Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate

Russophobia was on full display during Tuesday night’s Democratic Party debate, with ominous repercussions for the future of American foreign policy.

When asked what he would do to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Beto O’Rourke stated that we “must hold Russia accountable for invading the world’s greatest democracy and being able to do it thanks to Donald Trump, functionally with impunity so far, so much so that they are invading this democracy right now as we speak.”

O’Rourke’s betrayal narrative comes out of the right-wing playbook of the 1950s.

His comments also invert history.

The world’s supposedly greatest democracy, the United States, is the one who has invaded Russia before – in 1918 when the Woodrow Wilson administration sent troops in an attempt to overturn Russia’s Bolshevik revolution – and not vice versa.

This past July, a Clinton appointed Judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee [DNC] against the Trump campaign and Julian Assange for lack of evidence of election meddling, stating that the DNC’s accusations were “totally divorced from the facts asserted in the organization’s own complaint.”

Two years earlier, the group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity [VIPS] found based on the speed of communication that a supposed Russian hack of Hillary Clinton’s emails was actually a leak carried out on the East Coast of the United States.

The supposed social media disinformation campaign that helped sway American voters was also determined to have been carried out by a private company based in St. Petersburg, Internet Research Agency (IRA), whose connection to the Russian government has never been established.

Half of the IRA ads on Facebook were enacted after the 2016 election, and many were non-political while others actually supported Trump.

There is generally little publicly available evidence which suggests that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election.

This did not stop Amy Klobuchar from claiming nonsensically that “Russia’s interference was much more serious than meddling; it rather constituted an invasion of U.S. elections.”

Klobuchar went on to state that Putin was “someone who has shot down planes over Ukraine, who has poisoned opponents.”

These two charges, however, have also never been corroborated.

The criminals who shot down a Malaysian airliner in July 2015 have never been linked to Putin and no one has been indicted or convicted in any court of law.

The Obama administration at the time blamed Russian backed separatists for blocking the investigation and removing evidence from the crash site and dead bodies, though the State Department refused to make public radar information that Secretary of State John Kerry said pointed to the location of the offending missile.

The New York Times further reported on a Ukrainian military assault that touched off a fire near the crash site that consumed plane debris that could have helped identify the reasons for the disaster, and destroyed fuselage fragments with shrapnel holes cited by investigators as possible evidence of an attack by Ukrainian jetfighters.

As far as poisoning, this is a reference to the deaths of KGB defector Sasha Litvinenko and attempted killing of former Russian spy Sergey Skirpal.

While there is a possibility that Putin was involved, there are also alternative theories which point to Putin being set up in black flag operations.

Amy Knight’s seriously researched book Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) presents only circumstantial evidence and admits that proof of Putin’s culpability has not been established.

Cory Booker would have also made George Orwell proud on debate night.

Repeating the old Russophobic trope that Russians “only understand force,” Booker chastised President Trump for “turning the moral leadership of this country into a dumpster fire” by “partnering more with Putin” than with “[Angela] Merkel [German leader] and [Emmanuel] Macron [French leader].”

Booker continued: “we cannot allow Russia to not only interfere in the democracies of Ukraine and Latvia and Lithuania, but [also] in this democracy.”

Booker’s remarks were wrong on so many levels.

Trump’s administration has not partnered with Russia, but adopted a hard-line policy against it.

This past February, Trump pulled out of the Intermediate Nuclear Range Forces Treaty (INF) banning ground-based cruise missiles and missile launchers of mid-range.

Trump has also extended Russia sanctions and provided lethal assistance to the Ukrainian military as it assaulted separatist forces backed by Russia in Eastern Ukraine (Obama had only provided non-lethal military aid).

Booker’s claim about Russia interfering in the democracy of Ukraine is completely off-base and distorts recent history.

In February 2014, the United States and not Russia supported a blatant coup against Ukraine’s elected pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

The U.S. State Department had previously provided over $5 billion dollars to Ukraine in an attempt top pry the country away from the Russian orbit.

Prominent American politicians gave out cookies to Maidan square protestors opposing Yanukovych who didn’t ultimately have enough signatures to pass an impeachment measure.

After Yanukovych fled for his life, Russia began to support separatist factions in the East who did not trust the post-coup government of Petro Poroshenko.

The latter had appointed far-right wing members of the Svoboda Party to its Cabinet and passed a language law that restricted the use of the Russian language.

In Latvia, meanwhile, an independent pro-Russian party showed strong support in elections held last fall. Lithuania is far from the perfect democracy that Booker depicts and has jailed many former communist party supporters and forced a significant percentage of its population to flee.

Swiss historian Guy Mettan wrote in his book Creating Russophobia: From The Great Religious Schism to Anti-Putin Hysteria (Clarity Press, 2017) that Russophobia resembles both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in that it “exists first in the head of the one who looks, not in the victims alleged behavior or characteristics. [It is] a way of turning specific pseudo-facts into essential one-dimensional values, barbarity, despotism and expansionism in the Russian case in order to justify stigmatization and ostracism.”

The Democratic Party is currently divided between its progressive and corporatist wing.

O’Rourke, Klobuchar and Booker’s Russia-baiting reflects in part an attempt by the corporatists to try and channel popular enmity away from the domestic plutocrats who have rigged the American political-economy in their favor, and onto a phantom foreign enemy whose existence can be used to justify large-scale military expenditures.

Unfortunately, they face little pushback even from the progressives.

Elizabeth Warren, for example, has adopted a hard-line stance against Russia, as has Bernie Sanders.

He has routinely denounced Putin as an “anti-democratic authoritarian,” who engaged in “military adventurism in Ukraine and the Crimea,” and has supported regressive sanctions.

The one true progressive in the party willing to repudiate the dominant Russophobia, is Tulsi Gabbard.

During Tuesday’s debate, she boldly called out CNN and The New York Times for promoting neo-McCarthyite smears insinuating that she was some kind of “Russian asset” and “bot,” while also condemning U.S. support for jihadists in Syria.

Gabbard though is only polling at around two percent and stands little chance of winning the nomination.

The American electorate is very ill-informed about Russia and international affairs, and too few unfortunately will appreciate her visionary stance.

Jeremy Kuzmarov is the author of The Russians are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (Monthly Review Press, 2018) and Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting for the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2019).