Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Russia, the election and Cold War 2.0

For Halloween, the Clinton campaign was trying to make Vladimir Putin the favorite scary villain of the moment. Along with Donald Trump, of course.

The left-leaning Mother Jones has just published a report by David Corn making Trump sound like a Russian cut-out, A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump 10/31/2016.

Mike Lofgren takes a look at Trump, Putin, and the Alt-Right International The Atlantic Online 10/31/2016. He describes the admiration of the far right in the US and Europe for Putin's authoritarianism, which may not be widely known in the US but is scarcely a secret. But his description of Putin's alleged European strategy is dubious:

Putin’s policy objective in Germany is clear: The country is the keystone of Europe, and Chancellor Angela Merkel is by default the principal figure holding Europe together as a political entity. She is also the only Western leader to grow up under communist rule: She knows what the Stasi was like and also the KGB, Putin’s former employer (he was posted to East Germany before its collapse). Merkel is less than fond of Putin and the feeling is mutual.

When Merkel unwisely led with her chin at the height of the European refugee crisis, she provided an opening for right-wing parties in her own country and the rest of Europe to make electoral gains over the flood of refugees. She also granted Putin, smarting from Western sanctions over Ukraine, an opportunity for payback.
Russia, like other countries, is capable of misjudging situations and committing blundering mistakes.

But this assumption about Russian strategy is odd in more than one way. Angela Merkel is "the principal figure holding Europe together"? (!!) It's true that Merkel is holding the EU as it currently exists together. But if Putin wants to wreck the cooperation and economic well-being of Europe, removing Angela Merkel from power should be about the last thing he would want. Merkel's EU and eurozone policies, based as they are on destructive neoliberal economic and social dogma, are doing more to wreck European unity than anything else at the moment.

But Merkel is generally considered more favorable to better relations with Russia than some other EU leaders and more cautious on putting Western pressure on Russia in Ukraine, for instance. At best, Lofgren is making overly broad assumptions there.

He does remind his readers on the connections he's drawing between Russia and rightwing Western groups, "But things are never that simple, just as the Cold War was never quite a Manichean struggle between the forces of light and darkness." And he describes Western actions after the fall of the Soviet Union that any Russian government would have regarded as a potentially threatening.

Yet he falls back on claims yet scarcely substantiated in the public record, claims that echo what the Clinton campaign has been saying in their remarkably explicit statements depicting Trump as a Russian agent of influence, or worse:

The Russian government chose to conduct propaganda and disinformation operations within the United States precisely during an unusually rancorous presidential election, with one of the candidates repeatedly and lavishly praising the Russian government’s leader. Even after the election, the bad feeling in the country over this activity will certainly linger. Putin may not fully realize just how much he has raised the geopolitical stakes in the growing Cold War 2.0 between the U.S. and Russia by taking sides in the most polarized domestic election since the Civil War.
Marcy Wheeler, unlike most Democratic partisans, warns again about assuming too much based on what's currently in the public record on the current set of Russian political-subversion stories (Or Maybe the FBI Really Did Have a Reason to Stay Off the Russian Attribution? Emptywheel 10/31/2016). Speaking of a separate report on partisan Republican FBI Director James Comey's position on the claims:

Until someone else confirms this story — preferably with more than one source, one clearly placed in a position to know — I advise caution on this.

That’s true, first of all, because a bunch of people who likely harbor grudges against Jim Comey are coming out of the woodwork to condemn Comey’s Friday statement. Given the reasons they might resent Comey, I really doubt Alberto Gonzales or Karl Rove were primarily motivated to criticize him out of a concern for the integrity of our election process.

The same could be true here.

The other reason I’d wait is because of reporting going back to this summer on the case against Russia. As I’ve noted, reporters repeatedly reported that while there seemed little doubt that Russia had hacked the Democrats, the FBI had not yet proven some steps in the chain of possession. For example, at the end of July, FBI was still uncertain who or how the emails from DNC were passed onto WikiLeaks.
Obviously, I'm not thrilled with the enthusiasm among Democrats for drastic accusations about Russia. The Presidency is the highest of high stakes in political races. You use the issues that you think work in your favorite in that contest.

But given the role of anti-Russian propaganda in the Cold War, and the more recent history of fabricated intelligence claims over Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction," I'm worried that there are geopolitical motivations at work, as well. There is no shortage of advocates for a more aggressive foreign policy. Nor of arms manufacturers and war profiteers who see the $$$$ available from heightened tensions between the US and Russia.

Lauren McCauley in As Election Day Nears, Military Hawks Circle to Promote New Wave of War Common Dreams 10/20/2016 points to two recent reports, one from the Center for American Progress and another from the Brookings Institute, promoting more aggressive American military involvement in the Middle East, including Syria, which risks putting the US into direct military conflict with Russia. This has been very much the emphasis of Hillary Clinton in her foreign pronouncements so far. And however fixed she may be on the election, it's difficult to believe that the former Secretary of State isn't calculating on the broader foreign policy implications of the electoral charges about Russian interference in US elections.

John Feffer also writes in Hillary Clinton: A Hawk in the Wings Foreign Policy in Focus 10/27/2016:

Today, the Obama administration is reluctant to pour more resources into a failed regime change effort in Syria and far more intent on confronting the Islamic State in the battle for Mosul and, ultimately its capital of Raqqa. Once again, the “good” war competes for attention with the “bad” war.

Meanwhile, the candidate that challenged Obama as too naïve and peace-loving back in 2008 is poised to succeed him as president. Once again, she has staked out a more hawkish position. And this time she has a large chunk of the foreign policy elite behind her. ...

The foreign policy elite is mercurial and amnesiac. It wasn’t that long ago that this elite expressed not-so-quiet relief at George W. Bush’s departure from the White House and the return of a more conventional and dovish Barack Obama. And what of the more assertive policy of Hillary Clinton? Now that the truly apocalyptic threat of Donald Trump is receding, the lesser catastrophes of a Clinton administration beckon: perhaps Libya II or an expanded role in Yemen.
Both McCauley anf Feffer cite this recent report by Greg Jaffe, Washington’s foreign policy elite breaks with Obama over Syrian bloodshed Washington Post 10/20/2016, in which he writes:

It is not unusual for Washington’s establishment to launch major studies in the final months of an administration to correct the perceived mistakes of a president or influence his successor. But the bipartisan nature of the recent recommendations, coming at a time when the country has never been more polarized, reflects a remarkable consensus among the foreign policy elite.

This consensus is driven by a broad-based backlash against a president who has repeatedly stressed the dangers of overreach and the need for restraint, especially in the Middle East. “There’s a widespread perception that not being active enough or recognizing the limits of American power has costs,” said Philip Gordon, a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama until 2015. “So the normal swing is to be more interventionist.”

No comments: