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Walker Webcast: Weeks After Election Likely To Be Ripe For Foreign Meddling


It won’t just be during the run-up to Nov. 3 that Americans have to worry about foreign interference in our elections, Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius said on Wednesday’s Walker & Dunlop Weekly Webcast. 

With absentee voting likely to hit record levels in 2020, election “night” could drag out over weeks without a decisive winner, giving malicious foreign actors a broad opportunity to sow discord online and even in the streets.

“The country is going to be in a state of hyper-anxiety, confusion and uncertainty,” Ignatius said. “In that period, we will be vulnerable as never before from efforts from both outside and inside, to manipulate us: to play on people's anxieties, to spread rumors, to get people in the streets and then argue 'these people have to be driven out of the streets.'”

Ignatius, who has covered conflicts abroad for almost four decades, toured Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker through some of the most pressing global and foreign affairs issues of the day, from foreign interference in the 2020 election, to the recent normalization of diplomacy between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and from the ongoing China trade war to the Trump administration’s tenuous relationship with both international alliances and its own military.

“People need to be patient,” Ignatius counseled of the post-election period. “And they need to be certain that the information they're acting on is accurate.”

After the Senate intelligence committee submitted its report detailing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, public focus narrowed this week onto what preparations the Russians and other international and domestic forces are making once again to try to destabilize American politics.

Modern social media has outfitted these malicious actors with a powerful suite of tools, Ignatius said, perhaps the most powerful of which is to create in-person events, gatherings, marches and protests for which unsuspecting Americans show up in droves.

“Whatever you think about Donald Trump, pro or con, we ought to agree that what the Russians did in the 2016 and 2018 elections is an attack on our country,” Ignatius said. “It continues to disturb me that President Trump doesn't just say flat out, 'This is unacceptable.' The Russians are still at it.”

Ignatius said that while the Trump administration has come up with powerful slogans, from “draining the swamp” to normalizing relations with North Korea, it has rarely seen those ambitions through. Washington is likely more subject to special interests than ever before, and Trump’s personal brand of diplomacy with Kim Jong-un has yet to yield concrete results in bringing North Korea into the fold of international politics.

Novelist and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker on Wednesday's Walker Webcast

Walker posited that the recent diplomatic agreement between the UAE and Israel was at least one breakthrough for the administration’s foreign policy goals.

Ignatius agreed, but stressed that it has been an open secret for over a decade that Israel and the UAE were using back channels to conduct normal diplomacy, and that the announcement was a long time in coming.

“This is a wonderful movement toward what we all hope will be broad normalization between Israel and the Arab states,” Ignatius said. “It is not a Palestinian peace plan, and you could argue that this may even have made it harder for Trump or some future president to get to a deal that would work.” 

Ignatius was more complimentary of the administration’s tough stance on Chinese tech giant Huawei, saying that if there is a path to keep China from achieving global dominance in 5G telecommunications, the U.S should take it. But beyond technology, he added, it is difficult to see a clear strategy on China from the Trump administration.

Trump’s harder stance on Iran, though, has led to some decisions Ignatius deemed “unwise,” including removing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. With Iran now flouting many of the deal’s strictures, Ignatius believes it will be difficult to get the nation’s leaders to make another agreement. 

“The issue is whether a Biden administration should reanimate the old deal and say 'You've got a new sheriff in town,'” Ignatius said. “I don’t think that would be wise. There’s too much water over the dam.”

Whoever the next president is, Ignatius said, it will be in his best interest to work to rebuild ties with American allies. Even as NATO members have agreed to pledge more funding for the common defense at Trump’s behest, Ignatius said, American relationships abroad have corroded over the past four years thanks to the Trump administration’s transactional view of diplomacy.

“It’s hard to say that with additional funding NATO is in better shape,” Ignatius said. “At the end of the day, NATO is about trust: mutual confidence that the members will come to each other’s defense. Trump, by banging on Germany and other NATO members, has reduced some of that trust. You have to tend the garden carefully.”

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Walker & Dunlop. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.