The political consequences of the Russia-Taliban scandal
The New York Times’ (NYT) fake news report from last week alleging that Russia solicited the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan was predicated on provoking a chain reaction of political consequences, all of which are intended to put more pressure on President Donald Trump. It seems that the NYT waged its latest information warfare attack against him in full coordination with anti-Trump members of the US’ permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”) as part of their efforts to influence the outcome of the elections.
The most immediate political consequences of this stunt is that the Russiagate conspiracy theory has been revived in yet another form, this time one which strongly implies that Trump “treasonously” decided to look the other way as Russia’s military-intelligence agency GRU supposedly contracted the Taliban to kill US troops. The very fact that this narrative is being pushed yet again speaks to the confidence that the Democrats and their “deep state” backers have in their belief that there’s still some political capital left to exploit from it.
Trump has sought to replace Russia with China as America’s main rival since the beginning of the year, which coincided both with the end of his impeachment saga and the spread of Covid-19 across the planet. The Democrats, however, are regarded as “soft” towards the People’s Republic but extremely hawkish towards the Eurasian Great Power, hence why they have an interest in deflecting some attention away from China and back towards Russia. The NYT’s fake news report helps them “make up for lost time” over the past six months.
Just as swiftly as they initiated an official congressional investigation into the content of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian President last summer, they could do the same in respect to the claims that Trump was supposedly briefed on the Russia-Taliban story but deliberately chose to do nothing. In that event, they’d have a blazing hot political scandal just months ahead of the election, one which wouldn’t conclude by that time and would therefore serve as the ultimate shadow looming large over the vote.
To raise the stakes to their maximum height in the third and possibly final iteration of Russiagate, the Democrats might team up with Trump’s Republican opponents (the so-called “Republicans In Name Only”, or RINOs) to do their utmost to designate Russia as a “state sponsor of terror” exactly as the Republican Study Committee recommended early last month. Doing so would be purely symbolic but it will contribute to the optics of Trump “colluding with terrorists”, supposedly state-level ones in Moscow.
The tangible effect of this series of scenarios would be to galvanise the Democrat base while dividing the Republican one. Currently serving soldiers and veterans who both largely support Trump might be tempted to believe that there’s some credence to this story, while the party’s rank and file might grow irritated with him if he bows to political pressure and delays his promised drawdown from Afghanistan. Coupled with some of their dislike for his handling of Covid-19 and the ongoing riots, this might be enough to turn them against him.
Faced with this latest information warfare onslaught against his re-election campaign, which is either compelling or unconvincing depending on one’s stance, Trump doesn’t have many options available to him. True to his style, he’s already shown his unwillingness to capitulate to his opponents, but he’ll have to do more than stand his ground if he’s to survive this latest political scandal. Instead of remaining on the defensive, he’d do well to contemplate the advantages to be had by going on the offensive.
This could take the form of doubling down on his military drawdown in Afghanistan by increasing the number of troops that he withdraws in open defiance of Democrat pressure. Another wise move would be to make more observable progress on reaching a “New Detente” with Russia, once again in defiance of his opponent’s wishes. Only by showing that he won’t be cowered by fake news pressure into “moderating” his positions towards Afghanistan and Russia can Trump keep his base united and stand a fighting chance at winning re-election.