Exclusive: In berating Russia for alleged interference in the recent U.S. election, the U.S. intelligence community ignores the extensive U.S. role in manipulating political movements around the globe, observes Jonathan Marshall.
By Jonathan Marshall
The Director of National Intelligence’s public report on alleged Russian hacking opens with a “key judgment” that “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order.”
That’s a strong claim. The assertion suggests a fundamental and sustained Kremlin challenge to Western freedom, reminiscent of the early years of the Cold War. That such an unqualified and ideologically charged claim should lead the report speaks volumes about the politicization of the U.S. intelligence community’s leadership. That such a claim has gone mostly unchallenged, aside from Donald Trump, speaks volumes about the powerful ideological consensus in Washington for escalating political and military conflict with Russia.
Yet a recent review of relations with Russia during the Obama years by former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul — a harsh critic of President Putin — puts the lie to the notion that Moscow has consistently sought to undermine U.S. political interests. At the same time, however, McFaul’s article illustrates the blinders shared by many American policy makers regarding the counterproductive impact on Russian behavior of repeated U.S. electoral and military interventions.
From Cooperation to Conflict
Writing for Foreign Policy, McFaul states that Russian cooperation allowed the Obama administration to negotiate the New START treaty, which slashed the number of missile launchers on each side; implement joint economic sanctions to pressure Iran into dismantling any capability of producing nuclear weapons; open up critical transportation routes for the resupply of NATO forces in Afghanistan; and arrange huge business deals for major U.S. corporations. Russia also cooperated extensively in counterterrorism and persuaded the Assad regime to give up its stockpiles of chemical weapons.
These are hardly the actions of a government with a long-term plan to undermine the United States or the “liberal democratic order.” That order is far more at risk from the Saudi monarchy, whose “export of the rigid, bigoted, patriarchal, fundamentalist strain of Islam known as Wahhabism has fueled global extremism and contributed to terrorism,” to quote The New York Times.
So what went wrong with Russia? As I recently argued, and McFaul acknowledges, one major sticking point in recent years was the Obama administration’s insistence on deploying missile defenses in Eastern Europe, which Moscow interpreted as a long-term threat to its nuclear deterrent. Congressional meddling in Russian affairs by imposing sanctions on alleged human rights abusers also angered the Kremlin. But those issues were not fatal, McFaul insists.
Instead, McFaul claims, the fault lay with Putin’s paranoid reaction to “common people demonstrating in the streets to demand greater freedoms and democratic rule” during the Arab Spring, the 2011 Russian elections, and then in Ukraine. “Putin’s response to those events, first the annexation of Crimea and then intervention in support of insurgents in eastern Ukraine, ended for good our ability to cooperate,” he maintains.
McFaul writes that Putin had “wild theories” about “American financial support for Russian opposition leaders and their organizations,” and about U.S. responsibility for regime change more generally in the Middle East and Ukraine.
“We tried to convince Putin and his government otherwise. We explained that the CIA was not financing demonstrators in Cairo, Moscow, or Ukraine . . . But Putin’s theory of American power — engrained long ago as a KGB officer (and confirmed, it must be admitted, by previous American actions in Iran, Latin America, Serbia, and Iraq) — was only reconfirmed by events during the Arab Spring and especially on the streets of Moscow in the winter of 2011 and spring of 2012.
“In his view, people don’t rise up independently and spontaneously to demand greater freedom. They must be guided, and the Obama administration was the hidden hand. On that, we profoundly disagreed; our bilateral relations never recovered.”
Even Paranoids Have Enemies
McFaul’s parenthetical acknowledgment of past U.S. complicity in regime change all over the world is refreshing. But he dismisses as “phantom” the documented evidence that the Obama administration also sought to overthrow regimes in areas of Russian interest with catastrophic results.
In Libya, for example, Putin was appalled when Obama flagrantly violated his narrow mandate from the United Nations Security Council to protect civilians in the 2011 civil war. That March, President Obama accepted that “broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.” One month later, he declared, with the leaders of France and Great Britain, “Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.”
A recent British parliamentary report condemning that fundamental change of mission blamed the Western military campaign for triggering Libya’s “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.”
McFaul is similarly silent about Obama’s promotion of regime change in Russia’s longstanding ally, Syria. Fresh from their disaster in Libya, Obama and his two European partners declared in August 2011 that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
Their proclamation came four months after the Washington Post reported that Obama had continued a covert Bush administration program to fund Syrian Islamists who were engaged in “a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad.” Five years and half a million dead later, can McFaul really paint Putin as paranoid about regime change?
Russia’s 2011 Elections
McFaul also discounts as irrational Putin’s anger over Washington’s alleged intervention in Russia’s 2011 parliamentary elections, which a hostile Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned as fraudulent. Putin complained that Clinton judged the elections unfair even before international election monitors announced their findings. He called her comments a “signal for our activists who began active work with the U.S. Department of State” to stage mass protests.
Concerns about the fairness of the election were legitimate. Putin no doubt scapegoated Washington in part to explain the drop in popularity of his United Russia party. However, he wasn’t making up the fact that the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), created during the Reagan administration to take the place of covert CIA programs to influence civil groups, was “all over the place inside Russia.”
Moreover, according to University of Westminster dean Roland Dannreuther, “For Putin and his entourage, there were clear parallels with Western democracy promotion in the Middle East and rising opposition and societal conflict within Russia,” which had only recently achieved political and economic stability after its near collapse in the 1990s.
“The lesson they took from events in Libya and Syria was that the West’s commitment to ‘democracy’ meant a willingness to break up societies, to use force, and to impose the wishes of an elite pro-Western minority on the majority. The interpretation was that ‘we must not allow the ‘Libyan scenario’ to be reproduced in Syria’. Even more important, of course, was that the ‘Libyan scenario’ should not be reproduced in Russia or in key neighbours, such as Ukraine.”
Regime Change in Ukraine
Ukraine was, in fact, the final straw. After Washington recognized the February 2014 coup against the elected government of Viktor Yanukovych, who was friendly with Moscow, Russia’s rushed to annex (or reunify with) Crimea and back the separatist movement in Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine. Western powers responded with economic sanctions. Relations have gone downhill ever since.
Although the political opposition to Yanukovych had genuine mass appeal (at least in Western Ukraine), Washington’s hands were all over the movement to oust him and move Ukraine closer to the West. The demonstrators were publicly encouraged by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland (former foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney) and by the ardently anti-Putin Sen. John McCain. Just weeks before the Ukraine coup, the Russians intercepted a phone call between Nuland and the U.S. ambassador, discussing their picks for new leadership in the country.
U.S. government funds also poured into Ukraine before the coup, through the National Endowment for Democracy, to train grass-roots activists, support key journalists, and foster business groups. In 2013, the president of NED, Carl Gershman, published a blatantly provocative op-ed column in the Washington Post calling Ukraine “the biggest prize” among countries of interest to Russia. He boasted that U.S. programs to pull Ukraine into the Western orbit would “accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents” and defeat him “not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
NED: History of Interventions
Putin has had reason to doubt Western claims about “democracy promotion” since Washington and its European allies overlooked Boris Yeltsin’s unconstitutional power grab in 1993 and his blatant manipulation of the 1996 election. That election prompted a famous Time magazine cover story: “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.”
U.S. interference in Russia’s domestic affairs was soon followed by the so-called “color revolutions” in such former Soviet republics as Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Columbia University’s Alexander Cooley remarked, “Eurasian elites viewed the color revolutions not as legitimate democratic responses to corrupt authoritarian rule, but as Western-sponsored threats targeting their very survival. These perceptions were supported when various Western NGOs and donors began to publicly take credit for their role in ushering in regime changes . . .”
Cooley added, “the United States has also contributed to the erosion of its own credibility as a promoter of democratic values through the manner in which it dealt with the government of Georgia and its democratic failings in the post- Rose Revolution period. Indeed . . . the United States’ vigorous support of Georgia contributed to the notion that Washington’s efforts to promote democracy in the post-Soviet space were simply justification for supporting anti-Russian regimes.”
Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 followed more than $65 million in spending by the Bush administration “to aid political organizations in Ukraine” and “to bring opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to meet U.S. leaders,” reported Associated Press.
Its report continued, “U.S. officials say the activities don’t amount to interference in Ukraine’s election, as Russian President Vladimir Putin alleges, but . . . officials acknowledge some of the money helped train groups and individuals opposed to the Russian-backed government candidate — people who now call themselves part of the Orange revolution.”
Ian Traynor, the Guardian’s European editor, called the 2004 Ukraine campaign “an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to . . . topple unsavoury regimes.”
“Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box,” he continued.
“If the events in Kiev vindicate the US in its strategies for helping other people win elections and take power from anti-democratic regimes, it is certain to try to repeat the exercise elsewhere in the post-Soviet world.”
As it happened, the campaign in Kiev did turn out to Washington’s liking. Yushchenko — who was married to a former official in the Reagan administration — emerged as Ukraine’s new president and began seeking membership in NATO and the European Union.
Scholars agree that Putin and other Russian elites were deeply shaken by these successive U.S. interventions along their borders. That should have come as no surprise: Washington would have reacted much the same to Russia spending tens of millions of dollars on political revolutions in our backyard, as indeed we did during the Cold War in Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Grenada.
The DNI report thus would have been much more correct to state that Russia has long opposed U.S.-led regime changes on its borders and in the Middle East. Moscow is not implacably hostile to American values or interests, as shown by the cooperative behavior it repeatedly showed during the early Obama years.
In order to genuinely advance U.S. interests and better protect our freedoms, therefore, the Trump administration should follow through on the President-elect’s implicit promises to rethink policies that provoke conflict with Russia in the name of promoting democracy.
Jonathan Marshall is author of many recent articles on arms issues, including “How World War III Could Start,” “NATO’s ProvocativeAnti-Russian Moves,” “Escalations in a New Cold War,” “Ticking Closer to Midnight,” and “Turkey’s Nukes: A Sum of All Fears.”
Is it just me or has the liberal democracy party changed to become ultra conservative. Was not JFK a similar candidate to Trump with anti establishment ideas. He did govern over the Cuban Crisis but the situation was somewhat different has the main parties of the US been melded? Now Trump has done a JFK and will wear the wooden overcoat while in office.
Carl Gersham: who do you think he really works for, class?
The reality of who manipulated the US election will be revealed if Trump does what he has now promised – to investigate the Russian hacking charge.
Because what he is likely to find is that it was a bunch of rightwing Ukrainians, aided by the DNC and the Clinton campaign, and their infosec company, CrowdStrike, which manufactured a fake hack to cover up the leaks from the DNC and to use it to further tar Trump as a “Russian patsy”.
From from it being a case of “Russian influencing the election for Trump”, it was much more likely to be “Ukrainians influencing the election for Clinton.”
It’ll be interesting to see if this is what is teased out – and/or if it’s allowed to be.
Speaking of manipulating elections, I just saw a link which set me into tinfoilhat territory.
It’s established that Hillary was “elevating” Trump as a favored opponent. What If the Intelligence Services were doing the same, but for a slightly different reason. Like, arranging things so that no matter who won, THEY WIN. (I read years ago that the Enquirer was a CIA operation)
Suppose the current scandal about Trump has a kernel of truth, as in, there is some real evidence of some kind. In that case Trump would be quite as acceptable as Hillary, for he wouldn’t be a problem for very long. Once Pence was on the ticket, all was well. If that hadn’t happened, the ripcord on this story would have been pulled a little bit earlier.
So far as I’m concerned, if Trump has done some kind of treason, off with his head and we’ll learn to live with Worse-Than-Hillary Mike Pence. If he has been photographed playing with prostitutes, that’s no worse in my book than William Jefferson Clinton playing with Monica in the White House.
Or going a little bit further afield, the Vatican electing a former Nazi as Pope. Worse than even that, a former Nazi who had been in charge of the coverup of the Priest-Perverts for years.
Probably the number of World Leaders who remain eligible for Sainthood is a very small number.
The fundamental flaw in Mr Marshall’s argument is that it is based on nonsense: because the US violated Ukrainians’ human rights, Russia is entitled to “punish” the US by also violating Ukrainians’ human rights! In Mr Marshall’s “logic”, only two categories of people have human rights: Americans and Russians. The rest of us, and we constitute nearly 95% of the human race, have no choice but to submit to being crushed under the jackboot of one or the other of these two “master races”, or, in the case of Ukraine, one after the other. In moral terms, such an ideology is repugnant and in practical terms, it is unworkable.
Defending people in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea is more like upholding human rights and has nothing to do with trying to “punish” the U.S. The way you construe a false premise and a false logic is nonsense.
Excellent article and excellent reply. The old adage certainly applies in this instance, those living in glass houses should not cast the first stone. For another cliche, the filthiest pot is calling a cleaner kettle black, and it is even likely that any “evidence” of Russian interference was actually done by agents of the US imposed Ukrainian regime, which would have access to and use of primitive Russian methodology based on their common history and language.
Jonathan Marshall – excellent piece of writing. Thank you. With such well laid-out evidence, it seems unbelievable that people would call Putin “paranoid” or say that he has “weird theories”. And this article is just dealing with “elections”. I think Putin has shown incredible restraint. He is to be commended for doing everything he could to maintain peace.
Watched Rachel Maddow’s show for all of about 30 seconds, long enough to hear her expressing surprise over anyone still doubting that Russia stole the U.S. election. Wow, total disconnect from the truth. Where do they find these people? I have a hard time believing that minds like hers exist at all.
I know. Totally mind boggling. You thought you knew those people and what they believed in. Now, just because Killary lost the election, they have transmogrified into the biggest hypocritical Russian-hating cold warriors the world has ever known. It’s like our planet was suddenly transported into the Anti-Universe and we consumers of the “alternative news media” are the only ones left unchanged. Perhaps we are the only true hard core rationalists that walked amongst the populace. They have all been converted to insanity with simplistic bullshit dispensed by nimrods in positions of authority, but we stubbornly remain immune to it.
Realist – yeah, did I miss an important vaccination or something? The Indoctrination 101 class? Am I supposed to have an implant so I can get up to speed with everyone else? My mom and brother informed me yesterday that Trump and Putin stole the election. They’ve gone over to the dark side. I have to visit sites like this to maintain my sanity.
The vast majority believe exactly what they are told. Otherwise they must find the facts and reason, a burden beyond their social contract, and must defend the unpopular against their own kind, whom they fear. H.L. Mencken said (approx.) that “The average man avoids truth as diligently as he avoids arson, regicide, and piracy on the high seas, and for the same reasons: it is dangerous, no good can come of it, and it doesn’t pay.” So oligarchy can rely upon a combination of mass media repetition of nonsense and exclusion of criticism, and fearmongering via mass media. They also rely upon suppression of dialogue in the primary workplace venues of discourse, and threats to employment security.
Maddow is almost certainly a zionist, so would join the anti-Russia propagandists as part of her mass media job description. Remember the Maddow scheme, formerly called a Ponzi scheme but hundreds of times larger.
The warmongers could get nowhere without the control of mass media by economic concentrations. In a poorly-regulated economy, it is the greedy bully-boy who rises to dominance of big business, not the hardworking well educated professional who may have some moral education. It is the rise of economic concentrations that has led to world wars and the generations of warmonger tyrants since WWII, and their dominance of media to proclaim their garbage rationales for war, their dominance of policy by the executive, and their destruction of freedom of thought and expression. The US has become an empty suit of armor, blundering around the globe, swinging its sword madly.
Aristotle warned of the tyrants over democracy, causing foreign wars to create fear and to demand power as false protectors, and to accuse their opponents of disloyalty. Our Constitutional Convention failed to protect the tools of democracy, mass media and elections, from the economic concentrations that did not then exist. The US needs constitutional amendments to restrict funding of mass media and elections to limited registered individual contributions, and to improve checks and balances. We will not get that because we do not have those very tools of democracy.
Sam F – what you say about the average person avoiding truth is probably quite true. As you said, they must set out to find facts and reason, and for this they need “time”, something most people do not have. Most people, if they do have a little spare time, are not going to go hunting for evidence to prove the government and media wrong. They’re going to passively listen to the news, and then turn on Dancing With the Stars, or whatever. Occasionally they might feel that facts don’t add up, but shove these feelings to the back of their mind and simply consider themselves silly for doubting the narrative. To find facts and reason takes time and inclination. Not going to happen for most people.
And to “defend the unpopular against their own kind” would take courage, an inner strength. As you said, that spells “danger”. People hold on to their belief systems (like their government would never lie or harm them) and will actually fight you if you say otherwise. Yes, everybody follows the latest trends. When they’re told they should be buying houses, they buy houses, or cars, whatever. Lemmings until the end.
What percentage are we doubters on these alternative sites then? 1% of the population? 10%?
Independent thought, evidence collection, careful reasoning, doubting of mass media narratives, and courage to defend the truth are indeed rare, even among educated people. This is largely due the absence of diverse public debate establishing standards of evidence and reasoning, and presenting the facts determined by prior debate, which is in turn due our unregulated economy allowing businesses to control mass media.
The percentage willing and able to reason and debate varies much with the issues and personal insights therein. Far more are able to do that with guidance of friends and true public debate, perhaps a third of the people, and combined with the third that thinks carelessly or acts selfishly, reason can often get a majority. When the middle third is threatened and afraid due to the the lowest third of purely selfish scammers, reason loses its majority.
Where oligarchy-owned mass media control public debate, courageous and independent thinkers willing and able to defend unpopular viewpoints as needed are certainly fewer than 10 percent, and those willing to defend truth where this is socially, physically, or financially risky are one percent or less.
You have your facts up-side-down-and-backwards.
Maddow is a commentator for MNNBC.
Maddoff was a con artist.
I do not mean that they are the same person. The names have the same pronunciation in the original, so I presume that they are both Jewish, and the pro-Israel commentator is presumably zionist. The new namesake of the Maddow/Madoff financial-pyramid theft scheme (formerly Ponzi scheme) is a proven con man as you note. I suggest that they have similarly selfish attitudes, promoting their group to benefit themselves. It would be interesting to know whether the victims of the pyramid schemer were all non-Jewish while his allies largely co-ethnics, as in the case of the Penn State mass child-rapist.
Amazing what people will do for $150K a week.
Wow! Really great article. I agree with the premise and the conclusion that the United States has not ended the Cold War. We have been engaged in a unilateral mission to undermine Russian interests and have launched military campaigns, CIA covert operations and weapon deployments along Russia’s borders. Our interventions in Ukraine and in Syria have given ample reasons for Vladimir Putin to be highly skeptical of our methods and motives. He has every right to be alarmed by the complete absence of coverage by the main stream press of our international endeavors and our collective national ignorance to see evidence our media is now become a propaganda filled apparatchik of the state.
Donald Trump on the other hand has extended an olive branch and for that he is being turned on a spit by the FBI and CIA with accusations and reports he is insinuated and controlled and supported by Russian blackmailers and hackers.
In some long ago past in American media, 60 minutes and other independent investigative journalism sources would be allowed to present investigative journalism like this article to strike a counterbalance against state controlled and sponsored media spouting the official narrative of the state as truth. But they are now absent and the main stream media are promoters of officialdom. They have become the functional equivalent of the Town crier.
The CIA now is faced with an independent outsider sitting at the helm of the Executive Branch which is pushing back hard on foreign policy formerly accepted by politicians in Washington. The Trump administration is being assailed by CIA with allegations of transgressions that are unproven.
We should be wary of such sensational gossip aimed at our president elect since we have all played that record before. No good can come from internal strife and division created to obfuscate and derail progress for the common good which is the purpose of government.
One thing is clear. If we elect a leader who challenges the status quo, we can rest assured that official Washington will attack that leader.
The reasons are clear. The Military Industrial Complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about in 1961 is alive and well and is conditioned to receive hundreds of billions of dollars to defend our Nation each budget cycle. For that to happen, they need to justify their existence. For that they need to create a threat to our National Security. That threat as seen in recent events is now focused on Russia.
I want to thank this website for being a constant source of information to alert us of the real mission and danger of the Military Industrial Complex which we were warned of in 1961 and face even today. Picking fights with Russia is not a good idea. Extending an olive branch and normalizing relations with Russia is a good idea. Trump’s plan to do that is a good idea.
Unless Russia takes some overt action to compel a military response which I doubt they will do, we need to treat Russia with every diplomatic courtesy and respect we extend to other questionable allies like Pakistan. It is reckless to provoke Russia.
Putin and Trump may be able to negotiate trade deals and unite the two former enemies under an economic partnership. That would be preferable to continued American war preparations.
I know this does not sit well with the stockholders of defense industries but I honestly don’t think they give a darn if we go up in smoke either so I also don’t care about their economic future. If they don’t care if we end up in a war, I don’t care about their bottom line. Our national foreign policy should certainly not be guided by their economic interests
We need to find a way to beat our swords into plowshares. Re purposing our National Defense Budget is a top priority.
The top level prioritization of eliminating the nuclear threat has had the perverse consequence of making waging conventional warfare more palatable and more easily hidden. Advanced conventional weapons which do not carry the stigma of nuclear weapons can and have created horrific tolls as great as nuclear weapons. That threat will continue to grow as technology increasingly places the cost of war losses on non-human fighting machines which reduce the moral and ethical consequences of war for the side with the most non-human fighting machines. Meanwhile the lethality of non-human fighting machines will surely rapidly rise.
For the youth, I offer the speech that Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in WWII and 34th president of the United States gave in 1961 in his farewell address to the Nation.
“The Real Manipulators” in society today are “The Jackals of Journalism” that promote and market the agendas of the establishment. See link below:
McFaul was on The News Hour last night with another anti-Putin individual from the War Dept. No third person was invited to present opposing views on Russia.
At the end the Ambassador ducked a reasonable question about what might be wrong with trying to get along with Russia.
I watched that show for the first time in yrs and will not watch it again. It was an amazing propaganda.
Who’s the Real Manipulator of U.S. Elections?
Thanks, Jonathan Marshall, for providing readers here an opportunity to examine our government’s spending of billions, maybe trillions of tax payer dollars on meddling in the affairs of countries around the world.
It wouldn’t be so bad if people weren’t homeless and going hungry in this country.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the policies were openly discussed and vetted through the voters and taxpayers of this country.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the meddling didn’t cause huuuuuge disruptions, dislocations, tragic destruction of life (our’n and their’n) and property.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the goal really was promoting democracy around the world.
My take, as a poorly informed, propagandized, unwitting funder of these interventions, is that the real goal of these misadventures is not to help average people in other countries achieve a democratic way of life but instead to access the natural resources of these other countries and to find willing buyers of our weapon systems and to “open” these countries to the tender mercies of the IMF and to pave the way for our multinationals to have access to raw materials and markets.
We see how our trade deals were written – ignoring the impact of working people here.
I read the close to 400 pages of the 2013 Truth Report on the 2009 coup in Honduras which describes our enabling support for brutal right wing operators behind the coup that the leaked U.S. State Dept docs called an “illegal coup”.
I resent my tax dollars are being used willy nilly to wind up making this a worse world not a better world. And I resent being told that we are doing all this shit to spread democracy. We need more transparency on foreign policy.