapons in exchange for not removing their key ally, the brutal, oppressive Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. took the offer and Russia became the key player in all matters related to Syria, Iraq, and the campaign against ISIS.
If Barack Obama was the reassuring face of multilateralism after George W. Bush’s so-called “cowboy diplomacy,” Vladimir Putin is the unimpressed scowl of realpolitik staring back at him. Obama would earn a Nobel Peace Prize for merely pledging to end wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Putin might wonder where’s his after ending the Syrian civil war by bombing Syrian cities into dust. Any day now, Putin will write another helpful op-ed reminding the world that American leadership has lost all credibility and Russia alone can get results. Reports indicate Russian forces aren’t targeting ISIS as much as they target rebel forces, but the world still demurs on questioning Putin’s real interest in the region.
Whether it’s the campaign in Syria, the shooting down of a civilian jet airliner full of passengers, or the hacking of DNC computers, Putin insists he isn’t responsible and a hundred reports to the contrary never amount to anything. On Russia Today, the very idea that Russian hackers are responsible for breaching the DNC firewalls and posting emails through Wikileaks is treated as a laughable conspiracy. For the past year, their cause de jure was to denounce the entire American democratic process as a relic, and rigged for Hillary Clinton.
And now it comes full circle with intelligence bureaucracies jumping over themselves to report that Russia not only hacked the election, but did so on Putin’s orders to discredit Clinton and help Trump. Because of bureaucratic inertia and longstanding questions of some intelligence agencies’ commitment to honest, apolitical analysis, it’s impossible to know what prompted such alarm after the election. If intelligence professionals have clear and compelling evidence tying Vladimir Putin to such an effort, they ought to reveal it at once but it won’t change anything. The knowledge of Russian hacking didn’t change the outcome of the 2016 election. Now, it’s just a convenient excuse for the Democratic Party to ignore Clinton’s failure.
Whether he actively sought to help Trump or not, Vladimir Putin couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Donald Trump has consistently praised Putin and similarly brushed off the accusations. The American Century is over. It seems Vladimir Putin believes he can win the next for Russia.
You can follow the author on twitter @CACoreyU