Interventions And Their Blowbacks
Thoughts for President’s Day 2018
Russia intervened in our elections to see that its favored candidate won. Much to everyone’s surprise their favored candidate, President Trump, did so. Whether there was or was not collusion with the Trump campaign, we’ll know at some point. As Special Counsel Mueller disclosed this week, the Russians also supported Democratic Party contender Senator Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, the candidate of the Green Party. While they opposed Secretary Clinton, they also opposed Senators Cruz and Rubio, Mr. Trump’s Republican opponents. The depth of their involvement and the extent of their efforts have come as a surprise, but during the election cycle, it was clear to most that Putin and Trump had something special going on which was quite the opposite of Putin’s frosty relations with President Obama and Secretary Clinton. Personally I don’t think you can run a highly sophisticated political campaign without any awareness of who is helping you and who is hurting you and why, so my guess is that both the Trump and Clinton campaigns had more than an inkling but less than a certainty of what was going on.
There will be blowbacks from this intervention. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of time. Other times it is good bit quicker, let’s hope for quick and clean because from all accounts the Russians plan to intervene again in the 2018 Congressional election and 2020 Presidential election
The US has had some notably bad history with our interventions. We helped overthrow the elected government of Mossadegh in Iran; we installed the Shah; we ended up with the theocratic regime of the Ayatollah. We overthrew the government of Chile and ended up with a murderous military dictatorship that went so far as carrying out assassinations of American and Chilean citizens in this country. We overthrew the government of Guatemala and ended up with a military dictatorship slaughtering Indians in the Guatemala Highlands, same with Honduras, Panama, Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba and many more. We overthrew governments in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos; we ended up with crazed genocidal murderous leaders like Pol Pot. During the 50’s the Dulles brothers and the CIA were busy intervening in elections and elected governments throughout continental Europe including Greece, Italy, France, among others. In Africa, we overthrew and killed Lumumba and have had a series of terrible succeeding governments in the Congo/Zaire. We were busy intervening in Angola, which had oil, and in other African countries with lots of mineral wealth. We repeatedly intervened in Lebanon and are now enmeshed in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; the results seem to have been counterproductive to our national interests with growing Iranian strength the result. Likewise our recent interventions in Libya and Iraq have backfired with internecine regional chaos resulting.
Russia is a very special case. It extends from Vladivostok on the Pacific as a near neighbor of Korea and Japan to St. Petersburg on the Baltic adjacent to Poland and Scandinavia. Its Southern neighbors include Turkey, Iran, and China. After the First World War, we supported the “White Army” in Russia seeking to return the Tsar and Russian nobility to power. The Soviet Russians, as the leading part of the Communist International, supported “communist revolutions” throughout the globe beginning in the early 20s; many turned out to be left leaning nationalists once they gained power, others proved to be dedicated Stalinists. Soviet style vestiges remain in North Korea and Cuba, but many communist states like China and Vietnam have turned to state directed capitalism for their economic growth models and as a result experienced phenomenal growth. The Afghan mess that we are now immersed in was started by the Soviet invasion of the late 70’s, and the US response in arming Islamic militants to oppose it through the auspices of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has had a long tail leading to 9/11.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Russian communism collapsed; the Russian state disintegrated, and the Russian economy went into free-fall. Eastern European vassal states gained their independence, and many joined NATO for protection from their heretofore Russian “friend”. Many component parts of the old USSR like the Baltics, Georgia, the Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia declared their independence. Some like the Balkans joined NATO and the European Union. Others like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan charted independence courses facilitated by their oil wealth. Dictatorships, kleptocracies and autocracies were dominant in some of the ex-states of the USSR, while Western style democratic socialist, capitalist governments prevailed in others. States like Belarus remained tightly aligned with the new Russia, which was now half the population of the old USSR. The Baltic states went all in with the Western democracies.
Russia at first trended towards a liberal democracy under President Yeltsin; Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush two, and Obama successively tried to find a new modus vivendi with our ex-Cold War foe. Under President Putin, Russia became increasingly nationalistic, autocratic and kleptocratic. It used the run up in global gas and oil prices to revive its economy and then its military. It began to interfere in the elections of its old member states like the Ukraine and Georgia, using individuals like Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, to manage the campaigns and assure the elections of its favored candidates. It faced internal revolts in regions like Dagestan and Chechnya, which became increasingly aligned with Islamist revolutions in the near East and Central Asia. It faced domestic blowback by Uzbeks and others in Central Asia and the Caucasus from its intervention in Afghanistan. Its security and counter-terrorism interests on some issues now aligned with the US.
Inside Russia, Putin allied with the Russian Orthodox Church and the pliant owners of the ex-state owned enterprises to lead a resurgence of Russian nationalism. He was heavily dependent on oil and gas revenues for the rebirth of the Russian economy; the pipelines to Europe ran right through the Ukraine. He began to suppress dissenting voices in the political sphere, in the public square, in the media and in industry.
In the legislative elections of 2011, Putin’s parties in the Duma lost support and may have even lost the elections, and riots broke out protesting the electoral count for Putin’s party as fraudulent. President Putin believed that Secretary Clinton supported his opposition during and after these tightly contested 2011 elections for the Russian Duma. This was the foundation of Putin’s distaste for Hillary Clinton.
Western Europe and Russia supported different candidates in the Ukraine over several election cycles with the most recent election results favoring a western oriented candidate. The Ukraine was both a breadbasket and industrial powerhouse with some strategically key Black Sea real estate. The pipeline for Russian energy imports to Europe ran through it. Putin immediately began to destabilize the new government, in 2014 sending not so covert troops into Eastern Ukraine and occupying and annexing Crimea, attacking it in cyberspace and in the economic sphere.
When the Europeans and Americans imposed economic sanctions on Russia for this invasion, Putin began meddling in elections in England, US, France and Germany. Consistently he aligned with the far right, occasionally with the far left; his goal was to break up or weaken NATO, the European Union and sow dissent and chaos among his opponents.
Into the maelstrom arrived Donald Trump, real estate developer seeking new investment opportunities in Moscow, putting on the Miss Universe contest in Putin’s backyard, saying I’m going to be Putin’s best friend; we have common interests; he likes me, and I like him. We’ll make a better world together. President Putin, pariah due to his incursion in the Ukraine, saw a potential ally who wanted to be President of the US. My guess would be that he initially judged Trump as a useful idiot; he did not expect him to become the President of the United States. It seems to me the Russians initially used the Trump campaign as a tool to poke the US in the eye. Candidate Trump would raise uncomfortable issues, rile things up in the US, divert American attention from the Ukraine and just maybe sanctions could be lifted.
As it became obvious that Candidate Trump had a chance, a number of Americans with close Russian ties were attracted to or brought into the Trump campaign’s orbit, onto the President elect’s transition team and into the Trump White House. The President’s son, campaign manager and son in law convened a meeting with the Russians that smells fishy at best. The President’s persistent efforts to derail and minimize the Russian investigation make little to no sense unless there is some fire associated with all the smoke. At this point, there is lots of suspicion surrounding President Trump without any smoking gun pointed directly at him.
It's a thoroughly odd and entirely disconcerting state of affairs as we celebrate this President’s Day honoring Presidents Washington (I cannot tell a lie) and Lincoln (Honest Abe) that we nationally venerate, that we have a current President and national leader so absolutely and utterly morally unqualified to hold the highest office in the land, let alone utter words of truth, empathy, compassion, inspiration or leadership. Let us forever honor our exemplary Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Barack Obama. Let us not forget that we survived the disgraceful Presidencies of James Buchanan, Warren Harding, Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon. Above all let's all get out to vote in November for candidates that make us proud of the best moments in our history and inspired to take on together the very real challenges facing all Americans.
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin