The Republican-controlled Congress couldn’t get it together on healthcare, infrastructure, immigration, or much of anything else, but, hey, they got together with the Democrats on a Russia sanctions bill: the “Russia, Iran, and North Korea Sanctions Act.” If you read the text, the proportion of moral preening, rheotorical rodomontade, and blustering bloviation is unusually high, even for a bill with Lindsey Graham’s and John McCain’s imprint all over it. That it also manages to violate the terms of the Iran deal is an extra added bonus.
The meat of the bill involves tying the President’s hands when it comes to actions intended to “significantly alter US foreign policy with regard to the Russia Federation” – with the explicit understanding that the default policy is implacable hostility. Under the terms of this bill, no action designed to improve relations with the Russians is permitted. In order to take such actions, the President must first submit a proposal to the appropriate congressional committee, in both houses of Congress, which must then approve (or, more likely, disapprove) it.
This bill is, in effect, a de facto declaration of war – cold war, to be more precise. This is the Congress of the United States putting the nation – and the Russians – on notice that Cold War II has begun.
The bill is filled with self-justifying polemics, asserting that Russians have delayed or obstructed the Minsk agreements, when in reality it is the government of Ukraine which has refused to implement its part of the agreement by failing to hold local elections in eastern Ukraine, refusing to reform the constitution to comply with the Minsk accord, and continuing to bomb, strafe, and murder its own people in that region.
The bill also claims that “On January 6, 2017, an assessment of the United States intelligence community entitled, ‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections’ stated, ‘‘Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the United States presidential election.’’ In fact, “the United States intelligence community” issued no such opinion: two intelligence agencies, the CIA and the FBI, did, without offering any convincing public evidence. A third, the National Security Agency, said it has “moderate confidence” in such a conclusion. There was no National Intelligence Estimate issued because such a document requires strict standards of evidence and also includes dissents – and, of course, no dissent on this question is permitted.
The sanctions consist of restrictions on investment in the Russian energy sector – which had to be modified at the last minute because US investors objected to certain elements – and this ought to make oil producers in the US happy: it is a brazenly protectionist measure, one which, ordinarily, the “free trade” majority in Congress would oppose, but an exception must be made as long as it hurts the Russians.
My favorite parts of the bill are the sections devoted to anti-Russian propaganda, like this passage:
“The Government of the Russian Federation has sought to exert influence throughout Europe and Eurasia, including in the former states of the Soviet Union, by providing resources to political parties. think tanks, and civil society groups that sow distrust in democratic institutions and actors, promote xenophobic and illiberal views, and otherwise undermine European unity.”
Oh no, not “xenophobia”! Isn’t that a hate crime? How dare the Russians point out that Angela Merkel has allowed her country to be overrun with refugees from a war made worse by Western intervention on behalf of Islamic extremists! Hungary and Poland have refused to open their borders to the floodtide, and the result has been the complete absence of terrorist incidents and civil disorder in those countries. How “illiberal” can you get?!
As for “sowing distrust in democratic institutions” and otherwise “undermining European unity,” it has been the anti-democratic “Remainers” who have been undermining the democratic decision of the British people to leave the European Union. Liars always project their lies onto those they’re trying to malign.
It is, naturally, perfectly okay that the United States and its allies fund political parties and “non-governmental organizations” throughout Europe and the world to push their agenda: no one else is allowed to do the same. And of course the resources the Western governments can afford to deploy in their propaganda campaigns far exceed the paltry amounts coming from cash-strapped Moscow.
Speaking of which, $250,000,000 is appropriated in this bill for propaganda efforts that go into the “Countering Russian Influence Fund.” This will go to various NGOs, with those controlled and supported by billionaire George Soros no doubt at the head of the line. It’s quite a lucrative gravy train, and every “democracy”-promoting thinktank and NGO is there with their hands out, using their political influence to get a cut of the action.
Another bit of pork is the $30,000,000 to be given for “Ukraine energy security,” i.e., subsidies for US energy companies and investors and their Ukrainian clients. For decades, ever since the days of the Warsaw Pact, Russia sold Ukraine subsidized energy, but this ended when Ukraine refused to pay anything for oil and gas deliveries. Now the International Monetary Fund has pressured the Kiev regime to cut its energy subsidies to consumers, if not eliminate them altogether, which has led to unrest as ordinary Ukrainians freeze their butts off during the harsh winters. Now the United States is stepping into the breach, at least partially, by playing the role the old Soviet Union did – subsidizing its Ukrainian satellite (and, incidentally, enriching politically-connected US energy companies).
Oh yes, there’s something in this bill for everyone – free money, politically correct jeremiads against “xenophobia,” partisan rhetoric around the 2016 presidential election, and most of all hatred of all things Russian. It’s a monument to the hypocrisy, groupthink, and smugness that permeates our nation’s capital like a poisonous fog. No wonder the two parties united around it.
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.