I once had an online conversation with a journalist whose name you would instantly recognize that started with a question for me: “Why Russia?” Why, this person wanted to know, are we witnessing a hate campaign aimed at Moscow, decades after the implosion of international communism and the breakup of the USSR?
I tried to give him a coherent and comprehensive answer, but Twitter is not conducive to in-depth discussions of that sort, and so I filed it away as a question to be answered at a later date. And certainly now is the time to answer it: the Democratic party and its media minions are demanding an “investigation” (i.e. a fishing expedition) into the burning question of whether the President of the United States is the Manchurian Candidate: “Putin’s puppet,” as Hillary Clinton infamously averred. Our out-of-control intelligence agencies are furiously pushing the same line.
This echo of the 2016 presidential campaign is surely one major reason why the anti-Russsian hysteria has reached such a fever pitch. As Glenn Greenwald writes in a recent piece in The Intercept:
“[I]t’s used to avoid confronting the fact that Trump is a by-product of the extraordinary and systemic failure of the Democratic Party. As long as the Russia story enables pervasive avoidance of self-critique – one of the things humans least like to do – it will continue to resonate no matter its actual substance and value.”
Well, yes, but the fact is that Mrs. Clinton likened Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hitler well before the 2016 election, and the same Democratic party foreign policy mandarins – Strobe Talbott comes to mind – were busy whipping up Russophobic sentiment in the years preceding Trump’s victory at the polls. Greenwald points out that President Obama’s policy toward Russia wasn’t at all Clintonian, but this is only true if one fails to look beneath the surface. The roots of the current hysteria were laid during his reign: after all, the US-German-EU effort to overthrow the democratically elected President of Ukraine, and the installation of a “pro-Western” regime, occurred while Obama was in the White House. The Magnitsky Act, targeting top Russian officials, was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2012.
And so while the present quite extraordinary campaign to portray Russia as our Major Adversary has been given considerable impetus by the Democratic party elites, eager to explain away their humiliating defeat – and discredit the current occupant of the White House – there’s much more to it than that. We can break it down into four major reasons:
1) Inter-service rivalry in the military – In May of last year, I wrote about the war breaking out between the various components of the US military, a battle over budgets:
“In early April, a battalion of senior military officials appeared before a Senate panel and testified that the US Army is ‘outranged and outgunned,’ particularly in any future conflict with Russia. Arguing for a much bigger budget for the Army, they claimed that, absent a substantial increase in funding, the Russians would overtake us and, even scarier, ‘the army of the future will be too small to secure the nation.’
“The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! And before you know it, Brooklyn will be renamed Putingrad.
“Of course it was pure coincidence that, shortly after these alarm bells were rung, a piece appeared in Politico magazine purportedly showing that the Russians were breathing down our necks: it revealed a ‘secret study’ – revealed for the first time! – that supposedly detailed Russia’s deadly new capabilities as demonstrated in Ukraine. Included in this potpourri of propaganda was the assertion by none other than Gen. Wesley Clark, former presidential candidate and well-known Russophobe, that Moscow had developed a tank that is for all intents and purposes ‘invulnerable.’”
The national debt is now at $20 trillion – a sum that the human mind can barely conceive. The reality is that we cannot afford the kind of money the military is now demanding. Indeed, the defense budget hike being advanced by the Trump administration is dead on arrival, and even if it were passed by Congress – an unlikely outcome – it would hardly satisfy the projected expansion of military spending envisioned by the generals. And so we are now witnessing a ramped up campaign to portray the Russians as ten feet tall. As a follow up piece in Politico by Mark Perry put it:
“This is the ‘Chicken-Little, sky-is-falling’ set in the Army,’ the senior Pentagon officer said. ‘These guys want us to believe the Russians are 10 feet tall. There’s a simpler explanation: The Army is looking for a purpose, and a bigger chunk of the budget. And the best way to get that is to paint the Russians as being able to land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. What a crock.”
A war with Russia would require land forces in huge numbers, more tanks, more artillery, and much more money for the Army. If the Russian Threat is what they say it is, then the Army will devour a glutton’s share of the military budget, leaving the Navy and the Air Force to starve. It would also require complementary upgrades for the militaries of all the NATO nations – a gold mine for the US weapons industry.
So one answer to the “Why Russia?” question is simple: follow the money.
And speaking of following the money, another big factor energizing the anti-Russian campaign is:
2) The Russian diaspora – When Putin came to power one of the first things he did was go after the infamous oligarchs who had backed – and manipulated – his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Under the drunken Yeltsin, these “entrepreneurs” had used the State apparatus to “privatize” (i.e. loot) what had previously been the State-owned economy, gobbling up entire sectors at unbelievably cheap prices. Putin moved to disassemble what was a competing power center, and the result was the flight of the oligarchs to the West. Having put their ill-gotten gains in Western banks and holding companies, they shacked up in London, New York, Switzerland, and the French Riviera, where they plotted Putin’s overthrow and their triumphant return.
There’s an awful lot of money sloshing around in these circles, and a good part of it is being used to buy up media properties that act as outlets for anti-Russian propaganda. Newspapers, think tanks, and various other vehicles for the molding of public opinion are financed by this Russian Diaspora, which acts as an intellectual Praetorian Guard for the politicians hoping to ride the wave of anti-Russia sentiment. They act as a lobby on behalf of the arms industry, and the political forces that stand to gain from the anti-Russian campaign – but they are not alone.
3) The Israel and Saudi lobbies – The network of organizations that form one of the most powerful lobbies in this country, and throughout Europe, has been a major albeit largely undercover factor in the growth and development of the anti-Russian propaganda blitz.
Back in 2013, when President Obama was seeking congressional authorization for military action in Syria, AIPAC deployed hundreds of lobbyists to Capitol Hill to convince the assembled solons to support him. And it was AIPAC and allied groups that successfully pressured Congress to impose Syrian sanctions.
When the Russians moved into Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad’s government, they came into conflict with the stated objectives of Israelis, who have long sought the overthrow of the Syrian regime. Indeed, Israeli officials have openly stated that they prefer ISIS to Assad – all the better to undercut their principal adversaries in the region, Iran and Hezbollah, both of which are fighting ISIS in Syria on Assad’s behalf.
Acting in concert with AIPAC and other pro-Israel organizations, the very well-funded Saudi lobby has been another factor driving the anti-Russian campaign. The Saudis, in collaboration with the Gulf sheikhdoms, have been funding the “moderate” Islamists who have been fighting to overthrow Assad, and with the Russian intervention they have an interest in pushing for a new cold war. Russia’s ties to Iran make Moscow, by extension, an enemy of the Kingdom, and, in Washington, D.C., the Saudi lobby is quietly fighting that battle in the corridors of power.
4) Ideology – No, the crazed rhetoric coming from “mainstream” Democratic figures like Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff isn’t just an opportunistic way of explaining the failure of Hillary Clinton to win the White House – there’s much more to it than that. Perhaps the most powerful factor driving the anti-Russian polemics we’re hearing from our liberal Democratic politicians and pundits – the kind we haven’t heard in this country since the heyday of McCarthyism – is ideology.
Russia has become an international locus of populist conservatism and nationalism. Against the globalism of the Davos crowd, Putin has enunciated the revival of national sovereignty as the organizing principle of his preferred international order. Against the cultural cosmopolitanism of the Western elites, Russia has championed traditional values. This is a red flag for American liberals, whose war on behalf of political correctness ignores such outdated forms as national boundaries.
Far more serious, however, is Putin’s opposition to the idea of a “liberal international order”: the Russian leader, who clearly doesn’t know his proper place in the world, has stubbornly upheld the validity of a multi-polar world where Washington’s will is far from supreme.
The ideological divide between East and West really started in the run up to the Iraq war, when neoconservatives went ballistic as Putin cleaned out the oligarchs and derided US war propaganda. He has since articulated a consistently disdainful critique of the idea that has shaped US foreign policy since the end of the cold war: the concept of America as a “hyperpower,” dominant all over the globe.
Putin is an unrepentant nationalist, and nationalism in any form – whether Russian, American, French, British, or whatever – is the enemy not only of our liberal globalists, but also of the neoconservatives. This antipathy is what united them during the 2016 election, and it is what brings them together in the Anti-Russian Popular Front. That they are both focused on a campaign to discredit – and impeach – President Trump on the grounds that he’s “Putin’s puppet” marries their twin obsessions in a perfect storm of vitriol.
You don’t have to approve of either Putin or Trump to see the danger in this. As the American political scene undergoes a seismic realignment, the War Party is taking advantage of this plastic moment to augment and strengthen its forces. With Putin as the new Saddam Hussein, and Russia as the new Iraq, our tireless warmongers are at it again. In a modern reenactment of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the liberal-neocon alliance is desperately maneuvering for a confrontation with Russia – they’ve even brought George W. Bush out of mothballs!
Whether they can revive the dead carcass of the Bush wing of the GOP remains to be seen: I’ll believe it when I see it. However that may be, I have to sit back and just enjoy this moment, because the sight of our “liberals” hailing Dubya as the voice of Republican sanity goes to show what we knew all along – that these people have no shame.