The Question of Russia and the Left: A response to Ryan Cooper

For the past week, there’s been a lot of discussion on Russia, Putin, Trump, and how leftists are responding to the issue. I’ve been participating in these conversations on social media. This past weekend, the conversation got a little crazy, when Columbia Law lecturer and Harper’s contributor Scott Horton engaged in some wild and irresponsible speculation about how the Russians may be backing certain Democratic primary candidates in the current elections.

This morning, Ryan Cooper weighed in on the issue at The Week. I disagree with where he comes out on the issue.

I want to say at the outset that I consider Cooper an ally. I don’t know him personally, but I very much admire his work. We follow each other on social media, and frequently retweet each other’s articles and posts. We are engaged in the same project: we’re both in the Sanders wing of the left; we want to focus the political conversation on the economy, racial injustice, a less imperial foreign policy, and so on; we’re interested in the electoral possibilities for the left right now. As Ryan makes clear, he’s been pretty skeptical of parts of the Russia story, and though he’s reconsidered his position on that story, he does not want to make Russia the central item in the public conversation. He’s not a foaming at the mouth treason talk kind of guy.

So this is the comment of one lefty to another, who mostly agree with each other.

Ryan thinks the left needs to get serious about Russia and the interference in the election. It’s that move—the call to get serious (the phrases Ryan uses are “wise up” and “paying attention”)—that I don’t like. It’s so suffused with ambient noise—on the one hand, it’s a free-floating signifier of something more; on the other hand, it’s so free of specifics as to make it difficult to know precisely how to engage in it as a useful or practical discussion from the left—that it’s bound to generate more confusion, maybe acrimony, than to help us move forward. The left needing to get serious is the equivalent of the pink spot in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back: every time you try to wash it away, the spot just jumps on to whatever material you’re using to wash it away with. Every time you try “to get serious,” the need to get serious moves on to some other surface.

A fair amount of what Ryan writes here is unobjectionable and I don’t disagree with. I accept the story that the Russians hacked the election (by which I mean that they made attempts to hack into voter registration systems in the states, that they hacked the DNC and Podesta emails, and that they funded social media bots and the like); that they wanted Trump to win (not for any reasons of building an ethnonationalist alliance but simply because Clinton was clear throughout the campaign that she intended to break with Obama’s efforts to accommodate Russia and the Russians believed they’d be better off with Trump than with Clinton), and that their efforts were mounted in that direction. I don’t have a hard time accepting that account, at all.

The question is what follows from that. To my mind, it simply means beefing up cybersecurity efforts. I’ve pointed out on social media that money has already been allocated to the states to that effect, yet a lot of that money has not been spent. But there have been other bills and measures taken, which as Seth Ackerman has pointed out, have gotten almost no attention in these discussions (aside from one brief mention, Ryan gives them no attention at all). The left’s position on all this should simply be that prudential measures should be taken to ensure democratic elections—while always pointing out that if democratic elections is truly your big concern, there are many other more concrete threats to democratic elections in this country, starting with the Electoral College. Moreover, the left should hold not only the Republicans but also the Democrats accountable for those measures (some of these state legislatures where balloting systems are vulnerable are controlled by Democrats, and they’ve done very little about it).

But that’s not really where Ryan goes in this piece. Instead, he takes two different tacks.

One is to emphasize the political hay that can be made from attacking Trump as Putin’s Puppet.

Putin has dirt on Trump, and is using it to manipulate him. The way Trump behaves around Putin — quietly bowing and scraping, taking his word over America’s own chief of intelligence, and thus inciting backlash even from Republicans (not much of it, but more than usual) — is simply wildly out of character. It just does not add up. That’s the kind of simple, alarming narrative that might break through the noise. [Ryan is addressing those folks who say that the public doesn’t care about Russia. He’s saying they could care soon, particularly if we focus attention on it.] I strongly suspect that over the next six months to year, Russiagate will become a greater source of public attention, and therefore a decent potential vulnerability for Trump. If so, it would be senseless to avoid bringing that attack, in addition to a strong traditional policy program. You don’t have to be a frothing nationalist to be concerned that the president is taking dictation from some ruthless dictator.

I think this route is both wrong and dangerous. It’s wrong because as I have been posting over the week, close watchers of Russia and the US have pointed out all the multiple ways in which the US is currently pursuing a very anti-Russia foreign policy, more aggressive than anything pursued by Obama (especially Obama), Bush, or Clinton. Last week, NPR of all places did a story on precisely this, citing this comment from a foreign policy expert at the Atlantic Council:

When you actually look at the substance of what this administration has done, not the rhetoric but the substance, this administration has been much tougher on Russia than any in the post-Cold War era.

So the idea that Trump—by which I mean his administration (I’ll talk about him in a minute)— is simply taking dictation is empirically wrong.

It’s dangerous for two reasons. First, it fans the flames of nationalism and treason talk, resulting in the kind of rhetoric we saw over the weekend, where Scott Horton was essentially seeing any left candidacy as a manifestation of a potential Russian op (more on this in a second). I hate to invoke authority here, but I did write a book on the politics of fear, focusing specifically on cases where domestic politics and international politics intertwine, and this is dangerous terrain. You think you can control the rhetoric; it controls you.

Second, while I’m perfectly prepared to believe the Russians have something on Trump, my concern is that we get into a dynamic whereby politically to prove that they are not in hock to the Russians, the GOP, or the administration, are pushed to take increasingly hostile measures, foreign policy measures, that could get the US into worse shape and generate more tension with Russia. Trump himself won’t do much of anything beyond what he does already. But his administration and his party (which, remember, voted for heavy sanctions against Russia), will. And Trump’s shown almost no ability to stop them from doing so. It’s a bad dynamic.

So that’s one tack Ryan takes with which I disagree. The other tack he takes is to say that as the Democrats ascend, they’ll have to confront the threat of Russian hacking.

And whoever wins the 2020 Democratic primary — say Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders — is highly likely to face a serious campaign of dirty tricks from Russian intelligence. Email hacking will be attempted, any compromising past history dug up, and third-party candidates boosted up — all in an attempt to throw the election to Trump. It probably won’t move that many people, but Trump only won by less than 100,000 votes spread across three states. It’s a threat that needs to be reckoned with.

Now if all Ryan means is: let’s beef up cybersecurity and the like, fine. But he doesn’t really say that. Instead, by seeding the discussion of the 2020 election with all this talk of Russian intelligence and ops, by fanning the political flames rather than settling for quieter, more prudential calls for better cybersecurity, I fear that he underestimates, and perhaps contributes to, the paranoia this kind of argument can generate.

In any campaign, whether the Russians are involved or not, a candidate’s compromising history will be churned up. Remember the role Jeremiah Wright played in Obama’s campaign in 2008? Or the swift-boating of John Kerry? In any campaign, there is the possibility of third party candidates, getting boosted by writers, activists, and the like. Once you introduce the Russia question into all this, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish between someone bringing up a candidate’s compromising history as part of normal politics and someone doing that as a Russian op. Do we seriously want an American politics where good old-fashioned dirty pool—exposing someone’s embarrassing past—is suddenly cast as one element in the potential plot of a foreign power? That seems like not a good way to go.

Just to give you a historical parallel. During the McCarthy years, the security apparatus and anticommunists and well-meaning liberals obsessed over the question of how to detect who was a Communist and who wasn’t. The problem was that the Communist Party backed, indeed was in the forefront of, many progressive causes: desegregating the baseball league, desegregating the blood supply of the Red Cross, and so on. The more cynical of the red hunters came up with the Duck Test: if it looks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. In other words, if you were white and supported an array of progressive causes, odds are, you were a Communist, and in league with the Russians. It didn’t take a genius to realize that the most logical strategy was to avoid those causes. Which many people did. (Those causes were also helped by the Cold War, but that’s another story.)

Up until now, I’ve mostly resisted the McCarthyism parallels, in part because the term gets so misused for something like “unfair accusations,” and McCarthyism was considerably more than that, as I discuss in my book on fear. But now that the aura of Putin and his operations is hovering over wider and wider sectors of the left, and people like Horton are using that aura as a way of thinking about challenges to mainstream Democrats from the left, and we’re getting into this terrain of the duck test—where perfectly legitimate political activity (supporting third parties, digging up dirt on your opponent, supporting left candidates in primaries [this was Horton’s point]) comes to be tainted as foreign and a covert op of the Russians—I’m bringing it up because it seems relevant.

My approach to this, as I’ve said, is simply to have better security measures, and whatever you do, not to fan the flames of the discussion. So by all means, I strongly recommend that Ryan and others who are legitimately concerned about this, to use their platforms, every day, every week, to push both the Republicans and the Democrats (because, again, at the state level there is evidence that both parties are not taking care of this issue) to protect balloting systems, to beef up the cybersecurity, and all the rest. But I also think it’s imperative to avoid all this talk of third party candidates, of attacking candidates for their compromising history, and the like as somehow a Russian op. Because again, there’s no way to distinguish a candidate digging up dirt on another candidate, as part of the course of normal politics, from a Russian op. The only result will be more paranoia, more anxiety, and more delegitimation of perfectly legitimate political and electoral efforts, and as a result, a winnowing of the political space.

In the end, I’m really not sure what it is that Ryan would have us do and who in fact his audience is in this piece. I suspect it’s people like me (I don’t mean me literally, just people like me): While I’ve been very clear from the start that I think the Mueller investigation should go forward, while I’ve been perfectly open to the Russian interference story, it has certainly not been my passion, I do tend to think of it mostly as a distraction, and I’ve been hostile to and critical of the treason talk (both because I think it’s not true and because I hate nationalism).

But what would Ryan have me (or people like me) do? He’s not asking those of us on the left who have not joined in the Russia sky is falling chorus to support more aggressive cyber-security measures. He’s not asking us to push for a more confrontational approach with Russia (I don’t believe he supports that approach himself.)

It feels more as if we’re supposed to signal something in our rhetoric. Personally, I don’t like this kind of move in political arguments. It gets too close to: you need to show your bona fides, and I dislike that kind of politics. It’s a bit too much like virtue signaling. But even if that weren’t true, what would Ryan have us say? That we also think Trump is Putin’s Puppet? That we think this is part of an alliance of oligarchs (a claim I can’t make given the actual US foreign policy against Russia and the oligarchs right now.) I’ve said, I believe there is evidence for the interference, and I think that the answer is beefed up cybersecurity. Beyond that, I’m not willing to go or join in, for the reasons I’ve outlined. I think that should be enough.

And if there are some fundamental doubters or skeptics on the left about the interference story, I think that’s fine: either their doubt and skepticism will turn out to be useful (somehow we’ve all forgotten our John Stuart Mill here) or it won’t.

I suspect the real issue for some people on the left—not Ryan, but others I frequently read on this topic—is that they fear that that doubt and skepticism will make the left look bad. I’ll come clean on that: I have zero tolerance for people who take their political positions from a feared perception of how they might look otherwise, whose sense of politics is essentially a high school version of not wanting to seem un-cool. I left high school more than 30 years ago. I’m not going back.

I saw a lot of this after 9/11, particularly on the left: with people trying to prove their bona fides on their antipathy to terrorism and Islamism, just to show they could be as tough as the next guy. I have nothing but contempt for that kind of posturing. It’s craven—and embarrassing.

47 Comments

  1. Lauren July 23, 2018 at 2:24 pm | #

    Great response from Prof. Robin to Cooper’s article. One thing, I notice however, is that in every single social media debate or discussion I see about this Russia story (whether left, centrist, rightwing), no one ever mentions the view of Russian writers and journalists and scholars on this issue — those who are anti-Putin, that is. Their view of American claims and assumptions about their govt and the election and Trump don’t conform to the the assumptions even many leftwing Americans have about this story. One would think that American leftists at the very least would take their views seriously enough to engage with them.

    • Corey Robin July 23, 2018 at 2:35 pm | #

      It would help if you told me which specific Russian writers, journalists, and scholars—and more important which specific views and claims they have, and which specific views and claims I’ve offered here—you had in mind. And how anything I say here would be changed or altered as a result.

      • Far be it from me to be cynical but, bluntly put, I rather suspect that “Lauren” is asking you and others on the left to waste your time on what “the view of Russian [anti-Putin] writers and journalists and scholars on this issue” is by searching them out and then responding to them.

        My own reply to that: sure, Lauren, lemme get back you.

        Like we on the left don’t already have e-f*cking-nuff to do!

      • willf August 7, 2018 at 2:40 pm | #

        “It would help if you told me which specific Russian writers, journalists, and scholars…”

        Mr. Robin,

        Apologies for the late reply. But I think in regards to the statement by commenter Lauren
        (Lauren July 23, 2018 at 2:24 pm) that I can offer some suggestions.

        One quick read would be this interview by David Sirota with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the founders of the Russian punk band PussyRiot in the International Business times. (If the link does not work you can search for Nadezhda + Sirota + Putin and find it pretty quick).

        A good article with a more involved critique along similar lines is found in this New York Review of Books article by Maasha Gessen (again, if that link doesn’t work you could find it quickly by searching for Maasha Gessen + The Conspiracy Trap)

    • gracchibros July 23, 2018 at 3:31 pm | #

      Where do you put Professor Stephen Cohen of Princeton-NYU into that dynamic? I’ve tried to follow him for what is left out of the dominant dialogue, for years now as the new Cold War heated up, but I had to go to a right-libertarian podcast in the wee hours to get his lengthy interviews.

  2. Meets July 23, 2018 at 2:49 pm | #

    ” You think you can control the rhetoric; it controls you.”

    Maybe we’re there already.

  3. Holly LeCraw July 23, 2018 at 2:55 pm | #

    Thank you for this. Do you have any idea from whence the administration’s tough-on-Russia policy is coming? Do you know the general tenor and stance of Republicans (both mainstream, if there are any of those, and Freedom Caucus-y) and of the military? I’m asking because up until recently I assumed everyone knew that Russia was an enemy, but now it’s evident that’s not the case, and I wonder how much I’m influenced by my Cold War upbringing in assuming this.

  4. gracchibros July 23, 2018 at 3:28 pm | #

    Interesting post Corey. I agree with most of what you have said, and the warnings. Your arguments are also echoed by the debate hosted at The Intercept by Amy Goodman, between Joseph Cirincione and Glen Greenwald, with Cirincione sounding very much like Ryan Cooper. Greenwald makes the point about the Trump administrations policies towards Russia: bombing Syrian Airfields, imposing sanctions, killing Russian mercenaries by the scores…deporting embassy personnel…that its actions are tougher than Trump’s public comments and interactions with Putin.

    I’ve also speculated that we can’t discount Trump being on a mission on behalf of Israel and Saudi Arabia, who want something through Trump from Russia, very badly: getting Iran out of Syria and off Israeli borders, and out of Lebanon. I think that must be factored in too…

    Here’s the link. I think both segments are worth a listen and Greenwald is quite good: https://theintercept.com/2018/07/16/a-spirited-substantive-debate-on-the-trumpputin-summit-russia-and-us-politics/?utm_source=The+Intercept+Newsletter&utm_campaign=4ee6deb8b9-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_07_21&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e00a5122d3-4ee6deb8b9-131484101

    There is nothing good in interfering in elections, whomever does it, domestically or abroad. I also accept the fact that Russia is taking a hard line with the West out of their own useful domestic nationalism, in part a reaction to NATO being taken right up to their borders. What we haven’t heard is the extent to which the US has, directly through our agencies, or non-profits, conducting operations in other countries in Eastern or Western Europe or Central or South American. Especially the little talked about instances. There have been accusations about that in Georgia and Ukraine, before the Russians directly interfered.

    Also, Corey, where do you, if at all, fit Professor Stephen Cohen, the Russian scholar into your views? Has he cut Russia too much slack?

  5. Joseph Kellner July 23, 2018 at 3:31 pm | #

    Thank you for writing this – always encouraging to see somebody expressing these positions, because it’s quite a lonely position to take these days. I am a historian of Russia, currently lecturing at the University of California. I want to add just two things here. First, to the above commenter – I follow Russian Twitter fairly closely, and I have not seen this position, though of course, it all comes down to who we follow. I have seen, on the other hand, several Russian journalists protest liberal exaggeration of the Putin threat, precisely because it contributes to Putin’s mystique as a chess master (when in fact, the Russian government is far more chaotic than it appears in our media coverage). And second, I am not aware of any credible or official claims that Russian operations attempted to hack our voter registration systems, but I could be wrong on that.

    More generally, I believe the excessive focus on Russia is extraordinarily dangerous, not only for the reason that it commits future Democratic leadership to antagonize a rival nuclear power and vastly overstates that power’s ability to influence us – and not only because, as you suggest, there are far more effective and pernicious threats to our democracy right here at home – but because it provides an easy excuse to media and the Democrats to evade the question of why Trump won in 2016, and thus, sets us up for it to happen again in 2020. Breathless coverage of Russia actively detracts from the work of defeating Trump. A good question to ask, even to those who believe the Russians engaged in election meddling, is this: what constituency of voters consider Russian meddling to be the most pressing issue in their lives? Outside of Washington D.C., I’m inclined to think none at all, and surely, not the ones whose trust the Democrats need to regain.

    • Joseph Kellner July 23, 2018 at 3:33 pm | #

      I’m sorry, a short addendum. You and the commenters raise the question of what Trump’s goal is, or as you had it, whether the Russians have something on Trump. I of course don’t know, but suspect not. An equally plausible explanation, depressing as it may be, is that Trump’s approach to politics is no more considered than doing the opposite of what Obama did, in Europe and Russia, just as in Iran, and in domestic policy of all sorts.

      • Corey Robin July 23, 2018 at 4:25 pm | #

        Except that when it comes to Russia, Trump’s rhetoric at least is more in keeping with Obama’s policy, which was to downplay tensions and conflicts between the US and Russia.

        • Corey, question: while Obama and Trump’s policies regarding Russia are largely in line with one another, do you find that their own separate motives are different or the same?

          • Corey Robin July 23, 2018 at 4:42 pm | #

            Very different. Obama was a serious foreign policy thinker who cared about the international order and realpolitik. Trump’s an idiot.

    • LFC July 24, 2018 at 10:22 am | #

      @ J. Kellner:
      Re credible claims that Russia attempted to hack into voter reg. systems:
      see the recent indictment (via Mueller) of 12 Russian mil. intelligence operatives. Contains quite a lot of specifics, as even a skim of it will indicate.

  6. I listened to that debate a few days back and most of Greenwald’s points were facts that I had already known. However, I do have one worry on the issue that I must disclose and I hope that someone can help me out on it.

    Unlike Greenwald I do not accept that Trump and Putin want to chat as a means of avoiding violence between their respective nations. Instead, I suspect that this could – I only say “could” at this point – be the beginning a new rightist axis that will one day form a kind of loose association of virulently rightist countries. This would likely affect the future of sanctions (on which I am now agnostic) against Russia.

    This right-flavored association redounds to benefit of the Republican Party. Since the Southern Strategy this party has been on a rightist tear on everything from labor to the environment to gender and LGBTQ. To simplify a complexity, I would offer that Republican racism is even linked to the fact that the Republicans also disbelieve that global warming is a real phenomenon. Republicans have dropped the pretense of being shocked at that accusation of Russian “meddling”. This from the Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/07/trump-voters-putin-russia/565592/

    The buddying up of Trump and Putin is, I offer, frankly dangerous to people of color in the United States. Not because Russia makes that big a difference but it becomes another problem for POCs deal with, one that is harder to fight. Like Corey I get a nervous chill from the nationalist rhetoric coming from the so-called liberal side. I suspect that this is also a result of a kind of pent-up vengeance borne of receiving decades of accusations of being unpatriotic because of left efforts to expand democratic rights to marginalized Americans. Shallow as it is, some on the left are just thrilled to dish it out for a change.

    But back to my point. The Trump-Russia thing means, to me, that the Republican Party is happy to get outside assistance to prolong our marginalization and maintain their hold on power overall, even though they have done a fine job of it without foreign help.

    Of course, the only answer (for now) is to fight back with a progressive agenda and to “flood the zone” with voters bent on tossing the Republicans out of office such that they are less of a danger to us POCs and other marginalized groups. Right-ism needs to have its institutional supports cut out from under it. We can’t be afraid of taking that on just because it frightens centrist Dems.

    But frankly, I am not as confident about the future of this country as I once had been a mere few months ago. The Russians notwithstanding, we are in real trouble. And this is not the Russians’ fault.

    • jonnybutter July 24, 2018 at 7:42 pm | #

      …we are in real trouble. And this is not the Russians’ fault.

      This is the key insight. The stuff the Russians actually do is hit or miss; their threat is asymmetric, like a terrorist group. Their greatest point of leverage is – like with AQ and the others – in inciting the US to over-react or react dysfunctionally. We are ripe for a dysfunctional reaction. I agree with CR and Donald. I like Ryan too sometimes, but he’s not convincing on this one. It’s a bad column.

      BTW, it is symptomatic of our own corruption that a.) our cybersecurity is compromised; it’s compromised because American officials always demand a ‘back door’, and commercial interests don’t really care, and b.) that our voting machines are hackable; that we even have voting machines to hack; that the corruption of our electoral process is kind of a built-in feature.

  7. Oh, and one more thing.

    If anyone wants to know what “beefing up” the security of the voting system of this nation would look like, I beg everyone to go to the website below and check the archived radio shows of its host Brad Friedman. If we did what he suggests (and what he suggests is as low-tech as it gets: human verifiable/human-hand-countable, paper ballots and tossing out these g*ddamned computerized, touch-screen, weapons-against-democracy-assed voting machines) that would take care of a whole lot of problems and would have the beauteous effect of rendering the vote hack-proof.

    Here it is: http://www.bradblog.com/

    Brad and Desi also have a sense of humor. I have been fan for a while and in terms of information for anyone who cares about democracy they rank right up there with Democracy Now!

  8. Fuzzy Dunlop July 23, 2018 at 5:28 pm | #

    I think there’s a different, more useful angle on the Russian hacking, which is to see it as Putin-(Tea Party) Republican collusion more than Trump-Putin, based on shared white supremacist ideology. Seen from that angle, election hacking is rather precisely aligned with Republican voter suppression efforts, and I can even imagine Putin being willing to tolerate setbacks to the Russian geopolitical position in Ukraine &c. for the larger goal of undermining US legitimacy, as with the EU & Brexit; just as I can see much of the Republican Party being willing to undermine the above for the sake of entrenching white supremacy. Obviously any explanation that has Putin pulling all the strings is implausible, as Russia is not really all that powerful. The call is coming from inside the H/house–a notion that has been totally anathema to Clinton & centrist Dems, who thought they could get suburban voters to be shocked at Trump’s uncouthness…

    Bearing in mind what you said about the Trump administration taking a hard line on Russia, seeing this more as a Republican-Putin ‘conflictual partnership’ (rather than concrete collusion) is also in line with the analysis here. https://www.newyorker.com/news-desk/swamp-chronicles/a-theory-of-trump-kompromat

    While Trump missed a perfectly good opportunity to put to rest accusations of ‘collaboration w/ Russia’, increasing arms to separatists in Ukraine and whatever other anti-Russian policy measures are being undertaken actually manage to accomplish that distancing. Trump is not an ideal partner for the rest of the GOP in this regard.

    Anyway, ‘Republicans aren’t patriots, they’re white supremacists, and their willingness to let Russian hackers interfere with US voting systems is proof’ is a message that I think might actually make sense in the long run–but good luck getting Dems to see it.

  9. Roquentin July 23, 2018 at 6:00 pm | #

    From the beginning, I’ve had nothing but disdain for the scandla and viewed Russiagate as primarily about the following:

    1) A way for Democrats and the people who carry water for them in the media to absolve themselves for botching the 2016 election, which was easily winnable, in an attempt to mask gross incompetence

    2) Demonizing Russia to shore up support for a number of imperial projects overseas, which has been the MO of the US government for nearly a century. These examples are obvious: Syria, Ukraine, Iran…just for starters. A more assertive Russia and normalized relations means the security establishment can’t get what it wants in these places. There’s also the matter of the people who make lots and lots of money off of big, fat defense contracts to consider. The reaction to DPRK is revealing here, because it didn’t involve Russia, but the playbook was roughly the same. The Democrats are at times even worse than the GOP when it comes to militarism overseas.

    3) Lastly and most importantly, it offers the semblance of opposition to Trump while simultaneously offering voters nothing and makes all those leftist reforms Sanders was advocating fade into the background. I think the core of the whole thing has always been about selling centrist liberalism to a population that no longer wants it. Voters get zilch, zero, nada out of the deal except the perceived protection from nefarious foreign influence, which was always the entire point. The Dems and their media surrogates are cynical enough to destroy relations with a nuclear superpower to further these ends, and I find it just as likely that they either fabricated the entire thing out of whole cloth or exaggerated what little they had to the point where it basically may as well have been made up.

    That’s what it’s really about, keeping this in the media for as long as possible so the elite in control Democratic party never have to address any other political issues, which they can’t and don’t want to do. The rest is window dressing. Every day the lead story is about Russia is another day they don’t have to talk about free tuition at state colleges, Medicare for all, abolishing ICE, or any of the other problems they’d prefer not to touch. Cynical doesn’t even begin to describe it.

    • marku52 July 23, 2018 at 8:26 pm | #

      Yes, this exactly. The Dems getting in bed with the national security state, and the the FBI (which has been anti-progressive since day one) is appalling. And like you point out, they only do it so that they can avoid addressing things that actually matter to ordinary people. Because, their donors wouldn’t like that.

      They are well on track to lose 2018 and 2020 as well.

      • Roquentin July 23, 2018 at 9:15 pm | #

        There was that recent Gallup pool where they asked people what the most important political issue to them was, and less than a fraction of a percent chose Russia. The issue is a loser, most people don’t care (especially after two years of being bombarded with it) and any of those that do were already voting Dem. The Dems just keep digging their own grave. The future is nothing if not unpredictable, but I agree that the “blue wave” in the Midterms will likely amount to nothing and I’d give Trump at least 50/50 odds of getting re-elected.

        When I was younger, I really thought it was crazy that Al Gore just quietly stepped aside after the Supreme Court ruling on Florida back in 2000. It was just another in a long series of moments where the Dems had no backbone, caved in at the crucial moment or something along those lines. I don’t think that way anymore. Whatever else you want to say about Al Gore, just quietly bowing out in the face of an election where he too won the popular vote and was probably railroaded out of the presidency by shenanigans in Florida was much, much better than this shit. At least he had the decency to realize the futility of continuing to fight a battle he already lost.

        I mean, it’s fucking 2018. Trump’s term is half over and they still can’t let it go and accept he won. I don’t like him either, but at this point it’s time to just concentrate on winning next time.

  10. Chris Morlock July 23, 2018 at 7:05 pm | #

    Greenwald wrote about the latest Mueller indictment recently and summed up a very plausible timeline of events for the DNC hacking. The GRU infiltrated the DNC servers and took information. Through a private but unsecured twitter they reached out to Wikileaks, which decided to publish the data directly ahead of the convention. In the twitter exchange, wikileaks (maybe Assange himself) commented that this would help Bernie and they wanted that to happen.

    Funny enough it didn’t do what wikileaks wanted, primarily because the convention was a charade. More specially, it would have had an effect on a real convention, but we all know who financed the DNC at that point and who was making the decisions. This is something that drives to the heart of the political world and power structure and they will not let it go. I honestly believe most corporate dems when they think Trump and his campaign had been direct participants, but it’s more and more clear that they did not. Even that doesn’t matter, as the cabal has been exposed and all is fair in war.

    We see the disintegration and globalization of our own national politics in this fiasco. It seems like such a simple timeline of reasonable events that ended in a completely unreasonable power struggle that most likely has no end. The Dems have invested too much and it’s also clear that no outcome will be imminent. Because of the speed of the Mueller investigation we won’t see the final push until it can directly effect the 2020 election. Meanwhile Trump continues to smooth things over with the Corporate world, who writes everyone’s paychecks. It’s a race to the bottom, and a complete toss up.

  11. aniko July 23, 2018 at 7:35 pm | #

    This is such a beautifully written, thorough, sensible, and concise – it’s a big, emotional topic that people get bogged down in – article. Thanks for writing it.

    • Chris Morlock July 23, 2018 at 10:12 pm | #

      I agree, We all have been waiting for Corey’s take on this and it didn’t disappoint. It might be the best summation out there so far.

  12. WLGR July 23, 2018 at 10:09 pm | #

    One unspoken or vaguely hinted-at premise undergirding a lot of this hysteria, articulated to an extent upthread by Fuzzy Dunlop, is the assumed role of Putin’s Russia as some global white-supremacist puppetmaster orchestrating the rise of far right and neo-Nazi forces anywhere within the reach of its slimy meddling tentacles, thus also depicting the US liberal foreign policy establishment as an imperfect but necessary global bulwark against white supremacy, a fundamentally absurd narrative for at least two reasons. First, because Putin’s primary domestic political appeal within Russia is oriented around resentment not against ethnonational minorities but against the West’s liberal political establishment and Russia’s own Western-influenced liberal cultural elites, which is perfectly understandable given that those two groups of elites collaborated in the 1990s “shock therapy” era to orchestrate the largest peacetime decline in life expectancy ever recorded in an industrialized country. And second, because in the two major violent US/Russia proxy conflicts in the world today (Syria and Ukraine), the forces that could best be described as far-right ethnonationalists or even outright fascists are those backed by the US and its NATO/GCC allies, not those backed by Putin’s Russia.

    My interpretation is that the US foreign policy establishment prior to 2017 had already been planning to roll out a turn toward Russophobia under the Hillary Clinton presidency everybody had assumed would come to pass, and only after Trump’s shock victory did they decide to try to shoehorn the blame for global white supremacy into this predetermined Russophobic template, making Russophobia somehow akin to standing up for people of color. After all, during the Cold War it was mostly the agitation of antiracists that was framed as part of a Russian plot to subvert and divide America, while at most avowed racists were criticized for accidentally helping the Russians by making the US look bad in international diplomacy. Admittedly this segue toward Russophobia as a form of anti-racism may not be quite as awkward as the right’s anti-Obama segue of 2009, in which a market-based healthcare initiative proposed in the 1990s by the Heritage Foundation was suddenly transformed into the lynchpin of a radical Kenyan Muslim communist plot to destroy American freedom, but clearly a similar kind of ad hoc rationalization is at work.

    • Chris Morlock July 23, 2018 at 10:26 pm | #

      That is an apt description! There seems to be a “intersectionality” of issues in terms of the anti-imperialist narrative and Putin, at least on the propaganda level. It’s a great way of capturing some of the anger and confusion going on.

      The reality is, for anyone that follows Russian history and politics for the last ten years, that Putin has entered into a realm of geo-political peril that is almost never talked about. With a huge internal energy crisis, failing propped up economy, and a stagnant power dynamic, Putin has been less of a “master leader” and more of a desperate dictator willing to stake political legitimacy on wars of opportunity, which is a high stakes game. He has to appease what’s left of the oligarchy while balancing between his supporters and an increasing backlash of the new westernized bourgeoisie. His support is popular, and that popularity was based on a series of high stakes military operations.

      Peter Lavelle is a great journalist who documents this dynamic and is based in Russia.

      • Roquentin July 24, 2018 at 8:06 am | #

        I’d argue that Putin derives a lot, if not most of his support from selling himself to the Russian people as a leader who will protect them from the nefarious influence of the West. That’s why, in perhaps the most supreme irony of this entire episode, Russiagate actually strengthens him politically. It makes all the claims that the West is basically out to get the Russians and hurt them any chance it gets look true. Russian nationalism and the political case for it certainly isn’t undermined by wild accusations and aggression from the West, more like the opposite. It’s yet another reason this scandal doesn’t make any sense, or is based on entirely false pretenses. The same could be said for sanctions and refusing to business with certain oligarchs, who if they were at least making money off of trade with the US would have a reason to turn on Putin.

        No, the whole thing is a farce. I think that’s why Putin laughed in the face of Megyn Kelly. That’s what we are to him, an inept joke, perpetually meddling in things we don’t understand.

    • LFC July 24, 2018 at 10:35 am | #

      @WLGR
      One problem w your analysis of who’s backing whom in Syria is that the U.S. air campaign has been mainly directed vs. ISIS, and if they don’t qualify as a quasi-fascist group (since you’re using that terminology) I’m not sure who does.

      Second, the notion that racists in the U.S. were viewed as, “at most” only *accidentally* playing into the hands of the USSR during the Cold War underestimates the extent to which Cold War considerations were important in generating support for the civil rights movement esp among sectors of the US population who might otherwise have been cool or lukewarm toward it.

      • WLGR July 24, 2018 at 12:03 pm | #

        LFC, your first question raises the old (at least a century old) issue of to what extent Western imperial powers like the US and UK actually oppose Sunni Wahhabi extremist groups like ISIS or al Qaeda at all. These groups are essentially the “vigilante” form of the exact same ideology that forms the official state doctrine of our longtime authoritarian theocratic client state Saudi Arabia, and we routinely flip back and forth between embracing various of these groups as our proxies whenever we see fit — see for example the way al Qaeda itself originated as our own anti-Russian proxy fighters in Afghanistan in the ’80s, and despite the so-called “war on terror” forms much of the core of our anti-Assad proxies in Syria even today. ISIS is still a rouge element the way al Qaeda was in the ’90s and ’00s, but it originated as an outgrowth of our Qaeda/Nusra proxies, and even during the peak of its anti-Western fervor still functioned as an unofficial proxy of our ostensible ally Turkey against its hated enemies the Kurds (as well as against our shared enemy the Syrian government). So yes, to the extent that they qualify as a quasi-fascist group, the primary foreign responsibility for their quasi-fascism lies at our feet, not at Russia’s.

        Regarding your second question, yes the considerations of Cold War diplomacy were largely responsible for liberalism allowing the gains of the civil rights era, but this only illustrates my point exactly: it wasn’t anything to do with some grandiose teleological liberal progression toward a “more perfect union” that brought this about, it was the threat of a foreign communist enemy, and the resulting support for civil rights among MLK’s proverbial “white moderates” was as shallow as the need to buff up America’s PR with a Potemkin-village façade of racial inclusion. Hence why much of America’s domestic racial progress has halted or reversed since the height of the Cold War, and hence why the US on the world stage is not and has never been any kind of anti-racist bastion compared to our foreign enemies, whether it was the Soviets criticizing our racism from the left, or the Nazis deriving much of their racist genocidal settler-colonial ideology from the template we ourselves originally provided.

        • Dnald July 25, 2018 at 9:40 pm | #

          I have only read a couple of pages from the Amazon website, but in his recently published book Ben Rhodes explicitly says he wanted us to side with Al Qaeda ( Al Nusra) in Syria. Asad AbuKhalil write a long review of this book a couple days ago on the Consortiumnews website.

          Rhodes’s reasoning was that our chosen Syrian rebel pals fought side by side with Al Nusra anyway and Al Nusra was the most effective rebel group, so we might as well support them. In practice we did anyway, since our weapons ended up in their hands. There was a study on the Conflict arms website, funded by the EU, which demonstrated this.

        • Donald July 25, 2018 at 9:49 pm | #

          Here is the link to the Conflict Arms study. It is mostly about ISIS, but many of our weapons ended up in their hands. They also mention Al Nusra, but the focus is on ISIS.

          http://www.conflictarm.com/download-file/?report_id=2568&file_id=2574

          I misspelled my name in my previous post.

        • Donald July 25, 2018 at 9:50 pm | #

          I am reposting my earlier post, which is in moderation because of the misspelled name.

          I have only read a couple of pages from the Amazon website, but in his recently published book Ben Rhodes explicitly says he wanted us to side with Al Qaeda ( Al Nusra) in Syria. Asad AbuKhalil write a long review of this book a couple days ago on the Consortiumnews website.

          Rhodes’s reasoning was that our chosen Syrian rebel pals fought side by side with Al Nusra anyway and Al Nusra was the most effective rebel group, so we might as well support them. In practice we did anyway, since our weapons ended up in their hands. There was a study on the Conflict arms website, funded by the EU, which demonstrated this.

  13. Laura July 24, 2018 at 9:57 am | #

    It seems to me that the nationalist argument, from Brennan et al., about whether Trump is a Putin “puppet” is a division on the political right and we on the left should just let them alone to hash it out. It’s clear that Russia interfered in the US election, just as the US has interfered in countless elections in Latin America and the Middle East by organizing opposition parties, strategically planting rumors, inciting ethnonationalism and the like. This is particularly (though not exclusively) a Republican strategy—the International Republic Institute as much as admitted responsibility for a coup in Haiti (under John McCain’s leadership, we might note). It’s seriously bad behavior all around, and attack on small-d democratic yearnings everywhere. Instead of taking up the invitation to nationalist paranoia, it seems to me that the Left needs to talk about free and fair elections everywhere, an internationalist politic that stretches from apartheid South Africa (remember One (hu)Man, One Vote?), to voter registration/voting rights campaigns and lawsuits in the US Black community to Latin America’s Cold War dictatorships. It’s a much more useful set of politics, inviting attention, as this piece points out, to the Electoral College as well as felony disfranchisement, election-day dirty tricks to foil GOTV efforts, purging voter rolls and the like.

    • gracchibros July 24, 2018 at 10:33 am | #

      The debate seems particularly shallow when our interventions are left out of the picture. I say that not to condone or say anything positive about Putin or current day Russia. Forgive the “Channel Four Link” here, but the article actually is based on research by Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon, and is pretty comprehensive. Sadly it ends in 2000, so some of the more interesting possibilities for the US, meddling, especially in Eastern Europe and Latin America are left off the table when we need them the most, and the reason given is lack of confirmation, the veil thrown up by the American security establishment. Here it is: https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/americas-long-history-of-meddling-in-other-countries-elections

  14. Thank you for taking my question, Corey. I could not think that Il Douchie had a deliberate effort beyond toadying up to another boy who rules. And “meddling” is way too polite for what the US has done around the world, especially in other nations’ elections, up to and including choosing other nations’ “presidents” during the Cold War era. If we can dish it out….

    Noam Chomsky made a point regarding 9/11 about the particular shock American elites had in response to that attack, which is the kind of shock when “the guns are pointed the other way”. By this term he meant when the victims of American policy shoot back. Given the (un-ceased) post-Cold War effort by the US to expand NATO membership to include the former Soviet Republics and Warsaw Pact nations (and Robert Rubin’s advising the elites in Russia on how to crash the economy and perform wholesale “grabification” of all public assets) it would not be too much of a stretch to think that Putin’s alleged “meddling” is one way that the guns are pointed the other way.

    I just wish that the rightist opportunity that this delivers did not have to be one of the outcomes. I am all for restraining US imperial designs. That it gives oxygen to the alt-righters is part of the collateral damage we face here. Plus — if Trump gets a third Supreme Court pick, progressives will have their options even more limited: either make this country wholly ungovernable or get the f*ck out of it before…. before something REALLY happens.

    I hate to be a nervous Nellie. I will be seeking comrades, including those really cool Parkland kids, in order that we may find some means to both end this Trumpist nightmare AND fight to push aside the Dem neolibs who are trying real hard to ride the anti-Trump bandwagon to bring us back to worst years of Bill Clinton-flavored policies. We can’t just go back before Trump, or else we will only get “Trump” back (or Bush or Clinton). We just can’t make the world safe for THEM.

  15. b. July 24, 2018 at 6:32 pm | #

    “To my mind, it simply means beefing up cybersecurity efforts.”

    This is deeply disappointing.

    Count the votes by hand, with citizens called upon as we are called upon for jury duty.
    Eliminate the Obama/Clinton “public private partnership” rackets for election machines.
    Reject the notion that voters cannot be trusted – that is the core of the “Russians changed the vote” BS.

    Point out that, compared to voter roll purges, disenfranchisement, bipartisan gerrymandering, party-controlled primaries and TV-controlled debates, and above all, money, money, money, the Internet, unpopular, popular, and minority opinions, and above all “Russia!” are irrelevant as a threat to our elections – as is the Electoral College.

  16. b. July 24, 2018 at 6:32 pm | #

    Point out that we need instant runoff voting much more than we need to abolish the Electoral College.
    Point out that we need a None Of The Above option to reject primary ballots more than we need more “cybersecurity efforts.”

    Point out that, if there is a question of foreign autocrats and oligarchs corrupting our “selective” representative democracy, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Qatar will feature more prominently than Russia, and domestic oligarchs – including those with deep ties to Israel – will feature more prominently than Russia as well. The Trump administration and the modern Biparty might well exemplify the problem of autocrats and oligarchs subverting and eroding our democratic institutions and processes, but that is because of inbred wealth being Too Big For Governance, and oligarchy – domestic much more so than foreign – being incompatible with an open society.

    The whole “Russia!” campaign of manufactured hysteria is so wrong, on so many levels, in so many ways, so “malignant”, to borrow the agitprop phrase of the year, that it is a discredit to an utterly unhinged Democratic Party leadership that is willing to put this idiotic, cynical gambit above all, at all cost, sidelining – perhaps happily – the issue of voter disenfranchisement. It is also a discredit to those – like Glenn Greenwald, or here, Corey Robin – that reject this campaign for all the wrong reasons.

  17. b. July 24, 2018 at 6:34 pm | #

    Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and others will need a better response than this, and they will need to hit this toxic brew of BS head-on, and hard, or it will box them in even more than it boxed in Trump so far – in support of a deeply corrupt, rotten, bloody “consensus” that leads us to crimes such as Yemen.

  18. b. July 24, 2018 at 6:39 pm | #

    How can anybody with a straight face, after the farce of the 2000 elections, claim that US elections are under threat by twitter trolls, paid or proud volunteers?

    How twisted is the reasoning of somebody who thinks that leaks that inform the public are a bad thing?

    If the “intelligence communities” of the repressive governments of the world want to get into an arms race of mutually assured transparency, why would we – ever – want to object to that?

    If there is going to be an Assange trial before Trump leaves office, the idea that leaked documents are somehow a net liability for a democratic society will be put to the question.

  19. wetcasements July 26, 2018 at 12:03 am | #

    It really doesn’t take fantastic mental leaps to suggest that worrying about Russia’s rat-fucking of the US election system (which will happen again in 2018 and 2020) and worrying about longer-term issues of wealth inequality, the extreme right-wing bent of the SCOTUS, and the literal looting of the US treasury by Trump and his appointees aren’t mutually exclusive concerns.

    But hey, I’m not Glenn Greenwald.

    • Donald July 26, 2018 at 10:08 pm | #

      I think we should just give up. If our democracy is so easily hacked, with Facebook ads and exposure of sleazy DNC behavior, then we should just admit that we are at the mercy of any random millionaire who wants to buy Facebook ads. The Russians did this on the cheap, so anyone could do it. We are doomed, doomed I tell you.

      • Stormy Jamesiels (@wetcasements) July 27, 2018 at 3:24 am | #

        Hillary won the popular vote.

        The first and foremost problem is the existence of the Electoral College, an explicitly racist, pro-slavery institution.

        I mean, these problems can be fixed but a structurally over-represented GOP has no desire to do so.

        So yeah, I agree we’re fucked but the only solution, short or long term, is to vote for Democrats.

  20. Chris Morlock July 27, 2018 at 5:35 am | #

    I was just thinking about how the Right has used the “war on terror” as a new cold war, funding the military industrial complex at a time when it needed to return to a “growth industry”. Since 2016 we have had nothing but Russia, which the only narrative about ISIS and the middle east that “Trump won”. It’s absurd. Democrats could easily push a narrative that Trump has failed and the middle east continues to spiral out of control due to a continuation of American intervention, but that story is literally not there since the election.

    Instead its the Dems trying to bring back the original cold war. I imagine them sitting in meetings with military industrial corporate people reassuring them their budgets will still continue to grow as we pivot off the middle east and target Putin. This is great because we can finally stop being “Islamophobic” and get into some serious “Russophobia”, which is way more American. I’m not sure the Dem leadership comprehends that at least with an Islamophobic foreign policy we don’t have to worry about ICBM’s. I’m not sure I disagree with Trump’s basic concept that the usual “preferred US friends” foreign policy of pro China, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the EU are unworthy of being “rustled up” and threatened a little. I like the idea. It just doesn’t seem like Trump is willing to really follow through on any of it and instead it resembles a frenetic concert of half-baked ideas and confusing actions. I’m also not sure I agree with Corey on Obama being a deep thinker of realpolitik either. He didn’t seem to understand geopolitics at all. How did he apply deep thinking to adding 5 wars to the 2 ridiculous ones Bush and the Neocons started? How did he expertly navigate the Arab Spring? How did he do leaving Iraq at the worst possible time, right after a rigged election stoked sectarian lines in 2011? If Trump is an idiot then Obama was a moron?

    • WLGR July 27, 2018 at 1:31 pm | #

      The West’s reliance on Islamophobia as the main ideological fuel for its militarism over the past couple decades has always been slightly incoherent and required a careful vagueness about the precise nature of the enemy beyond merely “Islam,” because as I described in response to LFC above, imperial policymakers in the US (and before it the UK) have long been head over heels in love with hardline Wahhabi or Wahhabi-influenced Islamic ideology as the special sauce for creating their ideal imperial subjects and/or proxies. Even before Rambo went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets alongside brave mujahideen fighters like Osama bin Laden, the extreme antimodernist authoritarian/theocratic Saudi state ideology bin Laden channeled and amplified was an instrumental part of Western global imperialist policy, dampening the growth of Saudi Arabia’s domestic oil consumption and giving it maximal freedom to turn its production capacity as far on or off as US policymakers needed at any given moment. Note also that even bin Laden himself was the black sheep of an extremely wealthy and powerful family that runs the largest construction and development firm in Saudi Arabia, responsible among other things for this monstrosity overshadowing the Grand Mosque in Mecca, with an aesthetic so kitschily grandiose it can only be described as Trumpian.

      No, historically speaking, Anglo-American ideology is far more comfortable with a nice old-fashioned Orientalist xenophobic panic over the threat of some nefarious Eastern totalitarian despotism, with our good reactionary Islamic militant friends doing their part to undermine whichever non-Western power needs undermining, from the Tsarist Russians, to the Ottomans, to the Soviet Russians, to the Chinese, to the capitalist Russians. (Gee, I’m almost sensing a pattern!)

    • Roquentin July 27, 2018 at 2:52 pm | #

      I’ve often wondered if the overheated rhetoric coming from liberals, Democrats, and even some sectors of the left ever resulted in armed conflict with Russia, would they ever feel bad about it? Would they all just sort of pretend that they hadn’t really been cheering it on? Or would they say it was worth it? I just don’t think these fools grasp magnitude of the disaster they’re stumbling into. Isn’t this how major world conflicts usually start? A delusional elite, sure that it could never lose and that no one would ever fight back throwing its weight around?

      We came very, very close during the last dust up in Syria. Russia had explicitly stated they would retaliate if an attack was made. Lets say Russia bombed some of these military bases the missiles were launched from. Just what would have happened then? Wars have been started over less. I have a contempt these sorts of liberals and Democrats which almost eclipses that which I have for Trump.

Leave a Reply to Laura Cancel reply