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Who the “Australian Diplomat” Is and Why It Matters

by D.J. McGuire

The revelations in The New York Times about the initial phase of the Trump-Russia investigation has been noted for the president’s assertion (without evidence) that the Obama Administration planted a “spy” in the Trump campaign and for the argument over whether an FBI informant should be burned for purposes of transparency (he shouldn’t be, IMHO). For me, however, it was how the probe began that got my attention – in particular, the name of the “Australian diplomat” who tipped off Washington. While he was first revealed several months ago, I saw his name for the first time in the NYT story (run in the Seattle Times).

Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the FBI dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.

Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an FBI interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

For most Americans, Alexander Downer is just another barely-known Australian, but for me – with my admittedly bizarre obsession with politics in other countries – that name meant a lot more.

Alexander Downer is no civil service functionary; nor is he some politically-connected donor who got the post of Ambassador to the UK as a favor (these are the most commonly perceived reasons for ambassadorial appointments here in the US). He was a major figure in the Australian Liberal Party – the leading party of the coalition currently in power, and a party on the right in Australian politics – for decades. He even led the party briefly in the 1990s. He served as Foreign Minister – the equivalent of Secretary of State here – for over 11 years; he is still the only person to ever serve in that role for more than a decade.

In short, the fellow to whom Mr. Papadopoulos made his boasts is a very experienced politician – who would understand the enormity and the explosiveness of informing a democratically elected government that its opposition may have been compromised by a hostile foreign power – let alone possibly cooperating with said foreign power.

Yet Downer did it anyway, and even agreed to be interviewed by the FBI himself in the summer of 2016. That, if anything, reinforces just how serious this investigation is. An apolitical functionary might be too naive to notice they would be playing with fire; a politically-connected patronage appointee might be too focused on a political angle. A man of Downer’s experience would clearly understand the risks of what he was saying. That he felt he needed to say it anyway should bring even more credibility to the investigation – much more.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described “progressive conservative” – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015.

White Supremacy and Vladimir Putin: They’re the same problem

by D.J. McGuire

The two issues regarding the Trump Administration that have frightened more Americans than anything else seem to be polar opposites: his fealty to Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia and an a blind spot (or even sympathy) to white supremacy in America. However, if one looks beyond the United States (especially to Europe), it becomes clear that the two matters are linked there – and, in all likelihood, here as well. That leads to some disturbing questions that we need to ask.

While most Americans pay little attention to the rest of the world (save the occasional social media meme where a European country appears to support a policy we like), the situation in Europe bears some problematic parallels to recent years in the United States. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been openly evangelizing for “illiberal democracy” (AEI) while taking aim at nearly every Republican’s favorite bedtime scary story – George Soros – with “posters that brought back memories of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s” (same link). Poland is suffering a similar slide toward authoritarianism, complete with an attempt to rewrite Holocaust history (Reuters). Both governments are also getting increasingly cozy with Putin (AEI, The New Republic).

That hasn’t stopped Putin from building ties to outright racist groups like Jobbik in Hungary (Reuters). He has recruited or accepted (depending upon how one sees it) similar far-right allies in France, even as the main center-right opposition also tacks his way (Foreign Policy).

What has enabled Putin – an old KGB bureaucrat – to stretch his regime’s tentacles into democratic Europe? John Henley provides the anodyne answer in a Guardian column from last year.

…variations on a theme of nation-first politics, support for economic protectionism and immigration controls, mistrust of international alliances and institutions such as Nato or the EU, and a rejection of globalism and the liberal consensus

To be fair, the “liberal consensus” has deserved more than a few of the dings its received recently, as any astute observer of the EU will tell you. However, the first three items on the list are part and parcel of a much deeper and sinister common facet among Jobbik, Le Pen, and Putin: white supremacy.

While most of the focus on Russia in the 20th Century centered on its Sovietization, leaders from Stalin on down also emphasize Russian “nationalism.” Terrell Jermaine Starr reveals how Putin inherited – and is using – those supremacist weapons (Washington Post). Others have noticed, including alt-right poster child Richard Spencer and his ideological grandfather David Duke (Newsweek). In fact, the Russian adviser behind Putin’s supremacist policies – Alexander Dugin – is already well-known in alt-right circles (same link), and while nearly everyone remembers the Charlottesville torch-bearers shouting, “You will not replace us,” far fewer also noted their insistence that “Russia is our friend” (same link again).

All of this comes amid mounting evidence that the Putin regime put a thumb on the scales during the campaign, and that the Trump campaign itself – whether or not it actually succeeded in linking up with Moscow’ efforts – certainly tried (Newsweek). Meanwhile, according to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacists murders “killed more than twice as many people in 2017 as they did the year before” (Huffington Post). Most would consider those two matters a coincidence at best, a sign of Trump’s worst two instincts at worse.

But what if the connection goes deeper than that? Have white supremacist groups become the American equivalent of Jobbik? Has the upswing in white supremacist terrorism been due to more than just the emboldening of these groups from Trump’s election?

In other words, have American white supremacist groups themselves become tools of the Putin regime?

To be clear, this is not a rhetorical question. I ask because I truly do not know. Sadly, I don’t expect this Administration to find out. I would like to see the opposition ask these questions, and if my worst fears are confirmed, present policies accordingly.

Even if my worst fears are disproven, we are facing an increasingly globalized supremacist movement (Franklin Foer has further details in The Atlantic). Russophilia and supremacism are in fact the same problem. Whether Putin is the diabolical leader or fortunate figurehead is an open question that needs answering to determine the best tactical response.

A Tale Told By an Idiot: Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

by D.J. McGuire

I chose to hold my tongue at first, when word got out that Donald Trump had made it official policy to declare Jerusalem the Israeli capital and begin the process of moving our embassy there. Having now seen the actual declaration from the White House, I’m glad I waited – because everyone got played.

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Trump’s Trade War, Part II

by D.J. McGuire

The Trump Administration’s efforts to “renegotiate” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have now created so many hackles that the Chamber of Commerce stepped in.

That Trump is willing to risk a trade war to feed his lust for protectionism is not news (he’s already set off Canada and the United Kingdom), but when the Chamber of Commerce sounds the alarm about a Republican president, we’re in big trouble.

Trump’s Trade War

by D.J. McGuire

Over the eight months and change of the Trump Administration, two of his closest allies – both geopolitically and personally – have been Justin Trudeau and Theresa May, Prime Ministers of Canada and the United Kingdom, respectively.

This week, the Trump Administration declared a trade war on both of them – and the Democrats are practically silent. Between Trump’s economic ignorance and the opposition’s political malpractice, we’re in for a very bumpy ride.

Trump’s Trade War

by D.J. McGuire

Over the eight months and change of the Trump Administration, two of his closest allies – both geopolitically and personally – have been Justin Trudeau and Theresa May, Prime Ministers of Canada and the United Kingdom, respectively.

This week, the Trump Administration declared a trade war on both of them – and the Democrats are practically silent. Between Trump’s economic ignorance and the opposition’s political malpractice, we’re in for a very bumpy ride.

Alliance for Securing Democracy: We Need More of This

by D.J. McGuire

Listeners to our podcast know that when the subject of Russia comes up, I’m the one trying desperately to ensure at least some bandwith goes to discussion about the Putinist threat to American interests, human rights, and democracy beyond just attempts to impeach Donald Trump. I’ve tried to make that case here, too.

So, naturally, I am thrilled to hear that the German Marshall Fund has launched the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which will “develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions.”

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On Donald Trump’s Alarming Weakness on Communist China

By D.J. McGuire

For those of us who look with a wary eye across the Pacific Ocean to the Chinese Communist regime, Donald Trump was something of a wild card in the presidential campaign of last year. His rank protectionism included harsh words against the Beijing cadres, but he also ripped the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal involving nearly all the democracies in Eastern Asia that would have been a geopolitical bulwark against Zhongnanhai (Beijing’s equivalent of the Kremlin). Add in his mixed bag on military and geopolitical policies (stronger defense countering his threats to withdraw from Japanese bases), and no one was really sure what we’d get.

Four months in, we have a better idea of Trump’s deviations from the standard “engagement” policy of that is a favorite of the establishment wings of both major parties. If anything, Trump is more willing to appease the “ChiComs” than any of his post-Tiananmen-massacre predecessors. Zhongnanhai is taking advantage, to the peril of the democratic world.

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