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Joshua Frank is managing editor of CounterPunch. You can troll him on twitter @joshua__frank
Andrew Smolski: What do you make of the recent New York Times story that Trump aides have had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence? Is it because of the insults toward US intel agencies? Or are they genuinely that motivated for a war with Russia? Is this just incompetence on the part of Trump and Co.?
Joshua Frank: Honestly, I think it has less to do with Russia and more to do with their dislike for Trump. Russia is the excuse, not the cause.
AS: Why less do with Russia? Hasn’t the US been pushing further and further towards Russia’s border with more provocative military maneuvers?
JF: That’s been ongoing for sometime now and certainly military and intelligence agencies in the US have been pushing for more confrontation with Russia, whether over their actions in Crimea or Syria. This is a continuation of that, no doubt. Then there’s the allegations of Russian hacking of our elections, with no hard proof mind you – but allegations don’t need to be totally true to do real damage. That said, to the CIA’s credit, they do know a thing or two about manipulating the outcome of foreign elections. But I think in the case of Trump, Russia is more of a convenient enemy than a legitimate one.
AS: Then in terms of partisan politics, that is just collaterally lucky for Democrats, or the intelligence community genuinely would rather them in power?
JF: In ways yes, but this also benefits the McCain wing of the Republican Party. I think it’s less about partisanship than it is about Trump himself, who seems to defy party affiliation.
AS: How does McCain’s wing benefit?
JF: It’s no secret that McCain hates Trump. He has good reason to, Trump has on numerous occasions attacked McCain. There’s bad blood. McCain has been a staunch, pro-intelligence Republican for decades. He’s an old-guard establishment guy, and as chairman of Armed Services, McCain wields a lot of power — and he’s going to fight any threat to that power. But at the heart of if, I think McCain’s beef is more personal in nature. Russia, again, is a convenient way for McCain to attack Trump – and I’m not sure who he hates more, Trump or Putin. One enema, two assholes!
AS: Ok, so basically a dual attack by the dominant two factions over the past 40 years, neoliberals and neoconservatives, coming from within the bureaucracy? And that is largely because Trump is vulgar?
JF: More or less, but he’s more than vulgar. Trump has pissed off enough people in the CIA and the Republican Party to last a lifetime. He’s discredited their work, the CIA’s motives and their history (for the wrong reasons I might add). Democrats know this of course, as do many Republicans who are disgusted with Trump. I expect much more to come. More leaks, more accusations – with the goal of impeachment and embarrassment of a president they see as incompetent and untrustworthy. Even Mitch McConnell is calling for a deeper investigation into Russian involvement in the past election. This is exactly what the intel folks who dislike Trump want to see happen. Air it all out. In no way will it benefit Trump, even if only half the shit they throw at him sticks.
AS: Why the wrong reasons? What would the right reasons be?
JF: The CIA, as you know, has a sordid history of interfering in foreign affairs, from the US’s role in the bloody drug war to backing extremists and questionable groups to do the US’s dirty work across the globe. These would be the reasons to go after the CIA, but that’s not Trump’s game. He hates the folks at Langley because they question his motives and refuse to be his servants.
AS: And what do you think the Left’s reaction should be? Apply pressure in the other domains, such as on immigration and wages while the elite go at each other?
JF: Totally. We shouldn’t let this deter us from fighting the awful shit Trump and his enablers in both parties are doing. Let the insiders and elites wage their battles within the halls of power – we have little control over that. It shouldn’t be a rallying cry to organize. If Trump were to be knocked off his perch we’d still have Mike Pence to deal with. That’s exactly why we need a real movement to take hold now.
AS: Won’t Pence and the Republicans be thoroughly discredited by the impeachment?
JF: In the short-term perhaps, but the Republicans like Mitt Romney and McCain, and even Paul Ryan to some extent, will distance themselves from the Trump mess if it unfolds. They’ll have to. The Democrats will benefit, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it will empower the progressives in the Democratic Party. On the contrary, it will likely embolden those that want to continue to push for more war in the Middle East and a stronger front against Russia.