“A bad peace is better than a good quarrel.”
The most worrying thing about Wikileaks’ release of internal documents from the Democratic National Committee before the party’s convention last month wasn’t what they revealed, but how the establishment media in the US reacted to them. It was also yet another slap in the face for Bernie Sanders’ supporters, who had their suspicions about DNC favoritism confirmed and then ignored by the press.
In fairness, some early reports, mostly in the alternative media, focused on what the leaks exposed; that is, that this supposedly neutral organization was working with friendly media to ensure victory for their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton. Almost immediately, the focus of the story shifted away from these revelations to pointing the finger of blame at Russian President Vladimir Putin for the hack itself
This speculation, much of it made by people with little technical expertise, centered on the idea that Russia’s President was trying to influence the US election in favor of Donald Trump, seen in Washington as the Kremlin’s preferred candidate. For a few days, a media that routinely dismisses ‘conspiracy theories’ of all stripes began spreading one of its own.
I’m no expert on the technical issues involved either, but when the intrusion was first discovered in June, The Washington Post reported that the company brought in by the DNC to investigate the hack, Crowdstrike, claimed they’d identified two Russian groups already known to them and associated with that country’s intelligence services who had separately targeted the DNC’s servers. It seemed strange to me at the time that they could identify the perpetrators with such precision but couldn’t explain how either group did it.
It’s also a little odd that hackers working for a state security service would be sloppy enough to leave behind such traceable digital fingerprints, making it easy for blame to be placed at their own government’s doorstep. And if Crowdstrike is to be believed, at least one of the two groups had been this careless on multiple occasions.
For his, her or their part, Romanian hacker Guccifer 2.0, denied Russian sponsorship and claimed sole responsibility for the intrusion, releasing 235 pages of opposition research into Donald Trump as proof after the US media began to run with the Russia angle. Guccifer 2.0 also claimed there are more disclosures to come in a WordPress blog, writing, “The main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to Wikileaks. They will publish them soon. I guess Crowdstrike customers should think twice about the company’s competence.”
Even the New York Times seemed to feel the need to cover themselves in reporting on the story, pointing out that Democratic “campaign officials acknowledge they have no evidence” of Russian government involvement. Still, as media watchdog group FAIR pointed out, they buried this detail in paragraph 20 of a 21 paragraph story, with the previous 19 paragraphs building on the premise that agents of the Kremlin were behind the hack.
After the latest leaks became news, Donald Trump was raked over the coals by the media for his tongue in cheek call for the Russian government to release personal emails deleted from the unauthorized server Hillary Clinton used when she was Secretary of State. He was even accused of treason in many quarters, another generous helping of ridiculousness in an already ridiculous election year.
While this hysteria is partly a result of a coarsened political discourse in which the two major parties evoke such blind loyalty in some of their followers that many seem to have lost the ability to have a rational discussion, accusing a political opponent of working for Russia has a long and cynical place in modern US history, most famously in the witch hunt for supposed communists undertaken by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.
The difference is that in the past these denunciations usually came from the far right and, more recently, neo-conservative ideologues, not the supposedly moderate Democratic Party. In fact, the original neo-conservatives were mostly social liberals who switched their allegiance to the Republicans because they thought the Democrats were too soft on national security and the Soviet Union. Now, unsure of Trump and seeing a likely victory for the hawkish Hillary Clinton come November, many are returning to the party.
Even if we put the actual country to the side for a moment, claims of a pro-Russia bias are being used widely to smear journalists and opponents of Hillary Clinton besides Trump (who is doing a fine job of disqualifying himself without them), even Green Party leader Jill Stein, seen by many on the left as an alternative to the increasing militarism of the Democratic Party, was attacked for attending an RT (Russia Television) conference in Moscow.
Much more frightening, just this week the former acting CIA director Michael Morell, who has endorsed Clinton, went on the Charlie Rose show and called for the killing of Iranians and Russians in Syria, “What they need is to have the Russians and Iranians pay a little price. When we were in Iraq, the Iranians were giving weapons to the Shia militia, who were killing American soldiers, right? The Iranians were making us pay a price. We need to make the Iranians pay a price in Syria. We need to make the Russians pay a price.”
Even if he’s out of government, simple logic would dictate that Morell, who appears to be gunning for a position in a future Clinton Administration, keep such ideas to himself. While Clinton’s campaign has made some decent proposals in terms of domestic policy, with people like Morell on board, it’s beginning to look like the world is in for a foreign policy sequel to the Bush Jr. years, with the added excitement of at least one opponent with a massive nuclear arsenal.
Those who dare to criticize the provocations of American hawks are accused of being ‘Putin apologists’ or ‘useful idiots’ so, for the record, let me state what should be obvious: no country is perfect and Russia is no exception to this general rule. In terms of social policy, the cruelty of Putin’s United Russia Party towards the country’s LGBTQ community, gives the fundamentalist Christian right in the US a run for its money in terms of pure bigotry
What should be obvious but is almost never remarked upon, is that American popular culture is a better weapon against this type of reactionary conservatism than the US military ever could be. Also, Russia is more than just one man or political party and western commentators would do well to remember this rather than creating conditions that strengthen much worse Russian nationalists like the openly fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Just as there are hawks in the US calling for confrontation with Russia, there are those in that country demanding the same thing in the opposite direction. At the moment, Putin is popular enough that he can safely ignore these bellicose voices but this state of affairs is by no means permanent.
Although the Obama presidency has been something of a disappointment for the American left and those hoping for a more peaceful world, he has at least been somewhat cautious in his approach to other world powers like Russia and China. Judging by her public statements and those of many of her prominent supporters, it looks like there’s a good chance that a Hillary Clinton administration will be far more reckless and this should worry the whole world.
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