President Hillary? If you think Russian-American relations are bad now, you ain't seen nothing yet

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton © Mike Segar
Sections of the American establishment believe the Kremlin supports Donald Trump. It doesn’t. However, many Russians are concerned a future President Hillary will further worsen, already appalling, relations between Moscow and Washington.

Bachman Turner Overdrive was a bunch of Canadian rockers who hit it big in the mid 1970’s. The band’s success was curious. In an era of glam rock and punk, their brand of three-chord guitar was a few years out of date. Nevertheless, despite their old-fashioned sound, they sold millions of records.

Hillary Clinton is the Bachman Turner Overdrive of US politics. Today, American youth, in common with their global counterparts, are searching for new ideas. Witness the appeal of anti-establishment figures like Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Beppe Grillo among young voters. Even Donald Trump has galvanized the disaffected American working class behind his campaign.

Hillary offers a position from the 90’s and 00’s when her husband, Bill, and his successor, George W. Bush, ran the Washington show. In fact, she’s something of an amalgam of both. Liberal, at least in public, on social matters and slightly-left leaning on economics like Bill, but a Bush-like hardcore neocon on matters of national security and foreign affairs. Because of this, she’s attracted support across the establishment, even if she remains unloved by the general public. Alarmingly, her popularity ratings are stuck in the mid 30’s. 

Looking out for Number One

A product of the post-war generation, Hillary believes in American exceptionalism and the country’s self-assigned role as leader the “free world.” In this, she’s no more dangerous than Barack Obama. However, unlike the incumbent she’s a committed supporter of the military and gung-ho about violent interventionism. Witness her near-psychopathic glee over the death of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died.” Gaddafi may have been a murderous thug, but nobody could claim that Libya is better off today than before the 2011 NATO attack that Hillary championed.

Obama gets a lot of stick in Russia. In my view, most of it is unfair. Back in 2012, when neocons were braying for war in Syria, he resisted their pressure. Likewise, regarding Ukraine, Obama has ignored hardliners who have proposed arming the Kiev regime with modern weapons. He’s also dialed down talk of expanding NATO to other former Soviet states.

His Secretary of State, John Kerry, is a proper diplomat. He’s careful with his words and favors quiet negotiation. Kerry has also scored notable successes in Iran and with his assured handling of the Ebola scare. In fact, the more we see of Kerry, the more we can lament his defeat to Bush in the 2004 US Election. A campaign that failed, largely, because his foreign policy platform was too moderate for a country in the grip of tremendous martial zeal.

Indeed, pro-military messaging here in Russia these days is relatively tame compared to the bombardment Americans endured in the mid 00’s. A time when even popular rock bands were booed at their own concerts for criticizing Bush’s aggression.

Quick Change Artist

Obama’s mistake with Russian policy was his naivety and lack of interest in a topic he probably considered irrelevant. At least at first. Like most his peers, Obama would have viewed tensions with Moscow as a relic of the Cold War. When he appointed the hapless Michael McFaul as ambassador, he quite likely did so in good faith. “This guy speaks Russian and he’s been interested in the region for a long time,” was probably the thinking.

While McFaul is probably not an ideological neocon, he had a history of supporting “regime change” movements in the former Soviet space. He’d also been strong proponent of NATO expansion to Ukraine and Georgia. As the Nation’s Bob Dreyfuss warned back in 2008: “McFaul doesn’t care about stability, since his main goal vis-a-vis Russia is to call attention to the autocratic nature of Putin’s rule.”

Obama’s other mistake was to allow Hillary, as Secretary of State, to retain neocon holdovers from the Bush administration on her Eastern Europe team. Even more incredibly, Kerry then inherited them for the second term. “Obama allowed US officials on the ground (in Ukraine and elsewhere) to pursue a grossly irresponsible and provocative anti-Russian policy,” Anatol Lieven recently told the Valdai Club. “What on earth, one may ask, was Victoria Nuland, a neo-conservative State Department official married to the arch neocon Robert Kagan, doing in the Obama administration at all, given that her attitudes run clearly counter to his?”

Lieven also pointed out that “figures like Nuland are still favored by Hillary Clinton (Kagan is now moving into her political camp) and much of the US foreign and security establishment; and that with regard to Russia, that establishment is still conditioned to pursue what are in effect Cold War attitudes.”

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin walk into a photo opportunity before their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015. © Kevin Lamarque

Down The Road

Right now, Hillary is the overwhelming favorite to become America’s next President. Bookmakers currently price her at 1/3, which implies a 75 percent chance that she’ll be sitting in the Oval Office this time next year. This is despite the fact that 55 percent of Americans hold a negative opinion of her, according to polls

A Hillary Clinton presidency has the potential to bring East-West dissonance to its lowest ebb since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And that is not an exaggeration. In 2014, she compared Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. Anyone with a smidgen of intelligence knows that, given that over 20 million Soviets died fighting Hitler’s Germany, it was an incredibly stupid comment. Yet, Putin’s reply wasn’t very conciliatory either, telling France 24 that “it’s better not to argue with women. But Ms Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements.”

Putin has spoken about Clinton’s desire for the presidency. “First Bush Senior was in power there, later on Bush Junior – all from the same family. Clinton was in power for two terms and now his wife is laying claim to this position, and the family may remain in office. What does this have to do with turnover? As the saying goes, “Husband and wife are a single devil,” and they will be at the helm. I am not saying this is all bad. There are pros and cons to it,” he mused earlier this month. 

Most recently, Hillary has called for a “tougher response to Russia on Syria and Ukraine.” Never mind that, under international law, Russia’s Syria campaign has been legal, while America’s is not, Hillary believes Putin must be “punished” for intervening there. "I have been, I remain convinced that we need a concerted effort to really up the costs on Russia and in particular on Putin. I think we have not done enough," she remarked at the Brookings Institution.

Notwithstanding Russia's position as the planet's second strongest military power, American neocons simply cannot fathom any kind of partnership or equality with the Kremlin. But it’s not only about Russia; they can’t countenance other European countries acting independently either. The vitriol directed at France and Germany for opposing the illegal 2004 invasion of Iraq is proof of that. The blatant interference in Britain’s EU referendum is further evidence.

Next year, we are likely to have a Hillary Clinton government in America, squaring off against a Putin administration in Moscow. Unlike now, when Obama overrules extremist voices, Clinton will enthusiastically promote their ideas, no matter how imprudent. To quote Bachman Turner Overdrive, if you think relations between Washington and Moscow are bad now, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.