Those hoping for an early end to the Trump administration received a gift this week as Donald Trump Jr. disclosed an exchange with a Russian lawyer. The Russian hacking story now promises to dominate headlines for the remainder of Trump’s presidency, however long it lasts.
For the duration, talking heads will be telling us that Russia is an adversary and a hostile threat. But regardless of whether the president was involved, Russia hating, while great for the military-industrial complex, is inimical to world peace and broader American prosperity.
The intelligence and military leakers and Trump’s political enemies believe friendly relations with Vladimir Putin’s government are dangerous. But since Russia can annihilate our country, the greater danger is not engaging with Putin.
The anti-Russia hyperventilation covers the political spectrum. Republican Sen. John McCain told an interviewer that Putin is a greater threat than ISIS, accusing Russia of trying to change election results in America, France and elsewhere. But Putin’s regime is not decapitating or urging lone wolves to massacre Americans on US soil. And as for Russian manipulation, the pro-Russian candidate Marine LePen was crushed in the May presidential election in France.
Democrat Hillary Clinton accused the Trump campaign of conspiring with Russia to “weaponize” leaked information against her with the WikiLeaks’ dump of John Podesta email messages. Clinton’s collusion assertion is based on her questionable assumption that WikiLeaks is an agent of Russia. Since WikiLeaks operates out of an embassy in London, one might expect our British allies to have leaked Putin’s instructions to Julian Assange by now.
McCain, Clinton and others are amplifying the US intelligence community’s public indictment of Russia for election meddling during the closing days of the Obama administration. That report also claims that Russian agents hacked Podesta’s email and released them through WikiLeaks, but does not provide hard evidence.
Intelligence community assertions should be treated with skepticism. After all, this community concluded in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had WMD’s. Further, a senior member of the intelligence community, James Clapper, lied to Congress in 2013 when he denied that the NSA collects data on Americans.
Even assuming the allegations are true, they do not lead to the immediate conclusion that Russia is an enemy. Friendly countries spy on one another and try to influence each other’s elections all the time. President Obama called on British voters to reject Brexit, and the NSA appears to have bugged German Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
Israel spies on the US and tries to influence our elections. Jonathan Pollard’s espionage “has few parallels” according to the CIA, which concluded he had “put at risk important U.S. intelligence and foreign policy interests.” In 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to scuttle President Obama’s re-election effort.
Most of the intelligence community memo focuses on the activities of RT, a Russian media group that operates a cable news channel, a web site and social media properties in the US. RT is accused of spreading propaganda and fake news that impacted our election. But such media are neither new nor unique to Russia.
Our Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and other state media have been around for decades. Among the personalities on RT America are Larry King, Jesse Ventura, and former Air America hosts Thom Hartmann and Ed Schultz – none of whom appear to be stooges for Vladimir Putin. Further, as Simon van Zuylen-Wood noted in his excellent overview of RT, the network “is watched by so few people that Nielsen doesn’t bother to publish its ratings.”
To be sure, Putin has some very undemocratic inclinations. But the US has maintained and continues to maintain friendly relations with despotic nations. President Richard Nixon visited China in 1971, not long after Mao Zedong killed tens of millions of people with his Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Today, there is widespread support for friendly relations with Saudi Arabia – an undemocratic nation that stones women to death for adultery.
It is also true that Russia is a rival for influence on the world stage. This perhaps is why our generals, intelligence operatives, representatives, think tanks and the media so dislike Putin. While the foreign affairs intelligentsia views the world as a power-playing chessboard, this approach to geopolitics is contrary to the interests of ordinary Americans who don’t benefit from international conflicts.
When President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the oval office a few weeks ago, he shared intelligence about a plot by Syrian-based ISIS operatives to place laptop bombs on civilian airplanes. Russia’s presence in Syria may have helped thwart this plot. And it had an incentive to do so: ISIS previously downed a Russian civilian airliner in the Sinai Desert.
As president, Donald Trump has the legal right to declassify the intelligence. But some unelected bureaucrat in the US national security establishment decided that Trump’s actions were inappropriate and leaked the story to The Washington Post. It is possible the leak alerted ISIS that its plot had been compromised, encouraging the terrorists to protect their bomb-building efforts from further scrutiny. The potential victims of this leak are civilian passengers of US airlines – the presumed target of the ISIS plot.
Russia also provided intelligence that, had it been handled properly by the FBI, could have prevented the Tsarnaev brothers from bombing the Boston marathon.
Rather than cooperating, however, the national security establishment not only seeks conflict with Russia, it looks for enemies around the world. Hostilities provide lucrative contracts and a sense of mission to those advancing them – but imposes huge costs on the rest of us. US troops are now engaged in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
Worldwide warfare has driven national security spending toward $1 trillion a year. With a national debt approaching $20 trillion, this is a financial cost our country can ill afford. And since 2001, the US has suffered almost 7,000 deaths and over 52,000 wounded in foreign hostilities.
Democrats 50 years ago were peace organizers, fired by Martin Luther King’s condemnation of the Vietnam War. And Barack Obama won the presidency promising to withdraw from Iraq.
But in their desire to rid the White House of Donald Trump, Democrats have forsaken their anti-war heritage. Instead, they are teaming up with Republican hawks and the Deep State to drive a wedge between the US and Russia.
Libertarians are the logical champions of peace and prosperity, but some have expressed sympathy for coercive US government actions to counter Russian influence. These include targeted sanctions and funding for groups in Eastern Europe that supposedly promote liberal democracy.
Although portrayed as a penalty on foreign powers, sanctions prevent US individuals and companies and individuals from doing business with those countries. A new Senate bill, S.722, prevents US companies from working on gas pipelines between Russia and Western Europe. The bill also appropriates $500 million of US taxpayer money to a “Countering Russian Influence Fund,” to be spent in Eastern Europe. The legislative language lists six possible uses for this money which sound good, but are vague and open to broad interpretation.
Libertarians recognize the state usually abuses the powers we give it. We should never advocate for restrictions on trade or appropriation of tax money for so-called democracy promotion. Peace and non-interventionism are core tenets of libertarianism that too many self-identified libertarians seem to forget. We must avoid repeating the mistakes we made in the runup to the Iraq War.
Regardless of one’s position on Trump, Congress has not declared war on Russia. Russia has not invaded us. Russia is not our enemy.