Jack Matlock served as the specialist on Soviet affairs on Reagan’s national security council and then served as the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union/Russia under Bush I. Although he served under Republican administrations, Matlock himself is not a Republican. He started out as a Democrat and is now an independent.
In a recent blog post, Matlock provided some insight into the recent controversy over those close to Trump’s campaign or members of his incoming administration having communications with the Russian ambassador:
Our press seems to be in a feeding frenzy regarding contacts that President Trump’s supporters had with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and with other Russian diplomats. The assumption seems to be that there was something sinister about these contacts, just because they were with Russian diplomats. As one who spent a 35-year diplomatic career working to open up the Soviet Union and to make communication between our diplomats and ordinary citizens a normal practice, I find the attitude of much of our political establishment and of some of our once respected media outlets quite incomprehensible. What in the world is wrong with consulting a foreign embassy about ways to improve relations? Anyone who aspires to advise an American president should do just that.
Yesterday I received four rather curious questions from Mariana Rambaldi of Univision Digital. I reproduce below the questions and the answers I have given….
….Ambassador Kislyak is a distinguished and very able diplomat. Anyone interested in improving relations with Russia and avoiding another nuclear arms race—which is a vital interest of the United States—should discuss current issues with him and members of his staff. To consider him “toxic” is ridiculous.
….If you want to understand the policy of another country, you need to consult that country’s representatives. It is quite common for foreign diplomats to cultivate candidates and their staffs. That is part of their job. If Americans plan to advise the president on policy issues, they would be wise to maintain contact with the foreign embassy in question to understand that country’s attitude toward the issues involved. Certainly, both Democrats and Republicans would contact Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin during the Cold War and discuss the issues with him. As the person in charge of our embassy in Moscow during several political campaigns, I would often set up meetings of candidates and their staffs with Soviet officials. Such contacts are certainly ethical so long as they do not involve disclosure of classified information or attempts to negotiate specific issues. In fact, I would say that any person who presumes to advise an incoming president on vital policy issues needs to understand the approach of the country in question and therefore is remiss if he or she does not consult with the embassy in question.
A similar sentiment was expressed by Michael McFaul, a hardliner who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia during Obama’s first term. Listen to his comments on this particular issue during a recent interview with MSNBC. I would note that he says other things that I would characterize as inaccurate, such as his claim that he simply met with a member of the Russian opposition and ran into trouble with Moscow for this. Actually, McFaul did more than just meet with members of the opposition – he also actively encouraged their actions against the sitting government, which is frowned upon in any country. But his specific comments addressing the fact that the Russian ambassador was simply doing his job in seeking out members of the incoming administration to get an idea of its attitude toward certain relevant issues is not untoward.
Veteran investigative journalist, Robert Parry provides his experience with various political investigations over scandals and non-scandals over the course of decades in response to the controversy over Trump administration contacts with Russia and Trump’s recent tapping accusations against Obama:
The intensifying hysteria over Russia has pushed Official Washington over the edge into outright madness. On one side of this asylum, you have the Democrats, neoconservatives and mainstream media, while on the other, you have the embattled Trump administration. Both sides have been making grave allegations with little or no evidence to support them.
The Democratic/neocon/MSM side has pushed the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians to put the real-estate mogul in the White House, but there is, as yet, no evidence that such a thing happened.
Even one of the top advocates feeding this Russia frenzy, New York Times correspondent Thomas L. Friedman, acknowledged on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “I agree, there is no evidence,” but then added: “which is why we need a special prosecutor or an independent commission to get to the bottom of it.”
But that is not how investigations are supposed to work. You’re supposed to have evidence of wrongdoing and then examine it in the investigative phase to see if the evidence withstands scrutiny. What Friedman is suggesting is more like a “fishing expedition” or a “witch hunt.”
The drip-drip of this investigative water torture finally got to President Trump last week as he flew down to his winter home at Mar-a-Lago. He joined the crazy melee early Saturday morning by sending out a flurry of tweets accusing President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in New York City in the weeks before the Nov. 8 election. Trump also offered no evidence while demanding an investigation to get to the bottom of this.
By contrast, in all the major investigations that I have handled as an investigative reporter, such as Oliver North’s secret White House paramilitary operation; the related Nicaraguan Contra drug trafficking scandal; Richard Nixon interference with President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968; and Ronald Reagan’s campaign sabotage of President Jimmy Carter’s Iranian-hostage negotiations in 1980 – there was substantial evidence from eyewitnesses and documents supporting the suspicions before the story was published.
At no point would I have argued that just because Oliver North met a Contra leader that it was time to investigate whether he and his Reagan administration superiors were breaking the law. I first found multiple insiders, including people in the U.S. government and the Contra movement, describing how North was running his back-channel war. In some of these investigative situations, we had two dozen or so sources describing detailed aspects of these operations before we made any allegations in print.
Now the argument is that because some people suspect something, even without evidence, major investigations are warranted. That is usually what a conspiracy theory sounds like. Someone claims not to understand how something could have happened a certain way and thus a full-scale inquiry is needed into some highly unlikely and speculative scenario.
Another one of my favorite analysts, Glenn Greenwald, also weighs in with some great points underscoring the politically motivated and hypocritical actions by the Democrats in the still embryonic Trump era:
This attempt to equate Trump’s opposition to arming Ukraine with some sort of treasonous allegiance to Putin masks a rather critical fact: namely, that the refusal to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons was one of Barack Obama’s most steadfastly held policies. The original Post article that reported the RNC platform change noted this explicitly:
Of course, Trump is not the only politician to oppose sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. President Obama decided not to authorize it, despite recommendations to do so from his top Europe officials in the State Department and the military.
Early media reports about this controversy from outlets such as NPR also noted the irony at the heart of this debate: namely, that arming Ukraine was the long-time desire of hawks in the GOP such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, but the Obama White House categorically resisted those pressures:
Republicans in Congress have approved providing arms to the Ukrainian government but the White House has resisted, saying that it would only encourage more bloodshed.
It’s a rare Obama administration policy that the Trump campaign seems to agree with.
Indeed, the GOP ultimately joined with the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party to demand that Obama provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to fight Russia, but Obama steadfastly refused. As the New York Times reported in March, 2015, “President Obama is coming under increasing pressure from both parties and more officials inside his own government to send arms to the country. But he remains unconvinced that they would help.” When Obama kept refusing, leaders of the two parties threatened to enact legislation forcing Obama to arm Ukraine.
The general Russia approach that Democrats now routinely depict as treasonous – avoiding confrontation with and even accommodating Russian interests, not just in Ukraine but also in Syria – was one of the defining traits of Obama’s foreign policy. This fact shouldn’t be overstated: Obama engaged in provocative acts such as moves to further expand NATO, non-lethal aid to Ukraine, and deploying “missile defense” weaponry in Romania. But he rejected most calls to confront Russia. That is one of the primary reasons the “foreign policy elite” – which, recall, Obama came into office denouncing and vowing to repudiate – was so dissatisfied with his presidency.
A new, long article by Politico foreign affairs correspondent Susan Glasser – on the war being waged against Trump by Washington’s “foreign policy elite” – makes this point very potently. Say what you will about Politico, but one thing they are very adept at doing is giving voice to cowardly Washington insiders by accommodating their cowardice and thus routinely granting them anonymity to express themselves. As journalistically dubious as it is to shield the world’s most powerful people with anonymity, this practice sometimes ends up revealing what careerist denizens of Washington power really think but are too scared to say. Glasser’s article, which largely consists of conveying the views of anonymous high-level Obama officials, contains this remarkable passage:
In other words, Democrats are now waging war on, and are depicting as treasonous, one of Barack Obama’s central and most steadfastly held foreign policy positions, one that he clung to despite attacks from leading members of both parties as well as the DC National Security Community. That’s not Noam Chomsky drawing that comparison; it’s an Obama appointee.
As FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley and others have noted, certain Democrats seem so consumed by their hatred for Trump that they are failing to see the forest for the trees in their approach of hitching their wagon to the anti-Russia meme because they think it will be the most expedient to get rid of Trump. It doesn’t matter that there is an existential degree of folly in continuing to ramp up tensions with the world’s other nuclear superpower or that lack of evidence used to be a concern for those who cared about truth and due process. This reminds me of the level of insanity and stupidity that those who hated Obama manifested with the accusations of no citizenship and being a Muslim, etc.
They also clearly haven’t thought through the consequences of having Mike Pence as president either.
In any event, perhaps all the pressure is finally getting to Trump. According to an AP article, he is ready to shelve his detente plans for Russia:
President Donald Trump is telling advisers and allies that he may shelve, at least temporarily, his plan to pursue a deal with Moscow on the Islamic State group and other national security matters, according to administration officials and Western diplomats.
In conversations with diplomats and other officials, Trump and his aides have ascribed the new thinking to Moscow’s recent provocations. But the reconsideration of a central tenet of his foreign policy underscores the growing political risks in forging closer relations with Russia, as long as the FBI investigates his campaign associates’ connections to Moscow and congressional committees step up their inquiries into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
….Trump’s new skepticism about brokering a deal with Moscow also suggests the rising influence of a new set of advisers who have taken a tougher stance on Russia, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and new national security adviser H.R. McMaster. During his first meeting with National Security Council staff, McMaster described Russia — as well as China — as a country that wants to upend the current world order, according to an administration official who attended the meeting.
Michael McFaul, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Russia, said that while Trump has been open about wanting warmer relations with Russia, “he hasn’t picked people to the best of my knowledge at senior levels that share that view.”
European allies also have been pushing the Trump administration not to make any early concessions to Russia. To bolster their case, European officials have tailored their rhetoric to appeal to Trump’s business background, including emphasizing the risks of negotiating a bad deal, rather than more nuanced arguments, according to one Western diplomat. Given Trump’s “America First” mantra, foreign officials emphasize how U.S. standing in the world could be diminished by making concessions to Russia instead of focusing on the importance of the U.S. and Europe sticking together to counter Moscow.
Finally, Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com, unpacks the reasons for why Russia must remain the enemy for much of the U.S. political and economic elite:
And so while the present quite extraordinary campaign to portray Russia as our Major Adversary has been given considerable impetus by the Democratic party elites, eager to explain away their humiliating defeat – and discredit the current occupant of the White House – there’s much more to it than that. We can break it down into four major reasons:
1) Inter-service rivalry in the military – In May of last year, I wrote about the war breaking out between the various components of the US military, a battle over budgets:
“In early April, a battalion of senior military officials appeared before a Senate panel and testified that the US Army is ‘outranged and outgunned,’ particularly in any future conflict with Russia. Arguing for a much bigger budget for the Army, they claimed that, absent a substantial increase in funding, the Russians would overtake us and, even scarier, ‘the army of the future will be too small to secure the nation.’
“The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! And before you know it, Brooklyn will be renamed Putingrad.
“Of course it was pure coincidence that, shortly after these alarm bells were rung, a piece appeared in Politico magazine purportedly showing that the Russians were breathing down our necks: it revealed a ‘secret study’ – revealed for the first time! – that supposedly detailed Russia’s deadly new capabilities as demonstrated in Ukraine. Included in this potpourri of propaganda was the assertion by none other than Gen. Wesley Clark, former presidential candidate and well-known Russophobe, that Moscow had developed a tank that is for all intents and purposes ‘invulnerable.’”
The national debt is now at $20 trillion – a sum that the human mind can barely conceive. The reality is that we cannot afford the kind of money the military is now demanding. Indeed, the defense budget hike being advanced by the Trump administration is dead on arrival, and even if it were passed by Congress – an unlikely outcome – it would hardly satisfy the projected expansion of military spending envisioned by the generals. And so we are now witnessing a ramped up campaign to portray the Russians as ten feet tall. As a follow up piece in Politico by Mark Perry put it:
“’This is the ‘Chicken-Little, sky-is-falling’ set in the Army,’ the senior Pentagon officer said. ‘These guys want us to believe the Russians are 10 feet tall. There’s a simpler explanation: The Army is looking for a purpose, and a bigger chunk of the budget. And the best way to get that is to paint the Russians as being able to land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. What a crock.’”
A war with Russia would require land forces in huge numbers, more tanks, more artillery, and much more money for the Army. If the Russian Threat is what they say it is, then the Army will devour a glutton’s share of the military budget, leaving the Navy and the Air Force to starve. It would also require complementary upgrades for the militaries of all the NATO nations – a gold mine for the US weapons industry.
So one answer to the “Why Russia?” question is simple: follow the money.
And speaking of following the money, another big factor energizing the anti-Russian campaign is:
2) The Russian diaspora – When Putin came to power one of the first things he did was go after the infamous oligarchs who had backed – and manipulated – his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Under the drunken Yeltsin, these “entrepreneurs” had used the State apparatus to “privatize” (i.e. loot) what had previously been the State-owned economy, gobbling up entire sectors at unbelievably cheap prices. Putin moved to disassemble what was a competing power center, and the result was the flight of the oligarchs to the West. Having put their ill-gotten gains in Western banks and holding companies, they shacked up in London, New York, Switzerland, and the French Riviera, where they plotted Putin’s overthrow and their triumphant return.
There’s an awful lot of money sloshing around in these circles, and a good part of it is being used to buy up media properties that act as outlets for anti-Russian propaganda. Newspapers, think tanks, and various other vehicles for the molding of public opinion are financed by this Russian Diaspora, which acts as an intellectual Praetorian Guard for the politicians hoping to ride the wave of anti-Russia sentiment. They act as a lobby on behalf of the arms industry, and the political forces that stand to gain from the anti-Russian campaign – but they are not alone.
Read the complete article here