steamroller: spreading hysteria, playing the media, exposing the FBI
Donald Trump has said a lot of silly
stuff about Russia, from joking about Vladimir Putin helping to find Hillary’s
deleted emails, to naïve musings about the extent of Russian interference into
Western democratic elections. But far more important than what he has said is
what Trump has done. That same caveat applies to Hillary Clinton and Barack
Start with two givens: Vladimir
Putin is neither stupid nor content to watch an aging, shrinking, corrupt, and
dysfunctional — but still large and nuclear — Russia recede to second- or
third-power status. From 2009 to 2015, in one of the most remarkable and
Machiavellian efforts in recent strategic history, Putin almost single-handedly
parlayed a deserved losing hand into a winning one.
He pulled this off by
flattering, manipulating, threatening, and outsmarting an inept and politically
obsessed Obama administration.
Under the Obama presidency and the
tenures of Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Russia made
astounding strategic gains — given its intrinsic economic, social, and military
The Obama reaction was usually
incoherent (Putin was caricatured as a “bored kid in the back of the classroom” or as
captive of a macho shtick). After each aggressive Russian act, the
administration lectured that “it is not in Russia’s interest to . . . ” — as if
Obama knew better than a thuggish Putin what was best for autocratic Russia.
A review of Russian inroads,
presented in no particular order, is one of the more depressing chapters in
post-war U.S. diplomatic history.
Just watching the film clip of
Hillary Clinton presenting the red, plastic Jacuzzi button to Russian foreign
minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva remains painful, more so than even George W. Bush’s simplistic, reassuring
commentary after he looked into Putin’s eyes.
Under the Obama-Clinton reset
protocols, Russia was freed from even the mild sanctions installed by the Bush
administration, imposed for its 2008 Ossetian aggressions. As thanks, in early
2014, Russia outright annexed Crimea.
It used its newfound American
partnership as an excuse to bully Europe on matters of energy and policy,
confident that under American reset, it would face little NATO pushback.
Russia assumed de facto control over
large sections of eastern Ukraine. Its aggression sent nations of Eastern
Europe and the Baltic States into a panic and raised fears of another
Ukrainian-like intervention — thereby wresting pro-Russians concessions on the
premise that it was nearby and unpredictably dangerous while the U.S. was
distant and predictably inert.
Russia succeeded in helping to dismantle
previously negotiated U.S. missile-defense arrangements with the Czech Republic
Russia since 2013 had sought to
interfere in U.S. elections with impunity, so much so that as late as October
18, 2016, on the eve of the anticipated Clinton landslide, Obama mocked any
suggestion that an entity could ever successfully warp the outcome of a U.S.
“There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that
you could even rig America’s elections. There’s no evidence that that has
happened in the past or that it will happen this time, and so I’d invite Mr.
Trump to stop whining and make his case to get votes.”
After a near 40-year hiatus, Russia
was invited into the Middle East by the Obama administration.
It soon became
the power broker in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq and to some extent offered
passive-aggressive support for Israel and Turkey — a position of influence that
it retains to this day and that would now be hard to undo.
It posed as a
“helper” to the Obama administration with Iran and helped broker the
disastrous Iran deal — and then used U.S. acquiescence to Iran to fuel the
ascendance of the Iran-Hezbollah-Assad crescent.
Unlike the United States, Russia had
no need to maintain the nuclear umbrella, which protected the clients of the
U.S. post-war alliance.
Despite America’s nuclear responsibilities, Russia
convinced the Obama administration to cut back radically on our stockpile of
deployable nuclear weapons. Such promised reductions in deliverable weapons
came at a time of massive U.S. defense cuts and cancellations, and delays in
Russia was relieved by Obama’s
efforts to stall fracking and make huge swathes of American territory
off-limits for U.S. oil and gas exploration — as this would tighten global oil
markets and enhance Russian petroleum export profits.
The Obama administration inexplicably approved sale of a
sizable portion of scarce U.S. uranium holdings to a Russian company, despite
the fact that it was known that investors connected with the Kremlin and
uranium interests had paid Bill Clinton $500,000 to give a speech in Moscow.
In additions, the chairman of the so-called Uranium One consortium gave $2.5
million to the Clinton Foundation, a fact that Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton did not disclose, even though she had promised (during her confirmation
process) to reveal all such possible conflicts of interest.
Most significantly, the Obama
administration had created a false orthodoxy of détente, a politically correct
Lala Land, in which to question any of these lopsided Russian advantages was to
be considered idiotic or unpatriotic.
Mitt Romney learned that in the
third 2012 presidential debate when he was tagged as a Cold War hack by a
snarky Barack Obama for even suggesting that an opportunistic and conniving
Russia was our chief geostrategic rival.
Even when Putin became arrogant and
greedy in his winnings, and finally, mostly through hacking, helped to collapse
the disastrous Russian-reset misadventure, Hillary Clinton looked back on her
role in Russian reset and made the astonishing claim that it had been a
success: “I think it was a brilliant stroke, which in retrospect it appears
even more so, because look at what we accomplished.”
Barack Obama revealed himself with
an open-mic promise to outgoing Russian puppet president Dmitri Medvedev, which, by any reasonable logic, could only be explained as
a promise by Obama to retard U.S. missile-defense efforts in Europe in exchange
for good Russian behavior during Obama’s reelection bid:
“On all these issues,
but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important
for him to give me space. . . . This is my last election. . . . After my
election, I have more flexibility.”
Had Donald Trump been caught in such a
private conversation offering a Russian president a quid pro quo — massaging
future U.S. national defense policy in a pro-Russia direction in exchange for
Russian behavior that would help Trump’s electoral chances — he would probably
be facing impeachment on grounds of real Russian collusion.
By the 2016 campaign, however, amid
allegations of Russian hacking of Democratic and Clinton campaign communications,
the Obama administration could no longer see its failed reset as “a brilliant
As a result, the architects of one of these embarrassing concessionary
policies, Hillary Clinton, became not just embarrassed.
She pointed to Trump’s loud bombast as
proof that he’d colluded with and appeased the Russians.
And so began the real
collusion between the Clinton campaign and elements in the U.S. government to
smear Trump as a Russian patsy.
The odd result of such failed reset
policies and bought opposition research was a yarn that the neophyte and
recklessly talking Donald Trump was a clever Russian lackey.
strategic, defense, and energy policies, and his later appointments of realist
Russian skeptics — such as General James Mattis, General H. R. McMaster, Nikki
Haley, Mike Pompeo, and, yes, Rex Tillerson — were anathema to Moscow.
The Trump administration has armed
Ukrainians, reentered the Middle East to bomb ISIS, squared off against Russia,
and decimated Russian mercenaries in Syria.
Trump also has ensured that the
U.S. is well placed to usurp Russia as the world’s largest oil
producer within about twelve months.
In just its first year, the Trump
administration has armed Ukrainians, reentered the Middle East to bomb ISIS,
squared off against Russia, and decimated Russian mercenaries in Syria.
He upped the defense budget, ordered the updating of the
nuclear arsenal, bantered NATO members to increase their defense contributions,
and traveled to Eastern Europe to bolster Western solidarity.
Given the media dismissal of Donald
Trump and its eagerness to canonize Barack Obama’s eight years with another
eight of Hillary Clinton, Russia by late 2016 went from a deity to a demon.
It was reinvented as Mitt Romney’s enemy of liberal
democracy, and, after the election, served as Hillary Clinton’s excuse for
losing the election — and Putin became the new ally and collaborator of Donald
Thus spread the fertilizer that fed
the national hysteria leading to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special
counsel to investigate a crime — active collusion with the Russians to warp an
election — that likely did not exist.
And if it did exist, it was probably committed by
Hillary Clinton, her campaign, members of the Obama administration, and the
miscreants of Fusion GPS.
After months of politicized
special-counsel investigations, together with House and Senate investigations,
Americans are only now being apprised of what we always should have known from
1) Russia implants chaos as cheaply
as it can inside the U.S. How bold it is depends on how much it worries about a
During the Obama reset tenure, it felt there were no
repercussions and thus few bounds to its disinformation efforts.
2) Like the Obama administration and
the Hillary Clinton campaign, Moscow was convinced that Hillary Clinton would
win the nomination and would be a shoo-in during the general election.
Predictably, Russia invested comparatively meager resources to encourage
pro-Sanders and pro-Trump campaign efforts to stir up trouble.
It may have
hacked into the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails, and
perhaps it even found access to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private,
illegal, and deleted emails to embarrass the likely future president and
perhaps to find avenues for threats of future blackmail against her.
well, that if the sure thing had happened — the election of Hillary Clinton
— then no one but the Russians might have known, and possibly disclosed at a
time and under conditions of their choosing, the shenanigans of Fusion GPS,
Christopher Steele, and his Russian sources.
3) The result of the Russian-fed,
Clinton-bought Steele dossier is as depressing as was the earlier Russian wins
from the reset:
0 The gullible and partisan FBI hierarchy is now discredited and
0 The intelligence agencies, politicized under John Brennan and
James Clapper, may soon share the embarrassments of the FBI.
0 The critical
FISA-court protocols have been undermined by deceit and untruth.
0 The highest
echelons of the Obama administration were probably complicit in surveillance of
political opponents, spying that was predicated on Russian sources for a bogus
0 Some Obama officials may well have committed felonies by unmasking
the names of U.S. citizens and leaking them to the press.
The verdict on Russia, the Obama
administration, and the Clinton campaign is now becoming clearer.
reset resurrected Putin’s profile and hurt U.S. interests.
It grew out of a
partisan rebuke of the Bush administration’s perceived harshness to Russia and
was later massaged to help Barack Obama’s reelection campaign by granting
Russia concessions in hopes of a foreign-policy success that would lead to
Russia deliberately inserted itself into the 2016 election, as
it had in previous elections, because:
1) it had suffered few if any prior
2) it wanted to sow chaos in the American political system, and
3) it saw a way to warp Clinton’s efforts to smear Donald Trump, first, no
doubt to compromise a likely President Clinton, and, in unexpected fashion,
later to undermine an actual President Trump.
At very little cost, Russia has
embarrassed American democracy, played the media for the partisans they are,
completely discredited the Clinton campaign and name, and created a year of
nonstop hysteria to undermine the Trump administration.
Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior
fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The
Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won. @vdhanson