Monday, March 27, 2017

The Russia-Trump scandal, the "Deep State" and the far right in Europe

Aljazeera's Inside Story has a worthwhile discussion of the Trump-Russia scandal as of early last week, How far can FBI probe of Russia's role in US vote go? 03/21/2017

At just after 19:00, they touch on the "Deep State" concept that has been recently mainstreamed by the "alt-right," but the discussion on it doesn't start until about 22:00. I don't really know when the term first came into play. It was been used by both the left and the right, but usually not by mainstream politicians or major media. It's not very common in left-leaning alternative media, but it does come up. And it has a perhaps vague but not crackpot meaning for left-leaning analysts. They mostly use it as a reference for the intelligence and military institutions. See, for instance: Mike Lofgren, Anatomy of the Deep State Moyers and Company 02/21/2014; Liam O'Donaghue, “Every president has been manipulated by national security officials”: David Talbot exposes America’s “deep state” Salon 10/15/2015.

Lofgren uses the term to describe the more secretive parts of the government, particularly the national security components, which also maintains a corrupt relationship to the most wealthy businesspeople:

Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude.
I've always regarded "Deep State" as an awkward formulation. But I'm not inclined to cede its meaning exclusively to the far right. It's certainly not a term that I would immediately write off somebody who uses it as a conspiracy theorist. But there are conspiracy theorists who use the term.

Here is a take from conservative-leaning former CIA analyst Philip Giraldi from a couple of years ago, Deep State America: Democracy is often subverted by special interests operating behind the scenes The American Conservative 07/30/2015. He discusses how the term "deep state" has been used in Turkey:

In Turkey, the notion that there has to be an outside force restraining dissent from political norms was, until recently, even given a legal fig leaf through the Constitution of 1982, which granted to the military’s National Security Council authority to intervene in developing political situations to “protect” the state. There have, in fact, been four military coups in Turkey. But deep state goes far beyond those overt interventions. It has been claimed that deep state activities in Turkey are frequently conducted through connivance with politicians who provide cover for the activity, with corporate interests and with criminal groups who can operate across borders and help in the mundane tasks of political corruption, including drug trafficking and money laundering.

A number of senior Turkish politicians have spoken openly of the existence of the deep state. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit tried to learn more about the organization and, for his pains, endured an assassination attempt in 1977. Tansu Ciller eulogized “those who died for the state and those who killed for the state,” referring to the assassinations of communists and Kurds. There have been several significant exposures of Turkish deep state activities, most notably an automobile accident in 1996 in Susurluk that killed the Deputy Chief of the Istanbul Police and the leader of the Grey Wolves extreme right wing nationalist group.
He describes his own concept of what the Deep State is this way:

In truth America’s deep state is, not unlike Turkey’s, a hybrid creature that operates along a New York to Washington axis. Where the Turks engage in criminal activity to fund themselves, the Washington elite instead turns to banksters, lobbyists, and defense contractors, operating much more in the open and, ostensibly, legally. U.S.-style deep state includes all the obvious parties, both public and private, who benefit from the status quo: including key players in the police and intelligence agencies, the military, the treasury and justice departments, and the judiciary. It is structured to materially reward those who play along with the charade, and the glue to accomplish that ultimately comes from Wall Street. “Financial services” might well be considered the epicenter of the entire process. Even though government is needed to implement desired policies, the banksters comprise the truly essential element, capable of providing genuine rewards for compliance. As corporate interests increasingly own the media, little dissent comes from the Fourth Estate as the process plays out, while many of the proliferating Washington think tanks that provide deep state “intellectual” credibility are similarly funded by defense contractors.

The cross fertilization that is essential to making the system work takes place through the famous revolving door whereby senior government officials enter the private sector at a high level. In some cases the door revolves a number of times, with officials leaving government before returning to an even more elevated position. Along the way, those select individuals are protected, promoted, and groomed for bigger things. And bigger things do occur that justify the considerable costs, to include bank bailouts, tax breaks, and resistance to legislation that would regulate Wall Street, political donors, and lobbyists. The senior government officials, ex-generals, and high level intelligence operatives who participate find themselves with multi-million dollar homes in which to spend their retirement years, cushioned by a tidy pile of investments.

America’s deep state is completely corrupt: it exists to sell out the public interest, and includes both major political parties as well as government officials.
This definition is broader that just the most secretive parts of the national security establishment. Geraldi defines the concept in a way that would be almost interchangeable with terms like the One Percent, or "ruling class," or "ruling elite."

The first place I remember encountering the term is from Peter Dale Scott, a poet and professor emeritus at UC-Berkeley. He uses it in connection with his notion of Deep Politics, by which he means investigating hidden actions by the national security establishment that significantly shape policy. He is most widely known as a researcher of the Kennedy assassination, which I suppose makes him literally a conspiracy theorist. One of his most recent books is called, The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy (2014). But Scott also is known for careful empirical research, even if the conclusions he draws from them may be too speculative.

Here's a CNN news analysis by Hunter Schwarz on the recent broader exposure of the term, What's a 'Deep State' and why is it a new buzzword for the online right? 03/11/2017

Mike Lofgren returned to the topic this month, The Deep State 2.0 Moyers and Company 03/02/2017.

Russia and the European far right

This article from February describes the evolution of the influence of Putinism on the far right in two EU countries, Austria and France, Moscow and the far right in France and Austria: From Plan A to Plan B (and back?) by Anton Shekhovtsov Eurozine 02/06/2017. The far right party in the case of Austria is the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria/Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs) and for France Marine Le Pen's FN (National Front/Front National).

Basing his argument in particular on those two countries, he writes:

For the Kremlin, Plan A is to work with mainstream western politicians who either support or, at the very least, turn a blind eye to Moscow’s aggressive foreign policy. In Germany, these politicians are called Putin–Versteher – “Putin understanders”. Importantly, Plan A will only work if the Putin–Versteher are in power or very close to getting into power. If the Putin–Versteher in a particular western country become too few or have too little authority, then Moscow opts for Plan B. This is to support anti-systemic, especially far right, political forces to subvert the liberal-democratic order.

Moscow’s unwillingness to cooperate with the FN in 2011 can be explained by the Kremlin’s anticipation that Plan A would work with [current President François Hollande after he became president in 2012. After Hollande turned out to be critical of Russia’s foreign policy, Moscow activated Plan B and started supporting the FN. In Austria, Plan A was in place until 2016 because of the strong position of the SPÖ/ÖVP coalition. However recent developments seem to indicate that, in the Austrian case, the Kremlin is shifting from Plan A to Plan B.
There are plenty of reasons to reject the FPÖ and the FN: xenophobic tendencies, crackpot approaches to economics, repeatedly displayed authoritarian tendencies. But the kind of strategy he describes there is a standard practice by presumably all countries. How a country shows it's favor for parties or factions in others can vary a lot.

As anyone minimally familiar with Latin American history would know, their large neighbor to the North has sometimes been active in intervening in domestic politics in some countries. To put it mildly.

And even in other parts of the world, the US hasn't always been subtle about the influencing:

That was the cover of Time magazine for 07/15/1996, after the Clinton Administration tried hard to make sure Boris Yeltsin stayed President after the first post-Soviet national democratic election there, in 1996. The story itself, Rescuing Boris, is unfortunately behind subscription.

Trying to influence the composition of the government in another country covers a wide range of actions, from expressing verbal support in some way for the policies or personnel of one party, at the mild end of that spectrum, to using military force to impose regime change, at the other. To treat the whole spectrum of actions as illegitimate doesn't square with international law or good practical sense. That's why countries have laws regulating how other countries can operate within their borders. It's illegal in the US, for instance, for foreign nationals to contribute to American political campaigns. And that certainly holds for foreign governments contributing to political parties and campaigns, too. I don't know if the US actually broke Russian or international law in the electoral intervention in Russia for the 1996 election.

Some legal interventions in politics that would require a great deal of imagination to describe as espionage would include the following. During the Cheney-Bush Administration, Bush invited then CDU-leader but-not-yet-Chancellor Angela Merkel over for a friendly meeting after she expressed support for the invasion of Iraq - which of course was an example of the regime-change-by-force end of the spectrum - when the official foreign policy of her country under Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was opposing it. Whether that had any decisive influence on the elections that made Merkel Chancellor in 2005 is doubtful.

Last year, President Obama made a point of going to visit Argentine President Mauricio Macri who became President there in December 2015. This was a diplomatic signal that the Obama Administration preferred Macri's conservative government to the social-democratic/Peronist government of Cristina Fernández, who had been President since 2007. Whether that was a desirable thing depends on the position one takes to US-Argentine and US-Latin American relations and policies. But it was at the far opposite end of the spectrum from a regime change operation.

In 2015, the Republican majority invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give an unusual to speech joint session of Congress. And the Republicans were using that to generate opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran that was part of the official foreign policy of the US under the Obama Administration at the time. (Peter Baker, In Congress, Netanyahu Faults ‘Bad Deal’ on Iran Nuclear Program New York Times 03/03/2015) Lots of people were unhappy about that move. But whatever diplomatic protocols it may have trampled on, and whether or not is was a good idea for either Neyanyahu or the Republicans, that also was an entirely legal move, though all involved recognized it would likely have some effect on American politics. And in particular, on support for the Iran nuclear agreement.

The reported Russian intervention into the 2016 campaign and what relationship Trump's campaign may have had with it needs to be thoroughly and honestly investigated.

But what I'm saying here is that we also need to try to take a realistic view of what we're discussing. Anyone who tries to pretend that the very idea of Russia influencing the election in some way is something to take to the fainting couch over, probably isn't trying to take a realistic view.

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