It’s the Cold War all over again. Americans left and right are being accused of taking orders and money from, being the tools of, or at least harboring sympathy for, a miraculously resurrected Evil Empire headquartered in Moscow. If the accusers actually controlled the government, no doubt the political show trials would begin. The accusers–elements of our security apparatus, neo-conservatives associated with the infamous “Project for a New American Century,” virtually the entire Democratic Party, and their allies in the mainstream media–are using the highly manipulable court of public opinion to find anyone who dissents from their doctrine of Russophobia guilty of the treasonous crime of Russophilia, as if it were some even worse perversion of pedophilia. Their aim appears to be to regain control of the government. They consider this a legitimate counter-revolution. Others call it a coup, American style.
“It’s simple,” the Democrats and their allies say. “If we take over again, everything will be fine.”
It’s not simple, and things wouldn’t be fine if the Democrats were running things, but let’s leave “if the Democrats were running things” alone for now. It’s mind-bendingly complicated, because to truly understand what’s going on in America now requires that we be free of the conditioning most Americans accept unquestioningly–and I’m not talking air conditioning, although that is a luxury that most Americans take far too for granted. I’m talking about mind conditioning–the way we subliminally learn to perceive reality by taking cues from our parents and our culture as we grow up.
As we grow up, and all through our lives, we spend a lot of time absorbing stories from movies, television, and books, and all those stories share certain common elements. There’s a hero, who is clearly a hero, at least in the end, and the hero is not you, although of course you identify with her or him. There’s a villain, and the villain’s identity is usually clear from the beginning. The hero and the villain clash, and, although the villain seems to be winning at first, the hero ultimately triumphs, and all the most pivotal moments in that struggle can be captured in an hour, or two, or maybe longer if it’s a TV series. These are the expectations we then project on real-world events.
But real-world events are not the movies, or even a long-running TV series. In real life, it is extremely rare for anyone to be a complete hero or a complete villain. I’m not, and you probably understand that you’re not 100% hero–or villain–either. Even sociopaths and psychopaths occasionally do the right thing. Well-intentioned people do terrible things. Think about it–doesn’t everybody believe their intentions are good? You betcha. What political figures do as a result of their good intentions may look good to millions of people, and simply awful to millions of others, and it can be difficult to determine in the short run just what “the greater good” really is. It can also be glaringly obvious what does or does not constitute “the greater good,” whether there are millions of people who understand what’s really going on, or just a few. Reality is not determined by popular vote. And, of course, political figures also do things for concealed, strategic reasons, and lie to the public about their motivation. As I said, it’s complicated.
So, with that in mind, I want to examine the history of what some are already referring to as “the new Cold War,” and see how the mainstream American story of what’s going on holds up under scrutiny.
RUSSIA IN AMERICA?
The first shots were fired during the debates between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, when she cast aspersions on him for his appreciation of the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions, accusing him of supporting the violent overthrow of legal governments–which just happened to be brutally oppressive, oligarchic, kleptocratic US government supported “anti-Communist” dictatorships. Likewise, much was made in some quarters of Sanders’ honeymoon in The Soviet Union. The heinousness of visiting Russia is a frequent theme in this narrative. It is perhaps ironic that Ms. Clinton’s husband attracted the suspicious attention of Republicans for his trip to the Soviet Union during his college days in England.
US-Russian relations emerged as a theme during the campaign. Trump attracted notoriety for calling on the Russians to “find Hillary’s missing emails,” after Ms. Clinton and the Democrats were embarrassed by a series of leaked Democratic Party emails that revealed, among other things, the degree to which they tilted the playing field against Sanders, both within the Democratic Party and through Clinton’s influence on mainstream media. Later leaks revealed her disdain for the environmentalists who supported her and her allegiance to the Wall Street banksters who supported her, and her campaign’s successful efforts to get their allies in the media to pay attention to Donald Trump, the Republican candidate she thought it would be easiest to beat in a general election. The Democrats were quick to attribute these leaks to “Russian government hacking,” although the evidence for that continues to be more loud and voluminous than substantial. I’ll have more to say about that later. Let’s focus on the narrative for now.
Once Trump, to a great many people’s surprise, won the election, accusations of his Russian connection–and the Russian connections of anyone on the left who declined to endorse Ms. Clinton, such as Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, rose to a fever pitch.
The first to fall was Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, who was hounded out of office for speaking with the Russian ambassador to the US before Trump’s inauguration and, it was alleged, lying about what they discussed to Vice President Mike Pence. The circumstances are, I think, relevant. Flynn was on vacation in The Dominican Republic when the Russian ambassador called him. It was not the first time the two had spoken–it is, duh, part of an ambassador’s job to connect with the government of his host country, and to connect with incoming members of a new government before that government takes power. One of the questions hanging over US-Russian relations was, and still is, the sanctions the Obama administration imposed on Russia due to allegations that the Russians were interfering in the election. Trump had long indicated that he was more open to friendly relations with Russia than the Democrats seemed to be. It was pretty obvious that Trump would be inclined to lift those sanctions. Did Flynn and Sergei Kislyak discuss that? We don’t know. All we know about the content of those conversations, which were wiretapped, is that “Flynn broke no laws“in his conversations. Did they need to discuss whether Trump would lift the sanctions? Trump had already put that on the table. What would have been the point? Surely Flynn knew enough about national security to know that the Russian Ambassador’s international calls were being listened to by the NSA. While his tongue may have been loosened by whatever recreational beverages he had consumed poolside, it seems likely that he remembered the importance of discretion. Perhaps those recreational beverages did cloud his mind enough so that what he reported to Pence about his conversation did not match up with the transcript, which we, the public, have yet to see. Nevertheless, Flynn was hounded out of his post as National Security Adviser. Is it possible that Flynn’s real violation was questioning the consensus view that demonizes Russia? He had been willing to openly criticize his country’s antagonism towards Russia. He had resisted the Hillary Clinton-led push to ramp up hostilities in Syria. He had expressed his views in Russian media, and much was made of his appearance at a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the RT television network in Moscow. Was his willingness to question this portion of the dominant narrative the real reason he had to go?
Since I started writing this, the news has surfaced that Flynn was, indeed, acting as the agent of a foreign government during the campaign–an agent of Turkey, which has had an anatagonistic relationship with Russia for centuries. The irony never ceases.
I am not saying that Flynn was a noble man who was unjustly martyred by his opponents. Flynn’s actions in Iraq make him a war criminal, and his views on Islam–he calls it “a cancer,” and is fearful of the imposition of Islamic Shari’a law in the United States–border on the delusional, even if “delusional” has become the new normal. Maybe his soft spot towards the Russians came from his assessment that, from a purely strategic military standpoint, there is nothing to be gained by threatening Russia, because that is a war we could not win.
Now, we are seeing Attorney General Jeff “KKK” Sessions caught in the Russia crossfire, for allegedly lying about whether he had recent contact with the Russian ambassador. It seems to me that one would remember a recent meeting with such an august personage, but Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who was quick to attack Sessions and claim that she had never met with Kislyev–had to be reminded that she had not only met with him, but tweeted about it. It turns out that the list of Senators and other members of the US government who have met with the Russian ambassador–and many other ambassadors–is very long, because the business they were taking care of, one way or another, demanded it. Nobody is accusing anyone of meeting with the Saudi ambassador, the Israeli ambassador, the Chinese ambassador, or the Albanian ambassador. Nobody is raising a fuss about how many US politicians have enjoyed tacit or overt support from any of those countries, although many clearly have. Is it even possible to be elected to national office in this country without the blessings of the Israelis? (And yes, the Albanian ambassador has met with at least one sitting US Senator!) But Russia is the new third rail of American politics. I’ll address the question of why this is once again the case, but first I want to analyze the Democrats’ narrative about “Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.”
Their story is that the Russian government has given financial and strategic help to the Trump campaign, including hacking into the Democratic Party’s computers and releasing embarrassing emails, thus discouraging people from voting for Ms. Clinton, and that this help was crucial to Trump’s surprise victory in November.
There’s no question that Ms. Clinton was much more of a “hawk” on Russia than her opponent, or even President Obama–in fact, that’ disagreement is said to be one of the principal reasons she resigned as Secretary of State. This would certainly be a good reason for Putin to be concerned about her becoming the next President of the US. He might well regard her election as the beginning of a perhaps dangerously hostile era in US-Russian relations.
But would he think he had anything to gain by supporting her opponent? Those leaked emails revealed that Ms. Clinton wanted Trump as the Republican nominee because she thought he would be easy to defeat. The general expectation was that she would win the election–in fact, given the circumstances of Trump’s electoral college victory, she probably did win the electoral as well as popular votes–so supporting her unsuccessful rival for the US Presidency would only make things worse for the Russians in the likely event of her victory. I don’t think Putin got to the position he’s in today by taking such long-shot gambles. Or are we supposed to believe that he was willing to meddle in an American election because he felt assured of success? And where is the evidence that such an assertion is not crazier than “millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton,” or, for that matter, “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction”?
On the other hand, our newest White House resident does have serious business connections with Russia, as well as China. This is new territory for American politics. We have had enormously wealthy people in politics before–Rockefellers, Kennedys, Roosevelts–but by the time those families entered politics, they were well past the wheeler-dealer stage of getting rich. Since I started writing this story, our leader’s business interests have trademarked his name in relation to 38 different enterprises in China, including an escort service–yeah, that’s a fancy name for high-end prostitution. Such respect for women! But I digress….These business connections certainly invite accusations that he is being funded, or outright manipulated, by interests in those countries, and that this is why he is promoting a closer relationship with those countries. He may be a bit unhinged, with his 3AM tweets and all, but he knows better than to unleash the US military on his own property. They know how to tear sh@t up.
Neville Brothers–Fire and Brimstone
AMERICA IN RUSSIA!
I think it would be helpful to briefly review the history of US intervention in Russia, which begins after the Russian Revolution, when the US sent troops to far eastern Russia and
far northwestern Russia to aid the anti-Communist forces there. The US did not diplomatically recognize The Soviet Union as a country until 1933. After World War II, the US secret service helped maintain guerilla fighters in Russia and Eastern Europe, giving them weapons, financing, and training, well into the mid-1950s. Then, after the collapse of The Soviet Union, came the capper: The US intervened in Russia’s 1996 election, sending political consultants and spending heavily to ensure Boris Yeltsin’s victory over a Communist candidate who opposed the wholesale privatization of the economy that was going on with heavy encouragement from Americans. This privatization destroyed much of what was left of the Soviet-built safety net for average Russians, creating hardships of every sort for the average citizen, and set the stage for both the collapse of the Russian economy in the late 90’s and the rise of those “Russian oligarchs” who are now deemed such a threat to the United States. They even stand accused of–oh, horrors! meddling in our elections and destroying the already tenuous US safety net, making the lives of millions of average American citizens much more difficult.
Even today, the United States spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year inside Russia to influence political and civic affairs there.
There’s also another example of the US’s unfair treatment of Russia that’s worth noting. After World War II, the US offered Britain about four billion dollars in very low-interest loans to help rebuild the country. Roosevelt had indicated that he wanted to do the same for Russia–which had, after all, borne the brunt of German aggression and nearly won the war in Europe by itself, in spite of having the most settled part of the country destroyed and sustaining twenty million casualties, many of them civilian. After Roosevelt died, the US government took a harder stance towards the Soviets, and made it clear that any aid given to Russia or Eastern Europe would be under the aegis of “The Marshall Plan,” which had too many capitalist strings attached to it for the Soviets to accept.
Russia would have won the European war all by itself? Yep–on “D Day,” the Russians were closing in on Warsaw, which is only about 350 miles from Berlin. If the Normandy invasion hadn’t happened, the Russians would have pushed the German Army right out of Germany, through and France, and into the Atlantic Ocean.
So that’s a short summary of what we’ve done to them. It’s clear that, if there was serious Russian interference in the US election, the motive was “revenge.” The big question that remains is, “Why is there such a strong movement in the US elite to brand Russia as the enemy?”
It’s about oil and money. Russia produces about as much petroleum as Saudi Arabia, and it’s mostly controlled by the government. During the 90’s, however, under the guidance of US economic advisors, Boris Yeltsin allowed Russia’s oil resources to be privatized. Putin took them back, by fair means and foul–that’s frequently what the Russian government’s prosecutions of “oligarchs” was about. The recent sale of a minority share of the state-owned oil company does not relinquish state control over it.
Furthermore, Russia is now pricing its oil in rubles, rather than dollars, and, while they still accept payment for it in dollars, this is widely seen as a step away from the dollar–that is, undermining American hegemony. Iraq was invaded after Saddam Hussein announced that he would take payment for oil in Euros, but not dollars. Qadhafi was pushed from leadership of Libya after he announced a similar decision. Iran, too, has dumped the dollar, and is on America’s “Enemies List.” Unlike Iraq and Libya, Russia and Iran are both far too big for the US to destabilize through covert or overt military means, so what we are seeing instead is a smear campaign. These countries, and anyone who does not see them as the enemy, are instead subjected to a campaign of smear, fear, and innuendo.
As CO2 levels rise to concentrations not seen in three million years, huge methane bubbles in the Arctic leak more and more, threatening to burst, and we wring the planet increasingly drier of the oil that fuels our civilization and keeps our nuclear power plants functioning, the war over who gets to sit in the deck chairs on the Titanic continues to rage. The Red team insists the ship’s not sinking, and the Blue Team’s plan to keep the ship afloat is woefully inadequate. These struggles–the anger about immigrants, Russians, Greens, or whoever–are a classically neurotic reaction to ego-threatening stress. Instead of dealing with reality, the neurotic obsesses about something irrelevant or vents on someone else–or, as they say in the vernacular, “Poop rolls downhill.” Maybe this sounds trite, but now, more than ever, is a time to remember that nobody is 100% hero or villain, keep a cool head, and not get swept up in the craziness. Don’t forget to breathe slow and steady.
Gabrielle Roth and the Mirrors Descending
Eliza Gilkyson “The Great Correction“