I wrote yesterday that the Biden-Putin summit was surprisingly good and devoid of the saber-rattling and threats and ultimatums that Biden had been urged to pose to Putin by the political-media establishment in the US who had demanded that Russia be punished for its alleged misdeeds. Branko Marcetic writes that Joe Biden’s Russia policy has been, so far at least, surprisingly reasonable.
Left-wing critics of the Russiagate madness were often accused of covering for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and other provocations through “whataboutism.” But the real issue was the need for the subject to be put in context. As they pointed out over and over again — indeed, as we teach children — you tend to lose your moral high ground when you criticize someone for doing to you something you yourself do to others all the time, however wrong and objectionable it might be.
There’s a virtual library of books to read if you want all the scandalous details of Washington interference in other countries’ elections under bow-tied psychopaths like Allen Dulles. Here’s the short version: according to Hong Kong University international relations specialist Dov Levin, the US government has done this kind of meddling more than eighty times from 1946–2000, in almost every part of the world you can think of, from the Middle East (Israel, Lebanon, Iran) and East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, Japan), to Europe (Greece, Italy, West Germany) and Latin America (think of a country and it’s probably on the list).
That list isn’t exhaustive, mind you. It doesn’t include the time in Mongolia, for instance, when the late Sen. John McCain and a group of Republican operatives got taxpayer funding to oust the country’s ruling, nominally communist party with a collection of even more rabid free-marketeers, who soon opened the mineral rich country up to foreign businesses. That happened in 1996.
And because it stops in 2000, it doesn’t feature any of the more recent marquee cases of electoral meddling from this millennium, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Bolivia and Brazil. Nor does it count the US-backed coups that went beyond merely putting a thumb on the scale for one party or candidate and simply abolished democracy altogether, such as in Chile and Iran. And it also leaves out the international campaigns of terror against the political left supported or facilitated by Washington in at least twenty-two countries.
One of the elections it does feature is, of course, the US government’s fateful intervention on the side of Boris Yeltsin in Russia’s presidential elections, also in 1996, ensuring the continuing plunder of the Russian economy and leading directly to the Putin regime. Meanwhile, Putin’s 2016 interference is widely understood to have been a response to Washington’s “democracy promotion” efforts in Russia at the start of the 2010s.
And US meddling in Russian political affairs still goes on, under front organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy.
Just a few weeks ago, a pair of Russian pranksters fooled the leadership of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) — Washington’s arm for funding political opposition in other countries (including Mongolia twenty-five years ago) — into admitting on camera that they “support many, many groups” and “have a very, very active program throughout” Russia, with an eye on the country’s legislative elections this September. Later, another NED official informed viewers that “we have a very ample program in Russia” that is “very deep and it’s very broad,” and “goes even down to the grass roots in the provinces.”
In standard media coverage of today’s strained US-Russia relations, and in the typical rhetoric of US politicians like Biden, all of this is simply left out. And it’s easy to see why: Russia’s meddling in US elections, whether energetic, as in 2016, or piddling, as in 2020, doesn’t really work as the world-historical moral outrage or near-atrocity the establishment wants people to view it as when you understand it’s a thing powerful countries do to each other quite frequently — and a thing the US government in particular does all the time, including repeatedly in Russia itself.
When such actions are understood as part of a familiar game of geopolitical tit for tat, the case for gargantuan military budgets and foreign wars that line the pockets of defense contractors loses some of its juice.
Marcetic says that Biden has managed to deftly play the warmongering US media and pundit class into making them think that he was more hardline than he was.
What’s funny is if you read most mainstream coverage, you wouldn’t know Biden’s taken a less aggressive approach to Russia than Trump, who vehemently opposed Nord Stream 2 and sent lethal aid to Ukraine for the first time. Biden has talked tough on Russia, but so far governed like a dove, all while having the media portray him as especially aggressive toward Putin. For Trump, it was vice versa on all three counts.
Improbably, Biden has become, for once, a lonely voice of reason in this nationalistic and hawkish political atmosphere that’s prevailed since 2016. We’ll see if it lasts. In the meantime, whether it comes to cyberattacks, election interference, or anything else, let’s hope we can put the actions of US adversaries into perspective, and not succumb to the “hyperbolic atmosphere” Biden warned about in Geneva.
The political establishment will not give up its Cold Warmongering easily. Right on cue, right wingers accused Biden of being taken advantage of by Putin. Seth Meyers looks at their reaction. To his credit, he also acknowledges the many times that the US hs meddled in other countries that Marcetic talked about.
You can can expect to see them using new developments to demand that the US issue threats to Russia again.