Supporters of President Trump have long questioned the charge that he colluded with Russia, a charge discredited apparently by the Mueller Report. Less well known is the fact that many on the left have also questioned the charge. This should not be taken to mean support for Trump. The issue for the left is instead that incessant collusion talk distracts from genuine challenges like climate change. More to the point, the notion that Trump colluded with the Kremlin reflects an effort, spearheaded by largely liberal foreign policy elites, to demonize Russia.
Pundits within the Democratic Party and mainstream media regularly portray Russia’s misdeeds as a case of deep-seated aggression and thuggery, resurgent empire building on the part of Vladimir Putin. They rarely consider that Russia might be acting on legitimate grievances. Russian misbehavior represents pushback against U.S. arrogance and even lawlessness on the increase since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Consider the Obama administration’s placement of land-based missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, highly advanced “Aegis ashore” installations that the Russians insist could be used offensively. Theodore Postol, emeritus professor of national security at MIT, states in a recent opinion piece for the New York Times (Feb. 19, 2019) that on this point the “facts support the Russian position.” Consider too the idea originating with the second Bush administration that NATO extend its reach into former Soviet territory including Ukraine. We could go on. Recall, for example, U.S. interference in Russia’s 1996 presidential election.
Former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, in his recent memoir “The Back Channel,” recalls a conversation he had with Putin in 2008. Confronted with NATO expansion into Ukraine, Putin issues a warning: “No Russian leader could stand idly by in the face of steps toward NATO membership for Ukraine. That would be a hostile act toward Russia … We would do all in our power to prevent it.” Boris Yeltsin expressed a similar concern in 1995 when first confronted with NATO expansion by the Clinton administration. “I see nothing but humiliation … It’s a new form of encirclement.”
Yes, Trump is probably the most corrupt president in U.S. history. But seen through the lens of anti-Russia hysteria, his criminality has been enlarged and distorted along deeply dangerous lines, increasing the odds of nuclear war with Russia.