Why are so many Americans so hostile to Russia? The question is powerfully evoked by a new BBC analysis of Donald Trump’s problems.
The 50-minute program, “Trump and Russia: A Long Relationship,” was first broadcast by the BBC World Service over the weekend and features extensive explication by several experts based in the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom. Although some of the participants ignored host Owen Bennett Jones’s exhortations to keep strictly to the facts, the program nonetheless generally avoided baseless innuendo and by comparison with recent U.S. mainstream media coverage seemed a model of impartiality. Certainly it was notable for avoiding the worst excesses of anti-Russian hysteria that lately has been so prevalent elsewhere.
As the BBC’s world affairs correspondent Paul Wood put it, “anything you can say about President Trump and Russia is still an allegation, not proven.” Wood went on to provide a useful summing up of the main allegations, enumerating them as follows:
- The Trump campaign allegedly entered into a treasonable conspiracy with Russian intelligence to steal the election.
- As a businessman who at times has been financially embarrassed, Donald Trump has allegedly been willing to take money from the Russian mafia.
- Trump is allegedly vulnerable to Russian blackmail because of sex tapes recorded in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
To this list must now be added the charge that in remarks allegedly made to James Comey about Michael Flynn, Trump was guilty of attempting to obstruct the course of American justice.
Probably the program’s most important contribution was to highlight the distinctly puzzling role played by U.S. espionage agencies. On the one hand, these agencies have been unanimous in claiming that it was indeed the Russians—and no one else—who hacked the Democratic National Committee and supplied embarrassing emails to Wikileaks; on the other hand, however, they have refused to provide hard evidence, suggesting that to do so might compromise their sources.
Yet it is not as if the American espionage services seem particularly deserving of our trust. After all, these are the same organizations (and indeed in some cases even the same individuals, with James Clapper as an example) that played such a notorious role in facilitating George W. Bush’s rush to war with Iraq in 2003.
So who really hacked the DNC’s emails? As Edward Lozansky, the most pro-Trump of Bennett Jones’s guests, pointed out, there are alternative theories and, until hard evidence can be adduced, the intelligence agencies’ story must be taken with a large pinch of salt.
For what it is worth, one theory has it that the real perpetrator of the hack was one of the U.S. intelligence agencies. This version has been promoted by among others the former top British diplomat Craig Murray and the award-winning investigative journalist Robert Parry. Its credibility has been bolstered by Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange, who has denied that Russia was the source of the emails featured at the Wikileaks site.
This is not of course to suggest that the Russians lack high-tech spying capabilities. We can probably safely surmise moreover that there has been little love lost between Vladimir Putin and the Clintons. (Putin is evidently incandescent about Bill Clinton’s decision to push NATO to Russia’s borders.) But the fact is that many national governments share with the Russians the ability to have pulled off the DNC job. Some of them moreover might have seen an advantage in conducting a false-flag operation to wrong-foot the Russians and embarrass Trump. What can be said for sure is there is a fundamental contradiction in the Washington establishment’s story that (1) the break-in was a highly sophisticated job, and (2) it was executed so incompetently that the cyberspace equivalent of fingerprints were left behind for the U.S. intelligence agencies to find.
Owen Bennett Jones’s Trump analysis is part of a thoughtful series that is well worth a listen.
Eamonn Fingleton is the author of In the Jaws of the Dragon: America’s Fate in the Coming Era of Chinese Hegemony.