The self-blinding Russia prism

Many have been quick to conclude that it was his strong anti-Russia position that led to Rex Tillerson’s dismissal as U.S. Secretary of State by President Donald Trump on March 13. The nerve agent used to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain on March 4 clearly came from Russia, Mr. Tillerson had said, while the White House was more guarded initially. It “sets a profoundly disturbing precedent in which standing up for our allies against Russian aggression is grounds for a humiliating dismissal,” said House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The Trump singularity

History, that had been declared ended, appears to have started all over again for the U.S. on November 8, 2016 when Mr. Trump won the presidency. The mainstream punditry in America that missed the revolt around them initially blamed Mr. Trump’s victory on the lack of education, racism and misogyny of his supporters. But the revival of the cult of liberal capitalism appeared elusive; it needed visions of a demon at the door. Enter Russia. Mr. Trump’s suspected ties with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin have remained the obsessive theme of American media almost every day for more than a year now. Ms. Pelosi’s explanation of Mr. Tillerson’s sacking would have fitted perfectly with the bizarre notion that has become the new Washington Consensus: a President allegedly helped into office by the country’s arch-enemy. But for the fact that until recently Mr. Tillerson himself was accused of being soft on Russia.

The insinuation that Mr. Tillerson had questionable links to Russia coursed through reporting on him since the day his appointment was announced. This March alone, news reports linked Mr. Tillerson to the State Department’s failure to spend the $120 million available to it for countering Russian influence operations; a widely commended profile of a former British spy, Christopher Steele, who prepared a salacious dossier on Mr. Trump for the Hillary Clinton campaign, in the New Yorker, suggested that the President may have acted on the Kremlin’s advice in not appointing former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as his Secretary of State. “The choice [of Mr. Tillerson] was a surprise to most, and a happy one in Moscow,” the article said, and blamed him for not being tough on Russia.

What is Russia accused of?

The moment he was sacked, Mr. Tillerson became the anti-Russia hero who had paid the price for his boldness. “Russia is at war with us right now,” said James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, discussing Mr. Tillerson’s dismissal on CNN. “He has been an advocate for more muscular response to Russia.”

Reporting on what is loosely called “Russia collision” is largely based on selective leaks. The substantive allegations against Russia are in a court document filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, indicting 13 individuals and some entities connected to Russia. He has charged them with “information warfare” against the U.S. and “spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general” in the context of the 2016 election.

Starting in 2014, Russians spent “thousands of dollars every month,” the indictment says. The amount was around $100,000 between 2015 and 2017, according to Facebook — the key platform of this alleged Russian operation — which deposed before a U.S. legislative committee through its lawyer. Russian-linked entities placed ads that in turn led users to Facebook pages on which they ran propaganda. They posted 80,000 pieces of content over the same time. For context, during the same years, American users saw 11.1 trillion Facebook posts. Facebook told the committee that 126 million people may have seen a post generated by Russian operatives or bots, 56% of which happened after the election. As per the indictment, some Russians misrepresented their purpose and travelled to the U.S. to collect intelligence on the country’s political process, and from unwitting Americans, they learned they should focus their campaign on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida.” Meanwhile, $1.2 billion was spent on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and $600 million on Mr. Trump. The indictment says the Russian campaign supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary and Mr. Trump during the presidential election. They also magnified Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and groups such as Black Lives Matter.

Whether or not all this constitutes an act of war as concluded by Mr. Clapper, what is unmistakable is the pervasive bipartisan push for tougher retaliation against Russia. The Trump administration is willing to oblige them. With two documents in recent months, the National Security Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the U.S. has declared Russia as its main adversary, slightly above China in the order, and left little room open for reconciliation. The NPR declares that the era of great power rivalry is back, and has lowered America’s threshold for a nuclear first strike, citing Russia as the main reason. All-round modernisation of its nuclear infrastructure, by upgrading delivery systems, weapons and defence systems, and widespread battlefield deployment of tactical nuclear weapons are part of the new posture. All of this is estimated to cost more than a trillion dollars in inflation adjusted dollars, assuming no cost overruns, over the next 30 years. Stocks of American defence companies have consistently outperformed the market since Mr. Trump came to power. His administration has a declared policy of “hard power, not soft power.” How much more muscular could it get? On Thursday, two days after sacking Mr. Tillerson, the White House announced a new round of sanctions against Russia.

The ability of a journalist or a citizen to independently verify the allegations against Russia is only as much she had in verifying the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, before the U.S. invaded the country in 2003. Assuming that all that has been said and all that can be said about it is true, the current obsession of the American elite with Russia is still counterproductive and potentially dangerous in at least two ways.

First, it disenfranchises U.S. citizens and delegitimises its democratic process. The groundswell of public outrage against America’s economic and strategic culture took two forms in 2016. Mr. Sanders represented one; and Mr. Trump represented the other. As the only advanced country in the world where life expectancy is falling, where 96 people die from gun violence every day, where heroin related deaths increased six-fold since 2002, where opioid overdose kills 115 people a day, the signs of distress are unmistakable. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump relied on Russian intelligence to run a scorched-earth campaign in swing States in the last days of the 2016 campaign; without any inputs from Russia, Ms. Clinton also focussed her efforts on swing States, though not as much as her rival. What is clear is that those who voted were Americans. By repeatedly asserting that it is impossible to determine the extent of Russian imprint on the Sanders movement or Mr. Trump’s victory, the onus has been shifted to any citizen critical of the American system to first prove that she is not acting on behalf of Russia or, even worse, she is not a Russian bot. The theocratic enthusiasm to protect American democracy from Russian digital pamphlets is, ironically, undercutting it.

This neo-McCarthyism

While this denial of agency to its average citizens can corrode America’s democracy further, a second upshot of this neo-McCarthyism is that it has rendered any diplomacy between the nuclear rivals impossible. The ‘Russia collusion’ commentaries presuppose that unless proven otherwise any contact between a Trump official and a Russian is illegitimate and treason. When a democratically elected President’s authority to pursue diplomacy is undermined, the U.S.’s political system is weakened and the world becomes a more dangerous place. The Russia prism has not merely bent perspective, but blinded vision in America. Perhaps, deliberately and conveniently.


1) Nerve agent

Meaning: Nerve agents are a class of organic chemicals that disrupt the mechanisms by which nerves transfer messages to organs.

2) Profoundly

Meaning: In a profound way; greatly.

Example: “He profoundly altered the whole course of my life”

Synonyms: Extremely, Very, Deeply

3) Precedent

Meaning: an earlier event or action that is regarded as an example or guide to be considered in subsequent similar circumstances.

Example: “there are substantial precedents for using interactive media in training”

synonyms: model, exemplar

4) Humiliating

Meaning: Make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and pride.

Example: “You’ll humiliate me in front of the whole school!”

Synonyms: Embarrass, Mortify

Antonyms: Aggrandize, Glorious

5) Misogyny

Meaning: Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

Example: “She felt she was struggling against thinly disguised misogyny”

6) Cult

Meaning: A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members.

Example: “A network of Satan-worshipping cults”

Synonyms: Sect, Religious group, Denomination

7) Elusive

Meaning: Difficult to find, catch, or achieve.

Example: “Success will become ever more elusive”

Synonyms: Evasive, Slippery

8) Bizarre

Meaning: Very strange or unusual.

Example: “A bizarre situation”

Synonyms: Strange, peculiar

Antonyms: Ordinary, Normal

9) Consensus

Meaning: A general agreement.

Example: “There is a growing consensus that the current regime has failed”

Synonyms: Agreement, Harmony

Antonyms: Disagreement, Minority view

10) Allegedly

Meaning: Used to convey that something is claimed to be the case or have taken place, although there is no proof.

Example: “He was allegedly a leading participant in the coup attempt”

Synonyms: Reportedly, Supposedly

11) Insinuation

Meaning: An unpleasant hint or suggestion of something bad.

Example: “I’ve done nothing to deserve all your vicious insinuations”

Synonyms: Implication, Inference

12) Salacious

Meaning: Having or conveying undue or indecent interest in sexual matters.

Example: “Salacious stories”

Synonyms: Pornographic, Obscene

13) Dossier

Meaning: A collection of documents about a particular person, event, or subject.

Example: “We have a dossier on him”

Synonyms: File, Report

14) Indictment

Meaning: A formal charge or accusation of a serious crime.

Example: “An indictment for conspiracy”

Synonyms: Charge, Accusation

Antonyms: Acquittal

15) Propaganda

Meaning: Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.

Example: “He was charged with distributing enemy propaganda”

Synonyms: Information, Promotion

16) Unwitting

Meaning: (Of a person) not aware of the full facts.

Example: “An unwitting accomplice”

Synonyms: Unknowing, Unconscious

Antonyms: Witting, Knowing

17) Constitutes

Meaning: Give legal or constitutional form to (an institution); establish by law.

Example: “the superior courts were constituted by the Judicature Acts 1873–5”

Synonyms: Inaugurate, Initiate

18) Bipartisan

Meaning: Of or involving the agreement or cooperation of two political parties that usually oppose each other’s policies.

Example: “The reforms received considerable bipartisan approval”

19) Retaliation

Meaning: The action of returning a military attack; counter-attack.

Example: “The bombings are believed to be in retaliation for the trial of 15 suspects”

Synonyms: Revenge, Vengeance

20) Oblige

Meaning: Make (someone) legally or morally bound to do something.

Example: “Doctors are obliged by law to keep patients alive while there is a chance of recovery”

Synonyms: Require, Compel

21) Reconciliation

Meaning: The restoration of friendly relations.

Example: “His reconciliation with your uncle”

Synonyms: Reuniting, Reunion

Antonyms: Estrangement, Alienation

22) Rivalry

Meaning: Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.

Example: “There always has been intense rivalry between the clubs”

Synonyms: Competitiveness, Competition

23) Tactical

Meaning: Showing adroit planning; aiming at an end beyond the immediate action.

Example: “In a tactical retreat, she moved into a hotel with her daughters”

Synonyms: Calculated, Planned

Antonyms: Unwise, Spontaneous

24) Allegations

Meaning: A claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.

Example: “He made allegations of corruption against the administration”

Synonyms: Claim, Assertion

25) Invaded

Meaning: Enter (a place, situation, or sphere of activity) in large numbers, especially with intrusive effect.

Example: “Demonstrators invaded the Presidential Palace”

Synonyms: Permeate, Pervade

26) Elite

Meaning: A select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.

Example: “The elite of Britain’s armed forces”

Synonyms: Best, Pick

Antonyms: Dregs

27) Delegitimises

Meaning: Withdraw legitimate status or authority from.

Example: “The country has been delegitimized by the world community”

28) Opioid

Meaning: A compound resembling opium in addictive properties or physiological effects.

Example: “Opioids other than heroin”

29) Scorched

Meaning: Burn the surface of (something) with flame or heat.

Example: “Surrounding houses were scorched by heat from the blast”

synonyms: Burn, Sea

30) Rival

Meaning: A person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity.

Example: “He has no serious rival for the job”

Synonyms: Competitor, Opponent

Antonyms: Partner, Ally

31) Imprint

Meaning: Fix (an idea) firmly in someone’s mind.

Example: “He’d always have this ghastly image imprinted on his mind”

Synonyms: Fix, Establish

32) Onus

Meaning: Something that is one’s duty or responsibility.

Example: “The onus is on you to show that you have suffered loss”

Synonyms: Burden, Responsibility

33) Theocratic

Meaning: Relating to or denoting a system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god.

Example: “A theocratic state”

34) Enthusiasm

Meaning: Intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval.

Example: “Her energy and enthusiasm for life”

Synonyms: Eagerness, Keenness

Antonyms: Apathy

35) Pamphlets

Meaning: A small booklet or leaflet containing information or arguments about a single subject.

Example: “He published a spate of pamphlets on the subjects about which he felt strongly”

Synonyms: Brochure, Leaflet

36) Denial

Meaning: A statement that something is not true.

Example: “His pious denials of responsibility”

Synonyms: Contradiction, Counterstatement

Antonyms: Confirmation

37) Corrode

Meaning: Destroy or damage (metal, stone, or other materials) slowly by chemical action.

Example: “Acid rain poisons fish and corrodes buildings”

Synonyms: Wear away, Wear down

38) Rendered

Meaning: Provide or give (a service, help, etc.).

Example: “Money serves as a reward for services rendered”

Synonyms: Give, Provide

39) Illegitimate

Meaning: Not authorized by the law; not in accordance with accepted standards or rules.

Example: “Defending workers against illegitimate managerial practices”

Synonyms: Illegal, Unlawful

Antonyms: Legitimate, Lawful

40) Treason

Meaning: The crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government.

Example: “They were convicted of treason”

Synonyms: Treachery, Lese-majesty

Antonyms: Allegiance, Loyalty

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