It is happening again.
No, I am not referring to the (blessed) return of Twin Peaks to television. What is the subject of this missive, however is no less sinister and seemingly opaque.
What is happening again is that the American people are being betrayed by a Republican President who was colluding with a foreign power before they were even in office – and in fact owe their election to this.
It is very frustrating reading coverage President Trump’s obstructing the FBI investigation into his campaign’s – surely indisputable now – relations with Russia if for no other reason than that such commentary lacks historical perspective. Simply put, Republican Presidents conspiring against their country for electoral gain is a very common and important occurrence.
The quintessential parallel reached for in the Age of Trump is Watergate. And of course it would be. By firing the special prosecutor Archibold Cox – and getting through two Attorney Generals to do it – President Nixon fundamentally and egregiously breached the separation of powers so key to the American constitution. This is the same principle President Trump fell foul of when he asked FBI director James Comey to cease the ongoing investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia – and dismissed him when he demurred.
In the rush to devour this low hanging fruit another arguably more pertinent example from the Nixon administration gets overlooked: the sabotaging of the Paris Peace Accords of 1968. Rather than allow the administration of Lyndon Johnson to claim the political victory of a negotiated settlement between South and North Vietnam, strengthening the Presidential campaign of fellow Democrat Hubert Humphrey, the Nixon campaign team plotted to derail negotiations. Nixon campaign manager John Mitchell, his future National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, and Republican socialite Anna Chennault all encouraged the South Vietnamese to double down with the promise of better terms under a Nixon administration and to avoid any Democrat-brokered settlement in the meantime. The FBI would identify this strategy as both having played out and of being integral to why the South Vietnamese did not go to the table.
A week after LBJ ordered a cessation of in American operations in the hope of concomitant commitment from Ho Chi Minh which did not come, Nixon, who ran on the promise of “peace with honour”, beat Humphrey by just one point in the popular vote.
For an administration awarded for its duplicity from the outset, it should be no surprise that Watergate followed, nor the clandestine bombing of Cambodia. The attempt to conceal the latter from the American public and Congress was considered so egregious that Congress moved to circumscribe the power of the executive branch to wage war without its express permission under the 1973 War Powers Act.
Just as these treasonous tricks worked for Nixon, so they did for another Republican President: one Ronald Regan. It would appear then that Trump and Regan have more in common than being geriatric celebrities in the all too palpable throes of a nascent dementia.
It was unfortunate for Jimmy Carter that the 1979 Iranian Revolution occurred during his administration. In the course of it, 52 American embassy staff were seized as hostages by radical Islamist students. The Carter administration was gravely wounded as it tried and failed to secure their release before a Presidential election it would go on to lose to Regan in 1980. It was during this negotiation between the Carter administration and the new Iranian regime that members from the Regan campaign team allegedly ensured that the release of the hostages would not occur in Carter’s administration. Both NSA council member under the Ford and Carter administration, Gary Sick, and Iranian president at the time, Abolhassan Bansidar, have drawn on their experience of events to advance this theory.
And so it passed that mere minutes after Regan became President on January 20th 1981, the hostages were released. The measure of debt that the Regan administration thus felt towards the Iranians explains the great lengths he would go to give arms to the new regime and conceal this, the most notable example being, of course, the Iran-Contra affair.
The rewards were reaped in a country where the political culture strongly favours the incumbent in presidential elections. Nixon would go on to win another term before being brought down by his hubris and incompetence, and after Regan’s victory the GOP would hold on to the presidency until 1994. Insofar as this helped to give the edge of their candidate, the ends seemingly justified the means.
What is particularly concerning with the parallels of Nixon and Regan, is how emboldened by their initial intrigues they would go on to mislead the American public again. In what ways then, can we expect to be misled by Trump? Does it have something to do with Jared Kushner’s request to the Russian ambassador to set up a back channel hidden from American intelligence agencies, I wonder? And why have Mike Flynn and Jeff Sessions been caught out lying about their relations with the Russian state?
Maybe these historical instances are side-lined because it lessens the hyperbole than can be applied to this story. This has simply happened far too often, and with far too little consequence that it becomes hard to remain excited with a perspective going further back than the latest 24 hour news cycle.