From FBI investigations to the halls of Congress to the pages and screens of US media, questions are being asked and accusations are being made about Russia and North Korea. Russia has been accused of interfering in US elections, and because North Korea is “irrational,” diplomatic efforts to end its nuclear weapons program were pronounced dead simultaneously with the birth announcement of a new approach to the problem that put “all options on the table.”
However, allegations of Russian interference in US elections and North Korean irrationality preventing a nuclear agreement require historical amnesia on the part of the accusers. For the US has interfered in Russian politics and elections, and American irrationality has played a leading role in preventing a nuclear agreement with North Korea.
US Interference in Russian Politics
The US interfered in Russian elections and politics twice: once at the birth of the Soviet Union and once at its death.
In Killing Hope, William Blum tells the little-known story of American interference in Russian politics in the infancy of the Soviet Union. The interference began immediately at the beginning of the Russian Revolution in the form of a propaganda campaign, but didn’t stop with propaganda. By the middle of 1918, 13,000 American troops were on Soviet soil. They would remain there for two years, killing and injuring thousands. Blum says that Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev would later try to remind the Americans of “the time you sent your troops to quell the revolution.” Churchill would record that the West “shot Soviet Russians on sight,” that they were “invaders on Russian soil,” that “[t]hey armed the enemies of the Soviet government,” that “[t]hey blockaded its ports, and sunk its battleships. They earnestly desired and schemed for its downfall.”
The second intervention would come at the death of the Soviet Union. That intervention came in two parts: helping to put Boris Yeltsin in power and then helping to keep him there.
In late 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin won a year of special powers from the Russian Parliament: For a year, he was to be, in effect, the dictator of Russia to allow him to midwife the birth of a democratic Russia. In March of 1992, under pressure from a discontented population, parliament repealed the dictatorial powers it had given him. Yeltsin responded by declaring a state of emergency, re-bestowing upon himself the repealed dictatorial powers. Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled that Yeltsin was acting outside the constitution. But the US sided (against the will of the Russian people and against the Russian Constitutional Court) with Yeltsin. The US was, again, interfering in Russian politics.
Intoxicated with the American support, Yeltsin dissolved the parliament that had rescinded his powers and abolished the constitution the court had declared his repossession of those powers to violate. In a 636-2 vote, the Russian parliament impeached Yeltsin. President Clinton again sided with the criminal, Yeltsin, against the Russian people and the Russian law, backed him and gave him $2.5 billion in aid. Clinton was interfering in the Russian people’s choice of leaders.
Yeltsin took the money and sent police officers and elite paratroopers to surround the parliament building. Clinton “praised the Russian President has (sic) having done ‘quite well’ in managing the standoff with the Russian Parliament,” as The New York Times reported at the time. Clinton added that he thought “the United States and the free world ought to hang in there” with their support of Yeltsin against his people, their constitution and their courts, and judged Yeltsin to be “on the right side of history.”
Despite Clinton’s confidence that the conflict would be resolved peacefully, armed with machine guns, Yeltsin’s troops opened fire on the protesting crowd and killed about 100 people, according to Naomi Klein’s account in Shock Doctrine, and then set the Russian parliament building ablaze. Klein says that by the end of the day, Yeltsin’s troops had killed approximately 500 people and wounded nearly 1,000. Still, Clinton stood with Yeltsin. He provided ludicrous cover for Yeltsin’s massacre, claiming that “I don’t see that he had any choice…. If such a thing happened in the United States, you would have expected me to take tough action against it.” Klein reports that Clinton’s Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said that the US supported Yeltsin’s suspension of parliament in these “extraordinary times.”
With elections looming in 1996, Yeltsin’s popularity was nonexistent, and his approval rating was at about 6 percent. According to Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, Stephen Cohen, Clinton’s interference in Russian politics, his “crusade” to “reform Russia,” had by now become official policy. And for the second time since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US interfered in Russian politics: this time directly interfering in the Russian elections. Three American political consultants, receiving “direct assistance from Bill Clinton’s White House,” secretly ran Yeltsin’s re-election campaign. As Time magazine broke the story, “For four months, a group of American political consultants clandestinely participated in guiding Yeltsin’s campaign.”
“Funded by the U.S. government,” Cohen reports, Americans “gave money to favored Russian politicians, instructed ministers, drafted legislation and presidential decrees, underwrote textbooks, and served at Yeltsin’s re-election headquarters in 1996.”
More incriminating is that Richard Dresner, one of the three American consultants, maintained a direct line to Clinton’s Chief Strategist, Dick Morris. According to reporting by Sean Guillory, in his book, Behind the Oval Office, Morris says that, with Clinton’s approval, he received weekly briefings from Dresner that he would give to Clinton. Based on those briefings, Clinton would then provide recommendations to Dresner through Morris.
Thomas Pickering, at that time the ambassador to Russia, even pressured an opposing candidate to drop out of the election to improve Yeltsin’s odds of winning.
The US not only helped run Yeltsin’s campaign, they helped pay for it. The US backed a $10.2 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan for Russia, the second-biggest loan the IMF had ever given. As The New York Times reported, the loan was “expected to be helpful to President Boris N. Yeltsin in the presidential election in June.” The Times explained that the loan was “a vote of confidence” for Yeltsin who “has been lagging well behind … in opinion polls” and added that the US Treasury Secretary “welcomed the fund’s decision.”
Yeltsin won the election by 13 percent, and Time magazine’s cover declared: “Yanks to the rescue: The secret story of how American advisers helped Yeltsin win”. Cohen reports that the US ambassador to Russia boasted that “without our leadership … we would see a considerably different Russia today.”
Did Russia interfere in American elections and help Donald Trump to win? No substantial evidence has yet been offered to the public, and history will decide. Did the US interfere in Russian elections and help Boris Yeltsin to win? The evidence has been offered, and history has decided. But Americans have historical amnesia.
Who Has Sabotaged Nuclear Diplomacy With North Korea?
Historical amnesia has played a similar role with North Korea. The Trump administration has declared diplomacy and the period of “strategic patience” over and replaced it with “a new range of diplomatic, security, economic measures” that puts “[a]ll options on the table,” including military actions.
The US says that the diplomatic route has failed because North Korea is irrational. Or as President Trump scolded via Twitter, “North Korea is behaving very badly.”
But, if North Korea is behaving very badly, the country’s pattern of behavior is not irrational. As Noam Chomsky argues with regard to North Korea in Who Rules the World, “it does make sense to try to figure out what’s in the minds of people when they’re acting in crazy ways.”
Chomsky argues that as absurd as the North Korean leadership may be, their pattern of behavior with their nuclear weapons program is not irrational, but is, rather, “following a kind of tit-for-tat policy.” Chomsky records the chronology of the tit-for-tat actions. It started in 1993, when North Korea was on the verge of agreeing to stop sending missiles or military technology to the Middle East in exchange for Israel recognizing North Korea. But the US struck out at North Korea and blocked the agreement. North Korea struck back by carrying out a “minor missile test.” Then, North Korea was honoring a 1994 agreement and had actually stopped producing nuclear weapons. But when George W. Bush threatened North Korea, North Korea struck back by restarting its nuclear program. In 2005, North Korea again put its nuclear weapons program to sleep in a diplomatic agreement with the US. But Bush violated the agreement, and North Korea struck back by reawakening its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea’s nuclear actions have not been irrational or unpredictable. Chomsky psychoanalyzes the pattern of behavior as “You make a hostile gesture, and we’ll respond with some crazy gesture of our own. You make an accommodating gesture, and we’ll reciprocate in some way.”
More recently, North Korea has tested nuclear missiles in response to existentially threatening US-South Korean military exercises on its border that involve stealth bombers simulating nuclear bombing attacks on North Korea.
Not only is the claim that North Korea’s actions are irrational misleading, but the claim that diplomacy with North Korea can’t work is also misleading and requires another act of historical amnesia. Nuclear diplomacy has worked with North Korea twice. And each time, it was the US and not North Korea who murdered the diplomacy.
The first diplomatic success between the US and North Korea occurred in 1994. With the intervention of Jimmy Carter, the Framework Agreement was begun. North Korea honored the agreement and had stopped testing long-range missiles and had verifiably stopped making nuclear bombs. But George W. Bush broke the agreement by threatening North Korea, which the agreement prohibited, granting it membership in the “Axis of Evil” and including it in the 2002 nuclear posture review as a nation upon which the States should be prepared to drop a nuclear bomb. Small wonder North Korea restarted its nuclear weapons program. The US further violated the Framework Agreement by delivering a mere 15 percent of the fuel it promised North Korea. The US was the partner who cancelled the agreement, and it was only then that North Korea pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Diplomacy got a second life in 2005 when North Korea agreed to terminate its nuclear weapons program and allow inspectors in exchange for an American assurance to stop threatening attacks, to move towards normalizing relations and to undertake the planning of a light water reactor that could be used to provide North Korea with fuel but not with nuclear weapons. According to Chomsky in his book What We Say Goes, though, President Bush reneged on the light water reactor and engaged in economic warfare against North Korea. Again, diplomacy failed to resolve the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. But again, it was the US and not North Korea who made a diplomatic solution impossible.
The US has, in recent memory, directly interfered in Russia elections and irrationally sabotaged diplomatic nuclear agreements with North Korea. It is only a severe case of historical amnesia that allows the US to accuse Russia of interfering in American elections and North Korea of irrationally preventing a diplomatic agreement on nuclear weapons with such innocence and indignation.