12 December 2016

The Russophobe party

During the first two years of the Trump administration the new President's agenda will be most vulnerable in the U.S. Senate, and foreign policy will be the most vulnerable part of his agenda. The Republicans will control 52 seats, but will not act as a unit on many foreign-policy matters. This became starkly clear  this weekend as the neocon senators, McCain of Arizona and Graham of South Carolina, endorsed further investigations into alleged Russian interference with the late presidential election. Their action follows a CIA report claiming that the Putin government took active steps to support Trump against Hillary Clinton, most notably providing Wikileaks with dirt on the Democratic National Committee hacked by Russians from DNC computers. The CIA's contention is that Russians hacked both parties, but refused to release anything potentially damaging to the Republicans. Apart from that, it does not seem that Russia is accused of doing what would have been absolutely unacceptable, hacking voting machines to give Trump fraudulent victories. Minus such a smoking gun, Russia has probably done little different from what foreign governments, and probably foreign individuals, have done before in the propaganda line, though social media may have expanded the reach and enhanced the effectiveness of such efforts. Trump disputes these claims, of course, and invokes the buildup to the invasion of Iraq to challenge CIA's credibility, but he most likely cannot stop the formation of a Senate coalition likely to thwart his foreign policy initiatives to the extent that they involve rapprochement with Russia and (by extension) Syria. A combination of fanaticism, some venality, a historic suspicion of Russian authoritarianism and a new suspicion of Trump's authoritarian tendencies will bond this coalition together.

Since the days of the so-called Holy Alliance 200 years ago, Americans have seen Russia as an enemy of liberty, whether as a reactionary force throughout the 19th century or as a revolutionary force for most of the 20th. It's almost irresistibly easy to see the Eurasian giant as an evil empire, whether it stands for communism, mere authoritarianism, or only itself, and it's impossible to dispute that Russia has never been very friendly to civil liberty, civil society, etc. But what follows from that? For many in the political and diplomatic establishment here, it follows that Russia, in resisting U.S. encroachment on its historic sphere of influence -- a process seen here as simply the spread of liberty -- must be advancing an "authoritarian" agenda that threatens liberal democracy and individual liberty everywhere, including a U.S. seemingly threatened by Trump. You see that thinking in the assumption that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in order to undermine the moral or intellectual legitimacy of liberal democratic institutions, as if to refute anyone's claim of moral superiority over Russia, when you don't really have to go any deeper than the idea that Putin thought Trump would be more friendly, as he clearly desires to be, than Clinton would have been. Even that minimal motivation is seen by some as damning to both Putin and Trump, on the assumption that whoever Putin favors can only be Putin's stooge or dupe, or else a fellow authoritarian. Entirely missing from such speculation is the possibility that Trump may want better relations with Russia for reasons that have nothing at all to do with Russia's interests.

Apart from building a stronger coalition against the self-styled Islamic State, which has just embarrassed Russia and Syria by retaking Palmyra while the two allies busied themselves with Aleppo, Trump may have a long-term vision of breaking up any "authoritarian" coalition of Russia and China and thus improving both the U.S. position in the Pacific and its balance of trade with China. The Chinese themselves seem to realize that Trump's apparent provocations on the subject of Taiwan are most likely designed to force concessions on trade in return for his renewal of the "One China" policy, and if they're right about that then Trump is probably after as much leverage as possible. Whatever happens, Trump clearly intends to think outside the conventional foreign-policy boxes, which may explain why he's currently looking to the private sector for his Secretary of State. He may feel that the current diplomatic-intelligence establishment is incompetent, but he may suspect that they're too ideologically rigid as well. Whatever he thinks, on foreign policy he has to answer to the Senate and for now it looks unlikely that he will change many minds about Russia. To get anywhere, he'll probably have to go over their heads and use his weird charisma to get public opinion behind his Russia policy, whatever it proves to be. That really shouldn't be too difficult, since most Americans never will give a damn about Russian civil society or the rights of Ukraine. Instead, they should have reason to believe that, contrary to Russophobic rhetoric, Trump is out to put America and not Russia first. That doesn't mean he won't get played by Putin in some manner more likely to harm east Europeans than Americans, but even with that risk Russia is probably one area where people really ought to give him a chance instead of presuming the worst.


Anonymous said...

I'd say what he should do is use the FCC to stymie al Jazeera and other pro-islam/anti-American media outlets in the US, while promoting cross-over media from Russia. Bringing Russian "rock" bands, movies, etc. over here. That way Americans get a first hand glimpse at just how hard the Russians are trying to emulate a great deal of our culture while the islamic world is pushing further and further away from any common grounds we may have.

So the American PEOPLE, not the shills of corporate America, that the Russian PEOPLE are not so very different to Americans. Then there will be a firmer basis for tRump to push his Russia policy through congress. He has two years to do this, then he should hit hard against any GOP-foe whose seat is up for grabs, hopefully mobilizing his support in Arizona, etc. to eliminate as many of the old guard GOP as possible.

I think if he can normalize trade relations with Russia, allow them the base in Syria they feel they need, and switch our oil supplier from islamic states to Russia, he will have set a good foundation for a second term. Of course, to maintain his support, he'll now have to make good on his promise to build a wall...

Samuel Wilson said...

al-Jazeera America is already long gone. Ironically, my local cable provider picked that channel up, despite early opposition, after dumping RT, the Russian propaganda channel, and even after AJA is gone they still have an English-language Chinese news channel which is, to be fair, too boring to influence public opinion to the extent that it even tries.

As for your proposed cultural offensive, the only band many people want to hear is Pussy Riot, but that aside many question whether Russia counts as part of "the West' or even "Europe" because its stereotypical authoritarianism is considered alien to "western" values as they've evolved over the past couple of centuries. Some will never be persuaded otherwise, since they won't accept that Russians are "like us" until they start bitching about Putin all the time. However, a growing impatience with "whining" may signal a change in standards here and a more tolerant view of Russia as a result.