All the usual suspects are praising Adam Schiff’s marathon two-and-a-half-hour Senate speech on Wednesday to the skies. Neocon columnist Jennifer Rubin calls it "a grand slam" in the Washington Post. Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin describes it as "dazzling" on CNN. New York Times columnist Gail Collins says it was "a great job" and that Schiff is "a rock star" for pulling it off.
But in fact it was the opposite – a fear-mongering, sword-rattling harangue that will not only raise tensions with Russia for no good reason, but sends a chilling message to dissidents at home that if they deviate from Russiagate orthodoxy by one iota, they’ll be driven from the fold.
What is that orthodoxy? It’s that Russia invaded poor innocent Ukraine in 2014, that it interfered in the US presidential election in 2016 in order to hurt Hillary Clinton and propel Donald Trump into the White House, and that it’s now trying to smear Joe Biden merely because he had allowed his son to take a high-paying job with a notorious Ukrainian oligarch at a time when he was supposedly heading up the Ukrainian anti-corruption effort.
As Schiff put it with regard to Donald Trump’s famous July 25 phone call urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into Biden’s activities:
"This investigation was related to a debunked conspiracy theory alleging that Ukraine not Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. This narrative propagated by the Russian intelligence services contends that Ukraine sought to help Hillary Clinton and harm then-candidate Trump…. This tale is also patently false and, remarkably, it is precisely the inverse of what the US intelligence community’s unanimous assessment was that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in sweeping and systemic fashion in order to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump."
So even though the Financial Times reported during the 2016 election campaign that the threat of a Trump victory was spurring "Kiev’s wider political leadership to do something they have never attempted before: intervene, however indirectly, in a US election," articles like that are now down the memory hole because Schiff says they’re Russian propaganda that US intelligence agencies have determined to be false.
The same goes for arguments that it’s actually NATO’s aggressive expansion to the east that has led to a needless buildup of tensions, not Russia’s drive to the west. Recent examples include an article in the National Interest arguing that NATO has "empowered some of the most historically anti-Russian elements in that region – Ukrainian Banderites [i.e. followers of Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera], Polish nationalists, Balkan Islamists" – elements that, not unreasonably, have sparked Russia’s worst fears – or one in the Nation stating that NATO’s drang nach osten is "the primary cause for the new and very dangerous Cold War."
Articles like those are verboten as well because they go counter to the new line that Russia is entirely to blame. Declared Schiff:
"Russia is not a threat … to Eastern Europe alone. Ukraine has become the de facto proving ground for just the types of hybrid warfare that the twenty-first century will become defined by: cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, efforts to undermine the legitimacy of state institutions, whether that is voting systems or financial markets. The Kremlin showed boldly in 2016 that with the malign skills it honed in Ukraine, they would not stay in Ukraine. Instead, Russia employed them here to attack our institutions, and they will do so again."
As for Biden, a New York Times editorial said about his son’s unfortunate new job back in 2015:
"Sadly, the credibility of Mr. Biden’s [anti-corruption] message may be undermined by the association of his son with a Ukrainian natural-gas company, Burisma Holdings, which is owned by a former government official suspected of corrupt practices…. Burisma’s owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, has been under investigation in Britain and in Ukraine. It should be plain to Hunter Biden that any connection with a Ukrainian oligarch damages his father’s efforts to help Ukraine. This is not a board he should be sitting on."
We must all put such sentiments behind us now Russia is seeking to "weaponize" such information, according to Schiff, and deploy it "against Mr. Biden just like it did against Hillary Clinton in 2016 when Russia hacked and released emails from her presidential campaign." If Russia wants to weaponize it, then it’s best for the rest of us not to breathe a word of it lest people think we’ve been weaponized as well.
Bottom line: we must impeach Trump, according to Schiff’s epic presentation, not only because he’s overstepped his proper constitutional bounds, but because he’s part of a grand Russian conspiracy to spread disinformation, undercut US security, undermine faith in US intelligence agencies, and "remake the map of Europe by dent of military force." In order to counter this all-encompassing threat, it is our patriotic duty to do the opposite by believing the CIA and redoubling US defense. If anyone tells us that Biden was guilty of a flagrant conflict of interest, we must stop up our ears because that’s what Moscow wants us to think. If anyone says that the entire Russian-interference narrative is just a silly conspiracy theory based on a paucity of facts and an abundance of paranoid speculation, we must do likewise because it’s just the Kremlin trying to worm its way into our minds.
When in doubt, just remember to bleat: America good, Russia baa-aa-aad.
But while it would be nice to dismiss this as a joke, it’s not. Schiff’s emergence as leader of the Democratic impeachment drive means that the party is re-grouping along the most retrograde Cold War lines. As reckless and appalling as Trump’s behavior is in the Persian Gulf, the emerging Democratic worldview is shaping up as no less extreme. Because it sees Russia as mounting a multi-pronged offensive, the clear implication is that the US must respond in kind. This means more troops deployments, more forces mobilized to counter Russian threats from Venezuela to the Middle East, more TV talking heads going on and on about this or that Kremlin conspiracy, and more labelling of people like Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein as Russian assets.
Remember, this is the Los Angeles neocon who backed the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, and Saudi Arabia’s unprovoked war against Yemen, an assault that, since March 2015, has cost 100,000 lives and brought half the country to the brink of starvation. He supported Obama’s war in Libya and called for the establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria and relies on arms manufacturers and military contractors for major financial support.
But while Bernie supporters may have thought that Democrats were edging away from such views, they’re plainly in the wrong. Schiff’s new-found prominence shows that the neocons are back in the saddle. Impeachment advocates should be careful of what they wish for because the anti-Trump forces are turning out to be no less dangerous than those helping him to remain.
Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He writes a weekly column for Antiwar.com. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.