Russia in the American Mind
Russia has been stigmatized as ghoul no. 2 in the American chamber of horrors. That is an act of escapism that conveniently removes China from much-needed public attention.
December 16, 2017
Psychosis can stem from trauma and acute stress. In the American case, our traumatic event was 9/11. The ensuing terror psychosis is well into its second decade. It shows no signs of ameliorating – even though there have been no serious attacks against the United States over the past 13 years.
Russia as ghoul no. 2
Russia has served as ghoul no. 2 in the American chamber of horrors. To fit the American mindset, it has been assigned a villainous personalized identity — just as was the case after 9/11 when terrorism became synonymous with the persona of Osama bin-Laden.
That is why Vladimir Putin has been cast as the Evil One whose diabolical machinations chip away at the democratic foundations of the American Republic.
Putin’s insidious infiltration of the nation’s soul is deemed as deeply corrupting most virtuous U.S. institutions — the White House, the RNC & DNC, banks and business, and – yes – the U.S. media themselves.
Why is Putin so omnipresent?
What goes unnoticed is the fact that the act of making Putin responsible for almost everything is an act of escapism. This escapism plays out in two ways: The first is that it conveniently whitewashes U.S. politics.
Whatever Putin’s faults and vices, the American Republic has shown plenty of ability of corrupting itself. For sure, the root cause of the weakness of democratic structures in the United States is not Mr. Putin. (He may, at most, be guilty of a minor assist).
The real crooks are our politicians themselves. They are always on the lookout for the next campaign contribution – and, in the process, dutifully corrupt the presumably democratic character of our politics.
To give a stark, but telling example, even when compared to the much-admired U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Putin is a mere choir boy.
It wasn’t Russia’s leader who deems unlimited campaign contributions by corporations as the exercise of free speech. If anything, it was the U.S. Supreme Court that has “Russified” American politics with its “judicial” rulings even further.
China de-peoples America
The second dimension in which the collective escapism of America’s political elite is playing out on Russia and Putin is the fact who is not getting blamed. The more Russia gets blamed, the more disturbing the American inability to stand up to two true forces that have a much more disturbing track record of hollowing out the United States – mainly China.
The asymmetry is breathtaking indeed. In contrast to Russia, the evidence of damage to U.S. societal structures and the economy is self-evident. Just look at the U.S. manufacturing sector and empty storefronts in the de-peopled American heartland.
Plenty of U.S. C-suite executives were and are all too happy to implement what China desires. These top-level corporate managers and their eager-to-please, lower level minions did so not to please those countries – but to line their own pockets.
Whatever Russia’s faults, the tangible evidence of a fundamental threat to the wherewithal of the United States is thin, though not non-existent.
That assessment is very different in China’s case. The way in which it plays global structures and acts in the global economy provides a fundamental threat to U.S. society.
As to Russia’s alleged election meddling, we have yet to see any hard or credible evidence that the Kremlin did the much-ballyhooed hacking. The fact that it has probably commandeered “remote” – possibly private-sector – troops doesn’t exactly make the Kremlin not culpable.
The same goes for the Facebook placements. A relatively tiny batch of messages calling attention to America’s domestic problems has been inflated into something of huge importance.
Flynn and crime
What about criminal matters? To date, the Flynn affair is the only one that has led to any criminal action. We should keep in mind that he pleaded guilty only to perjury.
His talks with the Russian Ambassador at the time were not illegal. Indeed, an incoming administration’s reaching out to foreign leaders is commonplace.
Yes, the intent to undercut the Obama administration policy vis-a-vis Israeli settlements in the West Bank was unsavory. But it too has its precedents – just recall the Nixon peace talks with Hanoi or Reagan’s backroom dealings with Iran on the timing of hostage releases.
The Israeli connection in the Russia context
The one area of possible serious criminality concerns Messrs. Trump and Kushner’s real estate transactions with various criminal syndicates. They included Russians, Azeris, Khazaks and, notably, Israelis.
Here is where it is most likely that a smoking gun will be found – but not one with the Kremlin’s finger prints on it.
Syria and realism
As to Syria, much as we may despise various elements of the equation, Putin has often acted as the only adult in the room. Much of U.S. foreign policy toward Syria was either based on wishful thinking, ill thought out, amateurish – or all of the above.
A contest between Trump/Tillerson/Kushner vs. Putin/Lavrov makes one shudder. Los Vegas odds-makers would take it off the board. As one former diplomat has ruefully said: “…talking strategy with Rex Tillerson is like shaking hands with an empty glove.”
Moreover, every state has an acknowledged right to provide assistance to another state in accord with its determination of its own best interests – this is not a U.S. privilege.
And, hard as it may be to accept or to swallow, Russia is in Syria at the request of the country’s government. The United States is not – it is essentially a freelancer.
Worse, it often acted in cahoots with some very dubious arch-conservative Sunni forces and has long been keen on pleasing Saudi Wahhabi “strategists,” as if to make up for the U.S.-created “Iranization” of Iraq.
In view of all that evidence, Washington’s foreign policy elites evidently need Russia as an enemy.
It conveniently distracts attention from their own dark alliances and an increasingly poor track record.
It is those alliances and the U.S. performance in international affairs that do far more harm to hollow out the United States of America than Russia could ever dream of.
Russia has been stigmatized as ghoul no. 2 in the American chamber of horrors. That is an act of escapism that conveniently removes China from public attention.
The root cause of the weakness of democratic structures in the US is not Mr. Putin. The real crooks are our politicians themselves.
The US performance in international affairs do far more harm to hollow out the US than Russia could ever dream of.
Hard as it may be to accept, Russia is in Syria at the request of the country’s government. The US is not – it is essentially a freelancer.
Michael J. Brenner
Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh [Texas, United States] Michael Brenner is Professor Emeritus of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh and a Fellow of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS/Johns Hopkins. He was the Director of the International Relations & Global Studies Program at the University of Texas. Brenner is […]