by Gordon M. Hahn
The new ‘revelations’ that Hillary Clinton, her presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee were the forces behind the largely discredited ‘Trump Dossier’, funding its compilers, GPS Fusion and former British intelligence officer Richard Steele, and news that FBI investigator has been removed from the gag order to prohibited him from testifying on the Clinton’s kickbacks for granting Russia access to 20 percent of US uranium are leading to a new wave of denials that the US is complicit in any way whatsoever. Some US opinion-makers, such as Glenn Beck, are claiming that this demonstrates that the Clinton-funded dossier, the uranium deal, and Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia “is not about Donald Trump and is not about Hillary Clinton” story but rather is about Russia. That is, Russia’s alleged involvement with now Trump, the Clintons and their campaigns “has corrupted both parties,” according to Beck (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iTXYf7PXWQ). Americans should conclude, therefore, that neither the Clintons nor the Trumps nor America’s increasingly sleazy politics are to blame in the slightest. Rather, once again only Putin and Russia are to blame. Putin corrupted American politics; and Americans have no or at least less agency. This take leaves room for continued American lecturing to Moscow and the rest of the world, sanctions debilitating the global economy, and expanding military blocs across Eurasia writ large – a recipe for global disaster.
Beck claims “Vladimir Putin is corrupting both sides.” No, Putin has been able to wheel and deal with already corrupt Republicans and Democrats. The long, rich history of political and other forms of corruption among the Clintons is well-known, and a portion of the American public has repeatedly — over the course of several decades — continued to support and vote for the Clintons and their allies. Conservatives like Beck (and myself) rail against the Republican Party’s own corruption and accommodations with the Democrats. Are we to conclude that Whitewater, Monicagate, etc., etc. post-date Russian corruption’s alleged involvement in, and alleged influence on our system?
In fact, the truth is the other way round; corrupt Americans added impetus and put their imprimatur on the inevitable high levels of corruption that were inevitable in the process of dismantling the highly centralized, albeit crumbling, and completely state-owned Soviet economy . In early post-Soviet Russia it was corrupt American elements who rather than imprinting on Russia the ideals and practice of democracy and transparency, instead developed corrupt schemes and allied with Russian corruptionaires in the Boris Yeltsin administration. One need only to recall: the Andrei Shleifer-Jonathan Hay (two American advisors of the Yeltsin administration) insider trading scheme that stole millions; the 50 grants given to Americans to produce proposals for transforming Russia’s trucking industry counted as ‘aide to Russia’, the U.S.-backed Russian privatization scheme that handed over billions of dollars in state property to former ‘red directors’ and newly-minted oligarchs rather than to Russian citizens in order to create a nation of stockholders as promised; and – talking about ‘interfering in elections’ – the Clinton administration’s direct financial support of the Yeltsin 1996 presidential campaign. This helps explain much, along with NATO and less so EU expansion, about the rise of the ‘sovereign democracy’ concept and Vladimir Putin in Russia and the Sino-Russian alliance.
Not only are today’s Clintons, Trumps, Democrats and Republicans implicated in American corruption hand-in-hand with Russians, but the Clinton administration and American elite and Russia-policy community are deeply implicated in the emergence of Russian corruption and oligarchs going back to the early 1990s and thus bear great responsibility for the Russian population’s declining interest in, and commitment to building Western-style democracy and free markets. All this still leaves aside the Clinton administration’s Versailles treaty-like strategic catastrophe of pushing NATO expansion without Russia, further alienating both the Russian populace and elite from the West. Cynicism in domestic governance was the hand-maiden of bureaucratic and military expansionism abroad under the NATO and EU umbrella.
Let’s talk about Paul Manafort and Ukraine, which was the spark that prompted Beck’s biased discussion. Beck knows nothing about Ukraine. Thus, according to Beck, “Manafort put Yanukovych in power.” But everyone was in bed with Yanukovych — Moscow, Washington and Brussels — except for the Ukrainian opposition who preceded him in power, were similarly corrupt and supporters of Ukrainian ultranationalism and neofascism. As in Russia, in Ukraine there are not many good guys, if one means by that pro-democratic forces. The U.S. was backing efforts to bring Yanukovych’s Ukraine into NATO and the EU. NATO was actively cooperating with Yanukovych through numerous military-to-military programs. The EU was about to sign an association agreement with Yanukovych’s Ukraine when he balked, sparking demonstrations which had been seeded by Western democracy-promotion programs. The West was silent about what suddenly emerged as Yanukovych’s monstrous corruption. The CIA, NSA, MI8 etc., did not know about this before the Maidan protests? If not, then it should be disbanded. But clearly it did as did Western leaders, but that corruption could be overlooked as long as Yanukovych agreed to move Ukraine towards NATO and the EU. When he balked on the EU association agreement, the West balked on him. We might call this international extortion. To be sure, the Kremlin was playing the same game; a game post-Soviet Russians ready for reform and a welcome in the West learned the hard way in the 1990s in relation to their own country from the West: manipulative and careless democracy- and market-promotion efforts, NATO expansion, and EU enlargement.
The fact is that it takes two to tango. It is not the bribe-maker or bribe-taker who is guilty; it is both. To be sure, corruption in Russia is worse than here in America and most of Europe, but we are catching up by leaps and bounds. Washington’s ubiquitous ‘lobbying’, the revolving government-lobbyist door, and the professional politician without term limits has long driven corruption. The Barack Obama administration’s statization of health care –16 percent of the US economy — massive regulation of economic and social life, use of the state apparatus, including but not limited to the IRS, to punish political ‘enemies’, as Obama called republicans, and much else has led to what one might call the ‘new convergence’ between east and west or the ‘Putinization’ of America. Does the Obama administration’s use of the FBI to pay for ‘opposition research’ Trump dossier — the FBI offered but reneged after the dossier went public (www.washingtonpost.com/politics/fbi-once-planned-to-pay-former-british-spy-who-authored-controversial-trump-dossier/2017/02/28/896ab470-facc-11e6-9845-576c69081518_story.html?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.fb2e15592964) — remind you of anything? Call it what you like; but America’s growing corruption epidemic is largely internally-driven, no good and getting worse. Add to it, political correctness, declining education, and a degrading and decadent popular culture and you get what we have.
To be sure, political elites the world over are increasingly intermeshed and corrupt, and American, Russian, European and, indeed, global political and other forms of corruption are now deepening their hold on the entire American political system and international politics. Thus, American corruption is being multiplied by corrupt foreign cultures, and Russia’s is but one and far from the worst. The U.S. focus on Russian corruption is an indirect consequence of the security dilemma or ‘new cold war’ created by NATO expansion. It is Russia’s resistance to NATO’s presence on its border that prompts the Western focus on Moscow’s lack of democracy and rule of law nowadays, just as the West’s sudden discovery of Yanukovych’s corruption came with his decision to delay signing the EU association agreement and seek to accommodate Russian economic and geopolitical concerns in fall 2013.
This problem has important implications for both American foreign and domestic policy. First, to the extent that Russia-West security dilemma intensifies the conflict between Washington and Brussels, on the one hand, and Russia and increasingly China, on the other, domestic politics in all these countries will continue to feature growing antagonism towards the others, increasingly the likelihood of war. Second, both the 1990s and recent history suggests once more that the U.S. therefore has limited right and capability to spread democracy abroad, no less organize the least corrupt and authoritarian against the more corrupt and authoritarian regimes. It can only spread democracy and capitalism best by example, by truly being that ‘shining city on the hill’ of which the late President Ronald Reagan dreamed.
Therefore, rather than spreading democracy abroad through destabilizing ‘democracy-promotion’ active measures, we Americans would do better carrying forth a democratic revival at home, decentralizing power from Washington to the states and localities (something that Moscow, Belgium, Madrid, and others might emulate), instituting term limits at all levels of office, throwing the revolving door and its occupants into the dustbin of history, and prudently delimiting America’s excessive foreign burdens.
Unfortunately, American politics all too rarely attain such heights. President Calvin Coolidge’s pro-market reforms, World War I and II and the civil rights movement are some of the exceptions. Increasingly both Washington and the country at-large are dragging America further away from that shining city on the hill and the glorious promise held in the words and ideas of its constitution and Declaration of Independence. America’s present mindset is driving her deeper into the mud and filth of the very authoritarian gutter from which it was created to be a refuge. This, more than anything else explains the meeting of the minds of the Clintons and Putin, foreign debacles in Syria and Ukraine, the persistence of global jihadism, and the growing chaos, instability and ugliness of international politics. When there are no or too few grownups in the room, the children romp over it to ruin.
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California, www.cetisresearch.org; an expert analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com; and an analyst at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago), www.geostrategicforecasting.com.
Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the ‘New Cold War. Previously, and three well-received published books: Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002); Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007); and The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media and has served as a consultant and provided expert testimony to the U.S. government.
Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. He has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kennan Institute in Washington DC as well as the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.