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Jan 5, 2018

7 Days in May or Treason?

Illustration by historian Josh Brown

Murray Polner is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing, is what it seems.  Everyone has a second motive, if not a third."--John LeCarre' rule about the Cold War, then and now in "The Pigeon Tunnel."

So, looking back, what was the 2016 election all about? A private deal between Moscow's Putin and Washington's Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton, which some liberal Trump-hating Democrats called an "act of war." Or was it instead the Deep State's conspiracy to set the stage for impeaching Trump and shaping the direction of foreign policy?

When Hillary Clinton and her friends sought an explanation for her unexpected defeat to an utterly inexperienced tweeting pretender they rushed to blame Vladimir Putin, and in a taint that became part of the group-think for our major media outlets, many stressed his role as a former  KGB colonel (overlooking that  the elder Bush had once run the CIA). It seemed that almost daily, a new scoop broke about a new and alleged Russian effort to derail Clinton's campaign on the front pages of the NY Times and the Washington Post. Few bothered to mention that the U.S. has interfered one way or another in many countries' elections for many decades.

"We were attacked by Russia," said one outraged Democratic representative, obviously a Clintonite, an assault "ordered by Vladimir Putin."  Another Democrat called the alleged interference "an act of ar."

When Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, an advocate for a restrained U.S.  Foreign policy, dared criticize Montenegro's membership in NATO, the bellicose anti-Russian Senator John McCain, McCarthy-like, smeared him, saying he "is now working for Vladimir Putin."  And when Obama reportedly told Putin to "cut it out" it became easier to accuse the Russians.

I picked up a copy of Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes's new book, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign. In it there are a relatively few mentions of Russian meddling. On October 7, 2016 the "Intelligence Community" stated that Moscow led the hacking to interfere with the U.S. election. The charge  was largely  ignored by her campaign because of other distractions  that day such as Wikileaks's publication of the first group of John Podesta's emails and Trump's "Access Hollywood" tape, both of which dominated the ensuing headlines. Otherwise, the book has tales of staff problems, James Comey, Bernie Sanders, and above all, an inability by Hillary and her speech writers to define why she was running and what her prospective presidency offered voters.

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by a Republican, called on Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, to show up with relevant documents, presumably because some senators, especially Democrats, may think her minuscule number of votes ruined Hillary's chances.  To the best of my knowledge, the Times, a major critic of Trump, has yet to comment editorially or in its Op Ed columns.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on the Rachel Maddow program he thought Trump was "being really dumb" after he had belittled the motives of the  intelligence community.

"Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you," said Schumer.

What Schumer meant was rarely if ever questioned by the punditry or political writers, most of whom were apparently content to allow his ominous comment to die quietly, unexplained.

Glenn Greenwald, who covered the Snowden affair, and Robert Parry  of the highly critical, have noted many media errors, such as the false claims that the Russians penetrated the U.S. by  breaking into a Vermont electrical company's computers and that the "intelligence community" that linked Team Trump to Russia consisted of just three of a total of 17 intelligence agencies in Washington and only three hand-picked unnamed agency analysts  were involved.

I also wondered how we can determine whether some Russian-paid ads on Facebook had influenced enough white working class voters to mark their ballots for the plutocrat Trump. Masha Gessen, the Russian-American journalist, staff writer for the New York Review of Books and a serious and persistent critic of Putin, does not believe Russians affected the race.  "Is there any reason, at this point, to think that a tiny drop in the sea of Facebook ads changed any American votes? The answer to all of these questions is: no, not really," and she concluded, "A great many Americans want to prove that the Russians elected Trump, and Americans did not."

Writing in the London Review of Books, Jackson Lears, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University, also dissented from the conventional view.

Lears pointed to two American academicians, Frances Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University, who studied the vote in three states that Clinton lost--Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan--and where, according to Shen and Kriner, once loyal Democratic voters went for Trump supposedly because they found "a significant and meaningful relationship between a community's rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump."

And then this potential if unsubstantiated blockbuster from Lear: "Edward Snowden and others familiar with the NSA say that if long-distance hacking had taken place the agency would have monitored it.... In September, Snowden told Der Speigel that the NSA 'probably knows quite well who the invaders were." But if the German magazine or NSA knows anything they have remained silent.

For a broader perspective I turned to the conservative Christopher Caldwell's Claremont Review of Books essay, "The Prince," about Steven Lee Myers's book The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin. Caldwell writes for the neocon Weekly Standard and occasionally for The Times.  In his Claremont review he  concluded that, while Russians under Putin "have come to believe that the West is not content to live with a weakened and humbled Russia; it wants Russia broken and humiliated," for which he has paid a substantial price both diplomatically and in sanctions. Says Caldwell: "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."

Would Putin have dared intrude into  the 2016 election and risk even more severe retaliations ? Like everyone else  I'll  have to await the judgment of special prosecutor Robert Mueller,  whose verdict  may or may not be accepted in a political city whose culture is too often marked by a lack of integrity, and tarnished by subsidized special interests and think tanks.

In any event, what happened during the 2016 race?

So I turned to Fiona Hill, a  former Brookings Institution scholar of Russian affairs who co-wrote the psychoanalytical study, "Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin," and now works for Trump's National Security Council. About Putin she has written, or rather speculated, "He's not delusional," adding, "but he inhabits 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, including Americans, yesterday and today. 

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