Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
Five years ago, Mitt Romney was hammering Barack Obama for being soft on Russia. And Obama was ridiculing him as a Cold War fossil. The Russia exchanges may seem confusing today, but back then they were a natural outgrowth of the respective Democrat and Republican foreign policy positions.
The Dems had accused President Bush of alienating Russia with the Iraq War. The McCain-Obama debates echoed the Romney-Obama debates with McCain taking a harder line on Russia. In ’08, Vladimir Putin even suggested that relations would improve once Obama took office. By ’12, Obama was caught on a hot mic promising more flexibility for Russia after the election was over.
Until the end of the Obama era, foreign policy fell along these predictable lines. Republicans focused on the old Cold War need to maintain NATO against Russian expansionism. Democrats had their own Cold War reflex. Whenever they heard Russia, they began to talk about nuclear disarmament.
And that was exactly what Obama did.
It’s hard to overestimate how much of our foreign policy consisted of unthinking virtue signaling.
For example, no one is quite sure why Obama decided to launch his disastrous Afghanistan surge with its accompanying horrifying death toll. But a debate exchange with Mitt Romney offers one possibility.
"Governor Romney,” Obama said. “I'm glad that you recognize that Al-Qaeda is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al-Qaeda.”
Obama’s obsession with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, long after the group had ceased to matter there, was initially based on a claim that his administration knew was a lie. But the simplest explanation may be that the Dems had spent so much time accusing President Bush of neglecting Osama bin Laden to fight Saddam Hussein that pulling out of Iraq and going to Afghanistan became another reflexive response.
Even as ISIS took over a sizable piece of the Middle East, Obama didn’t want to hear about Iraq.
Thousands of Americans died and were maimed in Afghanistan while Iraq nearly became the center of a new terror state because some Dem strategist had decided that his party should counter Bush by emphasizing Afghanistan over Iraq. And so a cynical slogan eventually became a disastrous policy.
Similarly, Obama’s relationship to Russia was based around nuclear arms reduction because that had been the Dem line for generations. Obama and Hillary’s appeasement of Putin was a legacy of the Cold War. The major reset that turned the Dems from appeasers into antagonists also remains a mystery.
And the explanation for it may be every bit as disastrous as Obama’s pivot to Afghanistan. The origins of the Trump-Russia narrative appear to have come from the infamous Fusion GPS dossier. And that dossier was funded in part by a Clintonworld figure. But Fusion GPS had also been doing work for the Russians. Why did Fusion GPS choose to link Trump to Russia? It might have been a stray mouse click.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC hired Fusion GPS to do opposition research on President Trump. Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele whose specialty was Russia. Why was Fusion GPS interested in Russia?
The answer appeared to be a Washington Post hit piece titled, "Inside Trump's financial ties to Russia and his unusual flattery of Putin."
The article was one of a flurry of disposable hit pieces aimed at Trump. But the timing was crucial. It was June 2016. A month earlier, Trump had become the presumptive nominee. Fusion GPS’ old GOP client was no longer paying for anti-Trump material and the smear firm was casting around for Dem clients. It needed something juicy to offer them. And Russia just happened to be the flavor of the week.
After generations, the Dem position on Russia flipped drastically due to a smear firm’s need for money.
If Hillary had won, the Russia-Trump narrative would have been quickly disposed of. Even most Dems had trouble taking the allegations seriously. And they weren’t aimed at Russia, so much as at Trump.
But once Hillary lost, everything changed.
The narrative was no longer about tying Trump to a corrupt foreign government. It was about a vast conspiracy that had hijacked the election. Trump had been reinvented as the Manchurian Candidate.
But the Russian influence operation that was uncovered looked like an update of the Cold War with social media thrown into the mix. The initial rush to find connections to Russia on the right exposed troll farms that just as eagerly posed as Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock and militant feminists.
The old KGB had built networks of leftist front groups in the same way. The only difference was that with the internet and social media, Russian troll farms could recruit black nationalists online. Or pretend to be them on Twitter and Facebook. The best way to put forward their own agenda on issues like Crimea or Syria that most Americans didn’t care about was to set up fake identity politics front groups.
The Russians were trying to influence American politics for their own benefit. And they were frankly apolitical about it. The Russia trail has led to the Clintons and Uranium One, to Tony Podesta, the brother of Hillary’s campaign chair, and, ironically enough, to Fusion GPS.
The very organization that helped birth the Trump-Russia meme was in bed with the Russians.
Did the Russians help create the Trump-Russia meme? The now infamous meeting in Trump Tower took place the same month as Fusion GPS’ pivot to the Russian narrative. When Trump Jr. shot down the Russians, the dossier may have been payback. The fatally flawed material in the dossier would hurt Trump, discredit anyone who used it and build the illusion of Russian influence. Just as Fusion GPS handfed stories to reporters, the Russians may have handfed the story to their pet researcher.
But they wouldn’t have anticipated the avalanche that it would set off.
Hillary’s campaign funded a dossier accusing Trump of Russian ties that might itself have been a Russian influence operation. But the Clintons and their associates, not to mention Fusion GPS, were no strangers to those. And as the Russian narrative stings the Dems, it will be as quickly forgotten as Obama’s mockery of Mitt Romney. The Reset Button will be pushed one more time.
The Dems loved Russia before they hated it. And they will learn to love it again.
Beyond the breaking news and the trending headlines, the real story is the unseriousness of Dem foreign policy. After two terms in the White House, the world is a mess. And the decisions responsible for that mess have haphazard ideological roots. ObamaCare was born because Obama needed a selling point. It was poorly thought out, poorly implemented and yet the Dems will die to defend it.
The Afghanistan surge remains one of the great scandals that no one will discuss. And even fewer will discuss the illegal Libyan invasion which emails revealed had a good deal to do with Hillary’s election bid. The Dems had spent generations appeasing Russia, before deciding that they really needed a good anti-Trump hit piece. And so they did what they weren’t willing to do in the face of nuclear annihilation, mass murder, assorted acts of terrorism and, more recently, an invasion or two, because Hillary lost.
Hillary and the Dems have argued that they are the responsible adults in the room. This is their idea of responsibility and what they are responsible for.