In Multipolarity

By Patrick Lawrence, Salon.com, July 25, 2016

Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia, July 25-28, 2016 (photo on DNC website)Now wait a minute, all you upper-case “D” Democrats. A flood light suddenly shines on your party apparatus, revealing its grossly corrupt machinations to fix the primary process and sink the Sanders campaign, and within a day you are on about the evil Russians having hacked into your computers to sabotage our elections — on behalf of Donald Trump, no less?

Is this a joke? Are you kidding? Is nothing beneath your dignity? Is this how lowly you rate the intelligence of American voters? My answers to these, in order: yes, but the kind one cannot laugh at; no, we’re not kidding; no, we will do anything, and yes, we have no regard whatsoever for Americans so long as we can connive them out of their votes every four years.

Clowns. Subversives. Do you know who you remind me of? I will tell you: Nixon, in his famously red-baiting campaign — a disgusting episode — against the right-thinking Helen Gahagan Douglas during his first run for the Senate, in 1950. Your political tricks are as transparent and anti-democratic as his, it is perfectly fair to say.

I confess to a heated reaction to events since last Friday among the Democrats, specifically in the Democratic National Committee. I should briefly explain these for the benefit of readers who have better things to do than watch the ever more insulting farce foisted upon us as legitimate political procedure.

The Sanders people have long charged that the DNC has had its fingers on the scale, as one of them put it the other day, in favor of Hillary Clinton’s nomination. The prints were everywhere — many those of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has repeatedly been accused of anti-Sanders bias. Schultz, do not forget, co-chaired Clinton’s 2008 campaign against Barack Obama. That would be enough to disqualify her as the DNC’s chair in any society that takes ethics seriously, but it is not enough in our great country. Chairwoman she has been for the past five years.

Last Friday, WikiLeaks published nearly 20,000 DNC email messages providing abundant proof that Sanders and his staff were right all along. The worst of these, involving senior DNC officers, proposed Nixon-esque smears having to do with everything from ineptitude within the Sanders campaign to Sanders as a Jew in name only and an atheist by conviction.

Wasserman fell from grace on Monday. Other than this, Democrats from President Obama to Clinton and numerous others atop the party’s power structure have had nothing to say, as in nothing, about this unforgivable breach.They have, rather, been full of praise for Wasserman Schultz. Brad Marshall, the D.N.C.’s chief financial officer, now tries to deny that his Jew-baiting remark referred to Sanders. Good luck, Brad: Bernie is the only Jew in the room.

The caker came on Sunday, when Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and (covering all bases) CNN’s “State of the Union” to assert that the D.N.C.’s mail was hacked “by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.” He knows this — knows it in a matter of 24 hours — because “experts” — experts he will never name — have told him so.

Here is Mook on the CNN program. Listen carefully:

What’s disturbing to us is that experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these emails, and other experts are now saying that Russians are releasing these emails for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.

Is that what disturbs you, Robby? Interesting. Unsubstantiated hocus-pocus, not the implications of these events for the integrity of Democratic nominations and the American political process? The latter is the more pressing topic, Robby. You are far too long on anonymous experts for my taste, Robby. And what kind of expert, now that I think of it, is able to report to you as to the intentions of Russian hackers — assuming for a sec that this concocted narrative has substance?

Making lemonade out of a lemon, the Clinton campaign now goes for a twofer. Watch as it advances the Russians-did-it thesis on the basis of nothing, then shoots the messenger, then associates Trump with its own mess — and, finally, gets to ignore the nature of its transgression (which any paying-attention person must consider grave).

Preposterous, readers. Join me, please, in having absolutely none of it. There is no “Russian actor” at the bottom of this swamp, to put my position bluntly. You will never, ever be offered persuasive evidence otherwise. 

Reluctantly, I credit the Clinton campaign and the DNC with reading American paranoia well enough such that they may make this junk stick. In a clear sign the entire crowd-control machine is up and running, The New York Times had a long, unprofessional piece about Russian culprits in its Monday editions. It followed Mook’s lead faithfully: not one properly supported fact, not one identified “expert,” and more conditional verbs than you’ve had hot dinners — everything cast as “could,” “might,” “appears,” “would,” “seems,” “may.” Nothing, once again, as to the very serious implications of this affair for the American political process.

Now comes the law. The FBI just announced that it will investigate — no, not the DNC’s fraudulent practices (which surely breach statutes), but “those who pose a threat in cyberspace.” The House Intelligence Committee simultaneously promised to do (and leave undone) the same. This was announced, please note, by the ranking Democrat on the Republican-controlled committee.

Bearing many memories of the Cold War’s psychological warp — and if you are too young to remember, count your blessings — it is the invocation of the Russians that sends me over the edge. My bones grow weary at the thought of living through a 21st century variant. Halifax, anyone? 

Here we come to a weird reversal of roles.

We must take the last few days’ events as a signal of what Clinton’s policy toward Russia will look like should she prevail in November. I warned in this space after the NATO summit in Warsaw earlier this month that Cold War II had just begun. Turning her party’s latest disgrace into an occasion for another round of Russophobia is mere preface, but in it you can read her commitment to the new crusade. 
Trump, to make this work, must be blamed for his willingness to negotiate with Moscow. This is now among his sins. Got that? Anyone who says he will talk to the Russians has transgressed the American code. Does this not make Trump the Helen Gahagan Douglas of the piece? Does this not make Hillary Clinton more than a touch Nixonian?
I am developing nitrogen bends from watching the American political spectacle. One can hardly tell up from down. Which way for a breath of air?
Patrick Lawrence is Salon’s foreign affairs columnist. A longtime correspondent abroad, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune and The New Yorker, he is also an essayist, critic and editor. His most recent book is ‘Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century’ (Yale, 2013). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is patricklawrence.us.

Also by Patrick Lawrence on Salon.com:
The West escalates with Russia: Make no mistake, a second Cold War is now official NATO policy, July 12, 2016 (full column)

There have been 22 NATO summits since the first convened in Paris 59 years ago. If you study the chronology, they are more frequent during those times the alliance loses its declared purpose and has to find some new task — a new “threat” to justify the vast bureaucracy in Brussels, the comfortably seconded generals, the military exercises, the incessant production and reproduction of mass anxiety and, of course, the defense contracts that  are NATO’s abiding raison d’être.

Hence, nearly back-to-back summits — eight in ten years — from the late 1980s through the 1990s, when NATO spluttered to explain itself in the post–Soviet context. Hence, 12 summits in the new century’s 16 years as strategists flit from one “mission” to another, never persuasively, while adding a dozen members on the alliance’s eastern flank—all but one (Croatia) former members of the Warsaw Pact.

The NATO convention concluded last week was a standout — easily the most important of the post-Cold War era. We must not miss its meaning. NATO summits may not be your taste, and who can fault anyone for this? But Warsaw has everything to do with the life you will live in coming years. Think of it as “trending now” if you must — now, as in the next decade or two at a minimum.

Two reasons.

One, while talk of Cold War II has been common for several years, as of last week it is official policy in Washington and at NATO headquarters in Brussels. This is a grave, reckless step. In broad outline, what just occurred is not unlike what Washington did in the late 1940s to initiate Cold War I. The consequences in that case cost millions of lives, trillions of dollars and endured for 42 years. We still wear the scars.

Two, President Obama’s foreign policy legacy is now complete in outline. We now know what he will hand his successor, and it is long on mess, short on success. Once again, an outgoing president surrenders ground by leaving unexplored nearly all opportunity for authentic progress toward sound, 21st century policies abroad. Once again, a new president must begin — at least on the foreign side—further back on history’s clock than the point from which his or her predecessor set out four or eight years earlier.

The disorder and dangers just baked into our cake are awful enough to contemplate but only part of the story. There is also the question of urgency. We do not have time for this, readers. There is too much to be done to let generals and profiteers, the one often blurring into the other, indulge in another global confrontation. Too many openings are lost, and this mistake is not free of cost—as Cold War I ought to have taught us.

National decline is not inevitable, I continue to insist, but it is made of wrong turns such as this. That, indeed, is among Cold War I’s greatest lessons: In what we take to be our moment of triumph we find defeat.

* * *

Numerous matters were settled in Warsaw. Cyberwar now falls under NATO’s purview; the alliance will support the European Union’s effort to police human trafficking across the Mediterranean. But other things matter more.

One, the U.S., Britain, Germany and Canada will each station a rotating battalion in a front-line state. These are respectively Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Two, after many years of heated debate, nuclear weapons are to remain part of the NATO arsenal in Europe. Three, the alliance officially assumed command of an anti-missile defense system that, as of now, has components in Spain, Turkey and Romania.

There is no mistaking the magnitude of these decisions when taken together. I liken Warsaw last week to Washington in the spring of 1947, when Truman’s advisers and Senate allies determined it was time to sell the public a permanent wartime economy and a national security state. What followed was his “scare hell out of the American people” speech, so named by Arthur Vandenberg, a Republican senator from Michigan and one of Truman’s intimates. What followed that was $400 million in aid to the fascist Greek monarchy, and what followed that was the first Cold War.

Reality No. 1: The West is now to have troops closer to Russia than ever before in history. Reality No. 2: Russia has signaled no intention whatsoever of doing anything more than defending its borders, rock-candy mountains of unsupported nonsense in the press notwithstanding. Reality No. 3: The only reason these soldiers will rotate is because NATO agreed with Russia in 1997 not to station troops permanently east of Germany. These deployments are a disgraceful fiddle, thus. Reality No. 4: NATO officers continue to insist that missile defenses are intended to counter Iranian missiles. It now takes very big brass to trot this one out: Given last year’s nuclear accord, the standing explanation no longer passes even as a fig leaf.

“NATO poses no threat to any country,” Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary-general, said as the summit concluded. “We do not want a new Cold War. We do not want a new arms race. And we do not seek confrontation.”

Think about this. Why would the inveterately hawkish Stoltenberg say such a thing? Nothing too complicated: The man doth protest too much is my simple read. All four of Stoltenberg’s staccato assertions are 180 degrees upside down: NATO is purposely provoking Moscow (so as to call Moscow provocative); it famously misses the Cold War’s clarity and is desperate to recreate it; ditto the profits deriving from an arms race, and confrontation is the very plot device driving NATO’s Cold War II narrative.

*

The Warsaw gathering completes a certain picture, in my read. It defines one-third of the policy framework President Obama will leave on the Oval Office desk when he closes the door for the last time next Jan. 20.

Across the Atlantic, two things to note. One, the West’s confrontation with Russia is now consolidated as policy and provisioned with sufficient funding and military hardware to carry it well into the future. Two, this posture continues to rip the fabric of trans-Atlantic relations. Obama was pitifully fervent in his desire to put Warsaw across as a display of unity. As with Stoltenberg’s remarks, just the opposite was the case.

“We don’t want a Cold War,” Frank–Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s thoughtful foreign minister, said at a press conference as the summit concluded. “Rather, we’re putting dialogue alongside our defense readiness.” Steinmeier spoke for many—the French, the Finns, the Italians among them. In consequence, the summit scheduled a NATO–Russia Council meeting that is to convene as early as this week.

The take-home from Warsaw: an escalating danger of war with Russia, discord among traditional allies and altogether greater American isolation.

Across the Pacific, China runs a close second to Russia’s Enemy No. 1 status. As alert readers will have noted, Defense Secretary Carter has been assiduously cultivating tensions with China over jurisdiction in the South China Sea since last spring. The Hague’s ruling Tuesday on a case brought by the Philippines three years ago — so far as I can make out at the urging of then-Secretary of State Clinton — further alienates Beijing but accomplishes nothing more.

Finally — the stool’s third leg — there is Obama’s effort to reduce America’s direct military exposure abroad, notably but not only in the Middle East, by the use of drones, air campaigns and proxies. His failing on this point is simple, as noted at length in a previous column: Obama has addressed the means by which policy is executed while leaving the ends of policy, America’s objectives, entirely unquestioned. At the very best this leaves us more or less where we started when Obama was elected.

In last week’s column I suggested that Barack Obama was in essence a captive of the cliques and bureaucracies that exercise power in all matters related to national security, foreign policy and the defense posture. Consider Warsaw in this context.

The NATO summit caps a very active few months for this administration, and the interim offers some support for the thesis. In my view, we have watched this year as the Pentagon, the C.I.A. and the rest of our sprawling national security apparatus put down markers such that the path open to Obama’s successor is clear.

What are we doing in the world? What are our intentions abroad? Whether he wanted to or not, Obama never asked these, the most essential questions. Whoever follows him need not bother: Answers will be waiting on the Oval Office desk.

*****

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