A specious narrative has come back into circulation: that Moscow’s campaign of political warfare is no different from U.S.-supported democracy assistance, note Daniel Twining and Kenneth Wollack, president of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), respectively.
This narrative is churned out by propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik. Closer to home, it is deployed by isolationists who propound a U.S. retreat from global leadership. And then there are the authoritarian apologists, who are as forgiving of repugnant regimes as they are hostile to America’s historic approach to the world. The bogeymen usually singled out as moral equivalents of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political warfare are democracy-assistance organizations, including IRI, NDI and the National Endowment for Democracy, they write for the Washington Post:
Arguments equating democracy assistance with nefarious meddling almost always imply a presumption that the countries in which democracy and governance organizations operate are puppets lacking free will. In fact, NDI and IRI work openly with a range of stakeholders in countries at various stages of development in response to specific requests for assistance. Nor is this solely an American effort. We work with, and alongside, other democratic governments, intergovernmental and nongovernmental groups, parliaments and political parties — all part of an international democratic architecture.
Nor does democracy assistance have anything in common with cyber hacking and disinformation, said Madeleine Albright, NDI’s chairperson. And to compare them is I think to commit a dangerous false equivalency, she tells TIME. It’s a little bit like saying that a doctor who prescribes a cure and a doctor who administers poison are morally equivalent because they both attended to the patient, added Albright, the first woman to hold the office of U.S. Secretary of State.