Russia! RUSSIA! RUSSIA!!!!!!

Here is the cartoon Matt Bors posted at Daily Kos today, under the heading “Choose Your Own Conspiracy“:

1347

I don’t believe that it is necessary to accept any of the items on this menu.

Unlike the speaker in the panel on the reader’s upper left, I think we ought to accept the possibility that there is something worth investigating in the Trump/ Russia stuff. Russia, like virtually every other country in the world, wants to have an influence on the US electoral process. While countries like China and Saudi Arabia were able to have massive influence on the 2016 presidential election, by means including but not limited to large cash gifts to the leading candidates, Russia is a poor country that has few friends among the US elite, a country which is stigmatized in US public opinion by the memory of the Cold War, and which is a traditional adversary of several countries which are extremely well-connected in the USA.  Therefore, it is to be expected that Russia’s attempts to advance its interests in the US political arena will tend to appear on a small scale and to proceed through unusual channels, many of them illegal.

Moreover, Don John of Astoria’s 2016 presidential campaign was conducted on the cheap, with a budget less than half that of his leading rival. Among the expenses which he spared were the hiring of experts. This suits his character, as he is a remarkably lazy and incurious man who famously refuses to read the briefing papers prepared for him. Don John was in 2016 a newcomer to the political stage, without the background that had taught other candidates to be wary of the intricate body of laws which delineate acceptable from unacceptable contacts between US officials and representatives of foreign powers. It would therefore be no surprise if his campaign had stumbled into violations of election laws regarding contacts with Russians.

The speakers in the panel on the reader’s lower left do make a good point- where investigative agencies are corrupt, it really is difficult to know anything about any particular crime. That is certainly the case in the current matter, where the Shitlord-in-Chief of Russiagate (“Actually, it’s about ethics in campaign communications”) is Robert Mueller, who was as brazen a liar as any of the high officials who peddled false stories in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Perhaps Mr Mueller has turned over a new leaf, and his recent untestable claims about Russian military intelligence activities deserve more credence than did his sworn testimony to the US Senate. People can change, after all. On the other hand, they can also remain the same, especially when they have paid no penalty of any kind for their prior misconduct. As long as Mr Mueller and men of his ilk are in charge of the investigation, therefore, it behooves us to be deeply skeptical of it.

Deep skepticism, however, need not preclude eventual agreement. Each proposition the investigators put forward will have to be tested severely by independent observers if it is to be regarded as credible. Any propositions that can pass such tests, even though they come from so unreliable a source as Mr Mueller, may ultimately be accepted. After all, in his day Saddam Hussein was no more credible a source than Mr Mueller is now, yet we now know that Saddam was telling the truth when he said in 2002 that he had dismantled his programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and that he had no association with al Qaeda, even as we know that Mr Mueller was deliberately lying when he contradicted those statements at the time. If history could vindicate some of Saddam’s statements, perhaps it will someday vindicate some of Mr Mueller’s.

The “Agent Drumpf” theory advanced by the speaker in the upper right panel is so obviously insane that I cannot believe it is necessary to say anything at all about it. Don John has made occasional public remarks calling for world peace, expressing reluctance to believe unsubstantiated claims from the USA’s clownishly inept spy agencies, and acknowledging the absurdity of responding to events of recent centuries by maintaining an eternal and indissoluble military alliance with Germany against Russia. Even if one were to believe, as it seemed from what I saw on social media yesterday a great many Americans and Britons do believe, that such remarks constitute “treason,” one would still have to face the fact that Don John has made no substantive policy initiatives consonant with the view of world affairs that they reflect.  Indeed, to the extent that he has done anything to change the policies he inherited from his predecessors, he has joined in even more wars, yielded even more power to the spies, and actually expanded the membership of NATO.

The hypothesis dramatized in the lower right panel, that the outcome of the election was a surprise even to Don John himself, also seems unlikely to cover the whole truth. True, Don John spent very little of his own money on the campaign and spared himself most of the pains presidential candidates usually take to ensure that they are prepared to take office. As I noted above, however, he still spares himself those pains even now that he is in office. He is a man whose attention can be aroused only by narcissism and cruelty. The only actions to which he can be stirred are those which bring glory to him or suffering to someone else, and which bring them without delay. So, whether he expected to win or not, it is not likely that Don John would have devoted more of his time and money than he in fact did in 2016 to assembling a shadow government and establishing himself as its leader. Nor is it likely, given his sensitivity to humiliation, that he would actively have preferred defeat. Besides, while Don John may not have maintained a policy shop or paid for much of a ground organization or spent any money running up his popular vote totals in non-competitive states, his campaign did indirectly involve him in one great financial expense. His principal source of income since the 1980s has been licensing the use of his name, and the controversial public profile he had acquired by the end of the campaign reduced the value of that asset to the point where he would likely have found himself in a gravely straitened condition had he lost.

So, what is the point of the Russiagate story, a.k.a. “Russia! RUSSIA! RUSSIA!!!!”?  It does advance many interests. The same people who wanted Mr Mueller to lie to the Senate in 2002 to facilitate the invasion of Iraq today want to ensure the smooth running of the gravy train of military spending that has enriched them for several decades. That the Soviet Union has not existed for more than a quarter of a century and today’s Russia is an impoverished country with no allies, a barely functional military, and an official ideology that cannot be explained to foreigners, let alone exported overseas, is in their eyes no reason why the USA should not spend trillions of dollars and build an ever-more rigid network of alliances to contain the Kremlin’s power. Russiagate gives such people a stick to beat their opponents with, and draws people who in the past might have opposed their agenda into making public statements equating love of country with willingness to swallow whatever tales the CIA, FBI, and other such outfits choose to spin.

It also advances the interests of Don John himself. In among the shrieks of “treason!” that I saw from otherwise reasonable people online yesterday were a few stories about conversations involving people who are not Extremely Online, and who regarded claims that the US president is a traitor as evidence that the person making the claim is having a psychotic break. I saw enough shrieking from enough people to be sure that everyone who is in touch online with more than a handful of supporters of the Democratic Party or of the British Labour Party will also have seen it from people whom they had previously regarded as more or less all right. Unless Mr Mueller comes up with something pretty extraordinary, that impression is going to hamper the opposition to Don John for quite some time to come. When the 2020 presidential campaign begins in earnest next year, Democratic candidates will have a very tricky job simultaneously placating the sizable fraction of their primary electorate who will still be devout Russiagaters and avoiding the sound of General Jack D. Ripper talking about the need to keep the Russkies from corrupting our precious bodily fluids.

The greatest beneficiary of them all is doubtless Vladimir Putin himself. Mr Putin’s public support rests largely on the idea that Russia is surrounded by hostile powers and that he is uniquely suited to leading its opposition to those powers. Every time major media outlets and high public officials in the West spend hour upon hour assuring the public that Mr Putin is a supreme grandmaster of geopolitics who decided the results of a US presidential election and imply that the US is or ought to be at war with Russia, this idea receives overwhelmingly powerful reinforcement. It is difficult to imagine a more generous gift US elites could possibly have given Mr Putin than this story. He can be expected to do everything in his power to keep it alive for as long as possible.

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