Hillary Clinton has smeared Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein as Russian assets, and almost no Democratic politicians are pushing back.
Max Blumenthal says that Clinton’s comments reflect a continued effort by Democratic neo-liberals to deflect responsibility for their loss to Trump in 2016; marginalize voices like Gabbard and Stein’s who challenge their pro-war, corporatist agenda; and preview their potential future attacks on Bernie Sanders.
Guest: Max Blumenthal, Editor of The Grayzone and author of “The Management of Savagery.”
AARON MATÉ: Welcome to Pushback. I’m Aaron Maté, here with Max Blumenthal, the senior editor of The Grayzone, author of several books, including his latest, The Management of Savagery. Max, we’re talking today about Hillary Clinton’s comments about Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein, Clinton calling Stein a Russian asset and suggesting that the Russians are, quote, “grooming” Tulsi Gabbard to run as a third party candidate. This seemingly came out of nowhere, but then you had a parade of Clinton flunkies, people who worked for her or who are associated with her coming out to also slam Tulsi Gabbard in this way. So it seemed kind of coordinated. Whatever it was it was shocking to see and the reaction has been quite striking. Tulsi Gabbard hit back pretty hard. What do you make of what Hillary Clinton said today and why she said it?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think people won’t be surprised with my reaction to it, and, you know, I agree with everything that you’ve said on Twitter and elsewhere. I think it’s important to look a little deeper at what’s going on here. First of all, one of the reasons that you and I were really so disgusted with the narrative of Russiagate was that we saw what was coming down the pike, and I said so in early 2017, that this whole narrative would blow back on the left and would be used to enforce conformity on issues of war and peace, in support of the former against the latter. And we’re seeing that play out in real time with Hillary Clinton’s attacks on Tulsi Gabbard. It was clear to me as soon as Tulsi Gabbard got into the race that even though she has absolutely no connection to Russia at all, she was going to be smeared this way because this is the McCarthyite venomous poison that Hillary Clinton has brought into the Democratic Party, along with the national security state figures like John Brennan, James Clapper. I mean, basically they have turned principled resistance against Trump and Trumpism into a collection of spooks, dupes and Cold War kooks. And our worst warnings are being fulfilled. Tulsi Gabbard’s been smeared as Russian asset, she’s been basically accused of committing a crime that could hold the death penalty by someone with a multi-million dollar sleaze operation. Not only that, Jill Stein, who’s basically back to, I think, like, private practice as a pediatrician in Boston, who has no political network at all, was also called a Russian agent by Hillary Clinton.
Now, the first point I want to make is that, if we’re going to look a little bit deeper at this, this was a coordinated attack, and Tulsi Gabbard and her response hinted at part of the logic behind it, which is that Hillary Clinton has several candidates in the race who, you know, their campaigns are staffed by Hillary Clinton’s former staff, they’re basically representing the politics of Clintonism in the race, and this is their way of destroying an emergent trend in the party which is somewhat non-partisan but is also, you know, anti-war, which reflects the sentiments of Americans across the country, including a lot of the working-class people who are, you know, following Trump into the Republican Party. It was coordinated. The question was, was it wise? Was it wise for Hillary Clinton and her sleaze network, her corporate-funded sleaze network which really grew out of her campaign, where she just had so much Wall Street money and defense industry money and money coming from all of these elite quarters, that she was just giving all her buddies little payoffs here and there, and now they’re just kind of lurking out there, looking for something to direct their sleaze at? And it becomes Tulsi Gabbard.
A lot of Americans respected and admired Hillary Clinton, especially women, for standing up to Donald Trump, for, like, standing up to him in the debates, going toe-to-toe with someone who is clearly a sexist bully. But now she’s attacking a young woman, one of the youngest people to actually run in a Democratic primary who served on the frontlines in combat in the evil war that Hillary Clinton cheer-led and voted for in Iraq. And she’s punching down against someone, a veteran, calling her a traitor, who doesn’t have a multi-million dollar sleaze operation, who is a minor protest candidate. And she’s punching down against a pediatrician in Boston. This makes Hillary Clinton not only look conspiratorial [but] makes her look like a sadistic bully. It makes her look Trumpian. And so we have to question the wisdom of this because Hillary Clinton isn’t actually running for anything. But it appears that she’s trying to clear space for figures like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker who feel — especially Kamala Harris — who feel really threatened by Tulsi Gabbard, and who actually got humiliated by Tulsi Gabbard on stage. So that’s what I think is going on here.
I do think it shows kind of a split in the party on foreign policy and it shows that one wing of the party no longer cares about reality. They don’t care about facts. They’ve been so inculcated into the paranoia of the new Cold War that conspiratorial thinking…that they actually believe that this has an impact. It started with “Moscow Mitch.” No one challenged “Moscow Mitch,” no one cared about, you know, this kind of oligarchic Kentucky Republican who’s the Senate Majority Leader being smeared on the progressive left, even though there was abso….there was very little basis for calling him that. And the Clinton wing of the party and the DNC party elites, they got this libidinal satisfaction out of calling Mitch McConnell “Moscow Mitch.” So then they move on to Tulsi Gabbard, and I think we’re seeing them start to get some pushback.
The question is, who’s next? And I think the next target is inevitable. It’s a Jewish socialist who took a trip to the USSR and Nicaragua who actually challenges the Clinton wing of the party in a much more substantial way than Tulsi Gabbard, and so I see this as a pilot program for the next phase of attacks.
AARON MATÉ: It also could be a warning to [Bernie] Sanders and his supporters to basically shut up or they’re going to face what Tulsi Gabbard just faced. And it could be warning to them to basically not adapt, adopt the positions that Tulsi Gabbard has come to embody, especially being against the regime change wars that Hillary Clinton has started and represents. And I’m wondering if, you know, this attack on Tulsi Gabbard, coming in the aftermath of Trump’s withdrawal from Syria, and Trump in the aftermath of that has tried to portray himself as the anti-war candidate again, even though in reality he is far from it. And I couldn’t help but thinking today if this attack on Tulsi Gabbard was sort of designed to, you know, basically send a message to any Democrat wanting to take the reins of the anti-war message from Trump and to say, “No, actually we’re the party that stands for being against regime change wars, and we’re not going to be supporting things like the Saudi war on Yemen like Trump is, or warmongering against Iran or imposing murderous sanctions on Venezuela.” If going after Tulsi and smearing her as a Russian agent and her anti-war views being a result of having ties to Russia or sympathies with Russia, if that is what’s at play here as well?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, it’s the rhetorical basis for Hillary Clinton’s smear [that] was established during the past two years, when anyone who challenged the imperatives of the national security state in places like Syria or Venezuela, where the proxy war is playing out between the US and Russia — although, you know, it’s not purely a proxy war, but it’s seen that way in Washington — is accused of echoing Kremlin propaganda. And so we saw that narrative weaponized against Tulsi Gabbard after the last debate.
I’ve never seen such a meltdown among, you know, Beltway and Democratic establishment hacks over a minor protest candidate who’s polling at 2% as the one I saw against Tulsi Gabbard. Susan Glasser from Politico, who’s, you know, just the quintessential centrist hack who’s married to Peter Baker, The New York Times White House correspondent, said that Tulsi Gabbard was echoing Russian and Syrian talking points by condemning regime change wars. This is, you know, something that only the real cranks of the Republican Party would have said about opponents of the Iraq war. Now it’s coming out of the political center. Josh Marshall, the founder of Talking Points Memo, which all of the kind of, you know, Democratic wonks wake up every morning and read. He said the only thing that Tulsi Gabbard can do is shut the F up. I mean, that was his response to her! It’s like this, this, just…she inspires this kind of visceral outrage by condemning regime change wars and one after another they accuse her of echoing Russian talking points.
So now championing the cause of peace, withdrawing US troops, withdrawing US bases from a hinterland in northern Syria, is a, it’s…it’s…it’s the Russian agenda, and this is something I’ve never heard in my lifetime, since I was kind of like a sentient being following politics, but it’s something that I read about in books about McCarthyism. And it really appears to have so infested the mainstream of the Democratic Party that we’re going to be living with it for the rest of our lives. Why? Because someth…the world is changing before us, and Russia and China are forming a bloc against US unipolarism. And it was in the 90s when the unipolar moment of [a] kind of imperial bliss consumed the beltway political class, and Bill Clinton was in power to enjoy that moment. So everyone in the Democratic establishment who supported Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run, they’re…you’re, they’re, they’re nostalgic for that moment. And Putin and Xi are basically ruining it by pushing back against the US in these areas where the US is an extremely toxic presence, and that’s what’s kind of playing out in our politics. And so many of the people who are making…who are leveling these attacks, they really have skin in the game, they really believe in the US as a benevolent imperial force. Tulsi Gabbard, just with a few kind of interruptions in the debate, has managed to kind of just disrupt the narrative that Bernie Sanders actually failed to disrupt in 2016. He wasn’t as focused on foreign policy. By challenging sanctions, Tulsi Gabbard does that and so, yes, I agree with you. They’re trying to make an example of her the same way they’ve tried to make an example of us, Aaron, in media. It’s the same tactic to try to prevent other young journalists from following in our footsteps and taking up this mantle of challenging empire.
AARON MATÉ: Thankfully, we have mirrors, and we have to look at ourselves in the mirror. And the mirror, I think, leaves us no choice but to continue doing what we’re doing, especially just given how unbelievably insane all this is, you know.But you mentioned Xi and Putin. I want to read you a tweet from Samantha Power today. She writes…so she retweets Hillary Clinton’s comments about Tulsi Gabbard.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I didn’t know that. That’s wild.
AARON MATÉ: And she says, “2016 election was won by seventy-eight thousand votes spread among three states. Absent third party candidates, Hillary Clinton would have won and Donald Trump would not now be harming Americans (and our friends) and aiding autocrats. If Tulsi Gabbard runs, it would be a huge windfall for Trump, Assad, Putin, Xi.”
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I mean, there’s so much to say about that. I also saw Samantha Power blame Trump or call…accused Trump of calling for ethnic cleansing in northern Syria. It’s a comment I never heard Samantha Power make about, for example, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was carrying out ethnic cleansing every day in historic Palestine while Samantha Power was in the State Department, or at the UN, and had the power to do something about it. In fact, she backed up Netanyahu. But, you know, to the specific point that Samantha Power made, it is the, you know, you had this freak-out from Ben Rhodes about RT correspondents being on what was once a US base that had been abandoned in northern Syria. Why were those US bases there? Why did this whole dynamic come into play? It’s because of the agenda of Samantha Power playing out in Syria.
Samantha Power was one of the biggest champions of arming the so-called “moderate rebels” in Syria. There’s this great line in a Jeffrey Goldberg article about Samantha Power constantly bothering Obama, talking about the so-called rebels as, you know, just a bunch of carpenters and fathers and regular farmers who just need weapons to defend themselves with. So she was always pushing the arm-and-equip program. Meanwhile, you have the Defense Intelligence Agency memo in 2012, which was suppressed by the Obama State Department until 2015, which warned of the rise of a Salafist principality in northeastern Syria if this arm-and-equip program persisted. And if Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Turkey continued to participate in supporting these Islamist insurgents inside Syria that Samantha Power also wanted to arm. As a direct result the program that Samantha Power put into place, that ISIS developed and that Jabhat al-Nusra, the local al-Qaeda affiliate, became the frontline fighting force of the armed opposition to the Syrian government. And John Kerry, the Secretary of State, in leaked audio in a conversation with Syrian opposition activists explained very clearly and accurately why Russia was on the Syrian battlefield, why the Russian military intervened. And it was because, in his words, we were watching ISIS advance and suggesting that the US was hoping ISIS would advance, and he said we hoped that it would force Assad to the table to negotiate a transition. But then Russia came in and stopped their advance. And that’s exactly what happened. Russia entered because they were not inclined to see…the Russian government was not inclined to see a country that’s as far away from Russian frontiers as Washington DC is from West Virginia be overrun by Wahhabi extremists and for genocide to take place. This would have destabilized the entire region. Iran had its own reasons for being in Syria as well, that also related to deterrence and its own national interest. Hezbollah had its reasons for going in, preventing the penetration of Salafi jihadi forces in Lebanon. They basically saved Lebanon from this catastrophe. And so all of these forces converge in Syria as invited allies who are there, according to national…according to international law, to oust the forces that were being supported by Samantha Power. And now you have a dynamic where Russia and Iran, along with the Syrian government, are in the catbird seat because their strategy succeeded. But if Samantha Power and her fellow “responsibility to protect” military “humanists” had never enacted this insane dirty war on Syria, there wouldn’t be a direct Russian presence there, except for maybe the Russian naval base in Tartus. There wouldn’t be the presence of all of these Shia militias. Hezbollah would have never entered Syria. And untold tens of thousands of people would still be alive. So, it’s because of Samantha Power and people like her that we’re facing this moment. And only Tulsi Gabbard has the guts to stand up and say that, and that’s why she’s being attacked. So, it’s kind of like we’re witnessing a cover-up by smearing Tulsi Gabbard and trying to get her to shut up.
AARON MATÉ: And you know, Max, to take to what you point out in your book, The Management of Savagery, which I think is essential reading to understand what happened, not just two countries targeted by US regime change like Syria and Libya, but also to understand what happened to the US. Because, as you point out, it’s also these wars that people like Samantha Power and Hillary Clinton and Ben Rhodes have fueled that helped…gave us Donald Trump, creating these mass refugee flights which then xenophobes like Trump have exploited to appeal to the racism of white people in the US — a dynamic not just here but also found in Britain and across Europe. And also exploiting the fact that these wars cost money at home and cost lives at home, and Trump painted himself as being the antithesis of people like Samantha Power and Hillary Clinton, and was able to dupe people into believing that he was anti-war, which helped him actually win these states. So, the irony, taking it back to Samantha Power’s tweets, of instead of acknowledging the role of her own regime change wars and policies in Trump’s victory, she then blames that on third party candidates [sic] like Tulsi Gabbard and says that that will end up empowering these official enemies, who policies like hers target and try to destabilize. So, the convergence of cynicism here and the convergence of irony and hypocrisy is just very staggering.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I mean, I can’t say it any better than that. I would just add, you know, from a pure, purely kind of horserace politics point of view, there’s a new Suffolk poll out, Suffolk University poll, and it shows all of the outlines, all the issues of importance to Democratic voters. At the top, I think, is health care and then jobs and all the kitchen table issues, and at the very bottom, like polling around 0%, is Russian interference. And so, I mean, that the decision that was taken by Hillary’s camp to base their attack, to first of all select Tulsi Gabbard as a target and then to, second of all, base their attack on the whole Russiagate-new-Cold-War narrative shows how out of touch they are. And what a bunch of kind of bullying hovercraft elites they are, you know. And I would say the attack does remind me of Donald Trump’s assault, verbal assault on Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, but the difference is, and this is again from purely horserace perspective, not, you know, my own, you know, principles. Trump was basing that attack on the sentiments of his own reactionary base, his own grassroots base. I don’t know who Hillary Clinton thinks she’s speaking to here, but it really does speak to her own failure as a candidate and just this loser mentality that still persists in her inner circle. It’s…it’s…it’s the mentality of people who are just out of touch with average Americans, who don’t care what they think, and who’ve just been kind of on this constant, you know, jet around the world. The State Department jet going from one place to another to prop up a failing Empire. It’s not really going to work, and so it leads me to believe that Donald Trump, if he gets through this impeachment saga, you know, can get ready for another four years in the White House.
AARON MATÉ: And that is an ominous and somber place to leave it, but we will leave it there as it gives us all something to think about going forward. Max Blumenthal, editor of The Grayzone, author of several books, including The Management of Savagery, thank you.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks a lot, Aaron.
Aaron Maté is a journalist and producer. He hosts Pushback with Aaron Maté on The Grayzone. He is also is contributor to The Nation magazine and former host/producer for The Real News and Democracy Now!. Aaron has also presented and produced for Vice, AJ+, and Al Jazeera.