Real News Roundtable: The RussiaGate Distraction & Trump’s Free-For-All Capitalism
From climate change to the brewing war in the Middle East, we’re in one of the most dangerous moments in human history, says TRNN’s Paul Jay. So why are we talking about RussiaGate?
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. It’s time for a Real News roundtable, where we share with you some of the discussions we’re having inside our newsroom. Joining me for that is The Real News Senior Editor, Paul Jay. Paul, hello. I wanted to start with Seymour Hersh. We spoke to him this week because he published this explosive story that challenges the Trump administration’s narrative for bombing Syria in April. Hersh reported that Trump received intelligence that the U.S. had no evidence that Assad had carried out the chemical weapons attack Khan Sheikhoun, which Trump had cited as the reason for his bombing of Syria.
We had Sy Hersh on and I was struck by the fact that his story has basically been ignored in the U.S. media. In fact, he had to publish it, first of all, in a German newspaper because he couldn’t get it published here. But even when it comes out, no one even reports on this shocking revelation. Curious about your take on it.
PAUL JAY: Well, corporate media, especially corporate television media, is into a ratings fight, ratings fest, over Trump. The narrative is the RussiaGate narrative. They’re in this war with the White House which I think both love. We just had a cartoon on the website a couple of days ago where Trump is saying, “Look at me. Look at me.” And over here are these bags of all these issues: RussiaGate, the economy, Iran, scandal. Trump’s playing this because it distracts attention from what’s really happening, which is extremely dangerous, which I hope we talk about.
The media’s playing it. Russia and the potential connection to the Trump administration, and the elections, and Russians, and so on, because it’s driving ratings. Rachel Maddow, as we’ve talked about before, is all of a sudden number one, and so on. We’re not playing a game because it’s not true. In the sense that we don’t know the first sarin attack, if it was sarin, even. We’re not even sure it was sarin. We’ve said right from the beginning, “Let’s have an independent inquiry into who actually launched the gas attack, if it was a gas attack.” There was no evidence that it was Assad, and we held back where everybody jumps right on. Essentially they replicate what the American intelligence agencies and the State Department say. Again, because it feeds ratings.
Seymour Hersh has a very credible history as an outstanding investigative journalist. He uses anonymous sources, but he has proved to be right almost every time. I think practically every time. It’s a very important part of the discourse. We’re not trying to prove a narrative. We’re not trying to prove Assad is the evil genius that must be overthrown. Nor are we trying to play into the anti-Russia stuff. Nor do we become Putin-Russian defenders. We try to do analysis. We try to do facts based on where people’s interest is. That’s our starting point.
AARON MATÉ: Speaking of Russia and anonymous sources. So much of the reporting on RussiaGate has been fed by that. Starting to unravel a little bit. CNN this week was forced to retract a story linking a Trump official to a Russian investment scheme of some kind. The New York Times just had to issue a correction saying that they had said for a long time that all 17 intelligence agencies had endorsed the view that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election deliberately. But they had to correct that to point out there were just four intelligence agencies. Your thoughts right now on so many months after the election, we’re still talking about Russia so much.
PAUL JAY: Well we’re talking about Russia for a couple of reasons. Primarily there’s two forces driving it. The Democratic Party have found a weakness in the Trump armor. Because they’re able to bring up all the demons and imagery of the cold war and throw it against the Trump administration. It plays to partisan political politics.
There’s a more important connection which is being driven by the arms industry who are very disappointed actually with the Trump administration. If you read the defense press that caters to the arms manufacturers, the arms manufacturers thought that $54 billion was not nearly enough. That he had promised … He being Trump, had promised the arms industry a massive increase in expenditure. They’re saying this $54 billion Trump proposed was only something like only 2% more than Obama was going to do anyway. Congress, already the Armed Services Committee is talking about another $10 billion, $15 billion on top of the 54.
You need the anti-Russian narrative. You need an existential threat. You don’t need a $13 billion aircraft carrier which is the Ford class aircraft carriers, of which they are planning to build 10, $13 billion apiece. The first one has just been delivered and it will take two, three years to get it working, because right now the whole landing gear has not even been working. But you don’t need $130 billion aircraft program to fight ISIS. You don’t need it even to do a regime change in some of these smaller countries. You need an existential threat of a major power. So the Russian narrative is absolutely critical to the scale of the arms purchases the arms industry wants.
That’s one force driving the Russian narrative, but there’s more than one force driving this administration, and this is where you get a contradiction between some of the big pools of capital. The fossil fuel industry, particularly Mobil-Exxon, as represented by Tillerson, they want to do a bit energy play in Russia. They want the sanctions on Russia lifted so they have a free hand to make a deal with Putin for a multi-billion dollar energy investment, and open up big pools of Russian oil to western investment.
AARON MATÉ: They applied for a waiver on the sanctions but got rejected recently.
PAUL JAY: Well, this is this contradiction between what the military side wants, which you need the Russian enemy. I don’t know whether they really believe Russia is an enemy. The disproportionality and the size of the American military and American economic power, combined with west European military and economic power. I mean, Russia is a pipsqueak, honestly, compared to the size of these things. But they have a big nuclear weapons program, so they’re an existential threat. If you don’t have that threat, why do you need so many aircraft carriers?
They can say it’s all about China, but then say it’s about China. Right now they need a narrative and the narrative is Russia. Again, in conflict with fossil fuel that wants a Russia play. Here’s what’s so dangerous about the current situation. You have two things. One, you have an administration who does not believe in any mitigating of the excesses, I’ll say, of capitalism. Here I’m quoting Hillary Clinton. In a debate with Sanders, one of the very first debates, they were talking about the role of government in society and all of that. Hillary says, “Our job is to rein in the excesses of capitalism.”
That’s always been the segment of capital that understood that. That’s why they agreed, in the mid-1800s, to have laws against child and females working in mines, and child labor in factories. They were actually destroying the working class. It wasn’t reproducing itself. There’s always been a section of capitalism that understood there had to be some limits, or you’ve threatened the system itself. The Democrats, Obama, they understood this. They understood you need to manage things within some limits, although those limits keep getting more and more excessive … Less, I should say.
This administration has no limits. This is free-for-all capitalism. This is fossil fuel, you’re going to get anything you want. There’s no climate change issue. We’re going to get rid of the EPA. Get rid of every possible regulation. Go back to coal. Increase fuel consumption. You got it. Finance, Dodd-Frank, out the window. Mind you, Dodd-Frank was weakened, like Swiss cheese full of holes, but at least it was something. Gone. No financial regulation, so finance gets what they want free-for-all. Free-for-all capitalism. Then the military sector is going to get these massive expenditures. They’re going to get, again, they’ve already got free-for-all, and the change of rules of engagement where they can kill civilians far more easily now.
What’s dangerous about all of this is while they’re diverging on Russia, all of these interests are converging on the Middle East Iran policy. They all want to go back into Iraq. Trump has talked about going back into Iraq to seize Iraqi oil. They want the Saudi play against Iran. They want to destabilize Iran. The more volatility they have in the region, the more money everybody makes.
Arms, it’s a buying feast for the arms sales. Qatar’s buying arms. The Saudis are buying arms. Everybody’s buying arms at an enormous scale, because they’re fueling these tensions so that everybody thinks they’re going to get attacked by someone. They’re trying to focus it all on Iran. They’re destabilizing Iran. They’re openly talking now, openly talking about trying to instigate in Iran what happened in Iraq. Using fractures along ethnic lines and religious lines within Iran to create civil war. Can you believe they want to destroy another society? It’s all … Just to finish. The horrible banality of it all. It’s all about making money.
AARON MATE: Were these same elements that you’re talking about, were they opposed to the Iran nuclear deal? Because that was certainly a step towards normalization of relations with Iran.
PAUL JAY: Well, these are fractures lines. Not everybody’s on the same page. I think the preponderance of the arms industry was against that deal. The kind of people that normally speak for the arms industry, people like McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are probably the arms industry Senators, who are viciously against that deal. This is the one merit of Obama. If you watch The Real News you know we’re very critical of Obama on some many things. But this is where you got some consciousness that systemically it was better for the entire global capitalist system to have the deal with Iran, rather than have another complete destabilization, potential war. The Iraq war made a lot of people money, but it wasn’t good for the U.S. empire. It actually weakened things for the empire. It strengthened Iran’s hand in Iraq. Obama at least looked from a more systemic perspective. These guys are, “How much money can I make today and tomorrow,” without any mitigation.
AARON MATÉ: To what extent is it to Iran representing defiance of the U.S., given their long history going back to the coup in ’53, which was about Iran trying to nationalize its oil. Then, of course, since the Iranian revolution you’ve had Iran challenging U.S. designs throughout the Middle East.
PAUL JAY: You’re asking me how much of this antagonism to Iran the fact that they don’t go along?
AARON MATÉ: Exactly.
PAUL JAY: Tremendously. I think the U.S. does not like the precedent that you can overthrow our Shah. I think the Saudis hate that as a a precedent. You know I’ve had a chance to interview a lot of people about the Saudi motives behind this. A lot of this has an ideological side to it. It’s not just economic rivalry, which it is. But the Saudis justify their existence as the defenders of Mecca. They don’t like a rival, Iran, who says “No, no, we’re the defenders of the true Islam. We’re the ones that stand up to the Americans. We’re the ones that actually stand up to the Israelis. You collaborate.” On the ideological level, there’s tremendous contention between the Iranians and the Saudis. Underneath it there’s an economic geopolitical tension.
Every country, if you really want to understand any regime or government, you’ve got to start with the domestic analysis. The first thing every government, regime, whatever you want to call it, wants to do is stay in power. That’s usually, first and foremost, a domestic issue, so they’re got to defend their domestic narrative. The Iranians have to defend their revolutionary narrative. They have to defend they stand up to the west and all that.
You mentioned that one of your earlier interviews that I had interviewed Larry Wilkerson. Wilkerson says in 2003, the Iranians tried to have a comprehensive deal with the Americans. And offered up everything, including putting Hezbollah on the table, Hamas on the table. Cheney blocked it and wouldn’t allow to even have the conversation. Because, partly, it’s good to have that enemy for the reasons I’ve been talking about. They also want to prove a point. You ain’t going to overthrow one of our guys. Sooner or later we’re going to come and get you.
AARON MATÉ: Right. Finally, I want to end with how RussiaGate is being received here. There was a poll recently that I found striking from Harvard-Harris. It says that 73% of Americans, 73% say they’re concerned the Russia probes have caused Congress to lose focus on the issues important to them. That’s a big number.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. I think most people, I think, are getting tired of this. I think most people believe that, even if they believe Russia did meddle, it was not a decisive factor in the election. I’ve been saying that the reason the American elites are so angry at the Russians for interfering in a American election is because only American elites can rig American elections. Nobody else should rig America. Most people, I think a lot of people at any rate, understand that rigging election is as American as apple pie. People are suffering. Trump got elected in the first place in certain areas, in certain sections of the working class, because people are desperate.
I think it’s dawning on people that this is nonsense. I don’t mean that it may not be true. I have no idea if the Russians interfered in the American elections or not. I have no idea. Hopefully someday an independent election and people will find out if they did it or they didn’t. Honestly, I kind of don’t care because these elections are not really democratic in the first place. I don’t think they changed the outcome, but I think people are ready to move on. I hope they’re ready to move on because I think we’re in one of the most dangerous moments in human history. I don’t think I’m exaggerating. Between the climate change issue and the brewing war in the Middle East, and the targeting of Iran and the forces this is going to unleash, we’re entering a period where the 2020s, it could be unimaginably tragic, and we’re talking about RussiaGate.
AARON MATÉ: It’s kind of like Watergate, right? Where Nixon had bombed Cambodia, bombed Laos. He had overseen the COINTELPRO program targeting domestic activists, including assassination, like the assassination of Black Panther activists. But yet, because he went after another section of the elite, the Democrats, that’s what he was impeached for and that was a big scandal back then.
PAUL JAY: Well it’s partly because corporate media’s only interested in the center of power. They don’t believe ordinary people have a role to play in the making of history. They only think if you have a chance to get to the White House you’re news. I mean how often do you hear 99% of the members of the House in Congress, how many you hear a word about them? You barely hear about 95% of the Senators. Unless there’s some particular issue where there’s one vote and a handful of Senators could swing it one way or the other. Because they’re not at the center of seizing power. Corporate media just plays that one soap opera. Again, it drives ratings, but also in terms of their own mind set it’s the only power that matters. They certainly don’t consider ordinary people getting organized has anything to do with history. I think they’re going to find out that’s a big mistake.
AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Paul Jay, Real News Senior Editor, thank you.
PAUL JAY: Thanks.
AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.