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Trump’s Helsinki meeting – an opportunity for foreign policy growth on the left

By Conner Martinez

Outrage over President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki has brought forward an overwhelming display of unfettered American exceptionalism that is both hypocritical and reactionary. The knee jerk reactions of Democrats and Republicans alike neither tackles the serious issue of foreign meddling in the democratic process, nor gives a sober plan of action going forward. To tackle the U.S.’ hypocritical outrage over Russian meddling, U.S. foreign policy leaders will have to first recognize how their country’s role in meddling with the democratic process abroad perpetuates democratic decline all around the world.

Without downplaying the seriousness of Russian interference, it must go without saying how often the US has meddled in foreign elections. To put it in perspective, academic Don Levin, from the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, has collected information on the scale of interference of both Russia and the US. His research shows that between 1946 and 2000 there were 117 “partisan electoral interventions.” Out of that 117, around 70 percent were committed by the US. Unlike the recent Russian meddling, when the U.S. intervenes in another country’s democratic process it largely go unnoticed, and is sometimes treated unfairly as ‘democracy promotion.’

The bi-partisan outrage over the complacency of Donald Trump to Russian meddling is a case of American exceptionalism that has not been seen since the cold war era, where ironically the US was heavily involved in the subversion of multiple democracies. The US has violently overthrown democratic governments in Guatemala, Iran, Congo, Brazil, Chile, and many more without even a fraction of the media outrage. In no way does the U.S.’ history of intervention justify the actions of Russia, but with the knowledge of both it should call into question why there is such outrage in this moment, and what we can learn going forward.

Take for example the case of Chile, where the US did almost everything in its power to support the military coup of the democratically elected President Salvador Allende in favor of Agusto Pinochet. Eventually Pinochet would torture tens of thousands of his opponents, and be held accountable for countless human rights abuses. Or take the example of the U.S.’ role in the 1953 coup of Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh, which led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and a strained relationship between the US and Iran that still exists today.

The outrage today seems not focused on the preservation of democracy, but largely due to the overwhelming disapproval of Donald Trump’s actions. From his viscous immigration policies that have caused children to be separated from their parents at the border, to his constant unhinged attacks on foreign leaders, such as his tweets to North Korean leader Kim Jon Un, or his recent all caps threat sent on twitter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. According to Washington Post/ABC News polls, his actions in Helsinki received a 50 percent disapproval rating with only 33 percent saying they approve of his actions. Instead of tackling the problem of foreign intervention in the democratic process, the media has chosen to stick to the limited narrative of the dangerous Trump presidency, a narrative the American people are already extremely aware of.

“We’ve been doing this kind of thing since the C.I.A. was created in 1947,” the dean of American intelligence scholars, Loch K. Johnson, told the New York Times. “We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners — you name it. We’ve planted false information in foreign newspapers. We’ve used what the British call ‘King George’s cavalry’: suitcases of cash,” Johnson continued. US meddling and even violent intervention in foreign democracy has been the norm since the Cold War, and today it may almost seem as though President Trump is strangely cognizant of that. However, that is not the case. The president’s foreign policy strategy is almost completely unintelligible. The foreign policy objectives of Trump seem more focused on media attention and re-election than strong relationships with allies.

If the goal of Russian foreign policy leaders was to manufacture chaos in the U.S. political system with their use of hackers, they have inadvertently succeeded. However, the deeper cause of instability is the system itself, which many have come to realize is what allowed for the reality TV star and businessman Donald Trump to hold its highest position. Without the narrative of successful foreign intervention, accepting the reality of a Trump presidency has been difficult for democrats and many other centrist Americans.

If the US is going to move past the chaos currently streaming on every news channel across the nation, it will first have to reimagine its understanding of U.S. foreign policy. While Donald trump has done quite a bit to shake up the liberal order of the world, it appears his actions have no set agenda other than a consistent dedication to his domestic base. The foreign policy of Trump is committed only to a fantasy no longer possible in the globalized world– America alone.

In a perfectly coherent piece written by Aziz Ranain N+1, Rana urges the left to take a stance in international affairs, and provide a response to the “bipartisan cold war ideology that has shaped American elite thinking since the 1940s, organized around the idea that the US rightly enjoys military and economic primacy because its interests are the world’s interests.” If the overwhelming focus on Russian meddling were to mold into a conversation on the value of the democratic process, the established liberal order within the US would be in serious trouble. Just as stated by Rana, it will be up to the left to provide a path forward for U.S. foreign policy.

When almost half of U.S. citizens are questioning the validity of their democratic process, which at home is certainly under attack, especially for black and other minority voters, President Trump’s populism only becomes more emboldened by a lack of a left alternative. However, this moment provides a point of contention for the left.

Questioning what role capital plays in democracy, and how poor and minority groups are often strategically left out will be important for domestic change. Then, an understanding of how U.S. ‘foreign aid’ and ‘democracy promotion’ has been an unrecognized powerful tool to manage and control foreign democracies will be important step to a new U.S. foreign policy committed to the democratic values it has so long sworn to uphold.

Conner Martinez is a freelance journalist and storyteller interested in politics, culture who has covered topics such as global conflict, social movements, economic injustice, and human rights violations. He has graduated from Pitzer College in Claremont, CA with Bachelor’s of Arts degree in International Political Economy. Currently he writes for both the Organization for World Peace (OWP) and C4SS. 

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