While mention of Russia has been relatively limited at both the Republican and Democratic conventions, it’s clear that Russia is still a very polarizing topic in this year’s U.S. presidential campaign.
Pictured: U.S. presidential candidates Donald Trump, left, and Hillary Clinton. Photo: AP
The Republican and Democratic conventions have, in their own way, helped to clarify how the new Cold War differs from the previous one. The Democrats and Republicans have switched roles - the Democrats are now the party of the new Cold Warriors while the Republicans - formerly the party of anti-Soviet hardliners - are the party that seeks to engage Russia or, at a minimum, peacefully co-exist.
The Democratic National Committee and top leaders within the Clinton campaign began expressing a great deal of criticism toward Russia before the Republican convention came to order. They, in concert with some media figures, have sought - and have largely succeeded - in portraying Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as nothing less than a Russian Trojan horse.
The effort began early, in the days leading up the Republican convention in Cleveland, when the Washington Post ran a story decrying Trump’s decision to strip out a plank in the GOP platform that would call for arming Ukraine. The story noted that the move was at odds with the wishes of “almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.”
Indeed, the article implied that it was the doing of Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who “worked as a lobbyist for the Russian-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych for more than a decade.” However, the fact that Yanukovych was elected in a free and fair democratic election in 2010 seems to have mattered not a bit. The Post article also naturally neglected to mention that a Pew Research poll taken in March found that 56 percent polled do not want the U.S. to “get too involved” with the crisis in Ukraine.
Throughout the Republican National Convention, Team Hillary kept a close eye on anything emanating from Cleveland that might smack of pro-Russian (or even pro-détente) sentiment. The Clinton campaign released a number of attacks on Trump during the convention, including a press release decrying “Trump’s Kremlin Connections.” The statement included a comment by former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who sought to paint Clinton as the toughest hawk in the room, especially when it came to Russia.
“The person that was always the toughest vis-à-vis Russia was Secretary Clinton in our interagency debates," he said. "There should be no confusion about that. She took on all the tough pieces in the portfolio. There should be no illusions about where she stands on these issues.”
This echoes almost exactly what Julianne Smith, a former high-ranking security advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden, told a group of fundraisers in Washington last week. Smith told donors that, “It was the Secretary who pushed President Obama the hardest on checking Russian aggression.” Smith also credited Clinton with pushing Obama “to turn up the heat on Putin.”
Indeed, the Clinton camp also approvingly quoted former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili who, according to the Clinton campaign, “credited Hillary Clinton with convincing the Russians to stop bombing.” Saakashvili praised Clinton by saying she was “very insistent and very tough” in meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
This is curious. If Saakashvili is referring to Russian shelling in Georgia during the August 2008 war, then his claim rings hollow. Clinton was junior Senator from New York at that time and by August 2008 was no longer a contender for the Presidential nomination. Are we to believe the George W. Bush administration dispatched Clinton to dress down the Russian foreign minister to insist he “stop bombing?”
The criticism of Trump continued when The Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed on the second day of the Republican convention sketching out a scenario in which a President Trump might be deposed by the American military.
To no one’s surprise, the Democratic convention hewed closely to the neoconservative line on Russia. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright told the assembled delegates in Philadelphia: ”Take it from someone who fled the Iron Curtain. I know what happens when you give the Russians the green light."
The tough rhetoric regarding Russia only got worse as the week went on, with allegations (as yet unproven) that the Kremlin was behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee's email server. Following the release of the hacked messages, some Democrats suggested that Trump had colluded with the Russians in the hack and distribution of these emails.
Leon Panetta, former Obama Defense Secretary and longtime Clinton family confidante, told the crowd in Philadelphia that Trump “asked the Russians to interfere in American politics.”
Panetta then pushed the narrative even further. “Donald Trump, who wants to be President of the United States, is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States of America to affect an election," he said.
After watching how these two conventions played out – much of it on prime-time television, one thing is becoming clear: Should Hillary Clinton emerge victorious in November, U.S.-Russian relations will precipitously deteriorate even further than they already have.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.