So the Straight Arrow has now gone and indicted a dozen members of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, on charges relating to—stop me if you’ve heard this one before—meddling in America’s internal affairs. That such meddling entirely fits their job description, and that Mr. Well Respected has exactly zero chance of ever bringing them to “justice” in an American courtroom is beside the point.
The partisan clown car that is the Robert Mueller investigation into something—anything!— continues to roll along, excreting great columns of smoke behind it in the hope that an even more partisan media can convince the public that it’s the result of fire, instead of hot air.
When the best you can do is bark at the canine for biting the man, you know your “investigation” has descended to a level of self-parody physically embodied by its hangdog front man, the Real Inspector Hound. Mueller has doggedly gone about accomplishing exactly nothing since (follow the bouncing ball): Rod Rosenstein wrote the memo that president Trump used as justification for firing former FBI chief and sanctimonious scold James Comey; who had succeeded his pal Mr. Incorruptible in that office; who then wrote some memos to himself and leaked them to the New York Times, in order to; motivate Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel to look into wholly (and still) unsubstantiated charges of Trump’s putative “collusion” (not a statutory crime, by the way) with the Russians; to the cheers of former members of the intelligence community, including Comey, as well as its long-time laughingstock, former CIA director John Brennan, whose antipathy for Trump is daily on display.
In short, the whole mess stinks to high heaven and has since the bumbling Jeff Sessions mysteriously recused himself from anything to do with the Russians and has basically vanished since. This has left the president pretty much at the mercy of his enemies on both sides of the aisle (Rosenstein the butler; Brennan the saboteur) and unable effectively to fight back except via Twitter. For the truth is, the most virulent opposition Trump has faced since his surprise election has come from the Intelligence Community—which, at the top, is largely a left-leaning collection of malignant bureaucrats entirely intent on career advancement.
And how do these left-leaning IC bureaucrats assure their career advancement? By not upsetting the cozy arrangement they’ve long had with … the Russians.
That is to say, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the U.S.S.R. a couple of years later, the KGB and the CIA had come to a modus vivendi that allowed each side a relatively free hand within its sphere, with extreme measures reserved only for the most egregious provocations, and even then largely exercised upon expendable third-party operatives. They spied on us, we spied on them, and everybody was happy.
Hence the otherwise inexplicable reaction of the George H. W. Bush administration to the sudden implosion of the Soviet Union: instead of cheering the end result of 40-plus years of American foreign policy, Poppy Bush (former Director of Central Intelligence) and his gargoyle Secretary of State, James A. Baker, reacted instead as if the end of the Soviets was a tragedy of epic proportions, and instead of rushing in to help, they largely abandoned Russia and Eastern Europe to its fate, thus leaving the door open for George Soros and his “Open Society” to rush through. We could have bought the Russian empire for two cents on the dollar—instead, we decided we preferred them as enemies.
And so we arrive at the Wilderness of Mirrors, the symbol of intelligence work, in which nothing is as it seems, enemies can be best friends, and allies often double-cross each other not only with impunity but with relish. The American public likes its stories clean, with good guys and bad guys; in intelligence work, it’s often impossible at any given moment to tell them apart. And so Trump came into office with the Obama/Bush/Clinton/Bush IC apparatus firmly against him. And when Trump said this week that, in effect, he trusted Vladimir Putin’s word more than that of some of his own intelligence professionals, he was telling the truth.
Let’s be blunt: Trump wants better relations with Russia not because he is a Soviet stooge, but because he understood that while Russia may always be a geopolitical adversary, it does not need to be an enemy. The Russians control a vast territory and an equally vast nuclear arsenal, but their control is slipping as their women forget to have children, their technology rusts, and the Red Army is literally on its last legs. Putin has cleverly made common cause with the Orthodox Church, a great source of Russian national pride, and is trying to manage the decline of a proud but often resentful and belligerent nation while pretending he’s restoring the glory of Mother Russia, so spare me the pious bleats about restoring Crimea to the Ukraine; that’s never going to happen. He’s riding the bear and is terrified of falling off—because there are plenty of folks ready to take his place and, unlike in America, assassination still has an honored place in Russian politics. If it was good enough for Caesar, it’s good enough for the Third Rome.
Already, Mueller’s irresponsible indictment of members of the GRU is having negative consequences: in exchange for making the GRU agents available to Mueller’s team, Putin has now asked to question William Browder, who’s been convicted in absentia in Russia of financial crimes, and for access to former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. As I tweeted, only half-jokingly, the other day:
Wouldn't surprise me to see Putin arrest every CIA asset in Russia now and put them on trial for meddling in Russia's internal affairs.
This is how the game is played at the grandmaster level, in real time and in three dimensions. The Democrats, who prior to 2016 never met a Soviet agent with whom they did not wish to cooperate, are betting that the American people still don’t understand the depths of their animosity against their own country. They’re also counting on the news media never to remind them. There are plenty of people in both countries who want to see their leaders fail, and it stands to reason that some of them are (still) working together, and using the media to fuel their narrative.
Meanwhile, Trump and Putin—who, after all, are still the two most important men in the world—are trying to do what’s best for themselves and their countries and the world, fend off the backstabbers from behind the arrases, and wander forward into the Wilderness of Mirrors in the hopes of finding the way out.
That Putin—who has both intelligence and a counter-intelligence experience from his KGB days—has far more savvy on this playground than does Trump is indisputable. Let’s hope that Trump can get up to speed before the mirrors entirely surround him, and all he can see is his own reflection.
About the Author: Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and foreign correspondent for Time Magazine, for which he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints (winner, 2004 American Book Award for fiction), and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the recent nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. A sequel, The Fiery Angel, was published by Encounter in May 2018. Follow him on Twitter at @dkahanerules (Photo credit: Peter Duke Photo)