Over the course of the past several elections, there has been rampant speculation about foreign interference in American elections.
There was famously Russian interference against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and Ukrainian interference in opposition to Trump after claiming he would recognize Russia’s claim over Crimea. There was interference from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as investigated by Robert Mueller, and claimed interference across the board from China, Russia and Iran in 2018. In the 2020 elections, declassified intelligence reports accused Russia and Iran of interfering on behalf of their own interests, supporting Trump and Biden respectively.
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Yet, as this year's midterms are coming to a close, various worrying reports about foreign interference in our election processes have gone under the radar. So far, reports accuse China, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Russia of interference through legal and illegal means.
Despite reports not concluding China had interfered in the 2020 election, the 2022 midterms were a much different story. Social media giants Meta and Twitter banned many China-based accounts for spreading disinformation and discouraging voter turnout. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice specifically indicted several individuals of smearing and physical threats against Democratic House candidate Xiong Yan, who was a student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
One of the most worrying reports came against the UAE. Although the intelligence report is still classified, the Wall Street Journal alleges that the UAE has hired operatives to surveil dissidents, break into computers and steal cybersecurity technology, all in addition to the $154 million it has legally been allowed to spend on lobbyists since 2016. To illustrate the importance of this classified report, senior intelligence officials emphasized they rarely compile such reports on friendly powers. It is likely that more information on this will come out, indicating more electoral interference.
Saudi Arabia has attempted to influence the 2022 midterms through monetary means. Siding itself with Russia, the international oil cartel OPEC+ cut 2 million barrels of oil per day out of production one month before election day. As gas prices increased, the Saudi government hoped it would hurt Democrat’s chances, leading to the reelection of Republicans, such as Trump, who was much more partial to their interests. This kind of foreign partisanship based on which party represents their interests better is dangerous in our already contentious two-party system.
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The United States cannot allow brazen election interference as seen in the examples above. The countries of Saudi Arabia and the UAE remain horrible “allies” to America, and it is honestly astounding we still see them as having any common interests apart from oil production. Both countries are actively participating and using American weapons in their inhumane interference in the Yemeni Civil War, killing multitudes of civilians and contributing to famine.
Both countries have large populations of migrant workers whose conditions have been compared to modern-day slave labor, and both countries treat women, LGBTQ individuals and political dissidents as subhuman. Saudi Arabia was the state that brazenly killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, dismembering him with a bone saw. These interests cannot be allowed to influence our elections.
While on this topic, it is important to recognize the innate hypocrisy in the opposition to foreign interference in American elections, as America in the past has interfered in many foreign regime changes — too many to count. Oftentimes resulting in extreme violence, these regime changes often removed communist, socialist or even slightly-Soviet sympathetic rulers from power during the Cold War.
However, if the world is to move forward, countries cannot allow this brash foreign electoral interference, even through the legal means of lobbyist groups to remain a democracy. If this is allowed to continue, countries will start to see a precedent in the actions of Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and the UAE, and this problem will only get worse.
Andrew Miller (he/him) is a freshman studying journalism and history.