Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“Trump, Russia and Lies”
March 13, 2017
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive.”
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
Despite Sophocles declamation that “no lie ever reaches old age,” we will likely never know the truth about who is responsible for all that has been written about Trump and Russia, nor the truth of the accusation that Obama tapped Trump’s phone. FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts, at the request of the President, can implement wiretaps opaquely in the murky recesses of the intelligence world. Did Trump, or someone on his team conspire with Putin to affect the election, as has been claimed by some in the media and by many Democrats? Did former President Obama or his minions spy on Trump and his associates, with the goal of undermining his Presidency, as Mr. Trump’s recent tweets suggest?
It has always beggared belief to conclude that Putin would have preferred Trump (a political unknown and cited as mercurial) to Mrs. Clinton, a woman who had been part of an administration that had given him little push-back in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria. What we do know is that from the first hours after an election that surprised them, Democrats have been crafting a story to explain their (to them) inexplicable loss. Not willing to accept the possibility that responsibility may be theirs – a flawed candidate and/or identity policies that ignored middle class working Americans – they settled on Russia and Putin as scapegoats.
It was an inspired choice. Russia had become Mr. Obama’s nemesis. Mr. Putin, whatever his faults (and they are many), is not stupid. Remember how President Obama belittled Mitt Romney in 2012 when the latter suggested that Russia was the greatest threat we faced. Remember Mr. Obama’s comments to Mr. Putin that same year: “After the election I will have more flexibility.” Over the past several years Mr. Putin out-maneuvered Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton and John Kerry, in places like Crimea, Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Syria. Accusing the Trump camp of colluding with Russians deflected criticism of the Obama legacy. We all know that it is in Mr. Putin’s interest to discredit democracy. We know that the Russians had the means to interfere in the election, because they had hacked Mrs. Clinton’s private server, as well as that of the Democratic National Committee. And, because of Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks, we also know that our government has the means to listen in on and record phone calls, messages and e-mails. Regardless of what is the truth, Mr. Putin must be smiling at the discord he is accused of having sown.
The New York Times recently reported that in July the Justice Department and the FBI considered a criminal investigation into the Trump organization based on possible connections to Russian financial institutions. When no criminal activity was uncovered, the Justice Department tried to convert the case into a national security investigation under FISA, but was denied. In October, Justice returned to the FISA court, this time with a narrower request for surveillance of three Trump associates: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page. After five months, this McCarthy-like investigation disclosed that Roger Stone admitted to a one-time Twitter response to Guccifer 2.0, following a piece he published last August in Breitbart. Guccifer 2.0 is a ‘mysterious’ online figure, ‘believed’ to be a front for Russian intelligence.
For those of us not part of the Washington-based Machiavellian machinations of our elected leaders, we must form opinions based on a biased media that we read, listen to or watch. It is no easy task, and one must scour multiple sources. The media’s goal is not to keep people informed, but to prejudice opinions. At the same time, politicians parse words. They also lie. Back in 2013, when testifying before Congress, James Clapper, Mr. Obama’s director of national intelligence, was asked by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) if the NSA collects any type of data on Americans. He responded, “No, sir.” We found out from Edward Snowden that the NSA does, in fact, collect that data. Disclosures from Wikileaks last week confirmed that assessment. Last week, FBI Director James Comey told the Justice Department to dismiss Trump’s charge that his phone had been bugged. Why was he so adamant? He knows the technology to do so exists. Mr. Clapper was also incensed at Trump’s claim. He had told Congress that, as far as he knew, there was “no evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russians. Nothing. Nada.” Yet, how could he have been so sure unless Trump’s phones had been tapped? Technology has bettered our lives, but it has become dangerously ubiquitous. It has also made government more invasive. Wisdom, a counterbalance to intrusive government is, unfortunately, in short supply.
In the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, Eugene Rumer, Richard Sokolsky and Andrew Weiss, all from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote an essay titled “Trump and Russia.” They noted: “Trump inherited a ruptured U.S.-Russian relation.” But, based on statements and Tweets, they have low expectations for Trump’s success. Perhaps they are right. But I suspect that in Mr. Trump Mr. Putin will face a quite different adversary than in Mr. Obama. Mr. Trump has called for increased military spending, and has been vehement in arguing that Europe must increase their defense spending. He has been vociferous in defense of NATO, but points out that Europe must up its contributions. In the Middle East, Mr. Trump knows that Mr. Putin’s interest is not simply in destroying ISIS, but in having a more prominent role in the region.
Putin should be confronted about any part he and/or Russia may have played in our election – a democratic people need to know that their elections cannot be undermined by outside influence. But we should heed our own advice. Mr. Obama was clear as to where he stood on Brexit. Leave the EU, he told Brits last April, and “you will go to the back of the line.” As well, Benjamin Netanyahu would not have described Mr. Obama as an impartial observer during their election two years ago. We should not interfere in other countries’ domestic policies, any more than should they in ours. The ability for nations of myriad religions and governments to co-exist is critical to world peace, which is best achieved predicated on respect, strength and will, not disdain, weakness and obeisance.
Mr. Trump has been accused of using Twitter with reckless abandon. I once felt that way myself. But doing so allows him to communicate directly with the American people, without his words being misconstrued by someone at MSNBC, the Washington Post or Fox News. We live in a world where news sources are under attack, truth is illusive, and where many of us find it difficult to discern fake news from real news. Both parties have mastered the art of agnotology. “A lie,” as Winston Churchill once said, “gets half way around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Mr. Trump’s tweets come across like a stream of consciousness; yet I suspect they are more contrived than not.
As an armchair psychologist, I would argue that Mr. Trump is a deliberate man, no matter the image he portrays. He did not run a business with the success he had by letting sensibilities get the better of his sense. May he show the same discipline in dealing with Russia.