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No Puppet
Two Dissents on the Manchurian Candidate Thesis

Donald Trump’s weekend tweeting about President Obama’s alleged wiretapping of his campaign at Trump Tower sent journalists into a fresh flurry of wild speculation as to just what connections exist between the Kremlin and the White House. The theory of Trump as Manchurian Candidate regained its grip over a wide swath of the commentariat.

Writing for his blog In Moscow’s Shadows before the scandal broke, Mark Galeotti offers an important antidote to all the overheated hysteria. But instead of writing off Trump’s readily apparent Russian ties as somehow irrelevant, Galeotti argues that they reveal how someone like Trump might approach relations with Russia in the first place:

Those in Trump’s campaign and his administration who retain links with Russians do so not because they are dazzled by Putin, less yet by Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky. They do so because it suits and pleases them, because the Russians offer something: flattery, information, personal gain.

This is not necessarily the crude corruption of a suitcase of cash in return for documents or a favourable vote. It is rather the more insidious corruption of hooking people on the notion that the Russians can help you get closer to your financial and personal goals. […]

In other words, the real story is about the way that the rich and the powerful may regard Russia as a geopolitical antagonist, and yet be happy to cut deals with Russians if it helps them become richer and more powerful.

Meanwhile, at the liberal-leaning Talking Points MemoJosh Marshall offers a so-called “innocent explanation” of the Trump-Russia story. Much like Galeotti, Marshall suggests that Trump’s associates’ Russian contacts reflect the self-serving dealings of a business elite prone to playing in legal and ethnical gray zones. Marshall does not rule out that something more sinister is afoot, but concludes that given what is actually known and how much of Trump’s behavior and rhetoric towards Moscow can be explained by it, there’s little reason to jump to any darker conclusions quite yet.

Both pieces are worth reading carefully, and in full. Galeotti is one of the most respected Russia hands currently working; Marshall is a progressive journalist bucking the narrative of a lot of his fellow travelers are embracing with both arms. The fact that both doubt that theory should at least give some pause to its most fervent proponents.

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  • MikePM

    Thanks to the news that exploded over the weekend (in reality it broke earlier, but didn’t gain significant traction until Trump’s Saturday morning tweets), we now know the real reason for all the “Russian influence” fake news we’ve been hammered with since the election. It’s all a pretext to justify the Obama administration’s Nixonian wiretapping of members of the Trump campaign that we now know took place.

    • rheddles

      I’d feel better if I saw some evidence to substantiate the charges, both of the Russian collusion and the wiretap. I feel like I am watching name calling after school by factions of the student council.

      • MikePM

        The New York Times reported on this back in January, but it got almost no attention at the time. We know for a fact that the initial, broad FISA request that got made in June was rejected, but that the narrower request in October was approved. We know for a fact that at a minimum, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Carter Page were approved for close government surveillance (by the way, whoever leaked this information to the Times broke the law, as this is classified information).

        We don’t know if Trump himself was approved to be surveilled, or if there were others. We also don’t know for a fact specifically who made these FISA requests, but it almost certainly had to be either the F.B.I. or the Obama Justice Department (in other words, either James Comey or Loretta Lynch).

        • rheddles

          So you believe every anonymously sourced story you read in the failing New York Times? I can think of lots of reasons this FISA story was made up by a variety of players. I doubt we’ll ever know for sure as no FISA document is likely to be made public. The best we will get is Schumer and Cotton doing a joint press conference singing the same song after a joint investigation.

  • lurkingwithintent

    Can anyone tell me what an “ethnical gray zone” is?

    • Ofer Imanuel


    • Makaden

      Doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it contributes to diversity and our multicultural utopia. Just accept it.

  • Dhako

    This absurdity really takes the biscuit. In other words, it really is beyond silly to talk like this, when in fact you know that US’s tweeter-in-chief (who pass himself off as the US’s president when he is not echoing what in the underworld right-wing’s media keep feeding its “bottom-feeders”, who are otherwise known as right-wing’s news customers) just send to the world the latest “manifest proof” that go a long way in showing the world his utterly unfitness to the office he currently occupies.

    And he did that by basically out of the blue alleging (nay, charging) he predecessor in this current office he hold now (i.e., Mr Obama) of a crime of the most highest order, without, of course, providing a scintilla of evidence to back it up. Moreover, the head of the FBI (i.e., Mr Comey) who would of been the guy who would have to “authorize” this kind of “tapping” the phone and other surveillance operation on behalf of the US’s government, seems to come out and flatly wanted to rejected this serious allegation, if only he could find a sitting hire-up “official appointee” at the Justice department in the absence of Mr Sessions, who could do so on behalf of the FBI.

    And here you are telling us, in the middle of all these, to go read what some may have written about what is motivating Mr Trump in his teenage-like infatuations of all things Russians in general, or Putin in particular. Furthermore, not to be outdone, Mr Sessions, who was supposed to be looking into any would-be investigation that could be launch to find out as to how precisely the Russians had intervened with the US’s election, was himself found to have a “secret dalliance” with the same set of “Russian characters” in which Mr Trump’s alleged misdeeds was also involved. Hence, his speedy recusal of the case, and the lack of appointed legal authority that could sign off what Mr Comey wanted it from the justice department, at the behest of the FBI.

    Relatedly, it needs bearing in mind, that, if any of these mind-bending episodes and outrageous happenings were all to have occurred under a Democratic administration in its first 100 days in power, somehow I would seriously but good money on the bet that says the likes of this rag-sheet wouldn’t be telling its readers to go find some folks out there who in turn can explain away all these issues in a more innocent light than what the normal reading of that would-be reality under the Democratic administration would have induced one to deduct from it.

    Hence, the pity is to see how much of a “verbal contortion” and “down-right clever-by-half-contrived” and “tortuous explanation” you are willing to go through, just so that you can still keep the flag flying for Mr Trump. Even, if, he is doing all he can to not only indict himself in the mind of his reasonable citizens, but in effect having to being seen in populating his government with all sort of people, in which, if he was innocents from what is being charged against him, he would have no truck with them, much less said about allowing them to run his government from top to bottom.

    Consequently, reading this kind of apologia, one really wonders why is it this parish is turning up to be the most tendentious intellectual chancers (of the shameless kind) ever known around the US’s main-stream publications, particularly one who in turn is ready to justify everything, in which the likes of Mr Trump gets up to? This is the question that really deserve a bit of contemplation from the readers of this rag-sheet.

    • Makaden

      I don’t have time to wade through your expose here, but let’s focus on this:

      “And he did that by basically out of the blue alleging (nay, charging) his predecessor in the current office he now holds (i.e., Mr Obama) of a crime of the most highest order, without, of course, providing a scintilla of evidence to back it up.”

      a. It may be “out of the blue” to you because you aren’t privy to (previously) classified information.
      b. “Crime of the most highest order” (sic) is treason. This would be on the ethical level of Watergate.
      c. “without providing a scintilla of evidence to back it up”–again, this was likely (previously) classified information, which he isn’t likely to divulge the specifics of, but IS likely in position to know. And you aren’t. Not by a long shot.

      • Dhako

        So your argument is that Donnie – the tweeter-in-chief of the US – has the goods (in evidential sense of the word) on what his predecessor has been up to in office. And therefore, he is not making any wild bogus allegation in here. But, rather he is basically telling the world the sort of criminality Mr Obama did get up to during the election period. Now if that is the case, then he really wouldn’t have said it, that, the US’s congress should investigated that. since, he already has the “goods” to indict his predecessor for his wanton criminality.

        Which means, instead of running to the US’s congress to “substantiate” his allegation (a serious allegation by any account) he would simply need to say: “I have the evidence which proves, conclusively, that Obama’s white-house, colluded and conspired, with the FBI and with the intelligence community, to tap my phone during the election”. And of course, if that is the case, it will simply mean, that, Mr Obama has a serious case of criminality to answer for.

        Hence, if that is the case, I doubt it that Mr Trump would be hiding behind some sort of a “congressional investigation” to get him off from the hook of a serious allegation he made against his predecessor, which is what he is patently doing now, when he says, in effect, that, I may have made this charge against Obama, but now I will not level with the American’s people by saying one way on other whether I have the “evidence” to back up my contention or not. But instead I will simply hand over this pile of dog’s messes that I have made, recently, to the US’s congress, in-order for them to determine whether what I have alleged has any merit or not. And in the meantime, I will say no more about the serious allegation I just leveled against my predecessor.

        Now, do you see how cute-by-half your tendentious line of reasoning sounds to anyone who is not a paying member of Mr Trump’s political groupies? Or do you have hard time in following through the logic of the argument you intended to exonerate the likes of Mr Trump from serious case of constitutional and political malfeasance in which the true definition of his accusation against Mr Obama could be said to be equal to in the cold light of the day.

        • Makaden

          Your ad hominem only applies if the activities were, in fact, illegal. I don’t know that they were. They may be immoral, but that isn’t the same thing.

          In a post-Snowden age, why would we find it even a little surprising that EVERY American is being spied on by their government?

          You can step back from the cliff now. Or at least pull me back from the edge and let go of my collar, thank you.

          • Dhako

            When a president spy on his would be successor that is a bid deal, in my opinion. And it’s not the same thing as NSA looking into the digital activities of Joe Six-Packs in fly-over country. Hence, unless, conclusively, Mr Trump says he has the evidence of what he alleged then he should not be allow to get away with it.

            Also, since he is the president, all he needed to do is pick up the phone to the intelligence community and ask his folks he appointed there to get him the evidence he believes that had warranted for him to make this accusation, so that he can level with the people or with the people’s representatives in Congress, if matters of this kind are classified.

            And, finally, I am not on any ledger or for that matter holding your color. But basically, I can’t in life of me stand a shoddy argument, or for that matter I don’t like to be blind-sided with the kind of tendentious argument you saw fit to share with us in here.

          • Makaden

            I guess that was directed at me. I didn’t understand much of it, tbh. But, in summary, if Obama spied on Trump during the campaign:

            a. I am not surprised.
            b. I find it immoral.
            c. It may not be illegal.

            That’s the summation of my take. Find it tendentious if you must, but since I haven’t heard anyone else make my argument yet–and I don’t even think it is an argument–maybe tendentious is not the word you were looking for.

            Time may be what we need for the evidence to emerge. That’s nothing more than a reasonable and practical argument, given that we are talking about domestic spying and all of the legal entrapments that entails.

  • Pait

    Both interpretations indicate that the regime uses Russian connections for their personal benefit at the expense of the United States, rather than being Putin stooges. I agree that this is the most likely explanation. So why is it that they feel the need to perjure themselves in front of Congress?

    • Dhako

      But if you are financially “beholden” to a Russian outfits (whether they connected to Kremlin or not) then the question becomes how on earth are you going to say (with straight face, no less) that you can separate your “financial dealings” from your obligation to the duty of the nation, especially, when you refused, point-plank, like Mr Trump did, to release your Tax Returns. Or when you refuse to tell the nation how much are you up your eye-ball in financial obligations to some Russians outfit.

      Hence, I am not sure, there is anyway to get around the central impediment in this issue. And that is most of Mr Trump’s businesses and his associates have some financial dealings with some “entities” in Russia. And by that mere fact, it effectively, means he is essentially in a not credible position when he says he wants to have a good relationship with Putin’s regime.

      So, I am afraid, this issue of Russia being the main “financial benefactor” of Donnie Trump (and all of his associate) will not go away, no matter how many “distracting tweets” he send in the small ungodly hours of the day. Particularly, such tweets that are essentially and explosively alleging a conspiracy act to commit a wanton criminality on the part of his predecessors in this office in which he currently occupies it.

    • Ofer Imanuel

      First, it is not the “regime”. It might be Trump in his capacity as a private person, prior to the elections.
      Second, Trump raised it with congress presumably because Trump feels that what he did was not illegal. Compare with Obama strong resistance to digging into IRS matters.
      Third, playing devil’s advocate, congress is likely to investigate anyway.

      • Pait

        Tell that to the cabinet members who lied to congress and to the vice president about their Russian connections.

  • Eurydice

    I see. So it’s not a conspiracy but a pathology, that makes it much better. How about we call it the way things get done, instead? We didn’t hear a general hue and cry over the Clintons’ Russia connections.

  • Jim__L

    So basically, Russia plays the same role as the Ottoman Empire used to in the alliance system of Europe — clearly not the thing to the moral consensus, but a friend-of-opportunity to ambitious states which nonetheless have no intention of “turning Turk”.

  • Mike

    Sure, he-who-must-not-be-named-in-chief is not a true Putin’s follower. He does it for money. Nothing personal, strictly business.

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