Obama says he didn’t underestimate Vladimir Putin

Keep your enemies close.
Keep your enemies close.
Image: Reuters/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool
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Barack Obama says he didn’t underestimate the threat that is Russian president Vladimir Putin, but that he underestimated how easy it was to influence the democratic process in today’s world.

Obama spoke with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “The Week” which aired on Sunday, Jan. 8. Stephanopoulos asked whether Obama underestimated Putin referring to the president’s 2012 debate with Mitt Romney, when he dismissed the Republican candidate’s claim that Russia was America’s number one geopolitical foe.

I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyber hacking and so forth to have an impact on our open societies, our open systems, to insinuate themselves into our democratic practices in ways that I think are accelerating.

He said he ordered US intelligence agencies to look into Russian hacking not to “re-litigate” the events of the presidential campaign, but to understand Putin’s tactics, something that he “has been doing for quite some time in Europe.”

Obama emphasized that he tried to convince president-elect Donald Trump to “to develop a strong working relationship with the intelligence community.”

If we’re not vigilant foreign countries can have an impact on the political debate in the United States in ways that might not have been true 10, 20, 30 years ago  in part because of the way news is transmitted and in part because so many people are skeptical of mainstream news organizations. 

He stressed the importance of Congress cooperating with the next administration to minimize foreign influence. He hoped that because hacking could happen in any election, by countries with different alignments, both parties would work together on the matter.

He was concerned about misplaced alliances, however among Republicans and some pundits “who seemed to have more confidence in Vladimir Putin than fellow Americans because those fellow Americans were Democrats. That cannot be.”

I said this right after the election—we have to remind ourselves we’re on the same team. Vladimir Putin’s not on our team. If we get to a point where people in this country feel more affinity with a leader who is an adversary and view the United States and our way of life as a threat to him, then we’re gonna have bigger problems than just cyber hacking.