The Empire Strikes Back
This week’s news was dominated by the release of the memo, detailing the Republican interpretation of events leading up to the surveillance of a one-time Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page, who was suspected of being a Russian agent.
What I think is most relevant about this is how shockingly easy it is to get approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to spy on U.S. citizens. This court was set up in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam/Watergate era abuses but has done little to check the surveillance state as evidenced by the amazingly low rejection rate of spy agency requests. It also shows how desperate the security apparatus is to let go of any information, even when sources and methods were not revealed and the substance of the memo is only an interpretation of facts.
Don’t look for any heroes amongst the Republicans for employing Rule X to overrule intelligence agencies and de-classify parts of this process, the only time this has ever been done. The Republicans are, of course hypocrites, as they just voted to re-authorize and expand the powers of the FISA court last month, along with a substantial number of Democrats, including their leadership team. They only did this for short-term political gain to shield a Republican president form political danger, which does not mean the memo should not have been released.
Let’s step back, though, and try to piece together where all this fits into the longer-term sweep of U.S. foreign policy and recent history. I think we will find that this is a dangerous continuation and acceleration of reckless U.S. Imperial policy by what I would label as the Empire Lobby.
When the Cold War ended in 1990 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and the fall of the USSR itself, it looked to many that this was the “end of history” and the beginning of an era of tranquility that would bring a “peace dividend”. This was of course unacceptable to the Empire Lobby which set about to find new enemies for the U.S to engage. China seemed one possibility but was at the time too focused on its economy. There was always deepening our involvement in the Middle East and the first Gulf War provided a rationale for imperial activity, which would of course produce blowback that would later rev up the imperial war machine. However, the 1990s proved mostly unsatisfying for the Empire Lobby as it was altogether too quiet to generate much enthusiasm for overseas adventure on a large scale.
The blowback of U.S. Middle Eastern policy produced the murderous attacks of 9/11 and the justification of a new round of increased military expenditures, overseas war activity and greatly enhanced surveillance powers. We all know the result; 16+ years of fruitless war in Afghanistan, the disaster of the Iraq war, the continual drone war, the Libyan disaster, etc. This coupled with the economic meltdown of 2007-2008 produced exhaustion in the electorate.
The election of Obama seemed to offer a newfound hope for peace. The reality was policy that mostly pleased the Empire Lobby; doubling down in Afghanistan, Libyan regime change, the drone war, stalwart support of dictators in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia; and increased antagonism of Russia via support for the regime in Kiev and placement of NATO troops on the Russian border in the Baltic States. This may have avoided large-scale U.S. military action but represented great continuity with the Bush policies, complete with continued illegal spying on U.S. citizens. Nonetheless, at the end of the Obama era, the electorate was in a surly mood and not too keen on expanded foreign adventure.
In the 2016 election cycle candidate Trump seemed to offer rhetoric that questioned much of the basis of U.S. foreign policy. This, predictably, freaked out the Empire Lobby in both parties, especially when against all odds, he captured the Presidency. Never mind that Trump was not so much a non-interventionist than a unilateralist, it seemed as if the unity of U.S. imperial assumptions were greatly threatened. The Empire lobby set about almost immediately to destroy Trump and his presidency.
They did this by claiming that Trump's election was illegitimate due to Russian interference. Somehow the Russians positioned Trump as a Manchurian candidate and used social media to flip votes from Clinton to Trump. For a thorough debunking of this see the fine work of Holman Jenkins at the Wall Street Journal. This effort expanded to portray Trump as a stooge, if not a traitor to the U.S. on behalf of Russia. Anyone supporting Trump or advocating a more balanced approach toward Russia is similarly portrayed, as can be seen by in this clip of an "analyst" accusing Representative Nunes of being a Russian plant, in addition to the media's ahistorical ignorance of the true record of the FBI.
This has resulted in the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate Trump and his Russian connections. This has, to date, produced only non-related charges against marginal players. It has also devolved into a search for perjury and/or obstruction; a sure sign that there is little of substance to the original charges.
What all this political pressure has done is to hem in the Trump administration regarding U.S. foreign policy. As I said earlier I do not think that Trump was ever desirous of dismantling the empire or reigning in U.S. military activity. His defense spending proposals, the Syrian missile strike, troop surge in Afghanistan and surrounding himself with military advisors all indicated no real change in policy. However, Trump was still never in the "club", he did in some fashion want better relations with Russia and was willing to not dominate the policy of Europe and to forgo multi-lateral solutions. All of this was unacceptable to the Empire Lobby and motivated a massive political assault on Trump that has dangerously moved policy in the wrong direction.
The result has been a resurgence of dangerous policy toward Russia. A continued buildup of NATO troops on Russia's border (contrary to an explicit U.S. promise in 1990); new and more stringent sanctions, arming of the Ukranian government with advanced U.S. weapons, rising risk of conflict in Syria. continuation of the Obama era buildup of nuclear forces and a reconsideration of the possible U.S. first use of nuclear weapons. If Putin bought Trump he did not get much of a bargain. More disturbingly, the political culture has changed and Trump must live in it, like it or not. All things Russian are now suspect and the only way to prove otherwise is to be ultra-hawkish toward Russia, not communist Russians particularly but all Russians. This represents a great new danger to world peace as can be seen here.
Behind all this is the Council on Foreign Relations, the Israel lobby, Republican neo-cons, the military and the security agencies. Also, along for the ride are the Democratic party and even the "progressive" wing of the political spectrum; Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and MSNBC. It is irrelevant whether the latter groups really believe all of this or are in it for short-term partisan gain, the political pressure on the Trump administration has been all but irresistible and a dangerous policy train has been set in motion. The world is at greater risk of a cataclysmic miscalculation than at any time since the end of The Cold War. Pray.
Praise Be to God