The Russians were…flocking to Bernie Sanders Facebook sites, and they were saying to Bernie Sanders supporters… ’if you voted for Sanders, you have to understand Hillary Clinton is crazy, she’s a murderer, she is terrible,’ all kinds of horrible, horrible things, about Hillary Clinton…it was an effort to undermine American democracy and to really say horrible things about Secretary Clinton…we have to say to the Russians. You are doing something to undermine American democracy; you are not going to get away with it. This is a major assault. If you do that there will be severe, severe consequences.
— Bernie Sanders, Face the Nation (NBC), February 18, 2018
Neo-McCarthyite liberals and other dismal Democrats are clucking about how Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 untouchable Russians for “defrauding” the U.S. by buying some Facebook ads and employing some Internet trolls to “say horrible things” (imagine!) about Hillary Clinton (a horrifically bad politician who was accurately described as a “lying neoliberal warmonger” by a leading U.S. left intellectual trying to get leftists to hold their noses and vote “for” her as the lesser evil) “proves” that Russia engaged in relevant meddling to undermine U.S. “democracy” on Donald Trump’s behalf during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Please note eight things you will not hear from the Russia-mad Democrats and their many media allies at places like the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, and MSDNC:
1. There is No Real Democracy to Subvert in the United States.
As the distinguished political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Marin Gilens (Princeton) show in their important new volume Democracy in America? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, November 2017):
“the best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups—especially business corporations—have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless . . . The will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves . . . Majorities of Americans favor . . . programs to help provide jobs, increase wages, help the unemployed, provide universal medical insurance, ensure decent retirement pensions, and pay for such programs with progressive taxes. Most Americans also want to cut ‘corporate welfare.’ Yet the wealthy, business groups, and structural gridlock have mostly blocked such new policies [and programs].”
Mammon reigns in the United States, where “government policy . . . reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the pre-approved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.”
Thanks to this American “oligarchy” ( Page and Gilens’ term), the United States ranks at or near the bottom of the list of rich nations when it comes to key measures of social health: economic disparity, inter-generational social mobility, racial inequality, racial segregation, infant mortality, poverty, child poverty, life expectancy, violence, incarceration, depression, literacy/numeracy, and environmental sustainability and resilience.
It’s a vicious circle. “When citizens are relatively equal [economically],” Page and Gilens write, “politics has tended to be fairly democratic. When a few individuals hold enormous amounts of wealth, democracy suffers.” Savage inequality and abject plutocracy are two sides of the same class-rule coin in New Gilded Age America.
Some political scientists have argued that regular elections that generate competitive contests for citizens’ votes are all that is required for a nation to be a democracy. But “elections alone,” Page and Gilens note, “do not guarantee democracy” in a nation where the electoral and policy processes run in grooves made and greased to serve an unelected dictatorship of concentrated wealth.
Russia didn’t “undermine American democracy” in 2016. There was no real system of popular self-rule in place to subvert. This is, and has long been, a corporate and financial oligarchy.
2. Interference Made Obvious Sense for Russia.
Insofar as Russia interfered in the 2016 election (and it did to a minor degree), there was nothing remotely shocking about its intervention. What was all that surprising, strange, or nefarious about the Russians wanting to see Hillary Clinton defeated? Mrs. Clinton was and remains an arch-imperialist Russo-phobic warmonger determined to provoke and humiliate Russia in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. She has long been a strong advocate of NATO‘s ever more menacing and eastward presence on Russian’s long-invaded western border. She is a strong backer of right-wing, neo-Nazi, and anti-Russian coup regime the Obama administration helped create in Ukraine.
Let’s say the tables were turned. Would a weaker United States seek to influence national elections in a foreign global superpower that helped engineer a coup that gave rise to a viciously anti-U.S., government in Canada – and that was placing deadly military hardware, personnel, and alliances in alliances in Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean? Would Washington try to do whatever it could to favor actors inside the foreign superpower who seemed least disposed to threaten the U.S. “homeland”? Would the U.S. scheme to weaken that superpower’s legitimacy and influence on the global stage?
The answer to all three questions is “you betchya!” One doesn’t have to be any kind of fan (I’m certainly not) of the corrupt state-capitalist autocrat Vladimir Putin to understand his obvious realpolitik interest in the defeat of the blood-soaked Queen of Chaos (sorry for “saying horrible things” about her, Bernie!) Hillary Clinton.
Insofar as Putin “interfered” in “our democratic elections,” his “meddling” should be understood as predictable and fairly modest electoral “blowback” elicited by U.S. global aggression and empire.
3. The Rest of the World Has a Frankly Legitimate Interest in U.S. Politics.
Why shouldn’t other nations try (however imperfectly) to influence the political process inside the U.S.? For seven-plus decades now, big bad Uncle Sam has stomped and strode across the planet as a criminal, arrogant, gun- and mass-murderous bomb-slinging imperial hegemon, convinced of his own special God- and/or History-ordained mission to run the world as his own possession. Millions upon millions have been murdered and maimed by “exceptional” America’s “benevolent” agents of “peace” and “freedom.” Still by far and away world history’s most extensive Empire, the U.S has at least 800 military bases spread across more than 80 foreign countries and “troops or other military personnel in about 160 foreign countries and territories.” The U.S. accounts for more than 40 percent of the planet’s military spending and has more than 5,500 strategic nuclear weapons, enough to blow the world up 5 to 50 times over.
Think it’s all in place to ensure peace and democracy the world over, in accord with the standard boilerplate rhetoric of U.S. president, diplomats, and senators? Seriously? Do you know any other good jokes?
The world knows better. Of course other nations seek to have some kind of say within the belly of the beast of the planet’s only global-reach Superpower.
Please see my latest Truthdig and Common Dreams essay, titled “The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of U.S. Global Hegemony” – a chilling and I hope useful reflection on savage and authoritarian, “democracy-deterring” (Noam Chomsky) U.S. imperial arrogance and criminality since 1945.
4. Russian Interference Was Nothing Compared to that of the Superpower’s Homegrown Oligarchy.
Russian interference in U.S. politics is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the regular authoritarian intervention of the United States’ own homegrown “deep state” corporate and financial oligarchy. I don’t pretend to know that Russian intervention was completely irrelevant in a race that was ultimately by decided by under 78,000 votes in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. We can be quite sure, however, that Russian and Russia-duped trolls and activists were infinitesimal factors balanced against the influence wielded by the leading financial institutions and corporations in “America, the best democracy money can buy.”
Here I am thinking less of the money that Trump got from renegade right-wing moguls like Robert Mercer and Sheldon Adelson than of how Mrs. Clinton’s longstanding allegiance and captivity to Wall Street helped make her a loser in an anti-establishment election colored by deep popular outrage at American hyper-inequality and plutocracy.
Also relevant is the $5 billion worth of free media exposure that the despicable orange beast got from the U.S. corporate media during the 2016 election cycle. Russia didn’t do that. CNN and the rest of the commercial media’s news and entertainment empire did.
6. Republican Vote Suppression was a Much Bigger Deal.
Russian interference was a minor matter compared also to the impact of the reactionary and racist voter suppression laws and practices passed and conducted by Republican authorities in key swing states.
7. Other Noxious but Officially U.S.-Allied States Invest in U.S. Politics and Policy.
There’s a revealing contrast between the endless outrage the Democrats and liberals express over Russia’s real and alleged engagement in the U.S. political process and their comparative silence about the longstanding political influence exercised by vicious U.S.-allied states like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Where’s the liberal and Democratic outrage over Israel’s big-time interference in our great democracy? In a recent excellent Counterpunch report, professor Mel Gurtov writes that:
Saudi Arabia has played the influence game just as aggressively as the Russians, and for much longer. Saudi money has effectively lobbied in Washington for many years, often relying on former members of Congress. The Saudis also seek to influence US politics by funding NGOs (e.g., the Clinton Foundation), think tanks, law firms, social media, and even political action committees. Saudi investors, including members of the royal family, may have as much as a half-trillion dollars invested in US real estate, the stock market, and US treasury bills. At the time of Trump’s visit in May the Saudi leadership committed to another $40 billion in infrastructure investments, though whether or not that will actually happen is another matter….The payoff for the Saudis is arms acquisitions that have usually put Saudi Arabia first on the US arms export list. The $110 billion arms deal announced while Trump was in Saudi Arabia came on top of billions more weapons sold during the Obama years—and consistent US political support since before World War II of the royal family’s authoritarian rule. The Saudis have also bought continued US support of the Saudi air war in Yemen—a humanitarian disaster that probably amounts to war crimes. For the US, cultivating Saudi Arabia yields not only low oil prices and a reliable arms customers but also an easing of Arab pressure on Israel and leadership in Sunni confrontation of Shiite Iran and Iran’s partner, Hezbollah.
When does Robert Mueller’s Saudigate investigation begin?
7. The Russians Did Not Make the Deplorable, Dollar-Drenched Democratic Party Establishment Rig the Primaries against Bernie Sanders
…thereby undermining the only one of the two top Dem candidates who (as I freely admit despite my left criticisms of Sanders) could have defeated Dolt45 (even I would have had to forego third-party voting if Sanders had been allowed to defeat horrid Hillary). What about the Hillary campaign and the Clintonite DNC’s “meddling” against Bernie? (Sadly but predictably, Sanders has aligned himself [see this essay’s opening quote] with the neo-McCarthy-ite Russia-gate narrative. This validates his early Left critics, who took significant undeserved abuse from fellow progressives for having the elementary decency to note that Bernie the Bomber was a stealth Democratic Party company man and a dedicated Empire Man)
Russian interference wasn’t a complete “nothing burger,” but it was sorely skimpy fare compared to the immeasurably bigger and beefier servings of democracy-killing intervention delivered by American Big Business, Republican-controlled states, and the Democratic Party establishment.
Where’s the beef stroganoff? Scattered on the margins of a much bigger plate of homegrown prime ribs.
8. “We” (the U.S.) Interfere(s) in Elections Around the World for “Our” Own Authoritarian Purposes.
In a recent remarkable report titled “Russia Isn’t the Only One Meddling in Elections. We Do It, Too,” the nation’s imperial newspaper of record, The New York Times, made and reported what might have seemed like some startling admissions about Uncle Sam’s longstanding and ongoing history of interfering in other nations’ elections. Lengthy quotation is merited:
Most Americans are understandably shocked by what they view as an unprecedented attack on our political system. But intelligence veterans, and scholars who have studied covert operations, have a different, and quite revealing, view.
“If you ask an intelligence officer, did the Russians break the rules or do something bizarre, the answer is no, not at all,” said Steven L. Hall, who retired in 2015 after 30 years at the C.I.A., where he was the chief of Russian operations. The United States “absolutely” has carried out such election influence operations historically, he said, “and I hope we keep doing it.”
Loch K. Johnson, the dean of American intelligence scholars, who began his career in the 1970s Investigating the C.I.A. as a staff member of the Senate’s Church Committee, says Russia’s 2016 operation was simply the cyber-age version of standard United States practice for decades, whenever American officials were worried about a foreign vote.
“We’ve been doing this kind of thing since the C.I.A. was created in 1947,” said Mr. Johnson, now at the University of Georgia. “We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners — you name it. We’ve planted false information in foreign newspapers. We’ve used what the British call ‘King George’s cavalry’: suitcases of cash.”
…the Russian campaign in 2016 was fundamentally old-school espionage, even if it exploited new technologies. And it illuminates the larger currents of history that drove American electoral interventions during the Cold War and motivate Russia’s actions today.
A Carnegie Mellon scholar, Dov H. Levin, has scoured the historical record for both overt and covert election influence operations. He found 81 by the United States and 36 by the Soviet Union or Russia between 1946 and 2000, though the Russian count is undoubtedly incomplete….. “We had bags of money that we delivered to selected politicians, to defray their expenses,” said F. Mark Wyatt, a former C.I.A. officer, in a 1996 interview.
Covert propaganda has also been a mainstay. Richard M. Bissell Jr., who ran the agency’s operations in the late 1950s and early 1960s, wrote casually in his autobiography of “exercising control over a newspaper or broadcasting station, or of securing the desired outcome in an election.” A self-congratulatory declassified report on the C.I.A.’s work in Chile’s 1964 election boasts of the “hard work” the agency did supplying “large sums” to its favored candidate and portraying him as a “wise, sincere and high-minded statesman” while painting his leftist opponent as a “calculating schemer.”
C.I.A. officials told Mr. Johnson in the late 1980s that “insertions” of information into foreign news media, mostly accurate but sometimes false, were running at 70 to 80 a day. In the 1990 election in Nicaragua, the C.I.A. planted stories about corruption in the leftist Sandinista government, Mr. Levin said. The opposition won.
…For the 2000 election in Serbia, the United States funded a successful effort to defeat Slobodan Milosevic, the nationalist leader, providing political consultants and millions of stickers with the opposition’s clenched-fist symbol and “He’s finished” in Serbian, printed on 80 tons of adhesive paper and delivered by a Washington contractor.
Vince Houghton, who served in the military in the Balkans at the time and worked closely with the intelligence agencies, said he saw American efforts everywhere.
Similar efforts were undertaken in elections in wartime Iraq and Afghanistan, not always with success. After Hamid Karzai was re-elected president of Afghanistan in 2009, he complained to Robert Gates, then the secretary of defense, about the United States’ blatant attempt to defeat him, which Mr. Gates calls in his memoir “our clumsy and failed putsch.”
At least once the hand of the United States reached boldly into a Russian election. American fears that Boris Yeltsin would be defeated for re-election as president in 1996 by an old-fashioned Communist led to an overt and covert effort to help him, urged on by President Bill Clinton. It included an American push for a $10 billion International Monetary Fund loan to Russia four months before the voting and a team of American political consultants (though some Russians scoffed when they took credit for the Yeltsin win).
In recent decades, the most visible American presence in foreign politics has been taxpayer-funded groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which do not support candidates but teach basic campaign skills, build democratic institutions and train election monitors….The National Endowment for Democracy gave a $23,000 grant in 2006 to an organization that employed Aleksei Navalny, who years later became Mr. Putin’s main political nemesis, a fact the government has used to attack both Mr. Navalny and the endowment. In 2016, the endowment gave 108 grants totaling $6.8 million to organizations in Russia for such purposes as “engaging activists” and “fostering civic engagement.” The endowment no longer names Russian recipients, who, under Russian laws cracking down on foreign funding, can face harassment or arrest.
What the C.I.A. may have done in recent years to steer foreign elections is still secret and may not be known for decades. It may be modest by comparison with the agency’s Cold War manipulation. But some old-timers aren’t so sure.
“I assume they’re doing a lot of the old stuff, because, you know, it never changes,” said William J. Daugherty, who worked for the C.I.A. from 1979 to 1996 and at one time had the job of reviewing covert operations. “The technology may change, but the objectives don’t.”
Wow. Radical truth-telling at The New York Times?
No, not really.
There’s a catch. It’s very simple. The caveat is that “we” (U.S. foreign policymakers and their supposedly benevolent institutions – the CIA, the IMF, the NED, the Carnegie Endowment, etc. – are good and only interfere to advance democracy, while they are bad and interfere for authoritarian reasons. We good. They bad. Get it?
It’s kind of like how we killed 3-5 million Southeast Asians out of “good intentions” between 1962 and 1975 but the Soviet Union crushed internal dissent and waged war in Afghanistan out of purely evil designs.
When Washington kills civilians in Syria it’s for good reasons. When Moscow does the same it’s for bad reasons.
“Equating” U.S. interference in other nations’ elections with the Russians’ (much more minor) interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Steven Hall told Times reporter Scott Shane, “is like saying cops and bad guys are the same because they both have guns — the motivation matters.” (Imagine thinking that cops could be bad guys!).
“It’s not just apples and oranges,” Kenneth Wollack informed Shane, “It’s comparing someone who delivers lifesaving medicine to someone who brings deadly poison.” Wollack is president of the National Democratic Institute, a key non-profit engaged in U.S. “democracy promotion” and election interference abroad.
Shane fails to subject these transparently absurd assertions to the slightest hint of critical scrutiny. That’s because he and/or his editors have had their brains marinated in the toxic, mind-numbing doctrinal sauce of nationally narcissistic American Exceptionalism. As a result, they take it as a matter of self-evident truth that “we” are noble and benevolent, far-seeing agents of popular sovereignty. “We” are healers and “good cops.” “They” are nefarious “bad guy” bearers of authoritarian poison.
You must be a gullible victim of American state propaganda to believe something as patently preposterous as this, of course. Today as in previous decades. U.S. foreign policy, including election interference operations, is all about advancing perceived U.S. national interests, strongly conflated with the imperatives of U.S. and global capitalism. It is about defending and expanding U.S. global primacy by any means deemed necessary. It has nothing whatsoever to do with spreading democracy. Indeed, it is fundamentally about “deterring democracy” (the title of Noam Chomsky’s masterpiece volume on the basic underlying continuity in U.S. foreign policy as the post-Cold War era dawned) since most of the world’s politically cognizant populace has no interest in subordinating themselves to U.S. dominance and the selfish imperatives of American transnational corporations.
Sadly, untold thousands of U.S. liberals open the Times to drink up American Exceptionalist doctrine along with their daily Starbucks each morning. Too many of them are being fed the related neo-McCarthyite notion that serious dissent and conflict within the U.S. reflects “outside” (Russian) interference, not established steep and domestic modes of inequality, oppression, and authoritarian rule. This is dangerous messaging indeed, great fuel for the expansion of the military police state and its ever-burgeoning cybernetic surveillance apparatus.
The fact that so many Democrats and Democratic Party-affiliated groups and media organs are helping spread this conspiratorial and xenophobic madness is yet another reminder that the radically regressive Republicans and the deplorable dollar Democrats are “two wings of the same bird of [corporate and imperial] prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904) – both lethal, murderous, plutocratic, and authoritarian in their own different ways.
Think Bernie represents some portside exit from this state-capitalist and imperialist nightmare? Dream on.
Still, it is perhaps worth it to pressure him to speak up against plans for a possible U.S. war on Venezuela, whose great populist hero (Hugo Chavez) Bernie insultingly described as a “dead communist dictator” in March of 2016.
Hillary, by the way, is a murderer, terrible to say.
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