More than 220 years later, Washington’s warning feels strikingly relevant. For if anything, the vulnerabilities that Washington saw, in his words, “to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils” — those are his words — those have only multiplied with modern technology. And unlike in 1796, it is no longer enough for us simply to protect our own democracy against foreign interference; we also have to protect the integrity of the entire rules-based international order, on whose foundations our security and our prosperity rest.
Let me conclude. In 1796, our nation’s first President, George Washington, used his farewell address to issue a stark warning to the American people about the danger of foreign governments trying to interfere in our democracy. He told his audience: “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens), the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”
Russia’s Ministry of Defense initially said no airstrikes had been carried out in the area by Russian or Syrian planes, and that its expert analysis of video footage of the strike showed that the aid convoy had been destroyed by a fire. Then President Putin’s press secretary said that terrorists had been firing rockets nearby, suggesting they were the ones who had struck the convoy. Then Russia claimed that a U.S. drone had been detected above the convoy just minutes before it was struck, contradicting its initial assessment that the convoy had not been hit from the air. Two days. Three stories. All false.