Russiagate, American Politics, and American Imperialism
I have just read or re-read the best account of how and why “the furor of Russiagate was born” in the “Afterword” to Max Blumenthal’s The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump. It goes as follows.
Trump’s election triggered “a moral panic” among those who were most heavily invested in our national security state and the war on terror. Trump had been “anti-interventionist” in his campaign and he “lambasted Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” asserted that he was not prepared to “arm Syrian ‘moderate rebels,’ voiced his “suspicion of NATO,” as well as expressing an “interest in détente with Russia.” [p. 275] So, “Joining with the dead-enders of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, who were desperate to deflect from their crushing loss, the mandarins of the national security state worked their media contacts to generate the narrative of Trump-Russia collusion. Out of the postelection despair of liberals and national security elites, the furor of Russiagate was born. [pp. 275-76]
It has probably been forgotten how “Trump roasted Bush and his family’s neoconservative legacy of military failures.” As Trump said in the November debate, “We’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment to these people – we have no idea who they are!. . . They may be far worse than Assad.” [p. 243] As Blumenthal notes: “Trump’s diatribe was among the most incendiary attacks of military interventionism ever witnessed by a nationally televised audience. And it was perhaps the first time the Bush family had been so publicly and personally skewered for the damage that their wars had done to the country’s social fabric.” [p. 243] And this attack sent “Trump surging ahead of [Jeb] Bush by twenty points.”
When later, Bush attempted to counter by arguing that “While Donald Trump was building a reality show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe, and I am proud of what he did.” To which Trump responded: “The World Trade Center came down under your brother’s reign. Remember that? That’s not keeping us safe.” [p. 244] As Blumenthal says: “Trump had crossed a line, or at least the crown of lobbyists, white-gloved party activists and campaign aides [present] thought so. Senator Rubio defended Bush, asserting “he kept us safe and I’m forever grateful for what he did for this country.” To which Trump responded: “How did he keep us safe when the World Trade Center came down?” [p. 244]
The beltway crowd was “stunned” by Trump’s accusations. But Trump went on to lament the consequences of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein who, Trump asserted, “killed terrorists [while] today Iraq is the Harvard terrorism.” [p. 245] As Blumenthal points out, “The political class has underestimated the depth of antiwar sentiment across middle America, and the depth of the visceral hatred average Americans held for the political establishment.” [p. 245]
So, in a panic after Trump had won, the political class resurrected “the phantasmagoria of the McCarthy era,” branding “the president as a Russian agent – and ‘the Russians’ as a singular source of evil.” [p. 276] James Clapper described the Russians as “typically … almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, [or] whatever….” And this description has a cartoon character to it but it was propagated by the mainstream media and especially by Rachel Maddow at MSNBC. The goal was “to encircle the largest and most militarily powerful nation in Eurasia and gradually transform it into a toothless, economically dependent vassal of the United States.” [p. 277] However, Putin put a stop to this project by pointing out how the United States had taken “illegitimate actions” in Iraq, thereby creating “’ new human tragedies and … centers of tension.’” [p. 279]
Eventually, Russiagate afforded those fortifying the national security state the opportunity to reassert its version of the national discourse. But when things in Syria went awry, the failing power of the American empire was becoming obvious to many, even to some of Trump’s critics. Syria was supposed to fall after Iraq and Libya had fallen but it didn’t and the fiascos of Iraq and Libya were continuing. Yet the imperialists in the political class refused to admit their failure and so they turned on Trump with an intensity belied by the explicit charges they leveled against Trump. The American project, as conceived by the neoconservatives and other beltway players was not fatally flawed. No, Trump was the fatal flaw with his “isolationist” politics and crass mentality. If only Trump could be disposed of, all would be well once again and, hence, his impeachment gained ground.
It is quite amazing though that so many fail to see that it was the American project as conceived by the neoconservatives, et. al., that fed the forces that led to Trump’s election, just as that project led to the rise of fascist-like conservatives in Europe and Great Britain. The blowback from waging endless and inconclusive wars, costing billions, even trillions, while middle Americans struggled at home, blaming immigrants and other minorities for their troubles, led to Trump’s nomination and election in 2016. While Hillary refused to admit that her adventure in Libya was a disaster – and even praised it as a success – most Americans concluded that she could not be trusted, that is, trusted to help them. And so, here we are in 2019, Trump is still the king-pin and still the one who comes closest to relating to middle America. He doesn’t care two cents about middle Americans but his act is actually more genuine than that put on by establishment Democrats like Pelosi, Schumer, Biden, or even Warren. So as 2020 rolls around, I am imagining that the Democrats will, once again, fail to seize the opportunity to breathe some new life into our republic. As noted often, these Democrats prefer a Trump presidency to a Bernie presidency or to anything representing significant political change.