Patrick L. Smith of Salon.com wrote what probably most people in the Putinite left were thinking today in an article titled “Trump opposed Iraq. Hillary voted for war: Let’s take his foreign policy vision seriously”.
After dispensing with the parts of Trump’s foreign policy speech that he had trouble with (mostly about making America “great” again), Smith got down to what he liked—the turn away from interventionism and toward accommodation with Russia:
Here he [Trump] is on Russia, an especially stark example given the prevailing state of relations. (He lumps the Russians in with the Chinese. See what I mean about blur?)
“We are not bound to be adversaries,” says Trump. “We should seek common ground based on shared interests. This horrible cycle of hostility has to end.”
Were I a younger man I would say something like, “Dude. Like totally cool.” Instead—another sentence I will take a sec to brace for—I am thoroughly in agreement with Trump on this point and think he should hit Hillary “I Urged Him to Bomb” Clinton over the head with it every chance he may get. As noted in a previous column, Trump prefers making deals to force. Implicit in the preference is a recognition of alternative perspectives and interests, which I count essential equipment in the 21st century.
The speech was delivered as part of an effort to appear “presidential” in keeping with the advice of Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign adviser.
It was sponsored by the Center for the National Interest that was founded by Richard Nixon in 1994 and whose president is Dmitri Simes, a Kremlinologist of long standing. The Center publishes National Interest, a magazine stamped with the Center’s realist foreign policy and that published Francis Fukuyama’s infamous “end of history” article. You can find such reasonable people as John Mearsheimer and Andrew Bacevich on its editorial board. Who can ask for more than that? Mearsheimer and Bacevich are widely regarded as foreign policy “doves” even though it is based much more on a realpolitik outlook than anti-imperialism. For his part Mearsheimer was a supporter of the first Gulf War while Bacevich urged a vote for Obama in 2008 as the most sensible choice for conservatives like him.
The tilt toward Trump does not come out of the blue. For example, there was an article in the May 19, 2015 Nation Magazine by James Carden complaining about “McCarthyism” in the American media designed to “ban Russia policy critics” like Stephen F. Cohen who he defended against the charge of being a “Putin apologist”. Gosh, you could have fooled me.
Carden is identified as “the executive editor for the American Committee for East-West Accord” beneath the article. The board includes both Cohen and his father-in-law William vanden Heuvel. It also includes Chuck Hagel, the Republican Senator whose views on foreign policy are frequently aired in Simes’s National Interest. Carden is also an editor at the American Conservative and a frequent contributor to the National Interest. So essentially you have a bloc of liberals and conservatives sharing a “realist” belief that the USA and Russia need to ease tensions and focus on shared goals such as blowing the jihadists to kingdom come. Since Trump is on record as not ruling out the use of nuclear weapons against ISIS, that’s quite a bridge to cross.
You can get a feel for the internecine connections between the gurus of realpolitik and Russian power by looking at Richard Burt, who reportedly helped to draft Trump’s speech. Burt has been a Washington insider for many years. He led the SALT 1 talks with Russia when he served in the Bush ’41 White House. He is on the advisory board of the National Interest and also a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank that includes Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and Leon Panetta on its board of trustees.
But don’t let any of that worry you. In a recent interview Burt told the National Interest that he has gone through a conversion that put him firmly in Trump’s camp. He stated that the Republican Party has become averse to the sort of policies that Hillary Clinton espouses and is now evolving away from neoconservatism. To show you how committed he is to a realist foreign policy that won’t make a fuss over Ukraine or Syria, he has accepted a seat on Alfa Bank’s Senior Advisory Board in Moscow. That’s called doing well by doing good, I suppose.
Unlike Dmitri Simes or Stephen F. Cohen, Paul Manafort is not a high-profile commentator on world politics. A search on Nexis for “by Paul Manafort” produces zero results. He is mostly content to operate behind the scenes advising people like Trump. In the past he has also been a campaign adviser to Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain.
He also got involved with an overseas presidential campaign, namely for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin oligarch who was overthrown by the Euromaidan movement in 2014. Now you’d think that Manafort might have gotten involved with advising Yanukovych through some connections he had with Stephen F. Cohen or some highly placed pro-Kremlin power broker. But in fact Manafort got the job through connections he had established with the scary warmonger John McCain.
You can read about it in an article titled “McCain’s Kremlin Ties” by Mark Ames and Ari Berman that appeared in the Oct. 1, 2008 Nation Magazine, the kind of article that tends to appear with less frequency nowadays after it joined the Putinite propaganda machine.
In December 2004 Ukrainians poured into the streets of Kiev and other cities in the peaceful “Orange Revolution,” which overthrew a Putin-backed corrupt leader, Viktor Yanukovich, who had tried to steal the country’s presidential election that year (during which the pro-Western opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, was poisoned and almost died). It was a serious blow to Russia’s geopolitical standing.
Putin’s Ukrainian proxies were also in trouble. Shortly after the Orange Revolution, a murder investigation was launched against the country’s richest oligarch, Rinat [sometimes referred to as Rihat] Akhmetov, Yanukovich’s main backer. Akhmetov fled the country. In exile in Monaco, he turned to Davis’s business partner, Paul Manafort–the second name in the lobbying firm Davis Manafort. An old GOP hand, Manafort, like Davis, had played a key role in Dole’s failed 1996 presidential run and had worked for dictators like Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. Akhmetov initially hired Manafort to improve the image of his beleaguered conglomerate, SCM, but soon Manafort’s role shifted to helping Yanukovich.
Manafort assembled a skilled team of political operatives in Ukraine and set about raising the popularity of Yanukovich’s pro-Russian Party of Regions, which Akhmetov financed. It was a very lucrative deal for Davis Manafort–and successful (according to Ukrainian investigative journalist Mustafa Nayem, Akhmetov paid Manafort upward of $3 million). Yanukovich’s disgraced party won a resounding victory in the March 2006 elections–and Akhmetov returned as the top Ukrainian oligarch. Thanks in part to the work of Davis Manafort, the Orange Revolution was essentially undone, putting Putin back in the chess match over Ukraine’s future.
It would be wrong to interpret Manafort’s efforts on behalf of Yanukovych as something in line with McCain’s foreign policy agenda. He did it mostly for the money obviously. That being said, Trump clearly does have an affinity with Putin and vice versa. They are both deeply hostile to the Arab struggle to rid the Middle East of tyrants. Trump had this to say about Obama’s role in Egypt: “He supported the ouster of a friendly regime in Egypt that had a longstanding peace treaty with Israel, and then helped bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power in its place.”
One imagines that it was sufficient to utter the words “Muslim Brotherhood” for Trump to get his point across. During a January 5, 2016 campaign rally, when Trump was castigating Obama for caving in to Iran over the nuclear treaty, someone in the audience yelled out, “He’s a Muslim” to which Trump replied “Okay, I didn’t say it.” In a 2011 Fox News (where else?) interview, Trump raised the possibility that Obama was actually a Muslim: “He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that.”
Meanwhile, Putin bombs Sunni Muslims all across Syria getting a free pass from people like Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh and Patrick L. Smith because the targets are jihadists to one degree or another, even the three-year olds who might grow up to be jihadists. The latest outrage now has the Baathist amen corner claiming that the White Helmets got what they deserved because they are allied with al-Qaeda. When Syrian and Russian jets bomb volunteers as they are rescuing civilians from buildings caved in by the same bombers, you really have to wonder how some on the “left” can take the side of the bombers. This is a level of Islamophobia that would probably have mortified Christopher Hitchens.
Meanwhile, General al-Sisi, who is now regarded as even more dictatorial than Mubarak, has developed the same kind of bromance with Putin as al-Jazeera reported on August 27, 2015:
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have pledged to further boost relations between the two countries at talks in Moscow.
Wednesday’s talks’ agenda included economic cooperation, conflicts and the political situation in the Middle East. It was Sisi’s third visit to Moscow.
At a joint news conference following the negotiations, Putin spoke of possible cooperation between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union.
“Among concrete steps to give additional stimulus to the economy is a possible creation of a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union,” he said.
And just to show that the Eurasian Economic Union is an irresistible alternative to the perfidious European Union, even Israel gets in the act:
The Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is planning to hold talks with Israel on establishing a free trade zone. The agreement is likely to strengthen Tel Aviv’s economic ties with the union and improve Russia’s investment climate.
“There has been a decision to kick-off talks on the free trade zone with Israel,” said the director of the EEU’s Integration Development Department Victor Spassky.
When al-Sisi, Netanyahu, Donald Trump, Patrick L. Smith, Mike Whitney, Paul Banafort, Pepe Escobar, Paul Craig Roberts, Richard Burt and Stephen F. Cohen can all line up in support of Putin, you’d have to be crazy not to join the fan club.
Call me crazy.