James Rawlings' Blog

The Weaponization of Russia in US Domestic Politics

April 12, 2017

In domestic American political discourse, Russia has become a bludgeon with which the liberal establishment seeks to beat President Donald Trump and his administration. In effect, by appealing to Russia as the source of Trump’s electoral success, the American deep state is working to delegitimise the new administration. In the view of this narrative, Trump’s policies, especially in the foreign policy realm, cannot be trusted, as they are serving the interest of a foreign power rather than the interest of the United States. There are many reasons as to how Russia has become a bogeyman in American politics, ranging from genuine geo-political disagreements, to the liberal establishment using it to explain away their dismal electoral performance. While a full analysis of this phenomenon and its associated nuances is beyond the scope of this blog post, attention will be drawn to its background and utility for the American liberals in their anti-Trump effort.


US-Russia relations took a massive hit when Obama announced in 2013 that the Assad government had crossed the red line in the Syrian civil war with its alleged use of chemical weapons. When Russia successfully pulled off its diplomatic coup, brokering an agreement whereby Syria would give up its chemical weapons stockpile for international dismantlement, the US threat was made null and void – a humiliating diplomatic defeat for the Obama administration. It should be noted that Hillary Clinton was also a player involved in the red line-saga.[1] Subsequently, a coup overthrew the pro-Russian Yanukovich government in Ukraine, prompting a wave of separatism and armed conflict in Ukraine, as well as their loss of Crimea to Russia.


As a result, US-Russia relations began an inexorable spiral downwards. In the eyes of Western liberals, Russia’s reputation had already been tarnished by the so-called “anti-gay laws” – that is to say, the ban on dissemination of propaganda promoting non-traditional sexual relations among minors. The Western media narrative painted a terrifying picture of Russia as a reactionary autocracy, antithetical to enlightened Western progressivism.[2]


Consequently, when Trump announced that he wanted to open up for cooperation with Russia and Putin on the basis of their joint struggle against ISIS and terrorism, the liberal establishment immediately began to question what would motivate Trump to pursue a US-Russian rapprochement. Surely there had to be some ulterior motive, how else could Trump want to befriend, what had become in the eyes of many in the halls of power and media in the US, the resurrected “Evil Empire” in conservative format. This speculation began to be used to the utmost in the establishment’s struggle to curtail Trump’s populist rise among broad swathes of the disenfranchised segments of the American population. Traditionally, it had been the Republicans and Conservatives that had been most anti-Russia in their worldview. The liberal media now sought to use this pre-existing predisposition among conservative voters to sway them away from “pro-Russian” candidate Trump, to Hillary Clinton.


Of course, this turned out not to work. Now it appears that the American deep state, that is, members of the permanent bureaucracy in D.C., along with remnant appointees from previous presidential administrations, informal networks, etc.[3], is using the so-called Russia connection to derail the Trump administration from being able to enact the President’s policies and reforms. For many within the US Federal Government, Trump’s ambition to “drain the swamp” entails that their livelihoods are in jeopardy, with thousands of former Obama administration employees already struggling to find work, alongside Clinton campaign workers.[4] This, in addition to ideological reasons, gives added impetus to the desire to undermine the new presidential administration.


It appears clear that, on the one hand, Russia presented itself as an obstacle to Obama’s almost evangelistic mission to spread progressivism across the globe, and thus also to a would-be Hillary foreign policy. Non-interventionism in the internal affairs of sovereign states is the cornerstone of Russian foreign policy, and thus diametrically at odds with a universalist foreign policy in the form of “good vs evil” that has come to characterise the US approach to international affairs to various degrees through consecutive presidential administrations. The overtly hostile relations between Trump and the mainstream media, whom he refers to as “the opposition party”, has led to open conflict, with much of the media more or less obviously seeking to undermine and delegitimise Trump.


In this sense, Russia has turned out to be the item of choice by which both the American deep state and Democrat politicians have chosen to attack Trump, as well as by the American liberal mainstream media. Trump finds himself assaulted with the “Russian bludgeon” both in the form of calls for Congressional investigations into alleged ties to Russia[5], as well as in the form of popular comedy skits such as Saturday Night Live, or prominent talk show hosts[6] that present Trump as operating as a Russian Manchurian candidate. The recent Vault 7 CIA leaks published by WikiLeaks have also cast additional doubt on the truthfulness of the conclusions by US intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC, as evidence now exists that the agency has the capacity to hack into electronics leaving foreign signatures, including Russian.[7] [8]


While the collective onslaught against Trump using Russia as a political weapon has not actually derailed the prospects of US-Russian rapprochement, it has certainly complicated them. Trump has to spend more time fending off allegations (which are almost exclusively evidenced by how widespread they have been reported, rather than by actual investigation) of improper ties to Russia than on actually working out mechanisms for renewed cooperation, even on areas of apparent consensus such as the fight against ISIS. [9][10]


In concluding this post, Russia has turned out to be a favoured political weapon in the American establishment’s struggle against Trump, his administration, and his policies. By portraying Russia as an external threat bent on manipulating US politics, the anti-Trump elements within the deep state, mainstream media, and elsewhere have found a mechanism through which they hope to delegitimise the Trump presidency. Whether they succeed in the long-term in derailing his policies and frustrating attempts at rapprochement with Russia, or even launching an impeachment remains to be seen. One thing is clear, however, that the Trump administration for the foreseeable future will remain bogged down in its primary efforts in securing stability domestically. Russia is likely going to continue to be used as a weapon in American domestic politics, and a high-profile pivot towards rapprochement between the US and Russia will probably remain shelved. This does not mean that there are no other channels for cooperation between the US and Russia, but unfortunately it appears that improved US-Russia relations is too hot of a potato to be realised for now.


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