For many years, the iron-clad American embargo of Cuba was decried by liberals and progressives as counterproductive and inhumane. People who broke the embargo or tried to get around it — like Ry Cooder with the wonderful Buena Vista Social Club project — were hailed as heroes by liberals. But now it’s being treated by those same liberals (and the media) as some kind of sacred principle that should never have been breached in any way — because Donald Trump once spent some money there, indirectly exploring business opportunities at a time when there was much talk in Washington (among liberal circles & the Clinton Administration) of normalizing relations. (Of course, Trump, huckstering hypocrite that he is, was also publicly denouncing normalization at the same time he was seeing if he could profit from it.) Now the Clinton camp says Trump was going “against the national interest” by even remotely dealing with Cuba. So the embargo — long condemned by liberals, and actually lifted by progressive champion Obama — was in “the national interest” after all, it seems, and anyone who circumvented it in the slightest way is some kind of commie traitor. (Hope Ry is heading for the border; I’ll bet he spent a little money while he was in Cuba way back when. Wait till Newsweek gets going on him!)
Trump’s manifest corruption and criminal associations have been plain for years, decades. Whole books — very thorough books with copious amounts of evidence — have been written about it. But the media — and, strangely enough, the Clinton camp — have almost totally ignored all this. Why? Because most of his corruption is bound up too closely with the power structure at large? (He’s a paid-up member of the elite, after all.) Is it the fear that if you pull too hard on some of those threads, you never know who might come out, and who the dirt might stain? Who knows? But instead of a powerful, full-blown focus on Trump’s long, sordid, well-documented corruption, we get this kind of piddly shit — Trump sent a guy to Cuba one time, OMG! — which is blown up into truly ludicrous McCarthyite Red Scare goonery.
This seems to be the main plank of the Clinton campaign. “The Russians are coming! Commies! Castro! And Trump’s one of them! Aiiieee!” None of this hurts Trump with those who are supporting him, or thinking about it. He is running pretty openly as a fascistic authoritarian (which they like, apparently); they know he’s not a “commie” or a Russian agent. In any case, the positions Trump has taken — the racism, the “law and order” calls for unleashing the police on minorities, the obsession that other countries “are laughing at us” and somehow cheating us on trade deals, etc. — are all things he has been talking about for years, long before the arrival of Putin; indeed, even before the fall of the Soviet Union. By focusing on Putin as the dark mastermind of the Trump campaign, Clinton is actually obscuring the very real danger that Trump poses all by himself with his long-held positions. The idea that this 70-year-old public figure who’s been babbling fascist tropes for decades is somehow a puppet of the Russians just makes the Clinton campaign look stupid.
The Clinton campaign’s simplistic, throwback red-baiting is both politically counterproductive — and genuinely dangerous for the future. For one thing, she is undermining her own legitimacy if she wins the election; after all, we’re constantly told that Putin “is putting the integrity of our election” at risk with his unstoppable, all-pervasive hacking. So if she wins, does that mean Putin wanted her to? The defeated Trumpists could easily make that claim, using her campaign’s own cartoonish version of an all-powerful Putin against her.
But more than that, Clinton’s crude, bellicose McCarthyite stance will make it almost impossible to deal with Russia in any kind of thoughtful, productive way. Instead, at every turn, she reinforces Putin’s own narrative: that Russia needs his strong hand because it’s under constant, imminent threat from a Russophobic America. Liberal reforms will have to wait as the country girds to fight for its very existence. And to support this “strong hand,” he turns to the most bellicose and nationalistic forces in the country. If, as the New York Times tells us this week, echoing the Clinton line, that Russia is now “an outlaw state,” then how can there possibly be any kind of productive, effective negotiations with Moscow? There is only one way to deal with nations condemned as “outlaw states” by the Washington power structure: they must be taken down, one way or another, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Serbia, Syria. How can we ever negotiate in good faith with an outlaw dictator who is subverting our political process and trying to take over the world?
The stark and stupid terms of Clinton’s retro Red-bashing is making open conflict with Russia an ever-increasing possibility. In the long-term, this would be a disaster of unimaginable horror. In the short-term, it only strengthens Putin at home, bolstering repression and authoritarian control, while doing absolutely nothing to help untangle the many thorny issues between Russia and West.
Yet here we are. The Cuban Embargo was once a target of liberal opprobrium; now it’s a “national interest” that should have never been breached or challenged. Four legs good, two legs better.