“It is stated on very good authority that a bomb can now be manufactured which will be 2,500 times as powerful as that which destroyed Hiroshima. Such a bomb, if exploded near the ground or under water, sends radio-active particles into the upper air. They sink gradually and reach the surface of the earth in the form of a deadly dust or rain. It was this dust which infected the Japanese fishermen and their catch of fish. No one knows how widely such lethal radio-active particles might be diffused, but the best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death, sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration.”

Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell and Others[1]

“I think I could see myself meeting with Putin and meeting with Russia prior to the start of the administration. I think it would be wonderful ….”

Donald Trump[2]

[Well, here we go again. I thought we were done with politics after the last post, but the wheels of discord turned, and Trump’s in trouble, again. The U.S. blames Russia for the torrent of emails WikiLeaks is releasing, much to the embarrassment of the Democrats. Russia stole the emails from the Democrats, or so goes the narrative, and gave them to WikiLeaks to undercut Hillary Clinton’s bid to be our next President. The current President – a Democrat, in case you forgot – thinks he might retaliate against Russia for infringement of our sovereignty. Donald Trump, on the other hand, said that, if he’s elected, he might meet with Vladimir Putin even before inauguration day to resolve differences. What a pickle!

Of course Trump is only following the lead of Winston Churchill, the World War II Prime Minister of England, who said “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”[3]Negotiations, if possible, are better than bloodshed, especially if the other side has nuclear weapons. Is it wrong to talk to Russia before the shooting starts? Is the honor of Democrats so important that we must retaliate right now? And by the way, if the Russians really did it, are they spreading falsehoods or the truth? Will the U.S. retaliate simply because the truth hurts?]

This is Fred. As you know, G. Sallust is out, we’re not sure for how long; so we’re going to rotate the lead writer in responding to the issues of the day. I’ve decided to deal with this kettle of nonsense myself, and nobody objects; so here goes.


We’ve had numerous leaks in the past few years; notably by Edward Snowden, Bradley [now Chelsea] Manning[4] and others; and allegedly highly classified information was involved; but so far as I know, at no time did we go to the brink of war with Russia. But apparently this time is different. The DNC and its politicians do not generate classified information; but they’ve been embarrassed by the leaks and we’re in the middle of an election; so the charge is that the Russians are trying to affect the outcome of by stealing and releasing things that are embarrassing, but true! I say “true” because so far nobody has alleged that any of them are made-up or false. But wait! Some Democrats have said the emails may not be totally authentic.[5]

So what do the Russians say? They have an Embassy here, right in Washington, D.C.[6] and one of its jobs is to explain and justify the Russian view of things. The Russians deny hacking the DNC, etc.; of course; but say also that not too long ago our intelligence people admitted they couldn’t make a case to “attribute this activity [the hacking] to the Russian Government.”[7] So the Russian position is obvious, that (i) they didn’t do it, and (ii) the U.S. admits it can’t prove otherwise.

U.S. Reverses Course

Perhaps, but on October 7 our side changed its mind. The official U.S. position, as of now, is that “the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. [These activities] are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.” [8] There are not a lot of specifics there, and no smoking guns. No guilty emails or anything of the sort. So it’s difficult to evaluate the charge. Only an insider would know the facts, and then he or she wouldn’t be able to tell; it’s based on classified information, don’t you know?

So what do the candidates know? Let’s see what they said in the last debate.  Hillary Clinton accepted that the Russians were behind the hacks, and said it was unprecedented. “We’ve never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17 — 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.”[9] Then the moderator asked Trump, “[D]o you condemn any interference by Russia in the American election?” Trump said, “Of course I condemn.”[10]

Trump, who presumably received the same information about the hacks as Clinton, also said she, really, “ha[d] no idea whether [the perpetrator is] Russia, China, or anybody else.”[11] To my way of thinking that means he – Trump – was less than impressed with the Administration’s case against Russia.

Then he said: “Now we can talk about Putin. I don’t know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good.” Putin has “no respect” for Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama.[12]

If We Retaliate, What Might We Do?

Moving on, there are all kinds of rumors out there about some sort of U.S. counter-attack against the Russian Federation.  You may recall that earlier this year we ran a blog on how the Administration might respond to cyber-attacks.[13] There wasn’t a lot in the published documents[14] to indicate just how far the Administration might go in a cyber-war. DoD – as opposed to other agencies – will respond only if a cyber-attack involves “significant consequences” [presumably bad] for the United States.

The decider of what’s “significant” will be a civilian, either the President or the Secretary of Defense.[15] He or she will decide that on a case-by-case basis.[16] What criteria might he or she follow? Well, the DoD policy tells us that “… significant consequences may include loss of life, significant damage to property, serious adverse foreign policy consequences, or serious economic impact on the United States.”[17] However, those are just examples; they’re not an exclusive list of what might be considered.[18]


Frankly, given the relatively narrow language in DoD’s policy; the “significant consequences” on which DoD will act seem to cover ongoing crises, not past ones; it doesn’t seem likely that our military would volunteer to avenge prior hacks on the DNC. Of course, that doesn’t mean other agencies are similarly constrained. So what happens if one agency, say, Homeland Security, mounts a counter-attack, then the Russians respond, and we respond to that, and so forth? Could events escalate to the extent the military might have to be called in?


Some people already think we’re headed to war with Russia. [19] Others don’t believe it’s inevitable, but think it’s risky to blunder from a cold to a hot one because of small or nonexistent provocations[20]. I agree with both views, by the way. And war always brings up the question of nuclear weapons. Today we and NATO maintain the right to strike first with those things, if we’re properly threatened[21]; and the Russians will use them if Russia or its allies are attacked with weapons of mass destruction, or Russia is losing badly in a conventional war.[22]And the first one of us who decides that the other side intends to go nuclear will, of course, do it first.[23] And if you want to know more about what happens after that, take a look at the quotation that opens this piece.

So that makes Donald Trump’s mantra – “let’s talk” – patriotic, not weak, at least in my view. Is there really a large war faction in Washington, DC? If so, who do they represent?


[1] “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” I got this fine old quotation from Brainy Quote.  See http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_war.html   it’s not clear to me whether the quote is real or apocryphal, but I suspect real. Einstein, the author of the Theory of Relativity was more or less a pacifist but did endorse the Manhattan Project, which developed the U.S. A-bomb. See Atomic Heritage Foundation, Preserving and Interpreting the Manhattan Project, at http://www.mphpa.org/?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=172  . Later, however, he and philosopher Bertrand Russell argued that all war should be prohibited, largely because thermonuclear weapons were so dangerous. See Atomic Heritage Foundation, Russell-Einstein Manifesto (July 9, 1955), available at http://www.mphpa.org/key-documents/russell-einstein-manifesto

[2] See CNN, Watkins, Trump: ‘I could see myself’ meeting with Putin before I’m president (October 18, 2016), available at http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/17/politics/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-michael-savage/index.html

[3] Normally we cite the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th edition, 2004) for this kind of thing, but today we’re sticking with the more accessible Brainy QuoteSee Brainy Quote at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/winstonchu141781.html

[4] For more on Chelsea Manning see the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelsea_Manning .

[5] See, e.g., Breitbart,  Spiering, Tim Kaine Busted After Questioning Authenticity of WikiLeaks Emails (October 21, 2016) available at  http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/10/21/tim-kaine-busted-questioning-authenticity-wikileaks-emails/

[6] It has a website. See Embassy of the Russian Federation, Washington, DC, at http://www.russianembassy.org/ . We’ll cite documents from this source as R. Embassy, ___, at ___.

[7] See R. Embassy, October 13 regular briefing by Maria Zakharova, at http://www.russianembassy.org/article/accusations-against-russia-of-hacking-us-websites-from-regular-briefing-by-maria-zakharova .

[8] See Director of National Intelligence, Joint Statement from the Department of Homeland Security  and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security (October 07, 2016), available at https://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/press-releases/215-press-releases-2016/1423-joint-dhs-odni-election-security-statement .

[9] See The New York Times, Transcript of the 3rd Debate (October 20, 2016). We have a pdf version of the transcript with no page numbers. The interchange discussed here comes about the middle of the document. You can get the original at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/20/us/politics/third-debate-transcript.html?_r=0

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] See the blog of 2016/08/09, Cyber-War, available at https://opsrus.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/cyber-war-i/

[14] See, e.g., DoD, The Department of Defense Cyber Strategy (April, 2015), available at http://www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/0415_Cyber-Strategy

[15] See Cyber Strategy at p. 5: “If directed by the President or the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. military may conduct cyber operations to counter an imminent or ongoing attack against the U.S. homeland or U.S. interests in cyberspace.”

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id. DoD has written this very carefully, to avoid foreclosing Presidential discretion. This is only natural. After all, the President, under our Constitution, is Commander-in-Chief, and outranks anyone in DoD. See U.S. Constitution, Article II, Sec. 2: “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States …” The Constitution is available from many sources; our favorite is the National Archives, at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html  Look around and you can find all of the Amendments, as well.

[19] See, e.g., Institute for Political Economy, Roberts, Will the November US Presidential Election Bring the End of the World?  ( May 24, 2016) sometimes available at http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2016/05/24/will-the-november-us-presidential-election-bring-the-end-of-the-world-paul-craig-robert s/

[20] See, e.g., Rand Corporation, Libicki, Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace (2012), especially pp. 97-99, available at http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG1215.html

[21] Actually, it’s worse than that. NATO maintains the right. See the Wikipedia entry on “no first use” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_first_use

[22] Id. Russia will use nukes if others use them [or weapons of mass destruction] against it or its allies; or use even conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is threatened.”

[23] See Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (Princeton, 1960, Transaction reprint, 2010). Henceforth the Kahn book will be cited as Thermonuclear War at ___. See Thermonuclear War at p. 136.