Thursday, May 18, 2017

Can't we all get along? Russia and the USofA

Bottom Line: Perhaps we should reset our relationship with Russia. Alas, 45 and company are more interested in oil money than peace and they're incompetent at governance. But what we're seeing in the news – Comey  etc. – is a distracting sideshow of bureaucratic and partisan infighting.

Here's the beginning of a 22 minute interview posted at Naked Capitalism:
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that a memo written by James Comey states that President Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation into General Flynn. Now, this was all about Flynn’s contacts with the Russians. [...]

Now joining us to talk about the Comey affair, the Trump affair, and just what is the issues in terms of the US-Russia relationship, is Robert English. Robert is a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California. He specializes in Russian and post-Soviet politics, US-Russian relations, and national security policy. He formerly worked for the US Department of Defense and the Committee for National Security, and has published widely in both academic and policy journals. Thanks very much for joining us, Robert.

ROBERT ENGLISH: Happy to be here.

PAUL JAY: Okay, so every day another storm, another drama. First of all, what do you make of … Maybe the most interesting thing in all of this Comey thing today isn’t Trump asking him to stop the investigation; that’s not a great shocker. The more interesting thing is somebody at the FBI who has access to the Comey memo reads it to a journalist at the New York Times. There’s a lot of people out to get Trump here.

ROBERT ENGLISH: Yeah, you’re pointing to this larger problem, which is this chaos, this infighting, and not just in a sort of careerist bureaucratic way, but a kind of serious pitched battle between different factions — in this case, between those in the Trump administration who seem to want a fresh start with Russia, to try to begin cooperation on things like Syria, terrorism, and so forth, and those dead set against it, who are now using leaks and so forth to … In part, to fight their battles. And so the bureaucratic, the nasty, the backstabbing, the leaking, is one area of issues, but you’re pointing to this larger fundamental. Can we get along with Russia? Is it worth trying to reset relations? And even if he’s not the best executor so far — and he’s not — is Trump’s basic idea of “We can get along with Russia, let’s give it a try” a good one? And I happen to think it is; it’s just being carried out awfully clumsily.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, I think one needs to separate the intent of Trump for wanting better relation with Russia, which one can analyze, and the policy itself. The policy of having a détente, although why there even needs to be a détente is kind of a question mark … But why is so much of the American foreign policy establishment, the political class, the military leadership, the vast majority of that whole stratum wants to maintain a very antagonistic position towards Russia, and why?

ROBERT ENGLISH: You know, four or five reasons that all come together, pushing in this Russophobic direction. We’ve always had sort of unreconstructed Cold Warriors, people who never were easy with the new Russia, right? Zbigniew Brzezinski and people of that ilk, who wanted to just push Russia in a corner, take advantage of its weakness, never give it a chance. Then you have people in the military-industrial complex, for lack of a better term, whose vested interests lie in a continued rivalry, and continued arms-racing, and continued threat inflation. You have other people who normally would be liberal progressive, but they’re so angry at Hillary Clinton’s loss, they’re so uncomprehending of how someone they see as vulgar and unqualified as Trump could get elected, that they’re naturally unwilling to let go of this “the Russians hacked our election, the Russians got Trump elected” theme, and therefore, Russia is even bigger enemy than they would be otherwise. These and other strains all come together in a strange way. Some of this is the hard right, all right? Some of it is from the left, some is from the center. And across the board, we have ignorance. Ignorance of Russia. [...]

You don’t have to go back to the ’50s or ’40s. You can go back just to the ’90s, when we interfered in Russia, when we foisted dysfunctional economic policies on them, when we meddled in their elections repeatedly, and basically for an entire decade, we were handmaidens to a catastrophe — economic, political, social — that sowed the seeds of this resentment that continues to this day.
Follow the (oil) money:
PAUL JAY: Now, I said in the beginning that I thought we should separate Trump’s intent from a policy, which seems more rational, not to treat Russia as such an adversary, and try to work both in Syria and other places, negotiate more things out. But when you do look at the side of intent, I don’t think you can negate or forget about the kind of historic ties that Trump has with Russian oligarchs. Some people suggest Russian Mafia. Tillerson’s energy play, they would love sanctions lifted on Russia, and I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t be lifted, but the motive here is they want to do a massive play in the energy sector. So it’s not … I don’t think we should forget about what drives Trump and his circle around him, which is they have a very big fossil fuel agenda and a money-making agenda. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean the policy towards Russia isn’t rational. I mean, what do you … I don’t know if you agree or not.

ROBERT ENGLISH: You know, yeah, you’re right, those are important points, and whether you agree or not with people ranging from Ron Wyden to Lindsey Graham, they’re all saying “follow the money,” and in this case, I think they’re right. All these probes, and all these suspicions that the Trump team colluded with Russian intelligence to throw the election, that they were cooperating, even coordinating with the Russians on the hacking, and then the release, I don’t believe it. It could be true — you know, I don’t have access to the evidence — but to me, it seems much more likely that what will turn up instead are financial crimes or malfeasance. People taking speaker’s fees, people consulting with oligarchs, people aiding … You know, helping with the elections with shady people, and depositing the money in the Cayman Islands or in Cypriot banks, not declaring income. I think that’s what we’re likely to find; I think that’s probably what Flynn is guilty of. But the more serious charge of collusion with an adversary, even of treason to undermine our election, I doubt it very much. You’re right to look at the energy business money, and sort of big-business oligarchic efforts to just get rich together.
Let's get real:
ROBERT ENGLISH: Again, that’s where we started, with not only the battle over “Should we try to improve relations with Russia, or are they incorrigible foes?” That’s one thing, but now this sort of bureaucratic infighting, the use of leaks, of innuendo. And again, Trump gives them the fuel to do so with these continual misdeeds and misstatements. That’s another whole arena of battle, and it’s not healthy, right, to have … And it’s his fault too. He went to war with the intelligence community on day one. But this is so dysfunctional. It’s causing us much more harm than the Russians ever could, and …

PAUL JAY: We’re going to keep this conversation going in a future segment. I do want to add … Anyone who watches The Real News knows this already. I mean, I think the Trump/Pence administration is going to prove to be more dangerous than the Bush/Cheney. I think it’s extremely dangerous what they have in mind in terms of foreign policy. But all that being said, let’s concentrate on the real stuff. Trump’s in Saudi Arabia, and they’re planning some bad stuff in the Middle East, and targeting of Iran, and back here, we’re focusing on really what should be a sideline soap opera.

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