Every day and in every way, a large collection of people are investigating a possible connection between the Trump presidential campaign and Vladimir Putin. I believe this effort is a gigantic and destructive head fake.
Let’s start with a note on phony outrage. How dare the Russians try to interfere with our governmental process? We have been interfering (and attempting to interfere) with the governmental process of other countries for at least 150 years. Anyone ever heard of the Mexican War or the charge up San Juan Hill? We installed new governments in Mexico and Cuba after those victories. We were involved in a number of military coups in Central America and the Caribbean, using our military. One main objective of the Marshall Plan was to prevent the election of Communists in Italy and France. The political narratives of Iran and Chile revolve around our interference in their governmental processes. In both cases, our effectiveness has been exaggerated by both sides, but we were definitely trying to interfere. More recently, Mr. Obama and his operatives worked hard to prevent the reelection of Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel.
The Russia outrage by those on the left side of the political spectrum is a bit forced. Many of them and their predecessors have been playing footsie with the Russians since 1917. In The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes gives a vivid description of a pilgrimage to Russia by a group of young activists in the 20s, including a worshipful audience with Stalin. Many of the folks in that group ended up in senior positions in FDR’s administration. His first vice president, Henry Wallace, may have been a Communist spy. At the very least, he was deeply sympathetic to the Red cause. During the Cold War, dedicated anti-Communists were derided as rubes and McCarthyites. Party members exposed by Congress were regarded as martyrs. Mitt Romney was widely derided when he called Russia our most dangerous enemy in a presidential debate. Hillary Clinton pressed that red reset button. Barak Obama was caught on an open mic telling Putin’s puppet president that he could be more flexible in dealing with Russia after he was reelected. He gave Putin a defacto pass on hisUkrainian conquest. Having lost an election, which they blame, in part, on Russia, the Democrats are now mad at the evil Russians.
The COLLUSION narrative is wearing very thin. It may turn out to have substance, but the odds get longer every day. Three congressional committees, a large and expert team of prosecutors, and numerous Trump-phobic reporters are searching for evidence of collusion, and have been doing so for over a year. All of this in a town that leaks like the proverbial sieve. No credible charges have yet emerged. There have been several indictments by Muller’s team, but none of them seem remotely related to collusion. We’ve got one useless meeting in Trump Tower, and a bunch of conversations with the Russian ambassador as far as I can tell. Very thin gruel.
The OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE narrative is even more far fetched. Trump fired Comey. Trump, sad to say, is the chief executive of the executive branch of the Federal government. Every Federal employee, save Congress (including staff) and the judiciary (including staff) works for him. Due to civil service regulations, he can’t fire most of them. He can transfer any one of them to a rubber room with no phone. With respect to political appointees, the FBI director included, he can fire with or without cause at any hour of the day or night. It is silly to contend that the firing was illegal or obstructed the investigation. The investigation ramped up geometrically after the firing.
All that said, the Russians did attempt to interfere with our transfer of power. They backed Trump . . . and Bernie. Interestingly enough, there is no investigation into Bernie collusion. They sponsored an anti-Trump rally in NYC right after the election that was lovingly covered by CNN and MSNBC. What was their objective? I would contend that they were trying to denigrate the democratic process, contribute to partisan rancor, retaliate against Hillary for supporting Russian dissidents, and disrupt our process of governance. Their effort was hugely successful. Our obsessive focus on collusion/obstruction has blinded us to that success and contributed to that success. Putin is probably laughing at our stupidity on a daily basis.
What should we be doing? Drilling for as much oil as possible to depress the price of his biggest source of support (energy exports). Shipping as much natural gas to Europe as we can (ditto). Prohibiting cruise ship traffic to St. Petersburg. Seizing the assets of Russian oligarchs, which they could redeem by revealing everything they know about the regime’s corruption. Propping up the Kurds and Iraqis to prevent further penetration of Iran/Russia in the Middle East. Sending more arms to Ukraine. Most importantly, the investigative effort by all concerned should be devoted to shining a light on the manipulation and corruption endemic to Russian society. Putin is an autocratic gangster; the world needs to know all about him. We should do to him what he did to us.