I’ve been a member of the Lawyers, Guns and Money team for some months now, and yet I believe that I’ve written only one post criticizing Glenn Greenwald. As I’m clearly not meeting my quota, I need to say a few word about this particular monstrosity that he offered up on Monday.
One of the most bizarre aspects of the all-consuming Russia frenzy is the Democrats’ fixation on changes to the RNC platform concerning U.S. arming of Ukraine. The controversy began in July when the Washington Post reported that “the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces.”
Ever since then, Democrats have used this language change as evidence that Trump and his key advisers have sinister connections to Russians and corruptly do their bidding at the expense of American interests. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke for many in his party when he lambasted the RNC change in a July letter to the New York Times, castigating it as “dangerous thinking” that shows Trump is controlled, or at least manipulated, by the Kremlin. Democrats resurrected this line of attack this weekend when Trump advisers acknowledged that campaign officials were behind the platform change.
This attempt to equate Trump’s opposition to arming Ukraine with some sort of treasonous allegiance to Putin masks a rather critical fact: namely, that the refusal to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons was one of Barack Obama’s most steadfastly held policies.
I can’t wait until Greenwald writes a column explaining how hypocritical and bizarre it is that the same people who want legal marijuana have a problem with murderous drug cartels making a profit from selling it.
I’m not a Greenwald fan. Still, I never realized he has so much contempt for the intelligence of his readers. I imagine—although I don’t know, and neither does Greenwald—that the majority of Democrats supported Obama’s caution in providing lethal aid to Ukraine. I also imagine that most Democrats are outraged because we don’t think presidential candidates should trade important national-security decisions for favorable electoral interference from foreign dictators. This really isn’t a tough one.
But wait, there’s more….
In short order, Greenwald quotes a Politico story quoting an un-named “disaffected” Obama appointment who draws a comparison between Obama’s Reset and Trump foreign policy. He writes:
In other words, Democrats are now waging war on, and are depicting as treasonous, one of Barack Obama’s central and most steadfastly held foreign policy positions, one that he clung to despite attacks from leading members of both parties as well as the DC National Security Community. That’s not Noam Chomsky drawing that comparison; it’s an Obama appointee.
As luck would have it, I’m taking part in a panel on the Reset tomorrow in New York. This is hogwash. Obama never intended to pursue a ‘grand bargain’ at the expense of NATO and the liberal order. The Reset never envisioned a grand ideological war against Islam in which the US and Russia worked as close partners. Nor did the Obama Administration want to ‘turn’ Russia to pursue hostilities with China. I think the chances of the Trump Administration accomplishing either of these thing are slim, but they reflect a radically different geostrategic outlook and understanding of US-Russian relations.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not terribly hawkish on Russia. But I am capable of updating my priors in light of new information. This isn’t crass partisanship. It’s what human beings who care about facts and stuff do. Anyway, whatever the ultimate cause of their behavior, Moscow has found a mechanism—information warfare deployed in electoral politics—for undermining liberal democracy in the Euro-Atlantic zone. Democrats need to take that fact very seriously when considering Russia policy. What we can’t do is, per Greenwald, reduce the debate to a choice between ‘American warmongering hawks’ and ‘apologists for Russian imperialism.’ If you think my characterization is too strong, read this:
Put another way, establishment Democrats – with a largely political impetus but now as a matter of conviction – have completely abandoned Obama’s accommodationist approach to Russia and have fully embraced the belligerent, hawkish mentality of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol, the CIA and Evan McMullin. It should thus come as no surprise that a bill proposed by supreme warmonger Lindsey Graham to bar Trump from removing sanctions against Russia has more Democratic co-sponsors than Republican ones.
Do you feel that? That’s the feeling of whiplash. This bill prevents Trump from unilaterally lifting sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration as part of its response to, first, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and, second, Moscow’s interference in the US election. But wait, you say, didn’t Greenwald open by arguing that Democrats have gone insane because they don’t support Obama policies toward Russia? Why yes. Yes he did.
I can’t help thinking that we’re watching Greenwald’s own psychodrama play out at The Intercept. He knows that he did his part, no matter how small, to help elect Trump. He knows that he’s been carrying water—I assume unintentionally—for authoritarian regimes. And, indeed, it doesn’t take long to see the effects in action:
This is why it’s so notable that Democrats, in the name of “resistance,” have aligned with neocons, CIA operatives and former Bush officials: not because coalitions should be avoided with the ideologically impure, but because it reveals much about the political and policy mindset they’ve adopted in the name of stopping Trump. They’re not “resisting” Trump from the left or with populist appeals – by, for instance, devoting themselves to protection of Wall Street and environmental regulations under attack, or supporting the revocation of jobs-killing free trade agreements, or demanding that Yemini civilians not be massacred.
The fact that Greenwald can’t be bothered to pay attention to what the vast majority of actual Democratic politicians are doing, or how they’re voting, when it comes to these issues is no excuse for stupid. The fact that Greenwald has clearly never been to a rally where liberals and left-wingers join together to protest Trump’s Islamophobic policies, his assault on the environment, and his pro-corporate policies is no excuse for stupid. The fact that virtually all of these regulatory changes—or proposed policy changes—are things that Hillary Clinton would’ve prevented is no excuse for stupid. The fact that the Democratic party moved in a protectionist direction during this election, and that Greenwald is objectively wrong about the likely economic consequences of revoking existing trade deals, is no excuse for stupid. And hey, is it remotely possible that opposition to Trump might make a difference with respect to US policy toward Yemen? Maybe, maybe not. But it is certainly the case that, back in September, over half the Democratic members of the Senate supplied almost all of the votes against a large military aid package to Saudi Arabia.
Back to the ratcheting rhetorical fervor:
Instead, they’re attacking him on the grounds of insufficient nationalism, militarism, and aggression: equating a desire to avoid confrontation with Moscow as a form of treason (just like they did when they were the leading Cold Warriors). This is why they’re finding such common cause with the nation’s most bloodthirsty militarists – not because it’s an alliance of convenience but rather one of shared convictions (indeed, long before Trump, neocons were planning a re-alignment with Democrats under a Clinton presidency). And the most ironic – and over-looked – aspect of this whole volatile spectacle is how much Democrats have to repudiate and demonize one of Obama’s core foreign policy legacies while pretending that they’re not doing that.
Say what you want about neoconservatives, but they recognized three things about Trump.
- That he is completely unqualified to be President.
- That he would undermine national security by doing stupid, and often racist, stuff.
- That he poses an existential threat to not only the US, but the western democratic order.
This is pretty important stuff. And while Greenwald is busy positioning himself to the left of Noam Chomsky, I just want to point out that Trump does not, in fact, promise less militarism than the Clinton wing of the Democratic party. He just would like to pursue more war-crime-y and more crypto-fascist-y militarism.
In conclusion, we all make mistakes. I think Greenwald would be happier, and a good deal less ridiculous, if he just owned his.