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  • Writer's pictureDan FitzPatrick

The Russians Are Coming!

July 2017

Remember the Cold War? I certainly do. It was a period of great geopolitical tension and proxy conflicts between the rival ideologies of “liberal” Capitalism and “totalitarian” Communism running from the post-WWII 1940s to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It spawned the nuclear arms race and the build-up of weapons inventories capable of destroying the planet many times over. It gave birth to the military doctrine of mutually assured destruction (appropriately nicknamed MAD), intended to protect a fragile peace by promising complete annihilation. It gave us the Berlin Wall, the Doomsday Clock, the Cuban Missile Crisis -- which brought us frighteningly close to the very brink of nuclear war – and the “hot line” between Washington and Moscow.

The Cold War was very personal to me – my hometown was host to an important USAF Strategic Air Command air base and the 380th Bomb Wing, part of the US Nuclear Triad meant to send the sober message to the world – and especially the Russians – not to mess with us. I grew up well aware that if “the button” was pushed to start WWIII, my hometown would be vaporized long before Washington or New York. Talk about sobering.

The Cold War also gave us good things, like spy novels, James Bond and the classic nuclear war send-up comedy film, “Dr. Strangelove.” Another classic but lesser-known Cold War comedy was 1966’s “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!’ featuring an all-star cast which included Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, Brian Keith and Jonathan Winters. Seeking to use humor to defuse the growing tension between the US and Russia, it had a very silly plot: a Soviet submarine cruising off the New England coast runs aground when its sightseeing captain gets too close to a small Cape Cod-like island. He sends some crew members disguised as “Norwegian fishermen” into the town of mostly summer visitors to steal a boat to help free the submarine, and the comedy begins. The cast is exceptional and the farcical humor still resonates despite the passage of time. The movie even incorporates a Disneyesque moment when the Americans and Russians join together to avert a catastrophe, providing an obvious moral to the story. The film was a critical and commercial success, winning Golden Globe awards and Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor (Alan Arkin). I strongly recommend seeing it.

Why bring this up? Because I am concerned that some aspects of this history may be close to repeating themselves in very odd and unsettling ways.

The Cold War has been succeeded by the War on Terror, another global conflict between competing ideologies that will require resolute international action sustained over many years. It involves principally non-state actors, but they are often supported by countries seeking to destabilize their neighbors and build regional influence – in effect prosecuting war by proxy. The stakes are high and getting higher, as nuclear capabilities proliferate and rogue nations seek the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction across continents. This rightly should be a principal subject of focus for our government leaders. All other considerations should be secondary to our national security. But apparently, they are not.

If you listen only to the mainstream media, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is a more urgent and important struggle going on. I call it the War on Donald J. Trump. It is being waged by elements in our society unhappy with the result of the recent presidential election, intent on blunting or reversing its effect by obstructing the new agenda or even overturning the new administration. Witness the calls for Trump’s impeachment, which began less than four months into his presidency.

Here is how impeachment would play out: should the House of Representatives believe that grounds exist to charge the president with abuse of power through the commission of “high crimes or misdemeanors,” it may by simple majority vote approve one or more Articles of Impeachment. At that point, the president is “impeached” but not removed from office; he is essentially indicted but not convicted. The Senate then holds a “trial” presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court with all 100 senators acting as the jury. A supermajority (2/3) vote is required to convict. The Senate would then vote to remove the president from office. That would certainly represent the Holy Grail of victory (“VT Day”) for the anti-Trump camp.

Given the current make-up of Congress, this is not likely to happen, at least any time soon. But that has not dampened enthusiasm in some quarters – particularly the mainstream media – for building (or even fabricating) the case for high crimes and misdemeanors. The central tenet of their case is that Donald Trump and/or members of his campaign staff colluded with the Russians to “fix” the outcome of the election. Efforts to sustain that case have had to overcome the lack of any evidence of collusion, and the accepted fact that Russia’s meddling did not actually impact the election result. So the claims against Trump have morphed from collusion (not itself a crime) to cover-up (firing James Comey) to intimidation (the “tapes” tweet), to mental instability (the CNN “takedown” video) – all while the Director of the FBI leaks sensitive and potentially classified information to the media for the express purpose of triggering appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate Trump and his associates.

I do not know Robert Mueller, but by all accounts he is a man of integrity who served his country as FBI Director with distinction. If we had to have a Special Prosecutor (I would have preferred an independent fact finding commission), he seems an ideal choice. I am not troubled by his friendship with Comey, nor by his hiring of associates who had contributed to the Clinton campaign. I believe he will acquit his charge honestly and honorably. My problem is with the concept of a Special Prosecutor; history has shown that these assignments -- with almost unlimited authority and budget – tend to expand in timeframe and scope to the point where the original purpose is lost in the pursuit of some secondary issue. Prosecutors seek convictions; rarely, after spending considerable time and money, do they conclude “there’s nothing there.” My concern is that they tend to go on and on until they find something, anything, to prosecute. Trump was not crazy to warn of the dangers of a potential “witch hunt.”

Note that this War on Trump is completely domestic. There have been no allegations of foreign influence. We are doing this to ourselves. We are wasting precious time and energy filling our airwaves with innuendo and speculation posing as news. We are being distracted from the important work that needs to be done for the good of our nation, and ultimately the world. There is no doubt that the Russians tried to meddle in our internal affairs. This should be no surprise: they have been doing so since the beginning of the Cold War. The good news is that they failed to undermine the legitimacy of our recent election. If we choose to continue this exercise in national self-immolation, we will be handing them a victory they did not earn. Is this really what we want? I say, nyet!

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