“Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that.” The judgement of President Donald J. Trump delivered from the heights of Helsinki followed hard on the heels of his first summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin. If anything, it was even more bizarre than his visits to the NATO summit and the United Kingdom a few days ago. And it made even bigger waves.
They cannot say that they were not warned. To the horror of the Washington mandarins, President Trump announced that he intended to hold one-on-one talks with the man from the Kremlin, with nobody else present other than the interpreters. This is very much in the Trump style of diplomacy. In the words of the celebrated Frank Sinatra song, he likes to do it his way.
It is well known that Donald Trump is allergic to policy briefings. To the anguished arguments of his advisers, he simply replied that he needed no preparation for the meeting with Putin. This way of doing things is by no means to the liking of the diplomatic community. What was he going to say? What was he going to agree to? Once again shockwaves shuddered through the corridors of power in Europe and the other side of the Atlantic.
American observers – both Republicans and Democrats – feared that Trump would make concessions to the Russians in order to get some kind of a deal over Syria and other contentious issues. Their fears were well-founded. Sadly, nobody knows what the two leaders said in private. But Trump’s final statement confirmed the worst nightmares of the establishment of the United States, NATO and the European Union.
Many commentators have expressed surprise. But we should really be surprised that people are surprised. At this stage in the proceedings, nobody should be shocked at anything Donald Trump says, thinks or does. And as a matter of fact, there is nothing at all surprising in Trump’s conduct in Helsinki. It was entirely predictable. If there is something one can learn from the two years since his election, it is that when Donald J. Trump says he means to do something, the safest option is to believe him.
Trump has never made any secret of his desire to do a deal with the man in the Kremlin. During the US election campaign, Mr Trump praised Putin as a strong leader, with whom he would love to have a good relationship. Now he is in the White House he is determined to do what he promised.
But powerful forces in the USA and other countries are equally determined to stop him by any means at their disposal. Brought up during the Cold War between America and the USSR, 99 percent of Congress have imbibed the idea of hostility to Russia with their mother’s milk. They have an unshakeable conviction that all the evils under the sun have a common origin, and that origin is the Kremlin.
Any suggestion of a possible detente with Russia is guaranteed to produce an attack of apoplectic rage among these ladies and gentlemen, for whom patriotism is synonymous with hatred of all things to the east of Warsaw. Such proposals are not only anti-American but also anti-Christian, anti-western civilisation, and worst of all, bad for business.
The powerful arms lobby in America is worth trillions of dollars and would be highly inconvenienced at any suggestion that world peace was about to break out. That would imply a sharp decline in the production of such necessary props of western, Christian civilisation as nuclear bombs, chemical weapons, guided missiles, warships and submarines. Here the old saying that the flag follows trade is literally true.
In public, of course, America’s NATO allies, including Britain, declared that they welcomed the Helsinki meeting. They could hardly say anything else, since it was all arranged without their knowledge or consent. But behind the scenes they were furious.
Mrs. May warned that the meeting must address Russian “malign activity.” This no doubt refers to the (totally unsubstantiated) accusations by the British Secret Service that Russia is the chief suspect in an attack using a nerve agent on British soil that led to a woman’s death.
Dan Coats, the director of US national intelligence, compared the danger of Russian cyberattacks with the warnings the United States had of increased terrorism threats ahead of the September 11 attacks. “The warning lights are blinking red again,” Mr. Coats said. “The digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”
Mr Coats said Russia should be “held to account”. But how exactly it should be held to account, he did not make clear. America has already imposed severe sanctions on Russia. It has done its best to isolate Russia on the world stage and turn it into an international pariah. What else can be done? If America really is “literally under attack” by Russia, a declaration of war would seem to be the obvious step to take. For some reason, Mr Coats does not yet appear to have reached that obvious, though somewhat inconvenient, conclusion.
Fortunately, there are other steps that can be taken before declaring war. In fact, these steps can be taken quite painlessly and without risking the disagreeable possibility of nuclear retaliation. They are the same steps that have been taken by the reactionary military and intelligence circles in the USA for some time, and that are now reaching a new level of skulduggery.
On spies and spying
Among those who are acquainted with the black arts of diplomacy and power politics, there are very few who believe in coincidence. It was certainly no coincidence that only days before Trump’s meeting with Putin was made public, the US Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents, accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Such “dramatic” announcements from Washington have become so routine that after many months they merely arouse a feeling of boredom. Even if it were true, what is the value of a statement that informs us that Russian spies are engaged in espionage? That would hardly be a surprise to a five-year old of average intelligence.
Nor is it any surprise that, a few days later, the American newspapers carried the sensational news that a young Russian lady stands accused of using her charms to exert a malign influence upon innocent American politicians and/or businessmen. The question as to why such innocent public figures should be so very interested in the services of prostitutes, whether they are from Vladivostok or Timbuktu, is tactfully omitted.
Spies are by definition engaged in espionage. Beggars beg; pickpockets pick pockets; burglars burgle houses; spies spy. That is what they are paid for. That is what they do – not only Russian spies, but American, British, French, Chinese and every other variety of spy. And if every spy were to be convicted for doing the job they were supposed to do, it would be necessary to close every embassy and consulate in the world.
The American intelligence community is hardly in any position to complain if Russian, or any other, spies try to gather intelligence by questionable means. If they did not do so, they would be failing in their duty.
“But the Russians interfere in our internal political affairs!” Quite possibly. But has not America been interfering in Russia’s internal political affairs for decades? They complain about the Russian television channel Russia Today, which they say is merely a vehicle for spreading pro-Russian propaganda in the USA and other countries. What about the Voice of America, which for decades churned out anti-Soviet propaganda in the Russian language and every language in Eastern Europe, with a view to destabilising the Soviet Union?
But America does not confine its interference in the affairs of sovereign states to propaganda, radio broadcasts and fake news. It has used extreme violence to overthrow governments that it viewed as inimical to its interests. To produce a list of America’s violations of human rights, murder, torture, invasions and other violent means of imposing its will on other countries would require not an article but several volumes. It is sufficient to mention just a few cases...
The 1953 coup against Iran's democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq; the overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954; the overthrow and murder of Salvador Allende in Chile; the notorious coup in Indonesia in 1965, in which the CIA oversaw the slaughter of at least half a million people, the attempted invasion of Cuba, the aggression against Nicaragua, the invasion of Iraq… The litany of American aggression is endless. But these monstrosities are not considered to be meddling in the internal affairs of other countries!
“But Russia is an enemy state, and we have to take these measures to protect ourselves from enemies!”
There is an old saying that there is no honour among thieves. And the imperialists are the biggest thieves on the planet. It is true that their interests in many ways are in conflict with those of Russia and China. In particular, ever since the days of the Cold War, they have regarded Russia with an obsessive level of suspicion and hatred.
But whatever their feelings towards Russia, the imperialists have little trust in their allies either. They are all spying on each other, trying to find out what the others are up to. The allegation of Russian involvement in the hacking of documents may or may not be true. But many countries, and not least the USA, are constantly hacking, phone tapping and meddling in the internal affairs of other nations – including their ‘allies’, as Angela Merkel found out.
Behind the façade of polite diplomatic relations, the imperialist powers are engaged in a constant struggle for markets and spheres of influence. They work on the assumption that nations have no friends, only interests. Until recently this cynical game was concealed behind the smiling mask of hypocrisy.
Mr. Trump in Europe
In the good old days, summits were held to declare the solidarity of the civilised world, the dedication of its leaders to the cause of world peace, civilised values, apple pie and motherhood. Such summits invariably ended with the usual photographs of smiling leaders, dutifully lined up before the cameras. Everything was for the best, in the best of all possible, capitalist worlds.
But with the advent of Donald J. Trump, the script has had to be rewritten. More correctly, it has been torn up and thrown into the dustbin. Mr. Trump has made his distaste for diplomatic norms abundantly clear. He caused a scandal at the meeting of the Group of Seven in June when, having agreed to endorse a joint communique, he instructed his representatives not to sign, and for good measure accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of lying.
Trump arrived at the recent NATO summit with all the delicacy and finesse of a rogue elephant. He breathed fire, uttered threats and engaged in the most shameless bullying tactics, demanding that his allies put their hands in their pockets to spend more on defence. He went on to accuse the German President Angela Merkel of being a Russian puppet.
Hastening on to London, where his arrival was anxiously awaited by Theresa May, the man from Washington was interviewed for the reactionary newspaper The Sun, in which he rubbished the Brexit deal that was painfully put together by the British Prime Minister in a desperate attempt to paper over the cracks in the leadership of the Tory Party.
From the standpoint of diplomatic etiquette, it is not the most normal procedure for an invited foreign head of state to interfere in the internal political affairs of the country he or she is visiting. But diplomatic niceties never held much attraction for Donald J. Trump.
In the Sun interview, he praised Boris Johnson, whom he said would make a very good Prime Minister. He could not have been ignorant of the fact that Boris Johnson, who recently resigned from Mrs May’s cabinet, is precisely engaged in a struggle to remove her and occupy her place.
This blatant act of discourtesy was likened by one commentator to a man who has been invited to a house showering insults on the head of his hostess. Donald Trump finally got on his plane for Helsinki, leaving his British hosts in a state of shocked disbelief.
“Europe is a foe”
Just when the astonished political commentators thought he could not produce any more shocks, he did just that. Even before he left the United Kingdom, President Trump informed the world that it was not so much Russia, as the European Union that is America’s “foe”. Russia, he added, is rather a “competitor”.
Such language has not been heard since before the Second World War. The statement that Europe was not America’s closest ally, but actually a foe, caused nerves to jangle on both sides of the Atlantic. No doubt that was precisely what he intended. Who do these Europeans think they are anyway? He put them all in their place. But the man he was about to meet in the Finnish capital was rather a different proposition.
A day before Mr. Trump was to meet with Mr. Putin, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the United States ambassador to Russia, played down expectations for the encounter: “It isn’t a summit — I’ve heard it called a summit — it’s a meeting,” he told NBC on Sunday. “This is an attempt to see if we can defuse and take some of the drama, and quite frankly some of the danger, out of the relationship right now.”
But when Mr. Huntsman briefed reporters this month to preview the scheduled interaction, he referred to it repeatedly as a “summit”, and called it a landmark event: “You know, I think the fact that we’re having a summit at this level, at this time in history, is a deliverable in itself,” Mr. Huntsman said. “I don’t exclude that there will be some concrete agreement that will be announced coming out on the other end of the summit.”
There were dire warnings that the man in the Kremlin could manipulate the American leader, persuading him to make compromises and concessions. What would he do? Would he cancel US military exercises along NATO's eastern flank? Would he recognise that Crimea as part of Russia? Was it his intention to lift American sanctions?
Mr Trump regarded these warnings with contempt. As an experienced businessman and property speculator, he is supremely confident of his negotiating abilities: “‘You know, President Putin is K.G.B.’, and this and that,” Mr. Trump said. “You know what? Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I’ve been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”
The secret services of the West are accustomed to having their tentacles everywhere, to listen to every conversation, to intercept every email, to open every letter, and of course to be present at every important meeting. Here, however, the door was slammed rudely in their faces. They cannot conceal their indignation at being thus excluded from the negotiations between two powerful leaders.
And that is precisely what worried the people in the CIA and Pentagon. What concrete decisions would be reached between the two men in private? Would the American president be friendlier towards his Russian counterpart than he was to the leaders of NATO or to Mrs May? In fact, he could hardly be more unfriendly!
Their worst fears were soon confirmed. The president began the day of the meeting by blaming the United States for its bad relationship with Russia. As he headed for breakfast at Mantyniemi Palace, a residence of the Finnish president on Monday morning, Mr. Trump tweeted twice that the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference was a Rigged Witch Hunt. That investigation, and “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity”, he wrote, are why the United States’ relationship with Russia has never been worse.
Yet in the end the American president made his most startling declaration:
“Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that.”
What do these words mean? The foreign offices of every important country are following this meeting with the keenest interest. Every word is being analysed, weighed and dissected in order to gain some insight into the machinations of these two leaders. There will be interpretations to suit all tastes, of course. In the last analysis, political science is as much scientific as when the priests of old read the entrails of dead animals to predict the future.
In reality, both men need each other. Putin needs Washington to ease sanctions that have squeezed his country’s economy. Trump needs some kind of a deal with Russia to enable him to disengage from the Syrian quagmire. Both men need to present this meeting as a wonderful success. Their enemies have precisely the opposite intention.
They will undoubtedly have talked about Syria, Ukraine, arms control. The last of these is an issue Putin has made clear he does want to talk about – extending the New START treaty, for example. Trump is also concerned about the expense of the arms race and is therefore interested in discussing security and strategic stability between the two powers. Like a good businessman, he wants to save money.
The idea of a deal with Russia actually makes perfect sense from the standpoint of the interests of American imperialism. In this case, Donald Trump’s instincts correspond to those interests far more than the hysterical chorus of anti-Russian propaganda that emanates from the CIA and MI5. Trump’s basic instincts are isolationist. That is why he wants to pull American troops out of Syria. But in order to do this, he needs an agreement with the Russians. This is a powerful factor in his decision to meet with Putin.
Donald Trump was originally opposed to US military action in Syria, calling for greater focus on domestic policies. In 2013 he tweeted: “Forget Syria and make America great again!” Despite this, in April of this year, he ordered US missile strikes on a Syrian government airbase, using as an excuse and alleged chemical attack blamed on the Syrian government.
Both leaders now say they will work together to help resolve the Syrian crisis. The US and Russia back opposing sides in the eight-year-old civil war. But that war is really over. Assad has won and there is no force on earth that can remove him. It has been a defeat for America and its allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
For the hardliners in the CIA, this is hard to swallow. They are persisting in their demand to continue what is a futile military exercise in Syria. It is Russia that now calls all the shots in that country. For that reason, the hardliners also wish to maintain a permanent state of conflict with Russia. Objectively, this is a senseless and counter-productive policy.
Trump has at least understood that and is preparing to withdraw American forces from Syria. That is an important factor in his desire to reach an agreement with Putin. “Our militaries have gotten along better than our political leaders for a number of years and we get along in Syria too,” he said. He added that the US wanted to increase humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. Of continued military support for the rebels, there was not a word.
Trump “guilty of treason”
The outcry against Trump’s statements on Russia was immediate and entirely predictable. Trump’s opponents argue that just holding this meeting provides Putin with an important propaganda coup, showing that Russia is a world power to be reckoned with. The very fact of meeting with the American president is a victory for Putin, a fact that has driven Western commentators into paroxysms of rage.
Trump aroused the fury of the Western intelligence services and Cold War fanatics by refusing to mention the usual accusations against Russia: the annexation of Crimea, support for rebels in Ukraine and for the Syrian government and the alleged Russian involvement in nerve agent poisonings in England, which the British government has pinned on the Kremlin without producing a single shred of evidence.
But what really made Trump’s enemies choke on their cornflakes were the remarks he made in the press conference that followed his tête-à-tête with the President of Russia concerning alleged Russian meddling in the American election. When asked whether he believes his own intelligence agencies, which say that Russia interfered in the 2016 United States election, or Mr. Putin, who denies it, Mr. Trump answered:
“Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and other American intelligence officials said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
That is to say, he believed Mr. Putin more than he did his own aides.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake – a declared enemy of President Trump – could scarcely conceal his outrage:
“I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful.”
On this question at least, there is a solid united front between politicians of all parties (by which, in the USA, we mean Republicans and Democrats). Edward J. Markey Democrat Senator of Massachusetts called Mr. Trump’s performance a “national embarrassment.”
By far the most interesting comment, however, was made by the man who was C.I.A. director under President Barack Obama, John O. Brennan, who thundered on Twitter:
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018
Whether Donald J Trump is in fact in Putin’s pocket is a matter of speculation. But the fact that every single one of the ladies and gentlemen on Capitol Hill is well and truly in the pockets of big business, the bankers and in particular the arms manufacturers, is not seriously open to doubt.
The Pentagon, the CIA and the other military arms of the state provide a highly profitable market for arms barons, who in turn, through a small army of lobbyists in Washington, grease the palms of the politicians and other patriotic servants of the public. Their indignation at the prospect of a peace deal with Russia is a perfectly understandable expression of this highly satisfactory transactional relationship.
Donald Trump complains bitterly that the establishment and the media have organised a witch hunt against him. That is indeed the case. Powerful sections of the American ruling class did not want Trump to be elected. He was seen as unreliable, unstable and above all uncontrollable. The candidate of American big business was Hillary Clinton.
Clinton was seen by many people as the candidate of the establishment. There was – and still is – a growing hatred of the Washington elite; the powerful and privileged; and the two parties that both represent the interests of the rich: the Republicans and Democrats.
The revolt against the establishment was shown by the enormous support for Bernie Sanders, who advocated a political revolution against the billionaire class. But Sanders stood as a candidate of the Democratic Party, and that party had no intention of allowing him to stand for president.
In all the farce about so-called Russian meddling in the election campaign, it has conveniently been forgotten that the Democratic Party documents that were allegedly hacked by Russia actually did expose the questionable methods used by the Democrats, including their dirty manoeuvres to defeat Bernie Sanders.
Once Sanders had been eliminated by the Clinton clique, the electorate was left with very little choice. In order to express their anger against the establishment, many voted for Trump, who demagogically posed as an anti-establishment candidate.
The Democrats have a very simple explanation for Trump’s victory: they blame the Russians. All that proves is, to this day, the Democratic Party has not understood why Trump won the elections. They whipped up a campaign claiming that the Russians were responsible for hacking, which, they claim, decided the result of the election. But to argue that the Kremlin determined the votes of millions of US citizens is childish in the extreme.
The present political situation in America and on an international scale has no precedent in history. An elected President is in direct confrontation with the majority of the state, the media, the FBI, the CIA and all the other secret services, which the ruling class is using to try and get rid of Trump.
The secret services are precisely supposed to be secret, and they are at the heart of the bourgeois state. For those agencies to be clashing publicly with the president, openly trying to undermine him and drive him from office – such a thing is absolutely unheard of. And amidst all the thunder and lightning, everyone has now forgotten what was in the hacked emails. And nobody bothers to ask if the content in the latter was in fact true.
The political crisis in the USA has performed a useful service insofar as it casts a blindingly clear light on the real nature of so-called bourgeois democracy. The ruling class was long ago compelled to accept (although reluctantly) that the masses had the vote. But they have perfected a thousand ways in which elections can be rigged to ensure that their preferred candidate is elected.
The system whereby elections in the USA always resulted in the alternation of two bourgeois parties – the Democrats and Republicans – has been a solid pillar of political stability for over a hundred years. But now that system is beginning to break down. The election of Trump, against all the odds, was an indication of a massive discontent in American society.
In a peculiar, reactionary way Trump reflected that discontent. That was why the establishment and its prostitute media were against him. After his election, the ruling class consoled itself with the belief that it could control him, as it always controls maverick politicians. But this proved to be a miscalculation. It was unable to control Donald J Trump, and therefore resorted to a ferocious campaign aimed at discrediting him and driving him from office. That is the real basis of the noisy and persistent campaign about “Russian meddling” in the 2016 election.
Trump is a reactionary politician whom we oppose. But it is equally true that the Democrats are also reactionary politicians who represent the same class interests as the present occupant of the White House. They cannot be supported in any shape or form. If a socialist candidate had been elected, we would have seen the same kind of campaign that Trump has faced, multiplied a thousandfold.
It goes without saying that the foreign policy of both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin reflects the interests of the ruling class in Russia and America. Nothing progressive can be expected from either of them. However, the noisy anti-Russian campaign that has been organised by the Cold War warriors in the USA and Britain is thoroughly reactionary.
The working class must oppose Donald Trump but must do so from its own, independent class standpoint. Under no circumstances should the American left be fooled into joining forces with the Democrats, behind whose opposition to Trump lies cynical self-interest and ultimately a defence of capitalism and imperialism.
In the last analysis, they defend exactly the same class interests. The main objection of the Democrats to Donald Trump is that he that is carrying out that reactionary policy, not them. Their real objective is to serve the capitalists and imperialists more efficiently than the present occupant of the White House. That is not an objective that the working class can have any sympathy with.