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Whether the Kremlin meddled in the U.S. election or not, the hyper-focus on Russiagate overlooks bigger threats: Russian elites to the Russian people, and U.S. elites to the American people, says Paul Jay

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AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have wrapped their summit in Helsinki. Both pledged to cooperate, with Trump calling for dialogue, and Putin saying the Cold War is a thing of the past. Putin also renewed his denial of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election just days after 12 Russian military intelligence officers were indicted for that very act. Trump caused a stir back home when he was asked about Putin’s denial.

SPEAKER: Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference of 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. What. Who-. My first question for you, sir, is who do you believe? My second question is would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin, would you denounce what happened in 2016, and would you want him to never do it again?

DONALD TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server, why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months, and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server, and what is the servers saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said, they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.

AARON MATE: Those comments, among others, prompted former CIA chief John Brennan to call Trump, quote, nothing short of treasonous. Well, are there other ways of interpreting Trump’s comments? And are there other issues that are being overlooked in the focus on the Trump-Putin summit? Well, joining me is Paul Jay, senior editor of The Real News. All right, Paul, so people are calling this the surrender summit. Others are calling it the treason summit. Curious about your take on this meeting that went down today.

PAUL JAY: Well, it’s a complicated question because it’s a very complicated moment in history, in geopolitical relations. But the underlying assumption here, and that’s driving all of this rhetoric and drama, is the phrase Russia is America’s adversary. You really need to break that down to make sense of everything else.

AARON MATE: Paul, let me, let me go to a clip, then, of that. Just recently Trump was interviewed by CBS News ahead of the summit, and he was asked about this. Let me play a clip of that.

SPEAKER: What’s your biggest competitor, the biggest foe globally right now?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think we have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe. Russia’s a foe, in certain respects. China is a foe of, economically, certainly, they’re a foe. But that doesn’t mean they’re bad. It doesn’t mean anything. It means that they are competitors. They want to do well, and we want to do well.

AARON MATE: That’s Donald Trump speaking to CBS News. Last week at the NATO summit he rejected assertions that Russia is an enemy of the U.S. Trump referred to them as a competitor. Paul, you were saying.

PAUL JAY: Well, you know, Trump in his own kind of dishonest-honest way often says things that are true. And I think what he’s just said in that CBS interview is quite correct. And even though CNN’s and MSNBC are playing that clip over and over again to show how outrageous Trump is. But the fact is, you know, this is what big capitalist countries are to each other. They are competitors, and they are allies. The interests converge and they diverge. Before World War II, the United States and Germany were allies to some extent, but they were certainly economic partners. There was an enormous amount of exports in the United States to Germany. In fact, even as Hitler was beginning the Second World War, he’s driving General Motors-produced cars. That’s, in fact, his army goes to war to a large extent because of what General Motors produced and sold to the German state.

This is how the world has worked. We’re not in a whole new world. What happened in the lead up to the First World War, the lead up to the Second World War, and you know, these big capitalist countries, for a while interests meet and then they don’t. And why is that? Countries are very much like big companies. In fact, they’re made up of big companies, big corporations. And big corporations want to be dominant. They want to control the market. They want, you know, if not it, in their own country. They’d even like to control it globally. It leads to monopolies. And monopolies want to control everything. Well, monopolies in one country want to control everything, and monopolies from another want to control everything, and they bump heads. And so there’s a tendency built right into the economies of these, of these countries, that at certain points they look to grow, and they look for more territory, and they look for more markets. And of course there’s other drivers of this. The arms industry loves this kind of rivalry.

So it’s not just about some personalities of a Putin, or a Trump. The system itself has war and this kind of global competition built right into its DNA. And so when we look at this issue of who’s an adversary and who’s a friend, at this level Trump speaks, he’s right. The European Union is an economic competitor to the United States. They compete over markets. And especially Germany and the United States had quite a fierce competition going on in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union which, Germany or U.S. would be the more dominant external power in that area. So Trump is saying, well, Russia is a competitor and friend the same way the Europeans are.

Well, this does get in the way of the American military industrial complex, who want, need a big enemy to justify this kind of military expenditure. And it does get in the way of the basic U.S. foreign policy, geopolitical strategy coming out of the Second World War, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, which is that there should never be another superpower. More than that, there should never even be a regional power that the Americans can’t control. So they don’t like this contention with Russia, they being a sector of the foreign policy establishment, and the military, and so on.

Now, what does Trump represent? He represents a section of the elites that see that the real contention in the world for the United States is going to be China. So it makes sense in that frame of reference. You know, neutralize the contention with Russia. Even try to make sure there is no Russia-China alliance. And the short-term goal of these people is to have regime change and undermine Iran as much as possible. And this is for the same reason. They don’t want a regional power, either, that they’re not in control of. And since the Iranian revolution they haven’t been in control of that.

So what Trump said there is more or less true, but it’s very dangerous truth. Because these competitors, who are all nice guys, according to Trump, can turn into real enemies and real war, which is why this kind of supposedly liberal media that’s attacking these meetings and sounding more hawkish than, than even some of the Republicans, is really extraordinary; the way they’re feeding this kind of warlike appetite in the American psychology.

AARON MATE: Well, Paul, let me read for you some tweets to illustrate that point. Because the overall consensus in the corporate media and amongst prominent political elites in the U.S. has been that this idea is a bad idea, and the cooperation with Russia is wrong and possibly treasonous. So Richard Haass, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, he tweeted: International order for four centuries has been based on non-interference in the internal affairs of others and respect for sovereignty. Russia has violated this norm by seizing Crimea and by interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. We must deal with Putin’s Russia as the rogue state it is.

David Corn, a journalist for the liberal magazine Mother Jones, he said in response to Rand Paul pointing out that the U.S. has interfered in countries for many, many, many years-. And Paul did mention this, but in more even extreme ways than Russia is accused of doing right now. David Corn simply wrote the word ‘traitor’ on Twitter. Andrea Mitchell, talking about the warnings from the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. She writes: The nation’s top spy DNI Dan Coats warns Russia it the worst foreign power threatening the U.S. with cyber attacks and warning lights are blinking red, as terror threats were before 9/11. So likening the current supposed Russian threat to al Qaeda before 9/11. And finally, Lawrence O’Donnell, the host of The Last Word on MSNBC, liberal network. He writes: Russia launched a war against the U.S. in 2016, and won.

So Paul, I’m just wondering, when you hear this roster of liberal elites rattling off hawkish talking points, talking about treason, Richard Haass talking about how Russia is the one violating the international order, omitting the record of the country he lives in. Your thoughts?

PAUL JAY: Well, I mean, the hypocrisy is so rich that one hardly knows where to begin. First of all, we know the United States has interfered in elections everywhere, including supposed allies and friends. And if interfering in an election is a violation of international law, and it is, it should be. What Haass says, in fact, is international law. You are supposed to stay out of other countries, meddling with their elections and internal affairs.

The United States has done it over and over again, and most people watching this know lots of examples. One they may not know is that the United States actually manipulated the outcome of the Canadian election, twice, in 1962 and 1963. Prime Minister Diefenbaker of Canada refused to have nuclear weapons on BOMARK missiles in Canada, and Kennedy was furious. And Kennedy sent his pollster Lou Harris to guide the Liberal Party in Canada to defeat Diefenbaker’s conservatives. He hired 500 women to start polling. And it wasn’t just to find out results of the polling. They were actually doing the kind of stuff Cambridge Analytica is accused of doing now. They were testing questions, and how the Liberal Party should frame their messaging. This is early on, maybe the first beginnings of this kind of methodology.

Well, Kennedy gets Lou Harris to do this for Diefenbaker, against Diefenbaker in Canada. And then he invites Pearson, who is the Liberal ally in Canada, to Washington, to a dinner of Nobel Prize winners, which are only supposed to be Americans. But he invites this Canadian Pearson, again to try to promote Pearson. And in fact, they win. Diefenbaker is defeated in 1963. Straightforward interference and manipulation of the Canadian elections. So should we brand Kennedy a violator of international and international law? Well, in fact, we should. But of course Richard Haass won’t. The hypocrisy is far too rich.

Maybe the Russians did these things to the American elections. Maybe they wanted a Trump victory as an outcome. Maybe they wanted to weaken the Clinton presidency, as people are accusing them of. Maybe it’s all true. But the truth of it is this is normal stuff in the competition between these big countries. And the reason it’s made such an issue now is because various forces want to wound Trump. And he may or may not be complicit in this. So far there doesn’t seem to be any real evidence that he is. But it’s about the wounding of Trump and the, and the struggle that’s taking place in the American elites, and within, very importantly, within the state apparatus itself, a real struggle. And I have to say, I welcome this struggle. Because I think we have to talk about from what perspective do we look at these things?

Because when they want us to look at these things as Americans, like we’re all the same. You know, it’s an attack on American values. It’s an attack on American democracy. Well is American values what goes on in the streets of Baltimore every day, where the Department of Justice said that people’s Constitutional rights are violated every single day in Baltimore? Are American values unlimited spending of money, manipulating, and the real manipulation, and determining outcome of elections? These aren’t the values of the American people. So let’s really be clear. The oligarchy of Russia is an adversary of the Russian people and the American oligarchy is an adversary of the American people. Let’s start with that. We’re not all in the same boat here. So, so this issue of the people all up in arms about this summit, it’s from the, from the perspective of various sections of the American oligarchy. This is not what the American people need or want.

AARON MATE: On what you were saying about hypocrisy and meddling being routine by all big foreign powers, including the U.S., I want to go to one more clip to illustrate, because it also speaks to the tensions underlying U.S.-Russia relations, where in the ’90s you had a heavy U.S. role not just in shaping the outcome of presidential elections, ensuring a victory for Boris Yeltsin, but also in the rise of the oligarchs that you’re talking about. The U.S. shock therapy with U.S. economic advisers at the helm helped impose on Russia these radical reforms that gave rise to the oligarchs who now control so much wealth in the country. Fast forward to 2014 and you had U.S. involvement in the coup in Ukraine, where a very corrupt but elected leader, Yanukovich, was overthrown.

And just to illustrate some of the hypocrisy about this outrage over alleged Russian email hacking, I’m going to go to a clip. This is Victoria Nuland, who was then serving as a high official in the State Department. And she’s speaking to the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. And in this clip from the film Ukraine on Fire there is an intercepted phone call that was put out back then between Nuland and the ambassador, where they’re discussing who they want to see installed as the next president of Ukraine.

SPEAKER: Questions of credibility are being raised after a private chat between two top U.S. diplomats was leaked online.

VICTORIA NULAND: I think [inaudible] is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s, he’s the guy. You know, what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. I just think Klitsch going in, he’s going to be at that level working for Yatsenyuk. It’s just not going to work.

SPEAKER: Yeah. No, I think that’s right. OK. Good. You want us to try to set up a call with him as the next step?

VICTORIA NULAND: Sullivan’s come back to me VFR saying you need Biden, and I said probably tomorrow for an attaboy and to get the deets to stick. So Biden’s willing.

AARON MATE: Biden’s willing, says Victoria Nuland, referring to then-Vice President Joe Biden. So Paul, as we wrap, I’d like you to actually respond to those viewers, some of whom have written into The Real News, saying that, you know, yes, U.S. has meddled around the world, the U.S. has done worse. It’s overthrown governments, it’s killed leaders. But why-. But that doesn’t excuse what Russia is doing now, and that doesn’t mean that we should downplay or minimize it. If you could respond to that.

PAUL JAY: Well, let me say, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the Russian state was involved in the attempt to manipulate the outcome of the elections. I don’t think there’s evidence of that yet. We’re told the intelligence agencies all think so, and I tend to think there might be some truth to it in the sense some of the people, especially in the Republican Party, are saying they think that’s true. You know, there’s this phrase, this legal phrase, you know, when somebody says something against interest. And some of the people that seem to say it, given they want, they don’t want Trump to fail, there’s something to it. But I don’t really know. But let’s say, say it is.

How serious a threat is this, and how serious a story is it? So, it’s not a non-story. It’s not like we shouldn’t cover it. And at The Real News we certainly spent a lot of time trying to see if there’s real evidence that, in the public domain at least, that one can believe. And the main position we’ve had, and Aaron, you’ve been doing a lot of these interviews, is simply that we’re skeptical. That we’re not going to take this intelligence on faith. And it’s not that we don’t take it seriously. If it turns out to be true, it’s unacceptable that Russia tried to manipulate the outcome of the Russian elections. But it’s, but let’s put it into the context of what-.

AARON MATE: Of the U.S. election, yeah.

PAUL JAY: Well, of what really affected the outcome of U.S., the U.S. election. So let’s say they did what they did. But what’s the bigger story? That the Russians did that? Or just, for example, that this billionaire Robert Mercer, who brings money, Bannon and Kellyanne Conway and Breitbart News, which he mostly owned, to Trump, and manipulate through Cambridge Analytica, do various kinds of studying of voter patterns, especially in swing states, and are able to message specific messages to individual people. How about how one billionaire and a cabal-. I should say two. Sheldon Adelson’s in on this. The ultra-Zionist who gave 25, at least $25 million to Trump. I mean, how about that is the big story?

I still talk to people, intelligent, well-informed people, who never even heard the name Robert Mercer. It’s a far more important story to how the outcome of the election was manipulated by a far-right cabal very closely aligned with Netanyahu and Israel, allied with the Saudis. That’s a really big story. And so it’s not that the Russians aren’t a big story; I mean aren’t a story; but you know, where’s the big weight of the issues? And more importantly, given how destructive this Trump presidency is to the social safety net, to any kind of rational legislation that still exists in this country- and there wasn’t a heck of a lot of it, but they’re undoing what there was- given the fact that he’s a climate denier, I mean, what’s the bigger story? The fact that he’s undoing even the modest climate change legislation that existed? You know, pulling back EPA regulations on cars, allowing coal starting to drill everywhere any of these guys wants to drill, isn’t that a much bigger story than maybe, or even if, the Russians did whatever they did?

The point is that this Russia thing isn’t being driven by a real defense of values. Because the values of saving the planet, that’s a value. They’re not even talking about it. So what we’re trying to do with The Real News is talk about what’s, what’s important. We’re not discounting, yes, if the Russians did it, American government agencies have every right to tell the Russians to stay the hell out of American elections. And if somebody colluded with them, yeah, sure, arrest them. I mean, whatever. That’s fine. But it’s peanuts compared to the bigger issues.

AARON MATE: Paul Jay, senior editor of The Real News, thanks.

PAUL JAY: Thank you.

AARON MATE: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.

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Paul Jay was the founder, CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network, where he oversaw the production of over 7,000 news stories. Previously, he was executive producer of CBC Newsworld's independent flagship debate show CounterSpin for its 10 years on air. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with over 20 films under his belt, including Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows; Return to Kandahar; and Never-Endum-Referendum. He was the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and now the largest such festival in North America.