Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Peter Beinart on walking and talking at the same time in the Trump-Russia scandal

I was prepared to dislike this piece by Peter Beinart, especially given its title, Donald Trump's Defenders on the Left The Atlantic 07/23/2017. And there are echoes of his old even-the-liberal-New-Republic persona. He even puts the term "neoconservatives" in quotes at one point (see below), supposedly suggesting its not really a valid term, though it was the self-designation of the hawkish foreign policy advocates who developed it.

But mostly he makes a good analysis of left critics of the New Cold War rhetoric that many Democrats are using in connection with the Trump-Russia scandal. He focuses in particular on Max Blumenthal, who doesn't pull any punches in his criticisms of professional warmongers.

Beinart's point is that the intelligence agencies' reports on Russian meddling in the 2016 election have to be taken very seriously. And he addresses the difference between the current set of claims and the highly dubious - and false - claims of the Cheney-Bush Administration about "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq.

And he acknowledges what many Democrats and the mainstream press are reluctant to do, that the 2016 cyber-meddling takes place in a larger, dynamic political and military environment that the US government under Obama and Trump have incentive to be less than transparent about. "[I]n recent years the United States has waged proxy battles against Russia in places like Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan," he writes. And he sensibly observes that people who recognize the seriousness of the election meddling "need not respond to Russia’s meddling by supporting NATO expansion or greater military intervention in Syria."

And while acknowledging the legitimacy of the concerns of left critics like Max Blumenthal and Glenn Greenwald about the misuse of the election meddling for illegitimate or ill-advised, Beinart argues, "But last year, Russia unexpectedly attacked the United States itself in ways that genuinely harmed ordinary Americans. Trying to prevent Russia from doing so again doesn’t make you an imperialist or a hawk. No matter how anti-interventionist you are, you need to protect your own country."

I try to be cautious about using words like "attack," to describe what we know about Russia election meddling. Particularly since the Pentagon and the Obama Administration were publicly saying years ago that a cyber attack could be considered an "act of war." (Reuven Cohen, The White House and Pentagon Deem Cyber-Attacks "An Act of War" Forbes 06/05/2012) Are we going to declare war on nuclear-armed Russia over some propaganda bots?

[Max Blumenthal argues] that the anti-Moscow line Democrats are now pushing will come back to haunt them. It “will be repurposed by the political establishment” so that “anyone on the left … who steps out of line on the issues of permanent war or of corporate free trade will be painted as Russia puppets.” [Glenn] Greenwald has made a similar argument. On Monday he savaged a new foreign policy group, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which brings Clinton campaign veterans together with “neoconservatives” like Bill Kristol. “The song Democrats are now singing about Russia and Putin,” wrote Greenwald, “is one the neocons wrote many years ago, and all of the accompanying rhetorical tactics—accusing those who seek better relations with Moscow of being Putin’s stooges, unpatriotic, of suspect loyalties, etc.—are the ones that have defined the neocons smear campaigns for decades.”

There’s a basis to this fear. Democrats have unleashed dangerous forces by getting to the GOP’s right on foreign policy before. In 1992, for instance, Bill Clinton criticized George H.W. Bush for not deposing Saddam Hussein. In so doing, he helped lay the foundation for the push for regime change that culminated a decade later in the Iraq War. (A war I mistakenly supported.)

But the problem with downplaying Russian election meddling because you’re afraid it will fuel militarism is that it evades the central question: How worrisome is the meddling itself? [my emphasis]

During Obama's last month in office, his administration decline to call the election hacking an act of war. (John Bennett, White House Won’t Call Russia Hacking an Act of War Roll Call 01/05/2017) The Revered Statesman and Maverick John McCain, however, had something to say about it: "'When you attack a country, it’s an act of war,' the Arizona Republican said recently on Ukrainian television. 'And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay so that we can perhaps persuade Russians to stop this kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy.'"

I'm going to make a wild guess that Bundespräsident Von Trump will also decline to call it an act of war.

Gleen Greenwald's caution about the Alliance for Securing Democracy is well-founded (With New D.C. Policy Group, Dems Continue to Rehabilitate and Unify With Bush-Era Neocons The Intercept 07/17/2017):

Democrats often justify this union [with Republican neocoonns]as a mere marriage of convenience: a pragmatic, temporary alliance necessitated by the narrow goal of stopping Trump. But for many reasons, that is an obvious pretext, unpersuasive in the extreme. This Democrat/neocon reunion had been developing long before anyone believed Donald Trump could ascend to power, and this alliance extends to common perspectives, goals, and policies that have little to do with the current president.

It is true that neocons were among the earliest and most vocal GOP opponents of Trump. That was because they viewed him as an ideological threat to their orthodoxies (such as when he advocated for U.S. “neutrality” on the Israel/Palestine conflict and railed against the wisdom of the wars in Iraq and Libya), but they were also worried that his uncouth, offensive personality would embarrass the U.S. and thus weaken the “soft power” needed for imperial hegemony. Even if Trump could be brought into line on neocon orthodoxy — as has largely happened — his ineptitude and instability posed a threat to their agenda.

But Democrats and neocons share far more than revulsion toward Trump; particularly once Hillary Clinton became the party’s standard-bearer, they share the same fundamental beliefs about the U.S. role in the world and how to assert U.S. power. In other words, this alliance is explained by far more than antipathy to Trump.

Indeed, the likelihood of a neocon/Democrat reunion long predates Trump. Back in the summer of 2014 — almost a year before Trump announced his intent to run for president — longtime neocon-watcher Jacob Heilbrunn, writing in the New York Times, predicted that “the neocons may be preparing a more brazen feat: aligning themselves with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign, in a bid to return to the driver’s seat of American foreign policy.” [my emphasis]
And it's worth noting here that a more pro-Russian turn in foreign policy by the Trump Family Business Administration will not necessarily result in a more peaceful state of affairs. Managing a shift from antagonism and toward co-existence and partnership between the US and Russia is a complicated diplomatic and political task. The current Administration has so far not shown the aptitude for anything more complicated than haranguing the Boy Scouts with partisan rhetoric.

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