Let's Cool It on Comparing Russia's Election Meddling to 9/11

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A trend is emerging in the way politicians and pundits are talking about Russia’s interference in American elections—a stupid, stupid trend. All of a sudden, Russia’s 2016 misdeeds are being compared to the worst terrorist and military attacks in American history.

It started with a pair of columns from two titans of bad punditry—Tom Friedman and Max Boot—in The New York Times and The Washington Post, respectively.

Friedman wrote (emphasis mine throughout):

Up to now, Trump has been flouting the norms of the presidency. Now Trump’s behavior amounts to a refusal to carry out his oath of office — to protect and defend the Constitution. Here’s an imperfect but close analogy: It’s as if George W. Bush had said after 9/11: “No big deal. I am going golfing over the weekend in Florida and blogging about how it’s all the Democrats’ fault—no need to hold a National Security Council meeting.”


Friedman went on to praise the unholy trinity of our nation’s vast, unchecked spying apparatus—the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA—for their ace work in cooperation with Mueller to safeguard our very democracy. Each agency has “done us amazingly proud,” he wrote (even if the FBI did completely ignore the warning it received about the school shooter in Florida).

Boot, miraculously enough, hit on the exact same analogy in his column for the Post:

Imagine if, after 9/11, the president had said that the World Trade Center and Pentagon could have been attacked by “China” or “lots of other people.” Imagine if he had dismissed claims of al-Qaeda’s responsibility as a “hoax” and said that he “really” believed Osama bin Laden’s denials. Imagine if he saw the attack primarily as a political embarrassment to be minimized rather than as a national security threat to be combated. Imagine if he threatened to fire the investigators trying to find out what happened.

Imagine, moreover, if the president refused to appoint a commission to study how to safeguard America. Imagine if, as a result, we did not harden cockpit doors. If we did not create a Transportation Security Administration and a Department of Homeland Security. If we did not lower barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. If we did not pass a USA Patriot Act to enhance surveillance. And if we did not take myriad other steps to prevent another 9/11.


Yes, imagine if the Patriot Act and all those other things we love so much never happened! The horror.

There have been comparisons to Pearl Harbor as well.


Boot—who’s lately been accepted into the #Resistance for his opposition to Trump’s methods—did go on to note that “The Russian subversion of the 2016 election did not, to be sure, kill nearly 3,000 people,” before saying in the next sentence that “its longer-term impact may be even more corrosive.” Yes, Boot says 13 dudes in tracksuits buying Facebook ads will prove more damaging to our democracy than a devastating terror attack which was almost instantly used to launch a forever war, greatly expand the U.S. government’s ability to spy on its own citizens without warrants, establish an international torture regime and drone program, and undermine Muslim peoples’ civil rights both at home and abroad.

It’s an interesting take from these two men in particular, who each cheered the Iraq War and, in the intervening era, have each not-apologized to varying degrees. In comparing the Russian meddling to the fallout after 9/11, it’s not hard to imagine these two tired hawks are simply feeling nostalgic for a simpler time, where our country’s agenda for where to invade next felt more clear.


Then, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, who’s a member of the House Committee of Intelligence and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, joined the fray on Sunday evening, publishing a post in The Hill’s illustrious opinion section where he drew the same comparison as Friedman and Boot. Incredible!

“While this current situation is not marked by catastrophic bloodshed, destruction or debt,” Castro began—an excellent start which shows he will definitely be making a good comparison between two similar things—“we’ve entered a new generation of warfare on America’s national security.”



Sept. 11, 2001 was a moment in our history when a non-state actor effectively identified one our nation’s greatest security vulnerabilities in the airline industry.


We have a playbook on protecting our democracy after 9/11, so why aren’t we shifting to meet the enemy and counter this new threat?


These are essential questions that need answering. Why aren’t we doing everything in our power to combat the threat of Russian agencies that, according to the latest indictment, spent a paltry $1.25 million a month on Facebook ads meant to mislead Americans by playing on their worst preconceived notions, compared to the $6.5 billion that American political parties and outside groups spent in 2016? If the answer isn’t clear by now, no pundit—or politician foaming at the mouth about Mueller’s latest—will help us.

Even worse, though, is the assumption behind all of these pieces: that a “9/11-style response” would make the situation with Russia better. No matter what your opinion on the gravity of Russia’s interference in 2016 is, nobody should forget what a monumental catastrophe our response to 9/11 has been—not only in human terms but also in how it weakened the very democracy Friedman, Boot, and Castro profess to be defending. Russia’s meddling was a real problem, but we need to be very, very careful about letting the same people who helped lead us into our post-9/11 nightmare do it all over again.