Robert Mueller's probe is damaging U.S. interests

By Madhav Nalapat  |  May 29, 2018 at 8:23 AM
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May 29 (UPI) -- Months ago, special counsel Robert Mueller identified about a dozen Russian nationals and a few million dollars in cash as (effectively) being responsible for changing the electoral outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Were this "finding" of such detective work to be taken seriously rather than regarded with laughter by anyone other than the Beltway denizens, it would telegraph to the world that U.S. elections are even more fragile than those held in Belize or Guatemala.

There exist countries that would be willing to spend $100 billion and counting to get their "puppet" ( Hillary Clinton's description of Donald Trump) elected to the most consequential office in the United States, and therefore of the world. If Mueller truly believes that a handful of foreign nationals having access to a measly amount of cash can even affect slightly -- much less change -- the election outcome of a contest held in the glare of international media and attention, he must regard his country as being a peanut republic, for even banana republics would need far more expenditure in cash and man hours to have their election outcomes seriously affected. Through a nonstop drumbeat of support for this and other like findings, the Beltway media and their acolytes in the rest of the United States have gone a considerable distance to making the United States of America (and not Trump, as they imagine) an object of global ridicule.

Within the inner circle of the 45th president of the United States are some individuals who have long been in awe of the Beltway, and it was presumably on their advice that several appointments have been made to the new administration of individuals who respond to Beltway cues with the certainty of Pavlov's dogs. Given the decades of experience of such people in how to operate within the D.C. swamp, it is small wonder that most of them have remained out of radar contact of the very few loyal individuals within the Trump administration. This has given them the time and space to continue a dribble of "leaks from administration sources," the cumulative object of which is to ensure that the elected first citizen gets regarded with scorn and contempt, not just within the United States but outside.

Anyone visiting consequential capitals such as Berlin, London and Beijing several times since the 2016 elections will find it easy to find out that several visiting individuals (who are part of the Washington policymaking matrix) have been retailing -- in private, naturally -- stories about their chief of state. Such tales are precisely that -- stories that ought to be regarded correctly as unbelievable, but which have instead gained substantial currency within policymaking circles in many capitals.

This is affecting their responses to even routine moves and requests of the new administration, often to the detriment of U.S. interests. Not that this is bothering the Beltway wrecking crew, whose concentration is on ensuring that the president either quit of be removed from office well before his term is over, a task that Mueller is clearly engaged in with the enthusiasm of the true believer in the dictum that the "Beltway knows best" in its desire to see the premature close of the Trump presidency.

Bill Clinton and his brilliant spouse were quick learners, and by the third year of the first term had become embedded in the Beltway, as an examination of the personnel changes made since then under the 42nd president would reveal. Jimmy Carter never sought to bridge the distance between him and the informal human collective that has dominated policymaking in the United States since the 1940s and paid with his job and his reputation, losing to Ronald Reagan after a single term in office.

Was it that hints were given from within the Beltway to those in power in Iran that it would be helpful if the U.S. Embassy hostages remained in custody during a hard-fought contest? Certainly the South Vietnamese (and possibly the other, through a European power) government got briefed not to give a diplomatic victory to President Lyndon Johnson, lest it would result in Hubert Humphrey prevailing over Richard Nixon. However, hubris after an impressive second-term victory made Nixon humiliate his (largely Beltway) staff, thereby motivating many to follow much the same "drip drip drip" tactics as are now being deployed against Trump.

As for Reagan, the D.C. policy establishment may have marked the sometime actor down as an easy chief executive to play, given his career previous to joining politics. However, the 40th president of the United States showed that he had a mind and will of his own and changed domestic and foreign policy on a scale attempted in the postwar past only by John F Kennedy. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama stuffed their administrations with Beltway brainpower, thereby avoiding the systematic albeit silent campaign of ridicule and abuse faced by Carter and initially by Reagan (till John Hinckley made the U.S. president a hero by his vile act.)

Trump's problem is not that he is fake but that he is genuine. The man makes very little effort to disguise his views, even on social media, which is the modern equivalent of the street billboard. And that unlike the Clintons and others who very quickly decided to play along with the Beltway rather than incur its (in several ways concealed) ire, Trump has remained adamant on not filling up the patronage posts at his command with those who are (policy-wise, though not always geographically) in sync with the Beltway. Such lese-majesty has angered the Washington establishment, which since Nov. 8, 2016, has been seeking the ouster of Trump (and his attractive wife, Melania) from the White House.

Mueller, who has been perfectly chosen for his task, is the most deadly weapon in their arsenal. The Mueller investigation has systematically created a toxic atmosphere around and within the structures of governmental command and control in Washington that has clearly been affecting both the direction as well as the quality of policymaking within the administration, factors that then immediately get ascribed to Trump rather than to the campaign against him. A byproduct of the "Humiliate & Oust Trump" movement has been the president letting go of several of the policy positions that he took during the election, including on Russia, on China and in parts of the Middle East. If Trump and his team were less harried by the toxic fumes of controversy created precisely to paralyze his administration, he may have by now succeeded in getting both Moscow as well as New Delhi into the "U.S. ally" column, something that was last within the reach of Bill Clinton, but which opportunity was rejected with contempt by the Arkansas politician.

Where Trump is scoring is in those few initiatives where he has -- despite the efforts of Mueller and others intent on his removal -- moved away from Beltway preferences. Rather than cozy up to the Wahabbi establishment (which funds several individuals and institutions either part of or close to the Beltway crowd), Trump has been forthright in his condemnation of this extremist creed. But for Trump, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia may not have found the nerve and the opportunity to attempt the essential task of weaning his country away from the strands of a creed that has become intertwined with the roots of governance in Saudi Arabia since its inception. Given the importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, Trump was the first U.S. president to substitute action for words by moving his embassy to that ancient city.

However, he has succumbed to the doctrine that Shiite Islam is ab initio an enemy of U.S. interests, and instead of engaging with Iran, is reverting to the Bush-Cheney policy of making threats tailor made to send oil prices through the roof. Fortunately, in the case of North Korea, Trump stood his ground and will almost certainly be meeting supreme leader Kim Jong Un. The only two options before the United States are either total war against the DPRK or adopting a "Bright Sunshine" policy that would over time ensure that North Korean behavior and policies became an opportunity rather than a threat to the United States.

While getting Kim to give up his only defense against a decapitation strike may be a tough errand, the Trump-Kim meeting may at the least ensure a public freeze in the DPRK's nuclear and missile program, followed by engagement with the rest of the world that would hopefully change its chemistry. If the United States and communist Vietnam could become friends (as they undoubtedly are now), there is no reason why Washington and Pyongyang should not follow suit. Whether it be North Korea, Iran or Cuba, the best non-military instrument of change that the United States has is engagement with the U.S. economy and people.

Should the shadow of the Mueller decapitation sword get removed, hopefully Trump will be more himself and not get forced to accept Beltway solutions that are harmful to U.S. interests in a world very different from that of 1945.

Despite the moves designed to cripple his administration, Trump has moved into the Indo-Pacific groove from the Atlanticist furrow. Mueller and his obsession with somehow discovering a case for impeachment is harming U.S. interests in a manner few outside powers have succeeded in doing to the world's most powerful country. It is time to recognize the Mueller probe as what it is: a wrecking ball aimed at the future of the United States.

Madhav Das Nalapat is a professor and the director of the Department of Geopolitics & International Relations at Manipal University, UNESCO peace chair and the editorial director of The Sunday Guardian-India and NewsX channel.

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