By Dave Lindorff
Dems who believe Trump is Putin's puppet are the new era's birthers
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It felt like I had stumbled into some weird kind of time warp yesterday morning as I was making coffee and listening to NPR's "Morning Edition." There was Cokie Roberts being interviewed about the current mass media obsession -- the alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee server by Russia, and President-elect Donald Trump's refusal to accept the evidence-free claims of the Democratic political appointees heading the nation's intel agencies that the the hack "definitely" happened.
Cokie bemoaned Trump's dissing of the intel agencies and also his stated desire to develop friendly relations with Russia, saying, "This country has had a consistent policy for 70 years towards the Soviet Union and Russia, and Trump is trying to undo that."
Think about that for a moment. On one level, the long-time NPR commentator is right: US policy towards the government in Moscow has been remarkably consistent -- and hostile -- for 70 years, albeit with a few brief periods of at least relative friendliness, as during the early and mid 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But that gets to the other point: There was, recall, a fundamental change that happened in 1989-90, when the Communist state founded in the Russian Revolution of 1917 collapsed, and the Soviet Union splintered into Russia and a bunch of smaller countries -- former Soviets in the old empire -- including Byelorussia, Ukraine, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and a bunch of stans in Central Asia.
The real question is, once the USSR ceased to exist and Russia, a rump country that, while geographically the largest in the world, is less than half the size of the US in population, found itself struggling to restructure it's centralized state-owned economy into a modern capitalist one, shouldn't the US have changed it's "consistent policy" of hostility towards what remained of the old Soviet Union -- particularly as Russia was no longer communist?
Instead of actively helping Russia recover, the US urged on President Boris Yeltsin a destructive "economic shock therapy" program of balanced budgets, open borders for imports and investment and, most importantly, a sell-off of state assets that quickly enabled corrupt former commissars to transform themselves into insanely wealthy new capitalist oligarchs.
While Russians struggled to survive through a period of rampant inflation, economic collapse and epic corruption, the US, instead of lending a helping hand as it had to the collapsed countries of Europe and after World War II (including our former bitter enemies, Germany and also Japan in Asia,), Washington under the Clinton administration began a program of aggressively and threateningly expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (a Cold War relic of an outdated containment policy which should have, like the Warsaw Pact, been mercifully disbanded), forcing an economically strapped Russia to respond by still spending precious resources on restoring its hollowed out military.
Yes, there has been a 70-year consistent policy of hostility towards Russia, not to mention unremitting anti-Russian propaganda in the US, as Roberts says, but that's because foreign policy in the US has been in the grip of a Republican-Democrat bi-partisan consensus that argues that the US must work to maintain absolute military superiority over all real and potential rivals, forever. And that consensus views Russia as a major potential threat to that superiority.
That's why we have a military budget of $600 billion, nearly three times as much China ($215 billion, much of that for domestic control purposes), another country that poses no threat to the US, and as all the rest of the world spends, while Russia's budget is just 11 percent of that amount at $66 billion, ranking it behind third-ranked Saudi Arabia ($87 billion).
While Obama Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and others in the Washington elite maintain that Russia poses an "existential threat" to the US, presumably because of the number of nuclear missiles it maintains, it's important to note that Russia has those missiles because the US has a similar number, most of them pointed at Russia--the main difference being that the US has many of its nuclear-tipped missiles located just minutes away from Russia at sites in Eastern Europe, while Russia's nukes are all on its own territory, thousands of miles and at least a half-hour's flight away from the US mainland -- a difference that means one country, the US, has the ability to launch a first strike and take out the other country's ability to respond to an attack, while the other has no ability to make such a first-strike threat.
This is all by way of getting to a larger point. The hysteria about Russian hacking of the US election -- an action which while it might have happened, is by no means proven -- is a meaningless diversion, because there is no evidence at all that Russia is an aggressive nation. While the US is moving Abrams battle tanks and nuclear-capable mobil artillery up close to the Russian border in the waning days of the Obama administration, forcing Russia to respond by beefing up its own national border defenses, no one could argue seriously that Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin, have any interest whatsoever in invading any country of Europe, however small and weak.
What possible advantage could come to Russia from such an action? Even if Russia could succeed in invading Poland and grabbing a piece of that country, or invading one of the Baltic countries that were former Soviets, such an action would make developing trade relations with the rest of Europe impossible, and would force Russia to engage in a costly occupation which it can ill afford.
Why, one has to ask, would Russia be building, with up to $100 billion in Chinese financing, a bunch of super high-speed rail lines from eastern China and eastern Siberia all the way to rail hubs in Germany and other European countries, to facilitate vastly expanded trade overland, if it were also secretly planning to conquer and occupy parts of Europe again, as it did in the pre-1990 era?
A cynic -- or realist -- might suspect that it is precisely this goal of economic integration of Europe and Asia, with Russia at the center, which lies at the root of US antipathy and hostility towards both Russia and China. If the US continues to cling to the insane, megalomaniacal idea of maintaining strategic dominance -- military and economic -- at all costs over all current and potential rivals around the globe, there is a certain logic to trying to ruin this grand plan for economic convergence on the Eurasian continent.
But let's at least demand honesty about it.