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
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
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
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
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
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”
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 Steele 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
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
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
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
“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 Lawrence describes 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
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” 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
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)
“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
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
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
“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 Magazine boasted 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
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 suspect 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
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 of The 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
For more about the DNI report see my
“In the Throes of a National Hissy
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
- 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:
Election rigging? There is abundant
evidence from exit polls, steadfastly ignored by the MSM, that paperless
voting machines have been rigged. But let's set all this controversial issue aside. Other modes of rigging are undisputed, in particular,
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
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
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:
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:
"партнер" and “вассал”). If
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
a 2014 International Gallup Poll
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
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,
will almost certainly be unintended – by accident,
derangement, or equipment malfunction.
According the the United Nations charter, Russia has the right to protect
its legitimate interests as a sovereign nation.
There is no legitimate right of a nation to impose "global hegemony" or
"regime change" on other nations.
Does Russia have any "illegitimate interests" that threaten our security and
If so, name them and provide evidence.
If none, then Russia is not our "enemy."
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.
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
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
These questions and several more will be addressed in my next essay.