Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- March 28, 2017



Ernest Partridge

“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?

Jack Matlock, the final US Ambassador to the Soviet Union(1987-1991), emphatically agrees:

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 Bill Maher.

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 Russo-American relations.

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), Robert Parry,  John Mearsheimer, Stephen F. Cohen, Lawrence Wilkerson, 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 unanimous editorial 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 in January?

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 with separately.

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 deserve it.

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.




Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He 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).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .