John Bolton: If these hacking allegations are true, we need to go much further than Obama did in punishing Russia

He knows Trump’s position on this is that we should all just “get on with our lives,” right? Isn’t he … still being considered for that undersecretary job at State? Or is he not being considered anymore, which is why he felt free to speak out?

Nah, let’s give him credit for sticking to principle, especially when so many other Republicans have discovered convenient Strange New Respect lately for Russian cyberespionage. Bolton’s always been a loud and proud hawk, one who said during the campaign that he was “disturbed” by some of Trump’s criticism of NATO. It’s perfectly in keeping with that that he’d want to punish Russia harshly for its hacking operations — if in fact Russia is guilty, which is his one concession here to Trump’s position. It was less than three weeks ago that Bolton wondered, a la Trump, whether the hackings might have been carried out by some other foreign government and merely made to look like Russia’s handiwork. But he sounds less hung up on that now, despite his caveats about culpability, raising the question of what happened in the interim. Did the FBI/DHS assessment of the hackings that was released yesterday finally convince him? Does he have his own friends in the intel community assuring him that this really was Russia? Either way, “get tough with Putin” is not the approach you take if you’re angling for a top diplomatic job in the Trump administration. Or rather, it’s the approach you take if you think getting tough with Putin is more important than whether you get a diplomatic job in the Trump administration.

He rattled his saber at Russia last night in a different appearance on Fox:

[I]t is important not only to retaliate against Russia for this and many other previous cyber attacks, but to do it in such a way that deters them from engaging in this activity in the future. And one critical component in that kind of strategy is not just to harm them, but to shame them. To say in public, “This is what we have done, and we have the capability to more.” Because it shows that Russia has suffered a penalty for this action, and it tells everybody else in the world, specifically China and others, that they better not think about it either.

That’s what alarms hawks about Trump’s rhetorical shrugging over the hacks. It’s not just that he’s weirdly insistent on absolving Putin of culpability, it’s that he’s questioned whether we can ever conclusively say who’s behind any cyberattack. The CIA and FBI are telling him it’s Russia and his response is that might just as well be some random 400-lb guy on his basement computer somewhere. If China hacks the White House next year and President Trump publicly accuses them, that line about the guy in the basement will be thrown back in his face. What will he say in response?

Bolton didn’t stop at hackings, though:

Every extension of Russian influence in the Middle East is negative for American national interests, up to and including their new airbase at Latakia. And I think finding ways to limit and eventually remove Russian influence in the region, which is already trouble enough for all kinds of reasons, should be the highest priority.

That’s the polar opposite of Trump’s grander foreign-policy view, which holds that the U.S. and Russia have common interests (like defeating ISIS) towards which they can and should work together. How did this guy ever land on Trump’s radar as a possible deputy at State? He would have been a perfect fit for a Romney administration. For Trump’s administration, he’s as out of place as Rand Paul would be in George W. Bush’s.

The most significant thing he says, in the clip, incidentally, is that it doesn’t matter whether the hackings of the DNC and John Podesta affected the outcome of the election or not. That point has been part of the arsenal of spin over the last month by some Russia apologists, along with the idea that it matters whether the hackings were geared specifically towards helping Trump win or “merely” aimed at undermining voter confidence in the election. That doesn’t matter either. A crime has been committed against Americans by a foreign power. It should pay a price for its actions, whatever its strategic intention or degree of competence. Will it?