The final days of the US presidential campaign – a disgraceful saga at best – have been marked by a frantic race to the bottom by both sides.
On the Trump side: an anonymous but skilfully made video is doing the social media rounds, alleging improper links between Hillary Clinton’s long-standing personal assistant and friend Huma Abedin, through her kinship connections to her powerful Saudi Arabian family, to Wahhabi Islamist extremism which supports Al Qaeda, ISIS and so on. The snide innuendo here is that the people who organised the World Trade Centre attacks have planted Abedin at the heart of Hillary’s political career. The video is thoroughly nasty. It is not clear who commissioned it.
More overtly, Julian Assange features on a Russian news video today (by www.rt.com). He alleges that because the Clinton Foundation has accepted much Saudi and Qatari government money, and because Hillary Clinton knows both governments fund ISIS, this must mean that Hillary Clinton knowingly connives with ISIS.
On the other side, the Clinton camp alleges that the Kremlin hacked into Democratic National Congress emails and gave the product to Assange’s Wikileaks to distribute; that seventeen US intelligence agencies have confirmed that Putin is behind this; that Trump is a puppet of Putin; that Putin is manipulating the US election to try to get Trump elected, because he knows Trump will not stand up to him as Hillary would.
All these allegations – on both sides – lack evidence. There is definitely motive and intent. However, motive and intent does not prove felony.
We know from the public record that Hillary Clinton bears no love for Assange or for Putin. And that both Assange and Putin have reason to mistrust and hate the Clintons.
Hillary Clinton was US Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. Swedish rape allegations against Julian Assange began in 2010 and have constrained his freedom ever since. After he unsuccessfully opposed extradition proceedings in UK, he took refuge in the Ecuador Embassy in London where he was granted political asylum in 2012. He could blame Hillary for his persecution on and since her watch. Chelsea Manning who has now twice attempted suicide was convicted by court –martial in 2013: again, on Clinton’s watch.
Putin has reason to mistrust and hate Hillary too. Her husband, Bill, broke George H W Bush’s 1989 promise to Gorbachev that NATO would never be enlarged beyond East Germany. The first phase of NATO expansion was in 1999 during Bill Clinton’s presidency, the second in 2004.
During Hillary’s tenure as Secretary of State, US-Russian relations collapsed. She appointed an ambassador Michael McFaul who went out of his way to offend the Putin government and lasted little more than a year. The US Congress with presidential support imposed the first anti-Russian Magnitsky-linked economic sanctions in 2012. In these years, Ukraine was subverted using ‘colour revolution’ techniques, culminating in the February 2014 Maidan Square uprising, or coup as Putin sees it. The UN-recognised Qaddafi regime was destabilised and finally destroyed on her watch: ‘we came, we saw, he died’ was her mocking comment. Quite a record of Russia-hating, from Putin’s viewpoint.
Hillary has reason to hate Putin and Assange in turn. Putin defied the US post-1991 script that Russia was finished as a world power. Starting in 2001, he revived Russian national pride and military strength. He drew red lines in Georgia and Ukraine, serving notice on NATO that continuing to press forward in Russia’s security space would be opposed. He developed a strong global information warfare challenge to US claims of superpower exceptionalism and impunity to act outside the UN Charter. He worked for new groupings – Russia-China, and BRICS. On Syria, he has exposed and mocked the many contradictions in US policy. He has modernised Russia’s conventional and nuclear forces.
Assange has made Hillary Clinton’s drive to the Presidency harder with his leaks from the DNC congress: followed by unsourced leaks from her own emails, and now possibly from the Weiner-Abedin emails. He has helped to create a climate of opinion in the FBI that is hostile to Hillary Clinton.
None of this scuttlebutt will swing the election, which will be decided on bread-and-butter economic and political issues affecting American voters, as argued by the candidates. Trump has been dogged by spectacular misogyny and sexual misconduct claims. The odds continue to favour Clinton.
If she is elected, will she be the ‘safe pair of hands’ she claims to be? Not necessarily. She is surrounded by liberal hawks long on great-power idealism, but short on realism and prudence: people like McFaul, Victoria Nuland and her spouse the neo-con Robert Kagan, Samantha Power, Madeline Albright. People not necessarily aware of how rapidly the world is changing and how relative US power is declining, in this becoming-more-multipolar world.
There will be danger in the early stages of a Clinton presidency: danger of her seeking to ‘teach Putin a lesson’, to check his alleged aggressive ambitions to dominate. The danger is that the people around Clinton will be convinced by their own false created reality, and make risky policy calls. If they try to ‘call Putin’s bluff’, they would be forgetting that he controls a credible nuclear deterrent -and might not be bluffing at all.
I hope Hillary will be a quick learner of such strategic realities on the job. The buck will stop with her. The world’s security – Australia’s security – depends on it.
Hillary is, in the end, a rational politician. And she knows that in foreign policy, interests eventually triumph over prejudices. The US Government has a national interest in overcoming her Russophobia as quickly and safely as possible.
And if Trump should yet win? That would be the subject for another essay.