TRUMP AIDES TALKED TO RUSSIANS? BIG
“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
(Cool Hand Luke)
Several years ago a Russian friend invited me to lunch at an elegant
restaurant a couple of blocks from the White House. My friend pointed to a
brass plaque on the wall of our booth. The plaque indicated that at this
very location on October 26, 1962, ABC news reporter John Scali met with
Alexander Fomin, the KGB station chief in Washington. Fomin told Scali that
the Russians were open to a diplomatic solution to the Cuban missile crisis.
Fomin asked Scali to deliver this message to Scali’s contacts in the State
Department, which he did.
Thus began the negotiations that brought the United States and the Soviet
Union back from the brink of nuclear war. The deal? The Soviet Union agreed
to remove the missiles from Cuba, in exchange for the American pledge never
to invade Cuba and eventually to remove missiles from Turkey.
Suppose the conditions of today were in place in October 1962. Might not
Scali have said to Fomin, “I can’t do that. What you’re asking would be a
violation of the Logan act.” If Scali had so replied, then we might not be
here today discussing this event of 55 years ago.
But now, the simple act of “talking to the Russians” appears to be a
disqualification for high office. This act, and the lying about it that
followed, cost Michael Flynn his job as National Security Advisor. The same
offense may yet oust Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The very idea of “talking to the Russians” has become so toxic in today’s
politics and media, that a cabinet nominee would rather risk perjury than
admit to meeting a Russian diplomat face-to-face.
(Personal disclosure: In the nineties
I traveled to Russia seven
times, presenting papers at the Soviet Academy of Sciences and several
Russian universities. Today I remain in contact with many Russian friends
and colleagues. Question: Where do I go to turn myself in?)
Why didn’t Flynn, Sessions and others simply say, straight out: “of course I
talked to the Russians. Isn’t it to our advantage to learn what the Russians
are thinking and, conversely, for the Russians to find out where we stand?”
As Winston Churchill once said, “better jaw, jaw, than war, war.”
Of course, there are legitimate limits to what an American official should
say to a hostile foreign government. Classified information is clearly out
of bounds. Also private business deals facilitated by the advantages of
public office. (Cf. the emoluments clause of the Constitution). And, to be
sure, collaborative efforts with a foreign power to influence elections must
be forbidden and, if discovered, punished.
However, other communication should be encouraged. This would include
scientific information and research, cultural and educational exchanges,
collaborative business enterprises, open access to international media, and
unrestricted travel by ordinary citizens.
In fact, discussions between politicians, both in and out office of are not
only acceptable, they are routine. Several Presidents-Elect and their staffs
have met with leaders of rival countries, Russia included, and no one raised
a ruckus about it. Why now?
Matlock, the final US Ambassador to the Soviet Union(1987-1991),
Our press seems to be in a feeding frenzy
regarding contacts that President Trump’s supporters had with Russian
Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and with other Russian diplomats. The
assumption seems to be that there was something sinister about these
contacts, just because they were with Russian diplomats. As one who
spent a 35-year diplomatic career working to open up the Soviet Union
and to make communication between our diplomats and ordinary citizens a
normal practice, I find the attitude of much of our political
establishment and of some of our once respected media outlets quite
incomprehensible. What in the world is wrong with consulting a foreign
embassy about ways to improve relations? Anyone who aspires to advise an
American president should do just that. . .
In fact, I would say that any person who presumes to advise an incoming
president on vital policy issues needs to understand the approach of the
country in question and therefore is remiss if he or she does not
consult with the embassy in question. . . I have been taught that in a
democracy with the rule of law, the accused are entitled to a
presumption of innocence until convicted. But we have leaks that imply
that any conversation with a Russian embassy official is suspect. That
is the attitude of a police state.
He is correct, of course. So why the brouhaha
over these “nefarious” “Russian contacts”?
My best guess is that (a) the media loves a good, ongoing “spy story” –
great for profits, and (b) the Democrats have adopted a demonization of
Vladimir Putin and Russia as a convenient crow-bar with which to pummel
Donald Trump and perchance pry him from his office. Damage to Trump is their
main objective. A resumption of the Cold War and the risk of nuclear war is
“collateral damage.” The attack mob includes such otherwise admirable
individuals as Michael Moore, Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann, John Oliver and
Leading the attack against Trump via Russia is MSNBC, and Rachel Maddow in
particular. Recently, Maddow has escalated her attacks with rhetoric that
was indistinguishable in form from the worst of FOX News: cherry-picked
quotations, anecdotal evidence, “coincidences,” false analogies, unproven
assumptions, innuendoes (“is it not possible that...?), etc.
As a lifelong Democrat, I am appalled. (I am now an independent). Let me be
clear: I regard the Trump administration as an unmitigated disaster, and his
removal from office as an urgent necessity. Trumpism must be resisted by
almost any means necessary. Almost! Among the unacceptable means:
armed insurrection, assassination, and provocations that threaten to lead to
war with Russia.
What do these mainstream media (MSM) Russophobes hope to accomplish with
their rhetoric? A revived Cold War, perchance? To what advantage?
Intentions aside, have they paused to contemplate where this unanimously
accepted demonization of Russia and Putin might be leading the United States
and the world beyond? Does the question ever cross their collective minds?
For that matter, why this unanimity? The MSM obsession with “balance” gives
us panels with opposing views on “trickle-down economics” and climate
change. (“The shape of the earth – two views.” Paul Krugman). But not on
There is, in fact, a view of Russia, that is vastly different from “the
accepted wisdom” – a view that is shared by numerous scholars and diplomats,
many of whom have lived in Russia and speak and read Russian. Prominent
among these dissenters are: Jack Matlock
(Former Ambassador to the Soviet Union),
among others. All loyal American citizens. Why are they totally excluded
from MSM programming? Is it perhaps too much to ask that we hear from the
Russians – e.g.,
Dmitri Peskov, ,
Maria Zakharova (Note especially the final two minutes), Vladimir
Pozner, (US-Russian dual citizen), all fluent in English? (Here is a
lively debate, “on both sides,” with Kasparov-Applebaum v. Cohen-Pozner.
In Canada, of course) .
US public and media opinion appears to be set in stone: Russia is our enemy
and is out to demolish our influence in the global economy and diplomacy.
There can be no doubt about this.
“There can be no doubt.” Now where have I heard that before?
Oh yes!: “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of
mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against
our friends, against our allies, and against us." That pronouncement by VP
Cheney was soon followed by Colin Powell’s presentation before the UN
Security Council of “proof” of Saddam’s WMDs. Powell’s charge was met with
endorsement in the American press. As we Americans, along with the rest
of the world, now realize, it was all a lie, resulting in irreparable damage
to American credibility and prestige throughout the world.
Now it is possible that the publicly accepted demonization of Vladimir Putin
is entirely justified. But if so, are we not entitled to a fair debate
including informed contrary opinions, along with a presentation of evidence
– something more than the “proof by repetition” that we are offered today,
or the pathetic
evidence-free report of the Director of National Intelligence released
The MSM is mixing together several distinct
issues. Most prominently: (a) alleged Russian interference in the 2016
election, (b) a presumed threat to American and western security, and (c)
involvement of Trump and his associates with Russian oligarchs for personal
financial gain. It is essential that these issues be identified and dealt
If DonaldTrump and RexTillerson are talking to the Russians in order to work
out peaceful coexistence, mutual disarmament and an end to Cold War II,
then let’s call off the media hounds and wish them God speed. Who knows: if
they succeed, they may earn a Nobel Peace Prize, and moreover, they will
If, on the other hand, the Russians, in league with Trump operatives,
interfered with the election in order to put Trump in the White House, and
if Trump and his friends are using their offices to connive with Russian
gangsters in order to enrich themselves at the expense of global peace and
order, then by all means release the bloodhounds, gather the evidence and
nail the bastards.
The former interpretation presupposes intelligence, morality, and humane
sentiments nowhere in evidence in Trump’s behavior and personal history. The
latter interpretation is entirely consistent with what we have come to know
about Donald Trump, whose “humane interests” do not extend beyond one
particular human: Donald Trump.
In any case, it is imperative that we radically separate the profit-oriented
machinations of Trump Enterprises from laudable efforts to achieve peaceful
accommodation between the United States and Russia.
Clearly, the Democrats and the media have not distinguished among these
issues. We are all in greater peril because of that failure.