On December 19th Glenn Greenwald went on Fox News to do what he and his Intercept-libertarian acolytes have done since Trump’s victory: minimize and deny the evidence that Russia was responsible for the hacking of Democratic officials that helped deliver the election to Trump. But why the protestations?
Contrary to the assertions of many Intercept fans, the evidence that Russia was responsible is as damning as it can be in cases of international cyber-espionage. It’s true that it’s possible, as Matt Taibbi suggests, that blaming Russia is a bogus political play. But the Obama Administration has been nothing if not overly cautious in this arena, and flailing desperately and deceitfully isn’t this president’s style. Numerous intelligence services have confirmed Russian involvement, detailing as much evidence as they can without compromising their methods. The New York Times has its own comprehensive report. Russian intelligence services tried to cultivate Donald Trump for years. Donald Trump explicitly asked Russia to hack 30,000 of Clinton’s emails during a July press conference that turned out to be the last of his campaign–showing that at least at the time he believed Russia was behind the Watergate-style theft of private email data from Democrats. And we know that Putin has been openly backing Trump while mocking the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign.
In light of all this, continually and actively denying Russian involvement as Greenwald and crew have done goes beyond Taibbi’s healthy skepticism of government officials and smacks of ideological fervor. Even the Trump campaign has stopped questioning the unanimous judgment of American intelligence services, and moved on to a “who cares?” approach that is already falling apart under pressure and scrutiny. Pretty much only the Russians themselves, the conspiracy theorists at WorldNetDaily and the Intercept libertarians are actively objecting to the evidence against Putin.
Russian self-interest is obvious and conspiracy theorists will do what they always do. But the Intercept agenda is simple: Greenwald and friends have a very strong distrust of Western and particularly American governments, and reflexively attempt to refute any assertions that they believe might help advance an imperialistic or militaristic agenda. Intercept-style libertarians were fiercely opposed to Clinton because they feared that she would advance an interventionist approach to foreign policy, and many were openly attracted to Trump’s faux-isolationism during the campaign. Intercept libertarians are also obsessed with privacy concerns and government surveillance, issues that Edward Snowden has come to symbolize with Russia acting in a savior’s role to protect him. In this context, opposition to Russia is often seen as a relic of Cold War era belligerence, combined with a desire to advance America’s interests against Russia militarily in Syria and elsewhere. Any attempt to pin blame on Russia for the DNC hacking is viewed with suspicion as saber rattling on behalf of a Western imperialist anti-privacy agenda, which is automatically seen as the worst of all evils.
But these are misplaced priorities in the context of a Trump-Putin alliance—and someone of Greenwald’s intelligence ought to realize that.
Yes, the United States specifically and the West generally have an unsavory history of aggression and imperialism around the world, and the actions of Western governments on privacy issues are troubling. A cursory reading of Naomi Klein and Chalmers Johnson is enough to make any reasonable person highly skeptical of any belligerent pronouncements from Western foreign policy mouthpieces. But the West is not alone in this form of intrusion and aggression–it has simply been the biggest kid on the block. Even before the recent era, the Soviets were just as expansionist and militarist as any western nation. The Chinese are guilty of horrific human rights and privacy abuses. Holding our own governments accountable for their actions should not blind us to the realities of evils taking place elsewhere, and should not excuse them.
In the past decade, it is Putin’s Russia that has been by far the worst imperialist aggressor on the world stage. Russian forces have annexed territory in other countries, shot down civilian jets, destabilized neighboring democracies in an overt power grab, and most recently helped a brutal dictator in Syria murder civilians in cold blood to maintain power against an international coalition attempting to force him out. Putin’s Russia has been horrific for civilian and press freedoms: journalists and political opponents have been murdered, and the Russian surveillance state under Putin rivals the old KGB. Russia has allegedly been engaged in cyber campaigns to create pro-Russian regime change all over the world, and the American example is only the most recent. Those who oppose imperialism, tyranny and government intrusion into privacy should be the first to stand up to what Russia is doing.
But it’s worse than that. Russia is now the lodestar of the global conservative religious fundamentalist white supremacist movement. Under Putin, Russia has fought brutal wars against Muslim insurgents in Chechnya. It has sought to re-emphasize the public role of the Orthodox Church. It has suppressed tolerance for the LGBT community, and has engaged in an ethno-nationalist campaign of aggression to reabsorb Russophone parts of its former empire, such as Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. It’s not hard to see why Putin’s Russia is regarded was one of the primary backers of the new nexus of ethno-nationalism that has engulfed the United States through Trump and Europe through the likes of Brexit and Nigel Farage in Britain, and the Le Pens in France. Russia has even now allied with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in his efforts to derail a two-state solution and necessitate a state of permanent occupation in the West Bank. There is a reason a strong faction of the right has a metaphorical crush on Putin: through his dictatorship, he has accomplished the same domestic and foreign policy goals that the American and Western European nationalist right would like to impose on their respective countries.
And now matters are even worse. With Trump about to become the President on January 20th, he will assume the full powers of the American intelligence agencies. By all appearances he will be in an open alliance with Vladimir Putin, who will almost certainly increase Russia’s interventions and cyber-espionage without fear of interference or protest from the Trump Administration. There is every reason to believe that this alliance presents a greater threat to global security, press freedom and human rights than any realistic geopolitical scenario arising from the empowerment of the neoliberal establishment so greatly feared by Intercept libertarians. The risk of World War III posed by increased tensions between a putative Clinton Administration and Russia is insignificant compared to the threat of global fascism, multilateral destabilization and inaction on climate change posed by an alliance between Putin, Trump, Netanyahu, European nationalists, and assorted violent dictators like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.
If Greenwald and his fans are genuinely worried about privacy and imperialism, it would behoove them to put aside for a moment the reflexive enmity against the Western establishment and focus with clarity on the far greater danger the Putin-Trump alliance now poses to the world—including on the issues about which they claim to care most deeply.