There is not "a" Russia issue. There are several separate "Russia Issues." In other words, "it's complicated."
The American public does not like complications. It wants simplicity. Unfortunately, the mainstream media is much too willing to accommodate the public. In the following, I will discuss four of these issues, which can not be appropriately addressed unless they are dealt with separately
[Russia] is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
There is not "a" Russia issue. There are several separate "Russia Issues."
In other words, "it's complicated."
The American public does not like complications. It wants simplicity. Unfortunately, the mainstream media (MSM) is much too willing to accommodate the public.
In the following, I will discuss four of these issues, which can not be appropriately addressed unless they are dealt with separately
Full disclosure: In the nineties, my profession (philosophy professor) took me to Russia seven times, where I presented scholarly papers at the Soviet Academy of Sciences and several Russian universities. Today I frequently correspond by email and Skype with several Russian friends. I find much to criticize about Vladimir Putin and his government and, were I a Russian, I would not vote for him. This essay should not, therefore, be construed as a defense of Putin. The targets of my criticism are the Trump Administration and the mainstream American media.
These are the four issues:
Issue One: Did Donald Trump and his surrogates "collude" with the Russians? Which Russians? And what is the nature of this "collusion"?
Issue Two: Did Russia significantly "meddle" in the 2016 Presidential election?
Issue Three: Is Russia an dictatorship, oppressing its people, suppressing free expression, enriching its rulers, etc.?
Issue Four: Is Russia our "enemy"? Are Russian strategic objectives a threat to American interests and to world peace?
Issue One: Did Donald Trump and his surrogates "collude" with the Russians?
The answer to the first question is clearly "yes." Trump and his team have been "colluding" (i.e., secretly working together for mutual advantage) with Russians. But that admission alone does not appreciably advance our understanding.
It is doubtful that Trump is deliberately "colluding" to serve the economic or strategic interests of the Russian Federation -- or of the United States for that matter. It should be abundantly clear to all who are more than casually familiar with Trump's behavior and motivations, that the only "interests" that he cares about are Trump interests. And those interests are seriously threatened by Special Prosecutor Mueller's "Russiagate" investigations.
Trump, it seems, has dug himself into a deep hole with his Russian investments and loans, and with his association with a few shady characters both at home and abroad. This explains, in part, his reluctance to divulge his Federal Income Tax returns. Because of his numerous bankruptcies, law suits and contract violations, Trump is unable to obtain loans in the United States. He has found willing creditors in Russia. American banks, constrained by federal laws and by fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, do not grant loans to poor credit risks. Russian banks take a different approach: if by granting loans to known grifters and cheats, they can advance the strategic interests of the Russian government, they might issue such loans. In addition, these wily Russian are quite willing to ensnare Trump into some highly embarrassing situations (which the Russians call "kompromat"). Has Trump been "compromised" by Russian blackmail, as the Steel dossier contends? Perhaps, but it is too early to tell. We require more evidence.
As Mueller's bloodhounds sniff out this garbage, Trump is well aware that their discoveries might very well cost him his office, his fortune, or even his freedom.
So now Trump is desperately attempting to climb out of the hole that he has dug for himself, in part by "colluding" with Russian banks and billionaires. They have Trump "hooked" in a manner that should not be tolerated in a leader of an independent and sovereign nation. While one might put his assets into a blind trust (as Trump has refused to do), one can not put debts and criminal acts into a blind trust.
In addition, there is that infamous meeting in Trump Tower, in which the Trump family and Trump operatives "colluded" with Russians to obtain damaging information on Hillary Clinton - an unequivocal violation of election laws.
And so, the answer to the first question is "yes:" Donald Trump and his surrogates collude with the Russians. But which Russians? Gangsters and oligarchs to be sure. Russian government officials? Possibly, but not proven. Was this collusion treasonous? That is to say, was it done to deliberately advance the strategic interests of the Russian government? Absent supporting evidence, that charge is unsubstantiated.
However, it should be noted that "collusion" is not necessarily malignant. It can be positive, and even essential. Diplomatic agreements must always be preceded with secret negotiations. Juries deliberate secretly before they announce their verdicts. In 1962, ABC reporter John Scali "colluded" with KGB station chief Alexander Fomin to initiate the secret negotiations (i.e,, "collusion") that led to the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Donald Trump's "collusion" is not of this kind. It is self-serving and likely criminal, and thus it seriously compromises his ability to function as President of the United States.
Issue Two: Did Russia significantly "meddle" in the 2016 Presidential election?
"Everybody knows" that the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee's emails, in an attempt to "tilt" the election toward Donald Trump. This "knowledge" has advanced from a suspicion and allegation to an undoubted public truth, through constant repetition unencumbered by supporting evidence and uninhibited by dissent. Patrick Lawrencedescribes the process supremely well:
Possibilities became allegations, and these became probabilities. Then the probabilities turned into certainties, and these evolved into what are now taken to be established truths... This was accomplished via the indefensibly corrupt manipulations of language repeated incessantly in our leading media.
Wake up, America! Your government lies to you, and the mainstream media repeats and amplifies those "official lies" with a unified voice. We know this to be true, because we have all lived through it, however much most of us are determined to forget about it.
Have we all forgotten the Bush/Cheny/Rumsfeld/Powell lies that led us into the Iraq disaster? Have we forgotten the MSM's unanimous and uncritical acceptance of those lies -- for example, Judith Miller's "Aluminum Tubes," the alleged shipment of Niger uranium ore to Iraq, etc.
Have we forgotten Colin Powell's show and tell before the UN Security Council, with CIA chief George "Slam Dunk" Tenant seated behind him, providing an official Intelligence imprimatur upon that disgraceful charade. Once again, the MSM fell solidly behind the official lies. Typical was the remark of Richard Cohen of the Washington Post: Powell's presentation, he wrote, proved "without a doubt" that Iraq retains its weapons of mass destruction. "Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise." That judgment was echoed in the media throughout the land.
Of course, subsequent events proved the fool and the Frenchman to be right.
The Iraq fiasco followed upon a long history of official lies: the Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to an escalation of the Viet Nam war; the allegedly eye-witness account of the "incubator babies" incident told to Congress by the Kuwaiti "nurse" who turned out to be a member of the Royal family. And so on.
So now we have Russian hacking of the DNC emails. Another lie? Possibly not. But surely, by now, we have warrant to be skeptical.
"But doesn't the January Intelligence Report prove that the Russians hacked the election?"
That report was released, secure in the knowledge that most Americans do not read. So what the public "knows" about the report is what the MSM has told them about it. What the report actually tells us is quite different from what the MSM makes it out to be. Don't take my word for it, read it yourself.
But didn't all seventeen intelligence agencies agree with the report? "Agree"? Perhaps. But that unanimous "agreement" may be more political than substantive. We've travelled this road before. In October 2002, a National Intelligence estimate (pubic version) proclaimed that "most analysts assess Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." We know now that "most analysts" then were wrong. The parallels between that 2002 Intelligence report and the January report are startling.
Agreement aside, those seventeen agencies did not all "participate" in the report. As CIA chief at the time, James Clapper, told a Senate Committee: "Only three agencies were directly involved in this assessment." But doesn't the Report supply solid evidence of a hack of the DNC emails? Wrong again. quoth the Report: "Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete of fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents."
But now a skunk has wandered into this media lawn party. The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) , steadfast American patriots all, have released a report disclosing that a "hack," via the internet, was technically impossible. The rate of data transfer could only be accomplished by a "leak" -- an on-site transfer onto a storage device (presumably a thumb drive). There are additional problems with the official/media "hacking" story. VIPS does a far better job of presenting this evidence than I can, so I urge you to read their report. It is quite brief and lucid. For an elaboration of the several reasons to doubt the official "hacking story" see Skip Folen and Patrick Lawrence.
Best guess: disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporters leaked the emails hoping that they might tell the world that their candidate was "done in" by "establishment" Clinton partisans in the DNC. If so, this objective has backfired spectacularly, as the DNC "regulars?" have successfully shifted blame to the Russians in an attempt to excuse Clinton's defeat in the election.
So did the Russians meddle in the election? When asked that question, I think of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld lies about Saddam's WMDs, and the MSM's uncritical acceptance of those lies. And I think of Colin Powell's dog and pony show at the UN Security Council. So I have learned this much at least: my government lies to me without scruple and the MSM amplifies those lies with a single voice. "Fool me twice? Not gonna be fooled again." (GWB)
If the Russians "meddled," their efforts were insignificant alongside the meddling of the GOP in that election: uncounted ballots in Michigan, ballot stuffing in Wisconsin, voter suppression in North Caroline and Pennsylvania, etc. All this was briefly noted here and there in the media and then promptly forgotten. What? You haven't heard about this? Why am I not surprised?
"But we are at war" shouts Morgan Freeman, along with Rachel Maddow, Malcolm Nance, Joy Reid, and countless others? Meddling in our election is "equivalent to war," we are told time and again.
And yet, "regime change" is an established, open, and unquestioned aspect of our foreign policy. In violation of the United Nations Charter, we have appointed ourselves judge, jury and executioner of other countries' governments. By some counts, as many as twenty in the last seventy years. In many cases, we have overthrown legally elected governments: Iran (1953), Chile (1973), and arguably Ukraine (2014). In Iran and Chile, these democracies were replaced with ruthless dictatorships.
And in 1996, American "election experts" along with several Russia billionaires, succeeded in flipping the election of the unpopular president, Boris Yeltsin. Far from hiding this accomplishment, Time Magazineboasted about it, in a nine page cover story, saying in effect: "aren't we Americans clever! We got to select the Russian president!" On the cover we read: "Yanks to the rescue: the secret story of how American advisors helped Yeltsin win."
Few Americans are aware of this "meddling" in the Russian presidential election. Few Russians are not aware of it.
If Russia attempts to "meddle" in our election, we are told that these attempts are "the equivalent of war." If the United States does it, it is standard operating procedure -- we call it "regime change." International norms do not apply to us. But then, don't we proudly tell the world that we are an "exceptional" nation?
Add to this, the neo-con's openly declared intention to bring about "regime change" in Russia. With a solid majority of Russians supporting Putin, good luck with that. As history testifies, outside "meddling" in Russian politics solidifies support for the Russian leader.
A suggestion: how about a deal with Putin? You keep your hands off of our politics, and we will do the same with yours. It would be easy enough for either side to recognize a violation of the deal. I believe that Putin would accept it. Is it not at least worth a try?
The second part of the DNI report deals with RT (formerly "Russia Today"). The DNI reprints a five year old article, which labors mightily to prove that which is not in dispute: namely, that RT is supported by the Russian government and thus, not surprisingly, presents the viewpoint of that government.
But it does much more. The showcase RT panel show, "Crosstalk," invites scholars and journalists from around the world, many of them critical of the Putin regime. A recent "Crosstalk" was comprised of three American conservatives. We are told that RT promoted the candidacy of Donald Trump. How then explain the presence on RT of vehemently anti-Trump commentators such as Thom Hartmann, Ed Shultz, Chris Hedges, Mike Papantonio and Noam Chomsky. It is doubtful that any of these progressive voices could find a place in our "free" mainstream media.
Suppose the US government succeeds in shutting down RT -- "The Voice of Russia." What follows? Will Putin then order the shutdown ofThe Voice of America? Or might Putin then close the Russian internet, which is now totally free and unrestricted. (Yes, it's true, although the MSM will not tell you this). Will the end of unrestricted email and Skype follow, ending my conversations with several friends in Russia? Where does it all end?
For more about the DNI report see my "In the Throes of a National Hissy Fit."
Issue Three; Is Russia a dictatorship, oppressing its people, suppressing free expression, enriching its rulers, etc.?
The MSM would have us believe that today Russia is an economic and political disaster zone. Consider:
- Income inequality: the top 1% of the country's population owns 40% of it wealth.
- The media is almost entirely managed by interests that support the federal government. Dissent is suppressed.
- The national elections are rigged to support the ruling party.
- The legislature is responsive to the wealthy and powerful, not ordinary citizens, who "appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."
Horrible situation, isn't it. Alas, those poor Russians!
Except that I am describing here conditions in the United States of America, not in Russia. Here are the references: income inequality, media centralization.
Election rigging? There is abundant evidence from exit polls, steadfastly ignored by the MSM, that paperless voting machines are been rigged. But let's set all those controversial issues aside. Other modes of rigging are undisputed, in particular, "cross checking," voter suppression laws and gerrymandering.
As for legislative control, the quotation above is from Gilens and Page's landmark study of political influence in the United States. The full quotation: "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."
Perhaps we Americans should clean up the civic garbage in our own back yard, rather than complain about the mess in our neighbor's yard.
Political and economic reform in the United States is our responsibility. Reform in Russia is the responsibility of the Russians. Rather than welcome our uninvited "assistance," the Russian will more likely tell us to bug-off and mind our own business, just as we would if the situation were reversed.
Furthermore, our attempts to interfere with the Russians' domestic affairs is complicated by the fact that Vladimir Putin enjoys the overwhelming support of the Russian people. To be sure, the Russian people have much to complain about in Putin's Russia, and complain they do -- openly and without fear of repression.
My Russian friends, all of whom are openly critical of Putin, appear to be content with their living conditions. Despite the sanctions, their standard of living is much improved from the Yeltsin days.
But what about those billionaire-oligarchs? Some historical perspective is in order. In the Soviet Union, there were no billionaires. They appeared during the Yeltsin decade when a few former Communist aparatchiki and industry managers became instant capitalists and seized state capital resources for themselves. When Putin assumed power in January 2000, he made a deal with the oligarchs: you may keep your wealth provided you stay out of politics. Those who refused, such as Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khordokovsky, had their assets seized and were either sent to prison or exiled.
Our mainstream Ministry of Truth to the contrary notwithstanding, Vladimir Putin is not an absolute dictator. The revolutions of 1917 and 1991 constantly remind him that the patience of the Russian people has its limits. Moreover, the Russian military demands that Putin defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. The oligarchs demand that Putin secure their wealth and investments. If Putin fails, he will likely be replaced, and by a new leader even more hostile to the United States.
Issue Four: Is Russia our "enemy"? Are Russian strategic objectives a threat to American interests and to world peace?
Some time ago, I heard Hillary Clinton proclaim that Russia "threatens our interests." I do not recall that she identified those "interests." I've lost the reference to that Clinton remark, but no matter, that charge is repeated endlessly by "opinion leaders in government and media. Rarely are we told what those interests are.
Could it be that Russia is threatening our "interest" in becoming the "global hegemon" -- an oft-proclaimed goal of the neo-cons? As Kristol and Kagan explain in an influential Foreign Affairs article:
A hegemon is nothing more or less than a leader with preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain. That is America's position in the world today.... [P]eace and American security depend on American power and the will to use it... American hegemony is the only reliable defense against a breakdown of peace and international order. The appropriate goal of American foreign policy, therefore, is to preserve that hegemony as far into the future as possible." (See also the Project for a New American Century.)
Putin has said that Russia wishes to be America's "partner," while the Americans want Russia to be their "Vassal." (Identical words in Russian: "пdegreesртнер" and "вdegreesссdegreesл"). If the United States has an "interest" in attacking Russian sovereignty and reducing Russia to an American "vassal," Putin, and I dare say all Russians, will have none of it and they will resist strenuously, as would we.
So what if the Russians refuse to submit to the neo-con's global "hegemony"? Surely China will likewise refuse. And we might well expect that our European and Asian allies will also resist, beginning with Germany, France and Japan. The Islamic countries, excluding Saudi Arabia, are lost to us. If, despite this resistance, the United States persists in its efforts, in effect, to make the entire world its colonies, who then is a threat to peace?
We Americans pride ourselves with the conviction that we are universally admired and envied throughout the world. It is a delusion. In fact, a 2014 International Gallup Poll reveals that the United States is regarded, far and away, as the greatest threat to world peace. Russia does not appear among the top six countries.
American global "hegemony" is illegal and immoral. But more fundamentally, it is impossible. But that claim requires a separate essay, which is forthcoming.
Perhaps the Russians threaten our interest in remaining "the leader of the free world." But that leadership has been severely diminished, not by the Russians, but rather by the antics of our buffoonish President. The Russians did not do this to us, we did this to ourselves.
Similarly, we are often told that Russia is the "primary threat" to the security of the United States.
With a military budget one tenth as large as that of the United States, Russia is ill-prepared to restore the old Soviet Union, or to re-occupy eastern Europe. And there is no evidence whatever that they wish to do so.
The Russian military has parity with the United States in one category only: strategic nuclear weapons. And that should worry both sides, for it suggests that conventional warfare beyond its borders would quickly "go nuclear."
While Russian offensive capabilities beyond its borders are severely limited, the same cannot be said for their defensive posture.
In the late eighteenth century, the Americans showed the world that the mightiest Empire could not win a war fought on the enemy's home territory. We Americans had to be taught the same lesson by the Vietnamese and now the Afghans. Do we really believe that we can defeat the Russians militarily on their own territory, when our "greatest military in history" cannot prevail over peasant armies in Vietnam and Afghanistan? Come to think of it, the American military has not won a war in the past seventy years, unless you count the victory of the US marines over the Granadian police force.
With these lessons of history in mind, who can imagine that the United States can succeed in defeating Russia on its own territory where Napoleon and Hitler failed.
With the Russians unable to win abroad, and "the West" unable to defeat the Russians on their own territory, where is the military threat?
The threat, of course, is that of nuclear war. If there is a nuclear war, it will almost certainly be unintended -- by accident, derangement, or equipment malfunction.
The threat of nuclear war, along with climate change and terrorism, are common threats which, in a sane world, would unite Russia and the United States in common cause.
Unfortunately, this is not a sane world.
Where are the grown-ups?
I have now reached my self-imposed limit of twelve pages with many questions not addressed. Among them:
1, Are we really "at war" with Russia, due to Russia's alleged election interference?
2 What are the media Russophobes trying to accomplish? What are their goals?
3. Goals aside, where is this Russophobia leading us?
4. What goals, what "trends"are remotely worth the costs and perils of Cold War II?
5. What are the implications of a "war" with Russia? What does "war" mean to Russians and Americans?
6. What common interest could, and should, unite th United States and Russia?
These questions and several more will be addressed in my next essay.
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. Partridge has taught philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org). His book in progress, "Conscience of a Progressive," can be seen at www.igc.org/gadfly/progressive/^toc.htm .