It would take desperation to find something heartening in the Russian portion of National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien’s comments last week at the Meridian International Center, which were replete with the typical projections and inversions between us and them. But amid Washington’s unhinged nonseriousness (President Trump selling Alaska to Russia as a bargaining chip, Rep. Adam Schiff?), a desperate grab for sanity is better than none at all.
Herewith, a crumb from Mr. O’Brien’s talk: “Russia is an important country, it’s an important power. One reason they’re important is they have over 1,400 nuclear missiles … We’d like to have good relations with Russia, we’re going to … confront [them] where we need to, but at the same time we’ll start negotiations soon on arms control on the nuclear issue, which is important to the safety of the world.”
The possibility that there are people in Washington who aren’t doing everything they can to get us nuked is almost blindsiding. And even though disarmament is akin to treating symptom over cause, or putting a Band-Aid on an infection, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day let’s be that mutually homicidal couple who can live together thanks only to a social worker removing all the knives from the kitchen. However, words are weapons, too, and the more substantive disarmament has to take place on that level. Not only because our shrill pitch is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy plus giving our military the public mandate it needs to turn our words into war, but because it’ll go a long way toward actually repairing the relationship. Which unfortunately is the opposite of what everyone seems to want. One has to wonder why.
A hint came in an early 2017 article by historian Srdja Trifkovic writing for Strategic Culture Foundation: “Russophobia’s emotional appeal comes as a huge mental relief to the ultrasensitive liberal mind to be able to hate an outside group with impunity, and even to appear virtuous in the process. Of course, the object of that animus is a Christian and European nation that stubbornly refuses to be postmodernized, or become gripped by self-hate and morbid introspection … [Russophobia] has blended seamlessly with the bread-and-butter hostility to Russia shared by Deep State operatives in the intelligence and national-security apparatus … The result is an altogether fictitious ‘existential threat,’ which has made President Trump’s intended détente with Moscow impossible.”
Indeed, as with the 1990s Balkans wars in Yugoslavia — which gave birth to the term “liberal hawks” — consider who is whipping us up into a war frenzy: Eyebrows should raise that all the tough-sounding war talk is coming from the diplomatic corps, from professors, from every Democratic Congress member, and from other assorted former peaceniks, now in sync with the military machine. That machine, meanwhile, sure looks tough thumping its chest at Orthodox Slavs while building mosques at Quantico and such in the midst of a jihad, so that servicemembers can worship the god of our professed enemies. When toughness is only a veneer but the machinery remains formidable, the result will be explosive. For the first time, a right-winger begins to understand the allergy that the left once had to American nuclear supremacy.
To get a sense of the evolution of this, a 2018 New York Magazine article profiling journalist Glenn Greenwald mused that “In 2012, many liberals who now consider Kremlin-linked Facebook memes an act of war mocked Mitt Romney for calling Russia our ‘No. 1 geopolitical foe.’”
It all helps explain the rush to compare still-undefined election meddling to the 9/11 attacks that claimed 3,000 American lives. We need to stop constructing strawmen when we have real enemies.
Recall that we tried to make “terrorists” of the Serbs too, our hallowed intelligence agencies initially even casting suspicion on them for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. What became painfully clear on Sept. 11, 2001 — just two years after the end of our wars against Serbs on behalf of Muslims — was that we had built up a straw man in Slobodan Milosevic, when there were in fact real enemies — which we were actively, desperately not seeking. Enemies connected to the very people we “rescued” from that oh-so-menacing Serbia. But instead of being chastened, instead of waking up and figuring out how to deal with the real threat that has no tidy national borders for us to put in our crosshairs, we pivot to building up the next straw man, Vladimir Putin. But Mr. Putin won’t stay a straw man.
He can become a real threat if we insist upon it, after two decades of restraint in the face of our inexplicable hostility. He can fulfill the Dr. Evil role we wrote for him, but unlike Milosevic, he won’t be tricked or outsmarted, only outgunned. Is that really to be our point of pride? Congratulations, America, yes you have the biggest guns.
Quit the ugly-Americanism. To his credit, leftist author Max Blumenthal called out Mr. Schiff for repeating impeachment witness Pamela Karlan’s embarrassing, tortured adaptation of the Bush-era “We fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” Mr. Blumenthal tweeted, “Liberals used to mock Bush supporters when they used this jingoistic line during the war on Iraq. Now they deploy it to justify an imperialist proxy war against a nuclear power.”
Mr. O’Brien’s pointing to Russian nuclear capabilities as a reason to get along rather than make Russia an enemy is actually an improvement over the usual.
Most starkly over the man who somehow became our spy chief from 2010 to 2017 — the embodiment of Dr. Strangelove’s general himself, James Clapper. (The very names of the real man and the fictional character have a similar ring: Air Force Lt. Gen. Jim Clapper meet Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Ripper, who believed that Soviet communism was conspiring to pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of the American people.) Mr. Clapper’s nonanswer to the question of why Russia is the enemy has been because Russia is the only country that has the ability to destroy the United States.
If nuclear arsenals are the measure of an enemy, then why not designate Great Britain such — especially if we’re talking about brazen 2016 election interference; or, say, not sharing our values such as freedom of speech, which in the U.K. increasingly results in jail terms. Why not antagonize England, isolate it, invite its neighbors into a military alliance against it, and see how long England will take it lying down?
But the target simply isn’t on England’s back; it’s on Russia‘s, and so there was no political risk to Mr. Clapper engaging in the most naked expression of the new ugly-Americanism that Trifkovic outed just weeks earlier. In a May 2017 “Meet The Press” broadcast, Mr. Clapper said that Russians are “almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor.” Gaining favor being so much worse than head-chopping, of course.
Just six years ago, Russia wasn’t what Americans were thinking about. Now there’s little else we talk about politically. Everyone has a view, and it’s more or less the same one. This is called manufactured opinion, and Americans must learn to recognize when their opinions aren’t their own. Russians had a long and bitter lesson in this, and at times seem genuinely pained to see the “free thinkers” fall prey to something so eerily familiar.
⦁ Julia Gorin was a Soviet Refusenik who came to the U.S. in 1976. She is editor of “Hillarisms: The Unmaking of the First Female President.”
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