FOR ONE OF THE world’s major powers to interfere systematically in the presidential politics of another country is an act of brazen aggression. Yet it happened. Sitting in a distant capital, political leaders set out to assure that their favored candidate won an election against rivals who scared them. They succeeded. Voters were maneuvered into electing a president who served the interest of the intervening power. This was a well-coordinated, government-sponsored project to subvert the will of voters in another country — a supremely successful piece of political vandalism on a global scale.
The year was 1996. Russia was electing a president to succeed Boris Yeltsin, whose disastrous presidency, marked by the post-Soviet social collapse and a savage war in Chechnya, had brought his approval rating down to the single digits. President Bill Clinton decided that American interests would be best served by finding a way to re-elect Yeltsin despite his deep unpopularity. Yeltsin was ill, chronically alcoholic, and seen in Washington as easy to control. Clinton bonded with him. He was our “Manchurian Candidate.”