Nation magazine readers and contributors are still arguing over both the proper labeling and the propriety of the investigations into President Trump's alleged contacts with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. Katha Pollitt's attempted vindication of "Russiagate," and her sneering attitude toward anyone reluctant to provoke Vladimir Putin, have been answered in the May 22/29 letters column. Patrick Lawrence slams Pollitt by implying that she has effectively taken the side of the CIA. "Have we so soon forgotten that the Pentagon and the spooks piled on Trump as soon as he questioned NATO's purpose and proposed to renovate relations with Russia?" he asks, "With history at our disposal, irrationality lies in accepting 'the intelligence community's' ever-couched assertions without evidence." Greg Grandin warns that "those betting the farm on proving that Trump is treasonous are doing so by embracing a catastrophic national-security state and international-warfare regime." No friend of the President, Grandin argues that "those who believe they can bring him down over Putin -- and by saber rattling over Russia -- are laying the groundwork for Trump 2.0." What he means by that I'm not sure, but it doesn't sound good.
These comments, and Pollitt's responses, expose a fundamental disagreement on the left over the implications of Russiagate. Simply put, critics of Democratic Russophobia fear that hyping the scandal will have dire consequences for American foreign policy, while Pollitt has no such fear. "If Putin is indeed the smart, sensible grown-up portrayed in much of The Nation's Russia coverage -- waging only defensive war in Ukraine out of justifiable fears of NATO, for example -- he should he able to live with whatever slap on the wrist Rachel Maddow metes out," Pollitt writes, implying heavily that she personally questions that portrayal of Putin. Less speculatively, she insists that "it should be possible to get to the bottom of Russiagate without setting off World War III." She believes this because she most likely sees Russiagate as purely a matter of domestic politics, her primary goal being to delegitimize Trump's domestic political agenda. She is concerned with Russia only insofar as Putin's domestic agenda of repressive cultural conservatism may explain the alleged affinity between his movement and Trump's. For her critics, the global stakes of Russiagate matter more. They already see evidence that the scandal has driven the President from his earlier conciliatory stance. They fear that the more that Trump sacrifices his most overtly or embarrassingly pro-Russia advisers, the more likely it is that U.S. foreign policy will continue on its dangerously interventionist course. As Lawrence puts it, "Parity between West and non-West is the century's most pressing imperative, and -- no flinching -- Russia's on the right side." To Pollitt's earlier question, "What worthy projects does 'Kremlin-bashing' attempt to derail?" Lawrence answers: "How about countering our liberal interventionists? Or standing against US-supported Salafist jihadis in the name of secular government? Or simply for international law, which the United States breaches daily?"
Pollitt, however, doubts whether a President who has promised a massive military buildup will be useful toward those ends. And for her, past unfairness toward Russia when it was the Soviet Union doesn't justify giving Putin's Russia a free pass by "minimizing the likelihood that Russia put its thumb on the scale for Trump." She argues that it is "feeble" to "automatically wave away all the claims [against Russia] because they come from intelligence sources and indict a nation that is a familiar folk bogeyman." A desire for peace doesn't justify these evasions, as far as Pollitt's concerned. Her critics want peace, she acknowledges, and she answers, "Well, who doesn't?" Not her, I'm sure, but a desire for peace and achieving peace are two different things. If the Russians did throw their weight behind Trump -- and I wouldn't say "put their thumb on the scale" unless someone has proof about actual Election Day interference -- it's because they have some definite idea of what peace requires of the U.S., not because anyone there gives a damn about American domestic policy. It seems irresponsible to treat Russiagate -- the scandal, not any actual crimes by Russia or the Trump campaign -- as if it has nothing to do with American foreign policy and won't have international consequences. If people like Pollitt can't stand seeing anti-interventionists come to Trump's defense, it's their responsibility to make clear that their own position on American interventionism is consistently independent of partisan or presidential politics -- if they can.