As increasing polarization roils geopolitics, a curious trend is observable in the West. While it is normal for there to be partisanship and polarization in academia and polity, especially during election season in the United States, this year has been remarkably different. The situation is so toxic that anyone who is promoting or even talking about a counter-narrative is judged by a hyper-partisan lens. This, in turn, is affecting potential dissent or greater policy debate, and can have long-term consequences when it comes to geopolitics.
It is conventional wisdom among a vast majority of the American electorate that Donald Trump is a Russian agent. Even if one doesn't agree that he is a Russian agent, there is enough understanding that he is somehow manipulated or controlled by Russian intelligence. Now, this will come as a surprise to anyone who actually studies how intelligence works or is aware of the greater issues that are at stake. And this is where it pains me to clarify a few things, all while acknowledging that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would say a sentence even remotely in favor of Donald Trump.
Consider this: If a country wanted to manipulate a candidate in another country, would it choose the most ignorant and volatile of candidates to front it, knowing that his extreme positions would fail and be an international embarrassment? Clearly not. Donald Trump is a creation of a classic uniqueness of democracy, where a combination of factors – including structural, economic, hyper-partisanship and a completely uncontrolled media environment – give rise to demagoguery. Does that mean Russia won't take advantage of hacks that happen to occur? Of course not. But it is a stretch to claim that they are manipulating the election – they simply don't have the capabilities.
Why then is Russia manipulating U.S. election talk? Again, a combination of factors. Russia is back as a revanchist power, and the world is slowly lurching towards a second Cold War. It is understandable that media would be polarized at this stage. Added to that are geopolitical rivalries, opposing lobbies and the simple old geopolitical concept of threat inflation.
Unfortunately, in this din, sane voices and policy principles are being lost. The argument against interventionism in the Middle East is not a left-right partisan issue, but one of prudence. Interventions in the Middle East have never worked, nor will they ever. Nor is it something Donald Trump came up with as a Russian puppet.
Russia is sadly not the only country involved here. Recently, an Australian spy chief sounded the alarm that his country's political parties might have donor links to China. It follows U.S.-China clashes as Chinese scientists are not allowed to collaborate with Americans in a mode reflective of the Cold War. Incidentally, the U.S. and Australia are both full of think tanks that are funded by lobby groups that are also funded by Saudi, Qatari and European money.
Now, one can again argue, the U.S./Australia and China might have competing interests, but that is still not an established fact. In fact, within the international relations analytical community there is disagreement about what threats China's rise might pose for the United States.
If one is a keen reader of history, one might want to read the history of the Peloponnesian war by Thucydides, which demonstrates how an active confrontation, without any communication, can result in outright conflict, even when that is not the intended result by either party. The political polarization we are seeing right now, with the cavalier threats of conflict and the partisan disregard of logical argument with regards to lobbying and spying, sets a terrible example and will only grow into a security dilemma. That's not good for any of the parties involved.
Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:
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