The House Intelligence Committee’s reenactment of the McCarthy hearings dramatized Marx’s famous aphorism that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” The only thing this circus was lacking was ringmaster Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California”) rising to declares that “I have in my hands a list!”
War was on the minds and lips of the Democrats. Rep. Denny Heck (D-Washington) compared Hillary Clinton’s loss to the 9/11 attacks, because the killing of over 2,000 people on American soil is just like the publication of emails that exposed the corruption at the heart of Democratic party politics. Oh, and “the attack didn’t end on Election Day” – because isn’t that a Russian hiding under your bed?
If political humor, albeit unintentional, is your shtick, there was plenty of that: my own favorite was Rep. Jackie Speier – from where else but California? – likening Vladimir Putin to a tarantula spider who has “ensnared in his web” a whole list of Trump supporters, including Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Echoing a common phrase at the hearing, she declared that alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was “an act of war,” although she gave no hint as to when the shooting will start.
Rep. Andre Carson (D-Indiana) asked: “Is an iron curtain is descending across Europe?” Yes, the Russians are going to rebuild the Berlin Wall – and make Angela Merkel pay for it. Of course, the US-erected iron curtain of anti-Russian sanctions doesn’t come into it. Carson also took up a favorite Democratic theme: the GOP platform had been “changed” at the insistence of Trump supporters, a falsehood that’s been debunked yet still persists. What happened was that an attempt to insert a paragraph calling for sending “lethal weapons” to Ukraine – which had never been in there in the first place – was defeated. But in the War Party’s campaign of innuendo and fake news, facts don’t matter: what matters is the effort to equate dissent from a foreign policy of perpetual aggression with “treason.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) spent most of his time referring to the “dirty dossier” published by BuzzFeed, which has long been discredited, and bringing up the names of various Trump supporters, asking FBI Director Comey if they were targets of the investigation into Russian influence on the elections –knowing perfectly well that Comey would not and could not answer. The idea was simply to bring up the names in a forum in which they couldn’t defend themselves: that’s what the politics of innuendo is all about.
Aside from Schiff, the Speier-Carson-Castro trio, posing as defenders of our national security, were among the shrillest in their insistence that the Trump administration is a nest of Russian spies. Which is ironic, since the Daily Caller recently reported an odd coincidence:
“Brothers Abid, Imran, and Jamal Awan were barred from computer networks at the House of Representatives Thursday, The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group has learned.
“Three members of the intelligence panel and five members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs were among the dozens of members who employed the suspects on a shared basis. The two committees deal with many of the nation’s most sensitive issues, information and documents, including those related to the war on terrorism.”
Those three intelligence panel members are Speier, Castro, and Carson. Now aren’t you reassured that our national security is in their capable hands?
These three were merely sideshows, however, because the head clown was undoubtedly the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California). Schiff’s opening statement is a model of McCarthyite smear-mongering. His first target is Carter Page, an oil company consultant tangentially associated with the Trump campaign, who is attacked by Schiff for the “crime” of criticizing US foreign policy in a speech delivered while on a trip to Russia. He then cites the unverified (and largely nonsensical) “dossier” compiled by MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who paid his informants for dirt on Trump, to the effect that Page had a secret meeting with a Putin confidante. Page was supposedly rewarded financially in a murky sale of the Russian gas giant Rosfnet: he was also supposedly offered “documents” to be published by WikiLeaks, “which give the Russians deniability.”
Let’s stop here and ask a question: Why would the Russians offer Page “documents” that portray Hillary Clinton in a unfavorable light – presumably the Podesta/DNC emails – if WikiLeaks was going to publish them anyway? But logic has nothing to do with Schiff’s conspiracy theory: the idea is to simply make “links” based on a bought-and-paid-for “dossier” and smear as many people associated with the Trump campaign as possible.
So what was the price of all this? What did the Russians want? According to Schiff, a Trump foreign policy that “de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fair share.” As “proof” of this sinister plot Schiff notes that Page, Paul Manafort, and other Trump supporters “attended the Republican convention” (!) in Cleveland where Russian ambassador Sergey Kisylak was also present. Kisylak was there along with 80 other ambassadors at an event dubbed “Global Partners in Diplomacy.” Similar events, staged to acquaint foreign diplomats with the American democratic process, have been staged since the 1980s. Clearly a case of espionage.
Schiff then goes into the by now familiar trope about how the GOP platform was “changed” to remove a section calling for the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, which would be “against Russian interests.” To begin with, there was never any such provision in the platform, so it could not have been “removed.”
Secondly, Schiff is betraying his own rather specialized interests here: on July 18, 2013, a fundraiser for Schiff’s reelection campaign was held at the home of Ukrainian arms dealer Igor Pasternak in Washington, D.C. Price of admission: $2,500 a head, and $1,000 for guests. Why is Pasternak such a fan of Schiff’s?
The answer may be found in a Washington Times story published in January, headlined “Ukraine Desperate for Surveillance Equipment in Stand Off With Russia,” which details the efforts of the Ukrainian government to get around the Obama administration’s reluctance to provide them with the “defensive weapons” Schiff is so eager to shower them with. Yet the Times tells us that Pasternak has somehow managed to get around the prohibition imposed by the administration, at least to a limited extent:
“In the meantime, a private, State Department-approved transaction has a Montebello, California, company, Worldwide Aeros, set to erect eight sensor-mounted towers that would deliver immediate surveillance along the southeastern border this winter.
“’This system will provide a much more robust capability to detect incursions into their territory,’ said Drew Shoemaker, vice president of government relations for Aeroscraft, a division of Worldwide. ‘It detects with the radar and then confirms with the camera.’
“With a maximum range of 40 miles, the Elevated Early Warning System, he said, ‘can look quite a distance into whatever territory they are looking at. They can track movements of goods and services in and out of the rebel-held territories. There’s still a large of amount of military equipment in there.’
“Ukraine eventually may opt for blimplike aerostats with even more powerful ranges.
“Worldwide Aeros was founded by a Ukrainian-born engineer, Igor Pasternak, who has won Pentagon contracts to develop different sizes and shapes of airships.”
Follow the money. Pasternak is selling the Ukrainians military hardware, and is doubtless eager to sell them more – paid for by US taxpayers, of course. According to news reports, Pasternak is deeply involved with the Ukrainian government’s military production, which is seeking to eliminate its dependence on Soviet era military hardware:
“On Jan. 3 , as part of a long-term plan to adopt NATO military standards, Ukraine took a step toward ditching this Soviet military carryover.
“Ukroboronprom, Ukraine’s nationalized defense industry conglomerate, announced a partnership agreement between the Ukrainian defense manufacturer Ukroboronservis and the U.S. company Aeroscraft to produce in Ukraine a variant of the US M16 assault rifle.
“’The M16 project was conceived some time ago, as the Ukrainian armed forces, border guards, and National Guard will with time switch to NATO standards,’ Aeroscraft founder and CEO Igor Pasternak said during a Jan. 3 press conference in Kyiv.”
Pasternak raises thousands for Schiff, and Schiff raises millions for Pasternak. It’s a sweet deal all around.
Schiff bloviates that his campaign to restart the cold war with Russia is an ideological crusade: “We are involved in a new battle of ideas,” he avers. “Not Communism versus capitalism, but authoritarianism versus democracy.” Yet this is about capitalism – crony capitalism of the sort that enriches both Schiff and Pasternak. As Major General Smedley Butler put it in 1935: “War is a racket.” And Schiff is one of the biggest racketeers in Washington.
The cynical, absurd campaign to tar the Trump administration as a Russian plot to take over America is based on noting but lies, innuendo, political opportunism, and naked greed. Trump famously pledged to “drain the swamp” that is Washington, D.C., and it was inevitable that Schiff, one of the nastiest of the swamp creatures, would arise from the muck screeching in protest.
Let him. He and his party are consigning themselves to the margins of American politics. Their loony conspiracy theories are so far removed from the concerns of ordinary Americans that the distance can only be measured in light years. Polls show that even the majority of Democrats don’t think Trump’s relations with the Russians involved illegality: independents and Republicans disbelieve Schiff’s tales of Russian plots by an overwhelming majority. No normal person cares about Russia: but the Democratic activist base is very far from normal.
That doesn’t mean that this witch hunt isn’t dangerous: it is. The news that the FBI is investigating “far right” and “pro-Russian” web sites ought to send a chill up the spines of civil libertarians, no matter what they think of Trump. And for those who want to see a more peaceful foreign policy, the McCarthyite hysteria generated by Schiff & Co. is bad news indeed. Jackie Speier, for example, has in the past been a reliably pro-peace vote in Congress, but as the Democrats become the party of born-again neoconservatism, at least in the foreign policy realm, the pressure is on to toe the Russophobic party line.
At the dawn of the cold war, as McCarthyism was rising, the formerly “isolationist” (i.e. anti-interventionist and anti-NATO) Republican party became the party of warmongers: the alleged threat of a domestic “communist conspiracy” logically translated into an international crusade to “roll back” communism by military means. What we are witnessing today is a similar transformation of the Democrats. Which is, as Trump would put it, sad!
Get ready for a massive attack on our civil liberties, as the FBI takes out after “pro-Russian” “subversion,” and the Democrats (in alliance with John McCain and Lindsey Graham) conduct their circus-like hearings throughout the year and beyond. A more sickening display of ideological emptiness and brazen self-dealing hasn’t been seen the 1950s.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.