Jingoism From the So-Called Left

[NOTE: A version of this opinion article was published on RIFuture.org.]

There are many people on the left who think “Russiagate” merits wall-to-wall news coverage and MSNBC’s near-singular focus.

I’m not one of them. In fact, I’m beginning to find the rhetoric coming out of the Democratic Party on Russia, with its comparisons to the deadly attacks of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, more than misplaced. They’re irresponsible and frightening.

The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting estimated in January that MSNBC segments mentioning Russia outnumbered coverage referencing Yemen by almost 5,000 percent in the second half of 2017.

During that time frame, the network dedicated zero segments specifically to the U.S.-supported Saudi war in Yemen, which has already resulted in what the United Nations deems a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

MSNBC’s coverage, says journalist and activist Norman Solomon, was instead centered on “overheated hyperbole about the Kremlin.” In a piece on Truthdig, titled, “Is MSNBC Now the Most Dangerous Warmonger Network?” Solomon added: “continually piling up the dry tinder of hostility toward Russia boosts the odds of a cataclysmic blowup between the world’s two nuclear superpowers.”

I don’t doubt that Russia sought to divide Americans in 2016. However, like others, I do doubt that ads depicting a buff Bernie Sanders and Jesus and Satan arm wrestling had much impact on the outcome of the election.

My instinct is that office-holding Democrats have become relentless on Russia, because it galvanizes liberals who hate Donald Trump so much they’re willing to get behind anything they think could lead to his ouster. (In this sense, Trump has done Democrats an enormous favor, bringing them undeserved and unquestioned loyalty from voters whose priorities they’ve long ignored.)

There are also two other motivations on the part of Democrats: the Russia fixation allows their establishment to avoid acknowledging how bad a candidate Hillary Clinton really was, and it’s a convenient justification for the ever-increasing military spending and hawkish foreign policy now embraced by the party.

The overheated rhetoric seems enough to convince otherwise educated and reasonable people to forget that our democracy has long been undermined by forces that have nothing to do with Russia: the Koch brothers, Citizens United, race-based voter suppression, and gerrymandering.

People should stop and think about what’s really at stake here when politicians and pundits fan the flames of Russiagate: the possible extinction of our species.

That is not hyperbole.

The U.S. began under the Obama administration a massive overhaul of its nuclear arsenal. The Congressional Budge Office says the “modernization,” now embraced by the Trump administration, will cost U.S. taxpayers $1.2-trillion if it’s followed through on.

The Pentagon, under Secretary of “Defense” James Mattis, now wants to direct its efforts to fighting the “near peer” threats of Russia and China, and it’s even raised the prospect of responding to a cyber attack with nuclear weapons.

Vladimir Putin announced last week his country has developed “invincible” nuclear missiles capable of reaching the U.S.

As of January 2018, the Arms Control Association estimates Russia and the U.S. already have nearly 14,000 nuclear warheads between them. That’s more than 90 percent of the world’s total inventory.

And the U.S. and Russia remain embroiled in what’s already devolved into a proxy war between the two nuclear juggernauts in Syria.

I’m disappointed to say Rhode Island’s own congressional delegation, comprised entirely of Democrats, has done virtually nothing to minimize these existential threats. Instead, some of its members have jumped into the fray to offer up irresponsible rhetoric on Russia as well as calls for more military spending and more weapons systems (the latter coming most notably from Sen. Jack Reed and Rep. Jim Langevin).

In an interview on CNN last month about the Trump administration’s lack of enforcement of sanctions against Russia for its actions in the 2016 election, our junior senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, said he believed “Russians need and deserve a punch in the nose” by way of sanctions.

Whitehouse qualified the imagery of socking nuclear-armed foreign adversaries in the face by saying “we are also trying to work with them in other areas.” He then provided the tepid endorsement that “continued dialogue, intelligence professional to intelligence professional, is not in itself a bad thing.”

I asked Whitehouse about those comments at a town hall meeting last Saturday before a crowd of friendly Democrats at the Johnston Senior Center.

The senator said it was reasonable to be concerned about tensions between the U.S. and Russia but that he believed Putin responds to shows of strength.

Whitehouse said, by “punch” Russians, he meant sticking it to “the oligarchs” who are looting their country. He also said he did not support “spending a trillion dollars” on nuclear weapons. Although, all indications are he’s at least behind building a new fleet of nuclear-armed submarines at our region’s leading defense contractor, General Dynamics-Electric Boat, at a cost that could well exceed $100-billion.

It’s a sad fact that Whitehouse is hardly the major hawk on our congressional delegation. Right now, Reed and Langevin are fighting tooth and nail for that distinction.

It appears Reed is ahead for now. Last December, the Reagan National Defense Forum bestowed upon him the “Peace Through Strength Award” that’s handed out annually to national figures who essentially best embody the former president’s dangerous and misguided foreign policy.

Past winners include Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice.

In his acceptance speech before a gathering of neoconservatives at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Reed remembered Reagan as a president who “clearly understood the importance of principled leadership.”

After all, Reed said, “President Reagan understood the importance of balancing a strong defense with our commitment to promoting peace.”

Given that it reportedly took a made-for-TV drama about nuclear war on ABC to get Reagan to seriously reconsider his hawkish nuclear ambitions, I’d say he was actually a simpleton who had no idea what he was doing.

We should be concerned that our senior senator, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is holding up Reagan’s warped approach to foreign policy as his guiding light, placing jingoism and the profits of defense contractors above global stability.

Like Reagan, Reed is fully intent on using Russia—and now the overblown threat posed by China—to justify the start of a dangerous, unaffordable, and completely wasteful arms race.

I hope more Rhode Islanders wake up to these facts, turn off MSNBC, and encourage our delegation to think more carefully about their toxic foreign policy and rhetoric.

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