With Putin, the Danger Isn’t a Non-Response

The New York Times editorial board is pleased that President Obama has taken some retaliatory actions against Vladimir Putin, but I found part of their reasoning very interesting.

While it is definitely too late, and may also be too little, there should be no doubt about the correctness of President Obama’s decision to retaliate against Russia for hacking American computers and trying to influence the 2016 presidential election.

It would have been irresponsible for him to leave office next month and allow President Vladimir Putin to think that he could with impunity try to undermine American democracy. That would have been a particularly dangerous legacy given President-elect Donald Trump’s alarming affinity for Mr. Putin and stubborn refusal to accept the conclusion of American intelligence agencies that Russia’s cyberattacks were aimed at helping him and hurting Hillary Clinton.

According to the editors, it would be “dangerous” not to take strong actions against Russia because of the incoming president’s “alarming affinity for Mr. Putin” and his refusal to accept the conclusions of the Intelligence Community that Putin is responsible for ordering the hacking of Democratic organizations and the selective leaking of pilfered information to aid him in his bid for the Oval Office.

To be clear, I don’t disagree with this conclusion, but I think it minimizes what we’re dealing with in this situation. If it would be “dangerous” not to retaliate, that’s really a minor threat compared to Trump becoming president, no?

You might argue that it’s important to dissuade Russia from repeating their reckless act, or that a message needs to be sent to other would-be meddlers from other countries or transnational organizations. But the editors chose to casually link the importance here to Trump’s affinity for Putin.

If the danger really resides somehow in Trump’s closeness to Putin, then a non-response by Obama would be small potatoes compared to Trump taking the oath of office.

That’s how Putin evidently reads the situation since he’s opted not to respond in kind. Why stir up a bunch of anger when his man is about to replace Obama?

I wish the editors would make explicit what they’ve left implicit here.

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