Why Is Trump Spouting Russian Propaganda? – David Frum | The Atlantic

The president’s endorsement of the U.S.S.R.’s invasion of Afghanistan echoes a narrative promoted by Vladimir Putin.

 David Frum | The Atlantic

It was only one moment in a 90-minute stream of madness.

President Donald Trump convened a Cabinet meeting, at which he invited all its members to praise him for his stance on the border wall and the government shutdown. There’s always a lively competition to see which member of the Cabinet can grovel most abjectly.   

The newcomer Matthew Whitaker may be only the acting attorney general, but despite — or perhaps because of — that tentative status, he delivered one of the strongest entries, saluting the president for sacrificing his Christmas and New Year’s holiday for the public good, and contrasting that to members of Congress who had left Washington during the TRUMP-CREATED CRISIS.             

But that was not the crazy part.            

The crazy part came during the president’s monologue defending his decision to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria and 7,000 from Afghanistan, about half the force in that country.

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union,” he said.

Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia … the reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.

Let’s go to the replay:

The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.

To appreciate the shock value of Trump’s words, it’s necessary to dust off some Cold War history. Those of us who grew up in the last phases of the Cold War used to know it all by heart, but I admit I had to do a little Googling to refresh my faded memories.

Through the 1970s, Afghanistan had been governed by a president who was friendly to the Soviet Union, but it was not reliably under Soviet control. That president, Mohammad Daoud Khan, became convinced that the local Communists were plotting against him. He struck first, assassinating one Communist leader in April 1978, and arresting others.

Instead of preventing the plot, this coup-from-above triggered it. In April 1978, the Communists — enabled by their strong presence in Afghanistan’s Soviet-trained military — seized power.

The new regime launched an ambitious modernizing agenda: Women’s rights, land reform, secularization.

That project went about as well as expected. While the Communists appealed to a small, educated elite in Kabul, they offended the ultraconservative countryside. Violent guerrilla resistance gathered. The guerrillas called themselves “mujahideen”, holy warriors. The Kabul government dismissed them as “bandit elements” and “terrorists”.

By the end of 1979, the Kabul-based Communist government was teetering, nearing collapse. The Soviet authorities in Moscow blamed the incompetence, corruption, and internecine violence of their local allies.

In December 1979, they overthrew and killed the then-Communist leader, installed somebody more compliant, and deployed 85,000 troops to enforce their rule over the countryside.

The Soviets had expected a brief, decisive intervention like those in Prague in 1968 or Budapest in 1956. Instead, the war turned into a grinding Vietnam-in-reverse. The Soviets withdrew, defeated, in 1989.

Here’s why Trump’s lopsided view of this story is so telling. Inflicting that defeat on the U.S.S.R. was a major bipartisan foreign-policy priority of the 1980s. The policy was designed by Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and executed by the Reagan administration.

It’s amazing enough that any U.S. president would retrospectively endorse the Soviet invasion. What’s even more amazing is that he would do so using the very same falsehoods originally invoked by the Soviets themselves: “terrorists” and “bandit elements”.

It has been an important ideological project of the Putin regime to rehabilitate and justify the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Putin does not care so much about Afghanistan, but he cares a lot about the image of the U.S.S.R.

In 2005, Putin described the collapse of the Soviet Union as (depending on your preferred translation) “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” or “a major geopolitical disaster of the 20th century” — but clearly a thing very much to be regretted.

The war in Afghanistan helped bring about that collapse, not because it bankrupted the Soviet regime — that was an effect of the break in the price of oil after 1985 — but because it forced a reckoning between the Soviet regime and Soviet society.

As casualties mounted, as soldiers returned home addicted to heroin, Soviet citizens began demanding the right to speak the truth, not only about the war in Afghanistan, but about all Soviet reality.

It’s fitting that Putin’s campaign to reimpose official lying would culminate in a glorification of the catastrophic Afghanistan war. And clearly, that campaign has swayed the mind of the president of the United States.

As of mid-morning on January 3, the day after the president’s repetition of Soviet-Putinist propaganda in the Cabinet room, there has been no attempt by the White House to tidy things up: NO presidential tweet, NO corrective statement.

The president’s usual defenders — Sean Hannity, Fox & Friends, the anti-anti-Trump Twitter chorus — have likewise ignored the whole matter. They’re back to denouncing the Steele dossier, fulminating against Mueller, and reprising the Clinton-email drama. There’s apparently nothing they can think of to say in exoneration or excuse.

Putin-style glorification of the Soviet regime is entering the mind of the president, inspiring his words and — who knows— perhaps shaping his actions.

How that propaganda is reaching him — by which channels, via which persons — seems an important if not urgent question. But maybe what happened yesterday does not raise questions.

Maybe it inadvertently reveals answers.

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Comments

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On January 5, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    Yes, our president does sometimes say the strangest things. Perhaps, in this case, he’s unwittingly foreshadowing America’s future demise that our military-industrial-complex refuses to contemplate in our never-ending wars in the Middle East.

    Consider, again, our president’s comments, as quoted in Frum’s article: “Russia used to be the Soviet Union,” [our president] said. “Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan.”

    Then consider Frum’s account of the real cause for the collapse of the Soviet Union – think here of the federal republic of the United States of America:

    “The war in Afghanistan helped bring about that collapse, not because it bankrupted the Soviet regime — that was an effect of the break in the price of oil after 1985 — but because it forced a reckoning between the Soviet regime and Soviet society.
    As casualties mounted, as soldiers returned home addicted to heroin, Soviet citizens began demanding the right to speak the truth, not only about the war in Afghanistan, but about all Soviet reality.”

  • Trevor  On January 5, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    The biggest question is why European countries think it’s their God-given right to invade poorer countries of darker complexions?

    • Emanuel  On January 6, 2019 at 12:14 pm

      Answer- greed and bigotry. Long before I was born Alvin K played for West Indies. He was recently given an award by the Queen. Considering what the British did to and in our country and elsewhere in the West Indies, he should refuse that award in protest. It is a tainted award. No self respecting West Indian will accept such an award from the British. Someone recently wrote on this forum that AK deserves that award. Under different circumstances, yes. But the writer failed to recognize the contamination of that award and failed to say so. This unfortunate comment was written by someone who claims to be an educated Guyanese. Shameful .

      • Trevor  On January 6, 2019 at 8:15 pm

        The Brits are planning to build a military base here in Guyana by 2020, once after officially leave the EU as a form of neo-nationalist protest against “Europe is being invaded by dem refugees!!!!”.

        As much as Afro-Guyanese suffered under Dutch settler plantations, ask any Dutchman today in NL how they feel owning African slaves in Berbice and owning Suriname until 1975, and he will apologise and say he doesn’t want to colonise anyone.

        But ask any Brit—How they like to poke their business into former colonies! There are Brits who would say that they deserve Guyana’s oil, and how we should be colonised again because we’re not as “civlised” as them.

        Despite this, a British man referred me to a news article related to an Oxford University Professor who teaches in the nude [as a form of protest], and right now I’m laughing that the Emperor (or Empress) has no clothes!

  • Clyde Duncan  On January 6, 2019 at 8:40 am

    Rosaliene: Like a cruise missile you are homing in on the target … the real reason

    The closing by the Author says it all:

    How that propaganda is reaching him — by which channels, via which persons — seems an important if not urgent question. But maybe what happened yesterday does not raise questions.

    Maybe it inadvertently reveals answers.

  • walter  On January 6, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    How that propaganda is reaching him —????? coming from one of the biggest anti-Trump pushers, can’t call him Liberal, because it seems he follows the money. All the history might not be necessary, bring the troops home reboot, review, let them wipe each other out save a few bucks. The “bigger” picture view of this mess obviously not working, what’s working is, some one making MONEY!

  • Clyde Duncan  On January 7, 2019 at 2:48 pm

    The Great Illusion of The Apprentice

    Even more than wealth, the reality-TV show promised its viewers accountability.

    David Frum | the Atlantic

    I’m a Cabernet-sipping coastal elitist, so of course I never watched The Apprentice at the time it aired. But after Donald Trump emerged as the Republican front-runner in the summer of 2015, I decided I’d better look at him through the eyes of his many fans.

    I thought back to those bouts of reality TV after reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s profile of the television producer Mark Burnett in The New Yorker. Burnett, of course, was the creator of The Apprentice. The profile offers a sardonic behind-the-scenes look at how Burnett’s show created a fake Trump in place of the real one. Here’s the paragraph that has everyone talking:

    “The Apprentice” portrayed Trump not as a skeezy hustler who huddles with local mobsters but as a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth — a titan who always seemed to be climbing out of helicopters or into limousines. “Most of us knew he was a fake,” [Jonathon] Braun told me. “He had just gone through I don’t know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king.” Bill Pruitt, another producer, recalled, “We walked through the offices and saw chipped furniture. We saw a crumbling empire at every turn. Our job was to make it seem otherwise.”

    It is a satisfying exposure of an illusion that seduced millions of voters.

    But what exactly was the illusion?

    The Apprentice presented a false image of Trump’s wealth and success, yes, just as Keefe so pungently describes. But viewers were presented with something even more attractive and even more false:

    An image of a titanically rich man who carefully weighed individual contributions to team effort — and held to account those who did not perform.

    Now think in the context of the times. The Apprentice debuted in January 2004, the same month that the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq told Congress that he could find no evidence that Saddam Hussein still possessed weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in 2003.

    The spin-off Celebrity Apprentice premiered in January 2008, as the United States was entering its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

    Over those years, the American system stumbled from one failure to another.

    Because of the mistakes of the elite, thousands of Americans would lose their lives; millions of Americans would lose their homes and jobs. Yet almost none of those who made the mistakes were called to real account. Many made off from the wreckage with enormous fortunes.

    Recollect Donald Trump’s trademark phrase, “You’re fired!”

    How satisfying was it to hear those words spoken inside an apparent corporate boardroom, targeted at a scheming executive wannabe — rather than some blameless working person whose only mistake had been to need a job in the throes of a financial upheaval?

    The Apprentice offered a promise not only of enrichment, but of justice, at a time when Americans craved that fantasy even more than usual.

    It attached that promise not to a fictional character, but to an apparent real-life billionaire, who seemed to own real buildings with his own actual name on them, all over the world.

    This was no case of “I’m not a businessman, but I play one on TV.”

    Apprentice viewers had every reason to accept Trump as NBC and Mark Burnett featured him: a businessman who cared about the team, who upheld standards, who rewarded and punished as his subordinates deserved.

    “I alone can fix it” made sense in the context of The Apprentice, where Trump was shown to “fix it” — week in, week out.

    The experience of the Trump presidency is exploding that fantasy.

    Accountability, responsibility, and justice are repugnant concepts to Trump, to the extent that he can even comprehend them in the first place.

    The truth is now visible to all. But to understand why the illusion worked, we first need to appreciate what the illusion was.

  • Clyde Duncan  On January 7, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    A Prediction For 2019

    I am confident that Trump will be impeached by year end, assuming Mueller’s report is delivered before June. I have no doubt that this report will reveal multiple solid grounds for impeachment. The Republicans will want to ditch him pronto after the release of that report so that they can have a chance with a new leader in 2020.

    You can already see Republicans turning on him slowly as he does increasingly zany things. I predict that history will brand the substantial loss of the House of Representatives in the midterms and the resignation of Defence Secretary James Mattis as the tipping points. Already National Security Advisor John Bolton has publicly disagreed with Trump over Syria.

    Six Republican Senators have to date publicly disowned him on his wall plan which is hurting well over a million voters. More who will be seeking re-election in 2020 will follow as the financial peril to ordinary citizen voters bites down harder.

    I predict that the wall and the trade war – already hurting his farm base – will be his political undoing; Mueller will be the coup de grâce.

    Already the polls are blaming him significantly more than Nancy Pelosi for the shutdown which he has absurdly chosen to call a ” strike”. This is an insult to voters living paycheque to paycheque who are most certainly not on strike and worried about being evicted as tenants or losing their homes.

    Rex Tillerson was right to call him a moron. No sane strategist would say that this “strike” could last for years. Yet that is what he has recently said. That would involve the destruction of over one quarter of the government. He is by far the worst negotiator I have ever encountered.

    It takes 19 Republican Senators to do him in. I predict we will get to that before Cinderella ushers in New Year’s Day 2020.

    Remember that Michael Cohen has plenty more tape on a wide variety of subjects which Mueller now has, and that Michael Flynn has been singing for over a year.

    Paul Manafort and his partner Rick Gates have also been singing even though Manafort is clearly worried about the Russians removing him from planet earth (as he should be). Manafort needs witness protection which is very difficult, but not impossible, to provide in a jail setting.

    Manafort is set to be sentenced in March. Look for a development around then. He is over seventy and predicted to receive at least ten years. Not good actuarial numbers. However, even after being sentenced, his sentence can still be reduced through more co-operation.

    More Americans believe Trump should be impeached, than the number that supported Richard Nixon’s impeachment in a 1974 poll and well above that for Bill Clinton.

    Anonymous

  • Clyde Duncan  On January 7, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    A historian pointed out: Basically, Trump has one big thing going for him, that’s the economy.

    Think of what would happen if the economy goes sour, which it well could after all the fighting with Canada and the Government shut-down.

    A lot of that fervent Trump base would melt away. No matter what they make of Mueller or the Democrats, if he’s impeached in the midst of an economic downturn, he’s toast.

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