The United States and Our Russian Obsession: An Interview with Margaret Kimberley

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Vladamir Putin (left) and Donald Trump (Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In this interview, journalist Daniel Falcone talks to writer and activist Margaret Kimberley to discuss the mainstream media’s obsession with Russia and its alleged U.S. election interference. She talks about the irresponsibility and potential danger of this type of coverage, as well. Kimberley further highlights the problematic and shortsighted nature of the DNC and the Democratic Party’s own failures in grappling with the historic defeat.

Margaret Kimberley has been an Editor and Senior Columnist of Black Agenda Report since its inception in 2006. Her work also has appeared on sites such as Alternet and Counterpunch and in publications such as The Dallas Morning News and The Chicago Defender. She is a regular guest on radio talk shows and has appeared on Al Jazeera English, Russia Today, the Real News Network and GRITtv. She writes her own blog, Freedom Rider, freedomrider.blogspot.com.

Daniel Falcone: Noam Chomsky recently stated to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! that he found the whole “controversy” surrounding Russia problematic. He stated the U.S. record of interference makes us the laughingstock in the world when it comes to election meddling and he pointed out that this was undermining the one positive area and potential for good to happen. You have spoken and written a lot about this, as well. Do you see this the same way?

Margaret Kimberley: The United States has intervened in many elections around the world. Just since WWII, Italy, Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam and Honduras are among the list of nations whose efforts at democracy were undermined by our government. Brute force has been used via proxies as in Chile and a president was literally kidnapped in Haiti.

But, the hypocrisy is particularly striking as it concerns Russia. In 1996, opinion polls showed Boris Yeltsin in danger of losing to the Communist Party candidate. Bill Clinton adviser Dick Morris dispatched a team of consultants to prop up Yeltsin’s campaign. There is no conjecture about this. The people involved have discussed it quite openly. There was a TIME magazine cover story and a made-for-television movie which chronicled this story. But, this recent history has been disappeared from the corporate media, [and since] Democrats believe in imperialism just as much as Republicans do, we have a neocon duopoly in this country.

Falcone: After our latest strike of Syria, ordered by the president, the media, as you predicted, made a 180-degree turn in support of Trump and in grotesque fashion. Not all, but a significant portion of the coverage glorified the military action. Can you talk about the meaning of this?

Kimberley: The corporate media are always the biggest cheerleaders for American aggressions abroad. The New York Times and The Washington Post and the rest fully supported the Bush administration attack on Iraq. After Colin Powell’s presentation at the United Nations a Post editorial said, “It is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” They are mouthpieces for every presidential administration where military action is concerned.

Liberals such as those on MSNBC love warfare. They either supported or were silent as Obama destroyed Libya and attempted to do the same thing in Syria. They repeated lies about U.S. involvement in the coup against Ukraine’s elected president. Trump threatened to upend American efforts at hegemony that are so beloved by the ruling elites. It was inevitable that they would praise him for doing what his predecessors had done.

Falcone: I noticed several mentions of the “Deep State” and Trump’s “U-turn” after the air strike in Syria. I tended to disagree with some of this coverage that basically indicated that Trump was “pressured” into delighting Hillary with the bombing. I was suspect of Trump after he selected cold warrior type Cabinet officials early on before any such pressure mounted. Am I correct that the “Deep State” thesis ignored these facts and Trump was never really interested in normalizing with Russia?

Kimberley: Trump made contradictory statements about foreign policy. He was not the peace candidate. He said he wanted improved relations with Russia, but he also said, “I love war” and “We should take the oil.” But, he did talk about changing relations often enough that I think it is what he wanted. However, it isn’t clear what he wanted to come from that. Did he want Russia to switch its allegiance to China and Iran? He was rightly critical of the 40-year-long practice of using jihadists to fight on the ground as U.S. proxies.

It is clear that the system, the military industrial complex, the Deep State, call it what you will, will not permit fundamental changes in foreign policy. The charges of Russian influence I think played a role, too. Trump was facing a damaged presidency or impeachment if he didn’t follow the neocon script written by both parties.

The Democrats have been particularly aggressive in this regard. Not only do they claim that Trump is a Russian agent but say that the alleged meddling is “an act of war.” This language is very irresponsible and increases the likelihood that the public will support a direct military confrontation with Russia.

Falcone: Julian Assange, often accused of being a Russian spy on dubious grounds, is cited as stating his preference for the presidency before November’s elections as “like picking between cholera or gonorrhea.” In other words, both candidates were severely dangerous and potentially fatal with different symptoms. As a result, journalists like Allan Nairn and Naomi Klein voiced some skepticism of how useful WikiLeaks was and considered it somewhat self-serving. Do you think Assange helped Trump in anyway? Can you break that down for me?

Kimberley: Trump and Clinton are both awful. Trump’s openly racist appeals made him more obviously problematic. But, the Clinton Democrats also enacted very racist policies from increasing mass incarceration to destroying the right to public assistance. The Democrats’ convention in Philadelphia featured one bellicose speaker after another, making it clear that she was a happy hawk. She promised to enact a no-fly zone over Syria, which guaranteed confrontation with Russia. So, the choice was a bad one.

As for Wikileaks, I think that the release of the DNC documents wasn’t helpful to Clinton. Controversy is never good during a campaign, but I don’t know how many voters were persuaded to vote against her because of it. I think she lost because she failed to give Democrats a reason to support her. She said that single-payer health care would “never happen.” She said nothing about the issues that Bernie Sanders raised that made him so popular. She and the rest of the Democrats missed the deep anxiety about inequality that also gave Trump support. Ultimately, he can’t bring back manufacturing jobs, but he said things that were actually to the left of Clinton, his opposition to trade deals, for example. Even the fact that he made the loss of living-wage jobs a political issue helped him get votes that might have gone to Obama previously.

I don’t think that Wikileaks got the DNC documents from Russia. I believe that the hack was a classic political dirty trick. I think that people like Roger Stone were behind it. It is interesting that Nigel Farage visited Assange last month. This is significant, but very few people said anything about it. I think Farage and Robert Mercer’s Cambridge Analytica played a part in the Wikileaks revelations. I wrote about it a few weeks ago.

Falcone: As bad as the Russo-phobic Democratic Party is at the moment and as much they resist even the most moderate of reforms, what can be said of party members that comprise the progressive wing of the party? Do they have any reason to be hopeful? Third parties usually represent the most important issues in the country, but can third-party issues be issued through this wing?

Kimberley: We need to stop thinking about third parties and start talking about getting rid of the Democrats once and for all. We need a truly progressive party and the Democrats are as reliant on wealthy individuals and corporate support as Republicans. They also have failed repeatedly at every level of government across the country. The presidency was the only office they had left and they screwed that up. Hillary Clinton raised $1 billion and still couldn’t get the 80,000 or so votes she needed to win Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Democrats offer nothing to the masses of people who are fearful for their futures. Their platform offered nothing that improves their day-to-day lives and that is why she lost. They can’t reform because they don’t want to. Trying to change the Democrats is an exercise in futility. They must disappear and the sooner the better.

Bernie Sanders’ detractors were right. He gathered progressives in an effort to ultimately send them right back to the right wing of the Democrats, a sheep dog as it were. But, I don’t think his supporters came out for Hillary Clinton. Why would they? She didn’t campaign on any of the issues that were important to them. I’m not sure that Sanders thought he would do as well as he did. His success surprised him and he wasn’t as prepared to take a fall as he probably thought he would be. But it is clear to me he is still running, as is Hillary Clinton.

Falcone: Watching the agenda-setting media, I was surprised to notice in the constant coverage of Russia that they never brought up what I thought the most obvious: white nationalism. Why didn’t they posit the possibility that race motivated Russia in appeal to Trump (or like other white autocrats in the post-Brexit xenophobic climate we are in both foreign and domestic)? Do you consider this line of reasoning constructive? Race certainly looked real in this election and the Democrats were afraid to cite it.

Kimberley: I have seen some references to Russia’s attraction to white racists. It could be a motivator for Trump, but I also think that he wants to upend the neo-liberal establishment, which includes the desire to subdue Russia. It is a system that needs to be upended, so I don’t criticize him for that, per se.

Trump certainly turned the political world upside down. While he is a right-winger, he also said things that leftists argue for. The trade deals that he opposes are also right wing, although they were consummated by Democratic presidents as well as by Republicans. He exposed the corruption of the Democrats and their adherence to policies that doom working people to stagnation and a continued race to an ever-falling bottom.

The Democrats also hope to appeal to white voters. Republicans play the role of being the white people’s party and get millions of votes because of that. Democrats always hope to peel off some racists and they wouldn’t want to alienate people for whom white supremacy is their primary organizing principle.

Of course, Trump’s call to build a wall immediately made him the white candidate. Democrats couldn’t compete with that strategy. If they had offered their base of supporters anything meaningful, they could have energized them and won the election.

I also want to add that the anti-Russia hysteria is being used by the Democrats to distract attention from their defeat. The corporate media, the pollsters, all missed Trump’s impact. The Democrats have not addressed their continued defeats at all. They offer nothing that would actually help them win because their corporate supporters won’t allow it. There is nothing in their future except more defeat. Progressives who compromise their principles and cling to them are selling their souls for no reason.


Daniel Falcone is an independent journalist, interviewer, researcher, activist and teacher. He has a graduate degree in modern American history and first began interviewing public intellectuals Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky after Sept. 11, 2001. He writes for several publications that cover current affairs, political science, history and education. He teaches and resides in New York City. He can be followed on twitter at DanielFalcone7

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