Trump, Regan, Nixon: What to Expect Next From Trump and Russia

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.

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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.

 

Apropos Newsnight: Why Edward Snowden is not a Spy but a True Patriot and Hero – and the Continued Americanisation of Political Culture in Britain

If there is one thing that the last fortnight has taught us it is that the right have quite a line in baseless, ad hominen accusations of national treachery. The Daily Mail’s tasteless denunciation of Ralph Miliband has given ample testament to this. What is surprising, however, is when such bully boy tactics are given credence by the BBC.

This is what makes Glenn Greenwald’s appearance on Newsnight on last Thursday particularly worrying. This is still available on i-player for anyone interested.

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When host Kirsty Wark asked Glenn to prove that Edward Snowden had not surrendered the content of his documents to the Russian government and so was a Russian spy she cheapened the show. There was no evidence to show this and even she admitted asking him to prove a negative was impossible. She also allowed guest, and former Conservative Minister of State for Security and Counter Terrorism, Baroness Neville-Jones’s outlandish claims that Edward Snowden had done so to go unquestioned. This is rather reckless when we realise that Snowden is wanted on charges of espionage by the US government. Such grave accusations should be questioned.

Such claims are anyway demonstrably absurd.

First of all, as Glenn pointed out, such a course of action would inconsonant with the behaviour Snowden has exhibited in his life thus far. He gave up a very rewarding job with a government contractors to make his revelations and he does not fit into the typical profile of a traitor or someone who hated his country at all. Indeed his beliefs are rather mainstream for an American, albeit with a slightly libertarian bent: he contributed $500 to Ron Paul’s campaign in the Republican primaries for the 2012 election and enlisted in the army. He appears to be an advocate of liberty and he loves his country.

But why if he is so bothered about liberty does he then flee into the arms of the Russian government, whose own SORM program, leaks in the Guardian this week show, is just as invasive if not more so than anything the NSA has? If he is so hypocritical and quick to judge his own country than surely he must not hold it dear?

Such questions brought about by commentators are depressing. It is precisely because the United States is his country, and because he loves it and cannot stand what it is becoming, that he holds it up to such exacting standards. It is symptomatic of a hubristic culture which has lost the distinction between a patriot and a nationalist that so many intelligent observers cannot see this. As Sydney J. Harris once wrote “the difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does.” A patriot, in other words, is noble and idealistic, someone who expects the best of his country and challenges it to be exceptional as we do of all things that we truly love and believe in. On the other hand, nationalism debases any nation and betrays a fundamental lack of respect for it.

Secondly, asking what the Russians have got out of hosting Snowden and implying espionage is very wrong as its actions can be rationalised quite easily without this insinuation. Simply put the Russians are getting terrific PR out of granting Snowden asylum. By doing so they are associating themselves with a very popular cause not only in the US but all over the world. In this way they can help to build up a mythology of Russia as a defender of global liberty against a rampant and hypocritical American imperialism. This was the same narrative that they used to justify their support of the Assad regime. Vladimir Putin told the readers of the New York Times in his op-ed on the matter that “millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us” ”. Russia, he tells readers, is “not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.”

This is a narrative that the Russian government is putting considerable resources into circulating. Its relationship with PR firm Ketchum is a matter of public record, having paid at least $40 million for its services between 2006 and 2010. Using this firm it has managed to place many articles in western press, many of which have been introduced with no mention of their providence. There is nothing unusual about a government using PR firm, but I make this point because we have to realise the sophistication of the Russian government. They are very much interested in international opinion – they are not the unreconstructed Bolshevik troglodytes of some commentator’s imagination – and this is why they have taken an interest in Snowden.

It is not enough to hint otherwise. The accusation of espionage is a heavy accusation which naturally carries the burden of proof. The cavalier manner in which a supposedly responsible former Security Minster makes this is truly frightening, as is Kirsty allowing it to go unchallenged.

In a week where Chris Huhne laid bare the already scandalous lack of oversight over the activities of the security services, we can only hope politicians like Baroness Neville-Jones, whose unquestioning attitudes only serve to further enable their clandestine activities, cannot worm their way back into office.

The civility of British political culture is something that he been remarked upon for years as something quintessentially British. It is something a true patriot would surely hope to preserve. But after watching Newsnight I wonder for how long this pacific and splendid climate will last. The Conservatives want to make us more like America – and I fear they are quite on the way to achieving this.