Blogs > There's No There There > We Really Could Use Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev Now

Jul 3, 2017

We Really Could Use Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev Now

tags: Putin;David Brooks;Christopher Caldwell;Seymour Hersh

This is Murray Polner's blog. He is the author of "No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran," co-authored with Thomas Woods Jr., "We Who Dared Say No To War" and  "Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel & Philip Berrigan" (with Jim O'Grady).

Since they lost the election Democrats have been searching for reasons, any reasons, which might explain why someone like Donald Trump could defeat Hillary, their prematurely crowned Queen. Now the Party lies in a state of shock, an empty shell clinging to hatred for Trump and his alleged pal, Vladimir Putin, and hoping and praying for an impeachment.

Their verbal denunciations about Russian meddling in our 2016 election are common. "This past election, our country was attacked. We were attacked by Russia," said Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California." A similar sentiment was expressed by California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, who declared Russia's interference was "an act of war, an act of hybrid warfare." Other Democrats like New Jersey's Rep. Bonnie Watson called it "a form of war on our fundamental democratic principles."

Where once many Democrats supported detente with Moscow and challenged the Domino Theory's flawed faith that the Reds were always behind everything wicked (leading the U.S., as many of us seem to have forgotten, directly into Korea and Vietnam with millions of military and civilian dead) and backed arms negotiations to defuse tensions with its competitive nuclear giant, few Democrats today will dare do the same, terrified less they be accused of being soft on Putin and "national security" – and thus helping to join Putin's Russia in creating favorable soil for a potentially bloodier new Cold War.

The views of a few nationally prominent skeptics are rarely critically examined. David Brooks, the NY Times's conservative columnist who loathes what Trump is doing to the remnant of his treasured Republican Party, wrote in anger in "Let's Not Get Carried Away": "There may be a giant revelation still to come. But as the Trump-Russia story has evolved, it is striking how little evidence there is that any underlying crime occurred  – that there was any actual collusion between the Trump campaign and the official Russians. Everything seems to be leaking out of this administration, but so far the leaks about actual collusion are meager." He then added: "I'm not saying there shouldn't be an investigation into potential Russia-Trump links. Russia's attack on American democracy was truly heinous, and if the Trump people were involved, that would be treason.  I'm saying first, let's not get ahead of ourselves and assume that this link exists."

Three experienced CNN staffers recently resigned after their network retracted a story tying a Trump supporter to a Russian money fund supposedly facing a congressional inquiry, a story grounded on only one anonymous source. CNN also apologized to the pro-Trump backer. A Washington Post story blamed the Russians  – who else?  –  for hacking into Burlington, Vermont's electrical grid. That, too, turned out to be untrue when the local electrical utility denied it had been hacked.

We've also been repeatedly told that that all seventeen U.S. Intelligence agencies had established that Moscow had hacked our election. But on June 29, the NY Times printed a "Correction" admitting their error: "The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies  – the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency.  The assessment was not [my italics] approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community."

And more: When the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Russia's ally, supposedly ordered Khan Sheikhoun bombed with Sarin nerve gas, and Trump immediately ordered a retaliatory missile attack on a Syrian military airfield, U.S. politicians and media, many Democrats included, rushed to praise Trump. Finally, they exulted, a positive Trump decision even if in a brutal, endless and utterly confusing multi-sided civil war.

Assad had to be guilty or so apparently went their reasoning. Everyone but Seymour Hersh, the veteran investigative reporter, who had broken stories about My Lai and American torture of Iraqi prisoners. Hersh found no proof that Assad had used Sarin in Khan Sheikhdoun. I have no idea whether he is right or wrong but prestigious publications rejected his article until the German Welt am Sonntag ran the piece, a site few Americans would or could read.

So, can't we wait until the Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, finishes his inquiry? And while I tend to think that Moscow did in fact carry out some Election '16 hanky panky (as illegal as so many U.S. interventions in so many countries for so many decades) in the end, if the NY Times, Washington Post and et al. are right there'll be prestigious awards for everyone. But if they're wrong, there'll be hell to pay, as when too many accepted the Tonkin Bay and WMD lies.

Until then, can we please stop demonizing Vladimir Putin 24/7, and blaming him for all the world's ills? He is not the latest version of Josef Stalin. Instead, he has always reminded me of Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the Tsar's lay head of the Orthodox Church and chief advisor to Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II. In my Foreword to an updated translation of his 1896 book, "Reflections of a Russian Statesman" I described Pobedonostsev as: "Reactionary, obscurantist, chauvinistic," someone who excommunicated Tolstoy from the Orthodox Church and harassed religious and ethnic minorities. Someone resembling Putin, at least in part.

Fiona Hill, who was the top intelligence officer on Russia during George Bush I's administration, national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council and co-author of "Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin" rightly put it this way, "[Putin is] not delusional, but he's inhabiting a Russia of the past, a version of the past that he has created. His present is defined by it and there is no coherent vision of the future."

Like most world leaders today, including our own.

And then there's the neocon Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell's nuanced speech at conservative Hillsdale College and his Claremont essay, both of which  offered a portrait of Putin as an historically Tsarist Russian reactionary. His influences can be found in the writings of pre-communist and anti-Communist Russian philosophers, Ivan Ilyin, Vladimir Soloviev, Nikolai Berdyaev, even Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Caldwell asked if any of his American critics know that "he has made the reading of 'Gulag Archipelago' compulsory in secondary schools"?

 Putin's Russia, Caldwell added, is a country "moored between Orthodox Christianity and Machiavellian realism" – tied to Slavophilism and Old Russia, a nation with vivid memories of the Soviet Union's 24 million dead in WWII. He sees his job, Caldwell continued, as "Defending the interests of his people, the first of which is its independence. At this task he has succeeded against long odds. Since the Ukrainian revolution, this success has come at a considerable price in both diplomatic isolation and lost trade." 

But then the conservative Caldwell concludes with sentiments rarely heard here today:  "We will understand nothing about Putin until we realize that, in the eyes of most of his countrymen, he has been right to pay it." 

Respect or trust him or not, we may one day need Russia to help resolve perilous, seemingly intractable problems in the Middle and Far East, perhaps even in Europe. Kissinger, nowadays more sensible than the current Washington crowd, wrote in 2014 that "demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for an absence of one."

Mindless, out of control Putin-bashing, will only encourage and promote a new gang of demagogues here and abroad inflaming our latest and ominous Cold War while bringing us closer to nuclear war.

The basic problem, as Thomas Woods and I wrote in our 2008 book "We Who Dared To Say No To War," is that there are few constraints on our devotion to global intervention. Our foreign policies are frozen, its  fundamental assumptions barely challenged and regular provocations and threats of war, even nuclear war, seems normal.

Danger ahead. 

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