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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