A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

From Russia, with love – or fear, or confusion

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., March 27, 28 or 29

Republican Sen. John McCain on Thursday joined most Americans who want an independent inquiry of Russian connections to the 2016 campaign, according to a Suffolk University/USA Today poll that found 58 percent supporting and 35 percent opposed to an outside probe.

The House Intelligence Committee and the FBI already are investigating Russian ties to Trump and his businesses and campaign, and foreign involvement in U.S. elections is worrisome, whether it’s Russia, Iran or Canada. (Also, it’s not unbelievable that U.S. interests have intruded in others’ elections.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin seems like the kind of person you’d warn friends about, but presumably regular Russians would benefit from a more understanding relationship with the United States, so caution is needed with the issue; the probe could be a seized opportunity or a missed opportunity.

What’s “known” – summarized by House Intelligence minority chair Adam Schiff, a California Democrat (online at ) is that Russia tried to swing the election toward Trump; Trump adviser Roger Stone bragged of advance knowledge of WikiLeaks publishing emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee; Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort and others had business ties to Russia; Trump campaign official J.D. Gordon engineered a change in the GOP platform to remove the part about supporting Ukraine in its struggle against Russia; and Trump insiders Michael Flynn, Jaren Kushner, Carter Page and Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador in 2016.

That all may turn out to be significant, or a Big Whoop.

An investigation is not evidence, and press attention shouldn’t be an obsession. The story is complicated, and as revelations occur bit by bit, there are many assumptions. Coincidences aren’t correlations aren’t causes, and unintended consequences could adversely affect relations with Russia and with everyday news consumers.

What if no proof of wrongdoing is uncovered? What if evidence is limited or meaningless, like finding interference but with little effect on election results? On the other hand, if the contacts and connections were innocent, why all the lies?

Could Congress or Trump contribute to another Cold War? As one who grew up in the 1950s participating in school drills to prepare for nuclear attacks and standing outside to see if the dreaded Russian satellite Sputnik was visible, I remember the Cold War as an ever-present fear. True, Mom noted that although the Russian premier seemed like a bully, the Russian people were probably OK, and I recall Dad’s surprise and laughter when my 8-year-old brother gave him a Russian-English dictionary for his birthday.

It got so weird that Russian dressing was renamed “sweet tomato dressing” for concerned shoppers, and even the entertainment industry adjusted. Hollywood released films about Russia that contributed to the Cold War, vanished from view, or were altered for the times: “Comrade X” (a comedy with reporter Clark Gable wooing Moscow streetcar conductor Hedy Lamarr), “Dr. Zhivago” (showing ruthless revolutionaries), “The Kremlin Letter” (a spy yarn), “Ninotchka” (with Greta Garbo), “Rasputin and the Empress” (starring Lionel Barrymore as the “Mad Monk”), “Red Danube” (with Russian ballerina Janet Leigh running from the KGB), “The Scarlet Empress” (starring Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great), and three pro-Russia films released during World War II (when Russia became an ally against Nazi Germany) – “Mission to Moscow,” “Song of Russia” and “North Star” – withdrawn in the ’50s or drastically edited.

Here and now, Democrats might be shocked, or seizing another chance to weaken Trump. But criticizing Russia could jeopardize improving relations, a colossal missed opportunity reminiscent of a similar error 100 years ago, when – after Russians toppled their Czar – Russia teetered between a constitutional democracy and authoritarianism, with millions of lives at stake and the rise of dictators from Lenin to Hitler arguably resulting.

Then and there, Aleksandr Kerensky was a leader in the revolution who joined the provisional government and became Minister of War. World War I had raged for two years, America hadn’t entered the fray, and Germany offered an armistice.

“A resolution in the Reichstag, the German Parliament, passed by a large majority, [and] called for a peace ‘without annexation or indemnities’,” writes University of Queensland scholar John Quiggin.

Russia’s parliament had several groups: Constitutional Democrats, two factions of Social Democrats, and the Social Revolutionary Party – Kerensky’s party. But he declined the offer, and within months the Russian army rebelled and Social Democrat/Bolshevik Vladimir Lenin overthrew Kerensky.

“The years of pointless bloodshed that brought Russia two revolutions turned out to be merely a foretaste of the decades of totalitarianism and total war to come,” Quiggin said.

Now, it could be treasonous for Trump and his cabal to have cooperated, coordinated or colluded with Russia; but it also could be profoundly risky for Democrats to overreach on this issue and get distracted by possible disclosures while government is dismantled (and the need for their own self-criticism awaits.

[PICTURED: Cartoon by Darrin Bell,]

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