On American *exceptionalism* and hypocrisy regarding Russia's possible interference in US elections


 

On American *exceptionalism* and hypocrisy regarding Russia's possible interference in US elections
 


10 February 2017 at 5:36:38 PM
salon

I've been appalled at the red hysteria going on, largely thumped by the Democratic party, about the allegation that Russia helped elect Donald Trump. They sheer hypocrisy of the Democratic party pretending not only that the United States has repeatedly interfered in other countries' elections, but even, as exposed by Wikileaks, the Demoratic party interfering with their own party elections to achieve a particular outcome, is breathtaking. Where do people think the term "banana republic" comes from? It refers to countries where the United States has backed US corporate interests to the detriment of the countries we meddled with. (United Fruit, for one)

In time, the term came to describe any Central American nation whose economy depended on bananas. It took on darker connotations of economic imperialism with the rise of United Fruit Company, an American agricultural giant that viciously exploited workers, aroused the ire of left-wing parties across Central America, and was reportedly involved in various U.S. government interventions that propped up right-wing, anti-Communist regimes. More broadly, the term "banana republic" is often used to describe any nation that relies heavily upon natural resources and agriculture -- what economists call the primary sector -- to prop up its economy.

How many times has the United States tried to influence another countrie's elections? More than 80 times 

DOV LEVIN: One example of that was our intervention in Serbia, Yugoslavia in the 2000 election there. Slobodan Milosevic was running for re-election, and we didn't want him to stay in power there due to his tendency, you know, to disrupts the Balkans and his human rights violations.

So we intervened in various ways for the opposition candidate, Vojislav Kostunica. And we gave funding to the opposition, and we gave them training and campaigning aide. And according to my estimate, that assistance was crucial in enabling the opposition to win.

SHAPIRO: How often are these interventions public versus covert?

LEVIN: Well, it's - basically there's about - one-third of them are public, and two-third of them are covert. In other words, they're not known to the voters in the target before the election.

SHAPIRO: Your count does not include coups, attempts at regime change. It sounds like depending on the definitions, the tally could actually be much higher.

LEVIN: Well, you're right. I don't count and discount covert coup d'etats like the United States did in Iran in 1953 or in Guatemala in 1954. I only took when the United States is trying directly to influence an election for one of the sides. Other types of interventions - I don't discuss. But if we would include those, then of course the number could be larger, yeah.

SHAPIRO: How often do other countries like Russia, for example, try to alter the outcome of elections as compared to the United States?

LEVIN: Well, for my dataset, the United States is the most common user of this technique. Russia or the Soviet Union since 1945 has used it half as much. My estimate has been 36 cases between 1946 to 2000. We know also that the Chinese have used this technique and the Venezuelans when the late Hugo Chavez was still in power in Venezuela and other countries.

Heard about a war recently between the Phillipines and the US between 1899 and 1902 in which the Phillipines didn't want to go from being a colony of Spain to being a colony of the United States.

The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.... When it became clear that U.S. forces were intent on imposing American colonial control over the islands, the early clashes between the two sides in 1899 swelled into an all-out war. Americans tended to refer to the ensuing conflict as an “insurrection” rather than acknowledge the Filipinos’ contention that they were fighting to ward off a foreign invader.

Because the United States wanted a colony for additional economic opportunities, in pursuit of empire. And they were willing to allow torture to get it. 

Nowhere will this book resonate more profoundly with modern readers, however, than in the opening episode, which is as difficult to read as it is jarringly familiar. Jones describes the use of an interrogation technique whose name alone instantly brings to mind a recent, highly contentious tactic. To force information from a Filipino mayor believed to have been covertly helping insurgents, American soldiers resort to what they call the “water cure.” After tying the mayor’s hands behind his back and forcing him to lie beneath a large water tank, they pry his mouth open, hold it in place with a stick and then turn on the spigot. When his stomach is full to bursting, the soldiers begin pounding on it with their fists, stopping only after the water, now mixed with gastric juices, has poured from his mouth and nose. Then they turn on the spigot again. The technique, which was perfected during the Spanish Inquisition, produced in its victims the “simultaneous sensations of drowning and of being burned or cut as internal organs stretched and convulsed.”....

Stories of American soldiers torturing Filipino insurgents and slaughtering civilians had become too prevalent, and too convincing, to ignore. “There have been lies, yes, but they were told in a good cause,” Twain wrote, ridiculing the government with his acidic satire. “We have been treacherous, but that was only in order that real good might come out of apparent evil.”

The American people were finally beginning to realize that pacification of the Philippines was not going to be a replay of the Spanish-American War. The Filipinos were poor, but they were not unsophisticated. They developed shadow governments, used an underground system to finance their insurgency — collecting donations and even taxes — and repeatedly surprised American troops with guerrilla attacks, killing a few men at a time and leaving the rest in a constant, exhausting state of vigilance. Enraged, the soldiers responded by employing the same tactics for which they had so recently criticized the Spanish. They burned whole villages, executed suspected guerrillas and felt justified in using any interrogation technique at hand, including the water cure.

As this article details, this type of action of by the United States government is a destruction of American ideals and is apparent to quite a few that live in the countries that were meddled with. 

Just how unusual was it for great powers to interfere in a democracy’s electoral processes, and just how outraged should Americans be by the alleged activities?

Distinguished historian Marc Trachtenberg, professor emeritus at UCLA, thinks all this outrage is naive, and evidence of a clear double standard. In the following guest column, he provides some historical perspective that might temper our collective outrage just a bit. His point is not that Americans should be complacent or unconcerned by these activities, but rather that we should be neither surprised by them nor quick to see them as evidence of newfound Russian hostility. Instead, he suggests, this interference is a type of behavior that the United States helped establish; indeed, meddling in other countries’ politics has been an American specialty for a long time.

One might even go a step further: This sort of thing is just “business as usual” in the competitive world of international politics: It’s not like states didn’t interfere in one another’s internal politics in ancient Greece, in the Renaissance, or in the first half of the 20th century. If so, then the real lesson is to fix our own system so that such interventions won’t matter, instead of focusing solely on what Putin did or not do.

Not just influencing elections, but also spying on other governments.

The prevailing view is that what the Russians did was intolerable — that what we had here was an outrageous intrusion by a foreign power into our internal democratic political process. You don’t hear much nowadays about transparency and the “public’s right to know.” What is emphasized instead is the threat to American democracy posed by those Russian actions. What nerve the Russians had even trying to hack into the private communications of American political leaders! What nerve they had trying to influence our presidential election!

But isn’t there a bit of a double standard at work here? The complainers certainly know that the U.S. government eavesdrops, as a matter of course, on the private communications of many people around the world. The National Security Agency, whose job it is to do this kind of eavesdropping, has a budget of about $10 billion, and, according to an article that came out in the Washington Post a few years ago, intercepts and stores “1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications” every day.

The NSA has scored some extraordinary successes over the years. At one point during the Cold War, a recently declassified history of the NSA tells us, a U.S. intercept operation operating out of the American Embassy in Moscow “was collecting and exploiting the private car phone communications of Politburo leaders.” As Bob Woodward noted in 1987, “elite CIA and National Security Agency teams,” called “Special Collection Elements,” could “perform espionage miracles, delivering verbatim transcripts from high-level foreign-government meetings in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and phone conversations between key politicians.” And the U.S. government was not just spying on enemies and terrorists. It was, and presumably still is, very interested in what the leaders of friendly countries are saying to one another. In 1973, for example, Arthur Burns, then chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, noted in his diary that the U.S. government apparently knew “everything that goes on at German cabinet meetings.”

What really DOES make the United States exceptional if not its free speech and other ideals? 

Pease said that one of the keys to understanding Cold War exceptionalism is the fact that the ongoing state of fear caused by the U.S.-Soviet dynamic and the national security state transformed the myth of America. The odd irony is that the Cold War ushered in an era when many of the ideals of America were limited so as to protect the very notion of them. Free speech was curtailed in order to protect the idea of free speech, just as the defense of American freedoms led to their greater regulation and control.

And it appears that, through all the jingoism going on now, there is again an attempt to thwart freedom of speech; unfortunately it appears both Donald Trump AND the Democratic party are leading that charge.

I saw an example of freedom of speech being curtailed from Oliver Stone's Untold History, currently on Netflix, regarding the era of Woodrow Wilson and the Sedition Act of 1918. 

Pease explained that another key turning point was the feud between former president Bill Clinton and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who each argued that they offered the true, definitive version of American exceptionalism. The defining characteristic of that moment is the division of the U.S. into two social constituencies whose ideas of America were radically opposed and mutually unrecognizable. It was during this period that the right-wingers began to viciously claim that they and they alone knew what it meant to be American.

The events of 9/11 and the George W. Bush presidency combined the fear-based exceptionalism of the Cold War with the deep partisanship of the Clinton-Gingrich era. By then anyone who didn’t agree with the Bush-era exceptionalism was characterized as a traitor to the nation.

I've seen a lot of that type of finger pointing "You're a TRAITOR" coming from Democrats now" on the basis of this Russian stuff. Contrast that to President Obama's excellent outgoing speech in which he said we should be looking to what makes us all Americans, even where we disagree. 

Why isn't the Democrat party loudly speaking up against spying on other countries, including American citizens, then? Why isn't the Democrat party shouting about influencing elections and mea culping how involved the US has been? The fact that they are doing this now is not only hypocritical but, for some people such as myself, has caused me not to want to align myself with the Democratic party at all. 

***** (Note that I didn't vote for Trump nor am I thrilled that he has been elected, but I also was not for Hillary Clinton.)

 

 

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