Is the Trump-Russia story an octopus or spaghetti?

Don’t mistake a meatball for a head. In the middle of all those connections, you’ll sometimes see a lump that looks like it might actually be in charge. On closer examination, you find it’s just another ingredient in a sprawling dish. So it is with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s clear that the Russians wanted to influence the American election last year, though it’s not obvious if they actually thought they could help Trump win, if they figured Hillary Clinton was going to win and wanted to undermine her in advance, or if they just wanted to spread doubt about the American electoral process.

But whatever the truth may be, Putin is not a grand puppet master. He was one of several forces spreading oppo over the course of a campaign. It’s hard to think of a recent presidential election where various groups didn’t publicize embarrassing information.

The Kremlin also has a history of spreading disinformation, and this may have happened in the campaign as well. But if so, the Russians were just one of many forces spouting lies…

Trump and Putin’s interests are aligned in some ways but hardly all. The puppet narrative requires you to ignore incompatible information — like, say, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s attacks on Moscow’s policies toward Ukraine.