After their humiliating defeat in November, the Democratic Party has indulged in a self-destructive binge of invective that threatens to destroy whatever’s left of what passes for civility in America’s political discourse.
Simply put, as the architects of the Democrat’s decline into irrelevancy and ultimate electoral debacle seem unwilling to come to terms with their own inadequacies, they resort to innuendo—if not outright falsehoods—that ironically tell us more about their own failings than any real or imaginary transgression of their opponents.
The story we have all heard goes like this: Vladimir Putin, that evildoer Great Kahuna of Russia, personally intervened to have his minions “hack” the American elections to favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton and, in this context, any “contact” of any “campaign person” with any Russian—be it an intelligence officer, a diplomat or a tourist from Kamchatka—is ipso facto suspect and must cause the immediate sacking of the said campaign person, provided, of course, that we are talking about someone in the Trump campaign.
The sheer absurdity of the notion of hundreds of Republican Party members conspiring with Russia (or any other country) to subvert the electoral system in the US is enough to have an army of nurses, straight jackets on hand, at the ready to assist the proponents of this lunacy. And yet, party hacks and their scribes have been arguing precisely this for nearly three months now, with no signs of abating.
There is a second absurdity that seems to have sneaked pass the press without nary a reference: If there has ever been any group of individuals that might be legitimate subjects of suspicion in their dealings with Russia over the past eight years or so, it is the very Democrats that raise the specter now.
Obama, Georgia and the Reset
Relations with Russia have never really been good since Vladimir Putin broke into the scene with a fiercely nationalistic discourse that soon translated into a kind of nostalgic tour back to the land of the Gulag. Brought to power by his strong policy towards Chechnya—and after proving his mettle as a ruthless and unprincipled leader by his actions there—he has managed to remain on top of his country by going through, around and over the Russian Constitution with surprising ease.
After an initial honeymoon during the Clinton administration, however, relations cooled down during George W. Bush’s two terms, to the chagrin of many of Putin’s friends in the Democratic Party. Things got to a head in 2005. On may 10th of that year, as President Bush was getting ready to address a crowd in Tbilisi, someone threw a grenade wrapped in a handkerchief that landed less than 100 ft from President Bush and Georgia President Mikhail Shaakashvili, well within the kill zone. The grenade was a Soviet RGD-5 that according to the FBI was live, and that failed to explode only due to the malfunction of its activation device. Whoever was responsible was never found, but President Bush’s strong defense of Georgian democracy was to be challenged more seriously only three years later.
On August 14th, 2008, as told by former Georgian Defense Minister Dmitri Shashkin, a laconic message was received in Tbilisi from the White House:
“President’s press conference is in 45 min. Gates will lead the operation. 6th fleet is on its way, Herculeses in the air. GEO will be safe”.
The event, mentioned in passing in Secretary Gate’s memoirs (Duty) consisted in the airlifting of 1,800 Georgian troops from Iraq to Georgia as Russia was initiating an invasion. The presence of American transport planes at Tbilisi Airport prevented a planned Russian bombing raid. According to Minister Shashkin:
“Many do not know that our peacekeeping brigade returned from Iraq to Tbilisi on American military planes which under the circumstances of war was direct military support by the US…Many do not know that Russia could not bomb the Tbilisi airport because American Hercules planes were on the tarmac…Many do not know that the flagship of the US Fifth Fleet which entered the Black Sea monitored on its radars the airspace in the Tbilisi-Moscow-Volgograd triangle…many do not know that the August 14 Hercules flights from Jordan were accompanied by (American) fighters. Many do not know the statement of the commander of these fights that ‘any activity of Russian planes in the Georgian sky will be considered an attack on the United States of America,’ thus effectively closing the Georgian sky to Russian planes.”
At that time, then Senator Barak Obama, already a presidential candidate, inserted himself into the crisis by calling for UN condemnations and urging Georgia to “refrain from using force” in Abkhazia and Ossetia, where the Russians had already occupied nearly a third of Georgia’s territory. So much for the interference of political candidates in foreign affairs, undermining US policy! Mr. Obama’s actions, besides the indignity of calling on the victim to show restrain, rendered the Bush administration’s condemnation of Russian aggression toothless, as if to say to Vladimir Putin, “don’t worry, in a couple of months we’ll have a different stance”.
But in Tbilisi they remember well who stood with them in the hour of their need. A huge portrait of America’s 43rd President greets visitors as they travel from the airport to downtown Tbilisi, at the beginning of President George W. Bush Street, and Georgians well remember the day an American President stood shoulder to shoulder with them to guarantee their freedom in the face of Russian aggression. “Building a free society is the work of generations,” President Bush proclaimed at Freedom Square in 2005, a clear eyed vision that preannounced his stance in 2008.
Alas, the following November Barak Obama won the elections and on January 20th, 2009 was inaugurated, guaranteeing that Russian aggression in Georgia would remain unchallenged. Vladimir Putin learned the lesson, and annexed nearly a third of Georgian territory with no reaction from the Democratic administration. More importantly, he took the full measure of Barak Obama and found him pliable and accommodating to his designs. This would later have dire consequences for Ukraine, Syria and US interests in the Middle East.
After his inauguration, President Obama’s soft discourse on Russia took a decidedly vaudevillian bent when his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a sorry appearance with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, famously presenting him with a “reset button” a tragically comical affair in which her aids managed to misspell “reset” in Russian, turning it into “overcharged”. Misspellings aside, the image of Mrs. Clinton joking with Mr. Lavrov in the aftermath of Russia’s rape of Georgia was anything but funny.
For four years, the Obama administration continued to pursue policies that encouraged and strengthened Mr. Putin and his associates, rescuing Russia from economic failure and allowing it to profit from high energy prices resulting from the US administration’s insane energy policies that drove up oil prices—Russia’s single most important source of revenues. From an economy in shambles and a GDP half that of Brazil’s, the toothless, emaciated bear rose and Russia slowly became a player again in the world, with disastrous results.
But the energy policies of the Obama administration were not an isolated event. The blunder in Syria had even worse consequences.
On January 26th, 2011, the Arab Spring reached the streets of Syrian cities as people protested decades of Ba’ath party dictatorship demanding democratic reforms. By April 21st, the Assad regime began a crackdown sending tanks into civilian areas. By October, as civilian casualties were approaching 3,000, parts of the army that refused to participate in the carnage and dissident groups formed the Syrian National Council, which included representatives from the Damascus Declaration Group, a pro-democracy network, Kurdish associations, and a host of other minor groups and tribal leaders, that threatened the end of the Ba’ath party dominance. This did not sit well in Moscow. Ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Russian fleet had limited access to the Mediterranean, depending largely on the Black Sea base of Novorossiyisk, particularly after Ukraine notified Russia in 2009 that the lease of naval bases in Crimea would not be extended after 2017. The Black Sea meant that Russian ships could only access the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus strait, a strategic nightmare. It so happens that one of the only two Russian bases outside the old Soviet Union was in Syria (the other in Vietnam), at the port of Tartus.
Vladimir Putin’s unflinching support for the Assad regime, even to the point of forming alliances with Iran, Hezbollah and the very Islamic radicals they once fought in Chechnya, can be traced to this one strategic asset. The loss of Crimean bases to a NATO-leaning Ukraine and of Tartus to revolution in Syria would have left the Russian fleet uselessly locked in the Black Sea. The old KGB operative did not need to think much to know that the possibility of losing both was unacceptable. Fortunately for him, he could count on his friends in Washington to avoid the unwanted scenario.
In 2012, elections were again at full swing in the United States. On March 26th, during a nuclear summit in Seoul, South Korea, in an unguarded moment with an open microphone, President Obama was heard saying to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, as he placed his hand on the knee of Putin’s protégé:
“This is my last election…After my election I have more flexibility,” to which the Russian replied “I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”
What exactly was Mr. Medvedev to transmit to Mr. Putin is known but to three men, but we may be forgiven if we think that the events that transpired soon after were not unconnected.
And on October 22nd, during a Presidential debate, President Obama infamously lambasted Republican candidate Mitt Romney:
“When you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said ‘Russia,’ not Al Qaeda, you said ‘Russia.’ The nineteen eighties are now calling to ask for their foreign-policy back, because the cold war has been over for twenty years.”
In vain Mr. Romney correctly pointed out that “Russia, I indicated is a geopolitical foe and in the same paragraph I said Iran is the greatest national security threat we face.” Mr. Obama’s insistence that considering Russia a geopolitical foe was the fodder of ridicule can be considered an astounding display of ignorance or a conscious effort to mislead the American public. Only Mr. Obama knows the answer to this question.
The Red Line
Be the motives of Mr. Obama’s commentaries what they were, it is a fact that soon after his reelection things began to turn rosier for Mr. Putin. Just as the previous campaign events were taking place, Mr. Obama made his infamous “red line” remark on Syria. If the Assad regime were to use chemical weapons on its population again—it had, of course, already used them, and continued to do so—there would be consequences. Almost comically, on December 3rd of that year, his reelection in the bag, Mr. Obama re-issued his stern warning to Bashar Assad in a speech at the National Defense University:
“If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences, and you will be held accountable” Words. Just words.
Assad continued to use chemical weapons against civilian populations and, while some members of the administration openly proposed arming rebels starting in 2013, nothing was done. That is, until September 2013, barely a year after President Obama’s assurances to President Medvedev, when the new Secretary of State John Kerry reached an agreement with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov…to have Russia assist in verifying Syrian disarmament!
In effect, this opened the door for Russia to legitimately enter the fray in Syria with results that could have been foreseen. Rather than pressure the Assad regime to give up its chemical weapons and march into the sunset, Russia signed agreements with Syria making its naval base at Tartus permanent (and another, air force base for good measure), and proceeded to bomb cities controlled by the rebels in ways the world had not seen since WWII. In a foul up reminiscent of the non-intervention club’s betrayal of Spain, within a short time there were no pro-democracy forces left worth mentioning and the country was essentially divided between the Assad Regime and its allies—Russia, Iran and the terrorist organization Hezbollah on one hand—and an alphabet soup of terrorist organizations on the other—mostly al-Qa’ida (apparently they were not on the run), and its offspring Da’esh , al-Nusrah, etc. The civilian casualties mounted to hundreds of thousands, with millions displaced provoking a crisis that now extends well beyond Syrian borders and threatens to further destabilize neighboring countries and even some European nations.
With bases in Syria secured, Russia moved on to the next target.
Almost immediately upon entering the war in Syria on the Assad regime’s side, Russia invaded Crimea and by March 18th, 2014, had officially “annexed” it to the Russian Federation, ensuring a return of Sebastopol and the naval base there, at the expense of Europe-leaning Ukraine. The Obama administration did absolutely nothing. This in turn led to further encroachment in East Ukraine. Even after Vladimir Putin freely admitted that Russian soldiers were in Ukraine, the US did nothing.
And thus we arrive at 2016. For a number of years now, Putin’s Russia has been committing all kinds of micro and macro aggressions on its neighbors, the Middle East and the world at large. Criminal organizations linked to the regime have penetrated security, energy and financial systems in scores of countries and, yes, in the US. Perhaps a point that is missed in all of this is the utter incompetence of those in whose charge lays our cyber security. China hacked the files of the OPM retrieving millions of personal files of just about everyone who underwent a security clearance in the US, and nothing was done. North Korea regularly steals information from private and public enterprises, and all we could hear from the Obama administration was crickets. But when John Podesta showed an unbelievable degree of incompetence in the handling of security of his own emails, or when the DNC proved incapable of maintaining a firewall, let alone running the country, suddenly we have a crisis that allows Democratic Party operatives to raise all kinds of fallacies and innuendo with no other purpose than to distract the rest of us from their shortcomings.
Of the Abundance of the Heart the Mouth Speaketh
If there are friends of Russia in the US government, all we need is look in the general direction of those raising the issue. Be it naiveté, incompetence or design, the Democrats have made Vladimir Putin what he is today by providing assistance every step of the way while denying the obvious.
The Trump administration does have a problem in its hands. But it is not any kind of collusion of any of its members with the newly arisen “evil empire.” It is a coordinated effort by a disloyal opposition to muddle the waters, hide their failings and create additional problems for the newcomers. Republicans must not play into the hands of desperate and ideologically bankrupt Democrats trying to divert attention from the mess they got us in.
The world is an infinitely more dangerous place now than it was in 2009, and rather than being distracted by conspiracy mirages thrown about by pathological liars, the administration must concentrate on rebuilding our military and intelligence capabilities and retake the position of leadership that the Obama administration joyously relinquished. The life, liberty and happiness of millions around the world depend on it.