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Which US Presidential Candidates Are Most Ignorant about Russia?

American presidential politicians display enormous ignorance when it comes to facts about today's Russia.


This post first appeared on Russia Insider


Lately I've been seeing more and more people confuse the difference between Russia and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Soviet Union is alive and well in the American presidential race. Commenting about Putin, Hillary Clinton has said: "His goal is to re-Sovietize Russia."

Jeb Bush apparently put a lot of stock in Hillary's prediction. In a recent TV interview, while commenting on his rival Donald Trump, Bush sounded like Sovietization was already a done deal. Here are some snippets from that interview:

"Donald Trump is not a serious candidate as it relates to foreign policy.

"It's about understanding how the world works and how American leadership matters.

"There are millions of refugees heading towards Europe. You can't expect the Soviet Union whose only objective is to prop up its client state Assad to take out ISIS. That's not their intention."

Did you catch that? He said "You can't expect THE SOVIET UNION ... to take out ISIS."
Now, I don't really believe that Bush is convinced that Hillary's prophesy has come true. It's clear that he misspoke. But lately, particularly from among TV political commentators, I've been hearing more and more verbal transpositions of "Soviet" for "Russian."

Why are more people misspeaking in a way that transmutes Russian into Soviet? Are they deliberately trying to awaken old Cold War feelings of fear? Or is it some kind of Freudian slip? I asked a psychologist friend about that. He focused right in on Putin and his very negative international reputation. The mental mechanism at work, believes my friend, is an unconscious association between the scary image Putin has in the minds of most Westerners and the frightening thoughts of nuclear threat from the bygone era.

That may very well be the explanation. But for me it still adds up to ignorance. The mind of any person running for the presidency, it seems to me, should cognitively be aware of the difference between Russia and the Soviet Union.

Bush certainly does not have a monopoly on confusion and ignorance regarding Russia-related issues. There's Hillary's belief that Putin has no soul and her assertion that he reminds her of Hitler. Wouldn't it have been better if she had presented some facts to support her points instead of simply resorting to inflammatory language?

And again there's Clinton's claim that Putin wants a return to a Soviet system. She's joined in that belief by Republican Ben Carson. He believes Putin "was very disappointed with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and he wants to rebuild an empire and he needs to extend his influence widely." Neither candidate reveals how he or she knows of Putin's desires and disappointments. But Putin is a man who seems to unite both Democrats and Republicans in their angst toward him.

Carson is strong-willed in his belief about Putin, just like Hillary. He told a Fox news interviewer, "I believe that we need to stand up to him." When the interviewer asked, "In other words, you'd be willing to create a confrontation?" Carson snapped back, "Absolutely."

Democrat Bernie Sanders somehow got himself caught on both sides of the issue, though. The New Republic claims he believes Putin is "already regretting his decision to intervene in Ukraine and Crimea." That's even more mind reading of Putin without any substantiation.

But Sanders also has been lambasted for having been too enamored with the Soviet Union. CNN's Anderson Cooper chided him, "You honeymooned in the Soviet Union." Writing in the Washington Post, columnist George Will referred to Sanders as a "US presidential candidate, a senator, who had chosen, surely as an ideological gesture, to spend his honeymoon in the Soviet Union in 1988."

Neither Cooper nor Will pointed out that Sanders, then mayor of Burlington, VT, made the trip with a 10 member delegation to visit Yaroslavl, Russia, the counterpart to Burlington in the Sister Cities program. But, of course, that would have taken the pinko-commie spin off their commentaries.

For a long time I've thought it odd that the subject of Russia and Putin is seen in the same way by the opposing American political parties. This was driven home by a 2006 Council on Foreign Relations task force report. It was titled, "Russia's Wrong Direction: What the United States Can and Should Do." The title speaks for itself regarding the report's orientation. This task force was co-chaired by John Edwards (Democrat) and Jack Kemp (Republican).

Since the subject of this report is something on which the competing parties could reasonably disagree, I wondered what it was that had drawn them together. The report was replete with facts that aren't factual. Yet the Republicans and Democrats nonetheless agreed on the issues.

Since politicians rely heavily upon campaign contributions, I wondered if money could be a factor here. So I wrote to a CFR member whose integrity I respect, and broached the question: Is political money involved? He found that a plausible explanation. "Shouldn't that be looked into?" I asked. He responded, "It would mean stepping on some very big feet." It's worth pondering whose feet they are.

So who are the Russia-ignorant US presidential candidates after all? It looks like most of them are. I haven't bothered to quote the factually ignorant comments of other presidential candidates. From what I recall hearing, most of them have been singing the Clinton-Carson song about the danger posed by Russia. It's almost like the belief in a negative narrative about Russia is a litmus test for being in the presidential race. It matters not that their views are based on ignorance instead of facts.

Or is it really ignorance? What about that money angle? I haven't said much about Republican Donald Trump. He's not been a regular in the defamation chorus against Russia. He's differentiated himself. In fact, he got a lot of press coverage when he said he'd get along very well with Putin.

I don't think he's going to pass the litmus test.

But there is something else that has differentiated Trump's campaign. He claims to be self-funding it. That would mean he does not share the same needs for campaign contributions as his Democrat and Republican competitors. Is that why he can maintain a more practical and less ideological position? So here we have the money angle again. The big feet again.

If questionable political funding can support a candidate, can't it be used to destroy one too?

Given that, I wonder what will happen to Trump's candidacy?
 


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