A major theme of my recently published book War with Russia? is twofold: The United States is in a new Cold War with Russia, but one more dangerous, more fraught with possibilities of actual war, than was the 40-year Cold War the world survived. I began arguing the first proposition nearly 20 years ago, long before Donald Trump became a presidential candidate and even before Russian President Vladimir Putin became so widely demonized. For many years, it was dismissed by American commentators, though now it is generally accepted.
My second and more important proposition remains generally unacknowledged, even denied, as do the ways in which nearly three years of unsubstantiated Russiagate allegations—against both Trump and Putin—have escalated the new Cold War and made efforts to diminish it through traditional détente-like policies exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible. In particular, those allegations have virtually criminalized the kinds of “cooperation” and “contacts” that kept the nuclear peace between the United States and Soviet Russia in the 20th century. They have misrepresented present-day Russia as a “threat” so ominous that it “attacked American democracy” during the 2016 presidential election. And they have vilified both Trump and Putin to the extent that neither is regarded by much of the US political-media establishment as a legitimate diplomatic partner, even in the event of an existential crisis such as the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
For the legion of anti-Trump Russiagate promoters, Mueller’s findings can do “nothing,” as they have already made clear, to diminish their allegations, however false. (See, for example, Bob Cesca in Salon.) For them, Russiagate has long since become a cult belief with with all the trappings that entails. Thus, Attorney General William Barr’s brief summary, made public on March 24, reporting that Mueller had found no collusion, or conspiracy, between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin was dismissed and Barr himself slurred. But for critical-minded people, how the Mueller report answers, or does not answer, the following questions should be of vital importance:
§ Barr reported that Mueller investigated at length “Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.” Mueller should treat this as little more than another episode in the long history of both Washington and Moscow habitually “meddling” in the other’s internal politics. But if Mueller presents it—as Russiagate zealots do—as an “attack” comparable to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, it will greatly embolden today’s American cold warriors and their demands for some kind of counter-attack against Russia.
§ Considering its damage to American political institutions and to US and international security, Russiagate is the most egregiously fraudulent political scandal in modern American history. We therefore need to know exactly when, how, and why it began. Barr himself is on record as saying that US intelligence services “spied” on the Trump campaign, seemingly implying this involved primarily top FBI officials. But considerable evidence suggests it was more than that, a fuller operation, and points to President Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan (abetted by his overseer James Clapper), as the actual godfather of Russiagate. Unless the Mueller report fully explores the role of all US intelligence agencies in the origins and promotion of Russiagate, including whether Trump’s campaign pledge to “cooperate with Russia” animated them, a full inquiry comparable to the 1976 Senate Church Committee investigation will be imperative.
§ In this connection, what Mueller says, or again does not say, about the falsified “Steele dossier” is crucial. No document played a more consequential and woeful role in the entire Russiagate saga, apart from the almost equally dubious January 2017 “Intelligence Community Assessment,” to which it directly led. Indeed, the dossier was the charter document in false allegations against both Putin and Trump. (Trump’s ardent supporter Sean Hannity persists in characterizing the dossier as “a pack of Russian lies,” even though there is no evidence or logic to support Steele’s claim that his “information” came from Kremlin sources.)
§ How Mueller treats Trump’s long history of pursuing business in Moscow is also of considerable consequence. Scores of American corporations have been doing business in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union, from John Deere, Procter & Gamble, and ExxonMobil to Starbucks and Wendy’s. They too inescapably had to have dealings with “Russian oligarchs” and with “the Kremlin”—that is, the vast Presidential Administration bureaucracy that oversees political and economic life in Russia, including major foreign investments, licenses, and other permits. Except for having failed, how did Trump’s efforts in Russia differ significantly from theirs? In any event, Russiagate allegations regarding Trump’s hotel aspirations in Russia have cast a shadow over all US corporations operating there, at least potentially.
§ Similarly, how will the Mueller report interpret Trump’s various “contacts” with Russia over the years? Those of us who have dealt professionally with Russia for decades may have had many more such “contacts” with Russians of all kinds, official and unofficial, than did all Trump’s people combined. Certainly, I have, including with Russian oligarchs, Kremlin staffers, and intelligence officers. If “contacts” are sinister—because of them, several American lives have already been badly impaired, if not ruined—what remains of US-Russian relations (political, economic, academic, cultural, diplomatic, social), except the growing danger of war?
§ Finally, will Mueller dare report on the woeful role played by mainstream American media in originating, inflating, and prolonging false, or at least unverified, Russiagate allegations? If so, he will not be treated kindly by those media outlets. If not, his “Russia investigation” will be very far from complete.
Meanwhile, leading American enemies of détente, worried that the Mueller report might free Trump for another attempt to “cooperate with Russia,” have already issued dire warnings against any such reengagement with the other nuclear superpower. The New York Times even found a CIA associate to equate Russia’s alleged “attack” in 2016 with “terrorism.” Authoritative analysts in the Times and The Washington Post have begun to brand Trump’s cooperation approaches to Moscow as “appeasement,” thereby adding a new toxic dimension to Russiagate, and the new Cold War, no matter Mueller’s findings. Overlooked in the impending Mueller report frenzy is a warning by the American supreme NATO military commander in Europe that “Washington and Moscow are in danger of stumbling into an armed confrontation that…could lead to nuclear war.”
Instead, CNN’s Moscow correspondent reports that both Trump and Putin commented on the Barr-Mueller finding of no collusion and cites these perfectly reasonable separate references by the two leaders as new evidence of Trump-Putin “collusion.”