Say what you will about President Barack Obama — don’t mind if I do — but the guy could deliver a knockout line. Let’s remember one smash hit that’s close to Keating quality. Before the debates of 2012, Mitt Romney, then-GOP presidential nominee, had publicly declared Russia to be the USA’s “number one geopolitical foe.”  The 1980s called, said Barack on TV, and they want their foreign policy back.

Oh, how we in the West laughed. The Cold War was some old guy thing. Five minutes later, it had become retro-chic, with a knitted Pussy Riot twist. The 1980s kept calling, and today the Cold War is reborn as US policy. Even as purportedly progressive outlets continue to report Trump-Putin conspiracy theory as fact — if you’ve bought US intelligence community talking points cheaply as most journalists have, get your refund from Putin critic Masha Gessen — the tanks roll toward Russia and the money rolls out.

That it remains possible for so many to declare Trump a Putin apologist is peculiar. Not only is evidence of collusion, election interference, golden showers, etc, about as compelling as an argument in The Guardian’s Australian op-ed pages. But, jeez, the USA and the Federation have come very close to fighting a proxy war in Syria and now, Cold War II is on.  

Last weekend, US Secretary of Defence James Mattis unveiled a national strategy — AKA a rationale for the development of colossally expensive weapons—with Russia in its sights. Yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that Russia “ultimately bears responsibility” for chemical attacks on Syrian civilians. Today, Trump signals the likely imposition of penalties on Russia’s finance sector, because something something North Korea.

It was in August of 2017 that the President (quietly) approved sanctions to a state led by a man anti-Trump outlets continue to insist he adores. It was during Trump’s inauguration that US troops moved through Poland toward the Russian border. More troops were deployed last October. A press that has long since forgotten the skill of non-complicity with US policy reports that the Polish people cheer these “exercises” by US troops. This might be down to a loathing for their Russian neighbours. Then again, Poland’s own Law and Justice leadership are nativist thugs for which the term “revisionist” is far too kind.   Have you seen those guys who run Poland? I’d be cheering for any other power, too.

You want your foreign policy back? You got it. Both Democrats and Republicans now not only argue for sanctions and safeguards against the Russian Federation, they enact them. “The 1980s called” and brought us Joe Biden, whose old-school opposition to the Kremlin never went anywhere. Yesterday, Biden called to preserve “the foundations of Western democracy” through tougher treatment.

As a person with no stomach at all for gore, I do not care to imagine a tougher US approach to Russia. If sanctions, which were lethal in Iraq, are tightened against a nuclear power, I’m saving my crypto-change for some Nembutal. The Washington Post can produce as many Mueller-fuelled Trump-Putin erotic fictions as it wishes. These conspiracy theories, which continue to use one hundred grand’s worth of really shoddy Facebook advertising as “proof”, will be of no comfort if Russia is pushed to partner with China and Iran.

But, this framing of Russia as the new threat has not been the exclusive work of pro-Clinton rags.

In a San Francisco State University research article, US media reporting on the Russian Federation is examined in the period 2008-2014. It points us to the The Wall Street Journal where Putin is described, by the nation that brought us “WMDs in Iraq”, as a master of disinformation. It traces peaks in anti-Russian stories. Progressive critiques begin, just as Romney’s antique critique begins to fade. In 2012, we see them emerge with Pussy Riot, a performance group now largely represented by Maria Alyokhina, a person who affirms “Western democracy” as publicly and as frequently as Joe Biden. They continue in 2013 with critiques of Russia’s laws on homosexuality, despite the existence of near-identical legislation in many US states at the time.

Plus ça change. The charge against Russia is fundamentally the same whether made by fans of Pussy Riot or old Cold War generals: it’s a “revisionist” nation that threatens Our Great Democracy. Even as Trump himself threatens Russia, he is still perceived — as is anyone we wish to discredit, including journalist Glenn Greenwald and WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange — as intimately linked with the place.

To be candid, I do understand the great urge of “progressive” US journalists to eliminate Trump. Yet, they do this at the cost of greater surveillance, military spending and censorship of a dominant medium like Facebook. If they fancy a more reliable method of getting the guy on collusion with foreign powers, they could review those under-reported revelations in the Mueller investigation about Trump’s freelancing son-in-law and his dealings in Israel. Just a thought.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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