Don’t fall for Trump’s latest whataboutism

PRESIDENT TRUMP tweets it repeatedly: Yes, there was collusion with Russia — except the real colluders were Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. The president was back at it again Thursday, quoting a conservative cable host’s assertion that “Hillary Clinton & the Democrats colluded with the Russians to fix the 2016 election.” This inflammatory argument may play well with the president’s supporters and others inclined to believe the worst about Ms. Clinton. But the claim that Ms. Clinton’s 2016 opposition- research activities were on the same moral or legal plane with the Trump team’s direct interactions with Russians represents a preposterous effort to confuse and distract.

.. Here is what the Trump team did: Senior campaign officials, including then-chairman Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, met in June 2016 with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer. They were told the lawyer could give them “very high level and sensitive information” on Ms. Clinton, as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Here is what the Clinton campaign did: It employed a U.S. law firm that hired a U.S. research outfit that brought in Christopher Steele, a British ex-spy, to gather information on Mr. Trump from his network of sources. That network included Russians.

.. Mr. Trump’s whataboutism obscures the fundamental difference between engaging in opposition research that includes contacting foreign sources and lapping up information peddled by a foreign government. Mr. Steele, a well-regarded ex-spy, was acting as a compensated researcher with a specialty in Russia, not as a Kremlin cutout. He worked his network to deliver information to his client.

.. the fact that the damaging information was not forthcoming, at least at that meeting, does not excuse the sordid fact of the meeting in the first instance.

..One of Mr. Trump’s go-to defenses is insisting that others have done the things he is accused of, only worse. No matter how many times he tweets about Ms. Clinton’s supposed collusion, that doesn’t make it true, nor does it diminish legitimate concerns about his own campaign’s behavior.

Whataboutism

.. Third, this was classic “whataboutism,” a favorite Putin tactic in which he compares, for instance, the annexation of Crimea with something unrelated, like Kosovar independence. In Helsinki, however, Putin simply invented the comparable crime.

.. The Guardian deemed whataboutism, as used in Russia, “practically a national ideology”

.. The New Yorkerdescribed the technique as “a strategy of false moral equivalences”

..  Jill Dougherty called whataboutism a “sacred Russian tactic”,[26][27] and compared it to the pot calling the kettle black.[28]

..  the technique is used to avoid directly refuting or disproving the opponent’s initial argument.[42][43] The tactic is an attempt at moral relativism,[44][45][9] and a form of false moral equivalence

.. The Economist recommended two methods of properly countering whataboutism: to “use points made by Russian leaders themselves” so that they cannot be applied to the West, and for Western nations to engage in more self-criticism of their own media and governmen

.. By accusing critics of hypocrisy, the Soviet Union hoped to deflect attention away from the original criticism itself

.. Although the use of whataboutism was not restricted to any particular race or belief system, according to The Economist, Russians often overused the tactic.[7] The Russian government’s use of whataboutism grew under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.[75][76][77]

.. “Putin’s near-default response to criticism of how he runs Russia is whataboutism”

.. The philosopher Merold Westphal said that only people who know themselves to be guilty of something “can find comfort in finding others to be just as bad or worse.”[98] Whataboutery, as practiced by both parties in The Troubles in Northern Ireland to highlight what the other side had done to them, was “one of the commonest forms of evasion of personal moral responsibility,”

.. it can also be used to discredit oneself while one refuses to critique an ally. During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, when The New York Times asked candidate Donald Trump about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s treatment of journalists, teachers, and dissidents, Trump replied with a criticism of U.S. history on civil liberties.[102

..  “The core problem is that this rhetorical device precludes discussion of issues (ex: civil rights) by one country (ex: the United States) if that state lacks a perfect record.”

.. Russia Today was “an institution that is dedicated solely to the task of whataboutism”,[23] and concluded that whataboutism was a “sacred Russian tactic”

..  Garry Kasparov discussed the Soviet tactic in his book Winter Is Coming, calling it a form of “Soviet propaganda” and a way for Russian bureaucrats to “respond to criticism of Soviet massacres, forced deportations, and gulags”.[112] Mark Adomanis commented for The Moscow Times in 2015 that “Whataboutism was employed by the Communist Party with such frequency and shamelessness that a sort of pseudo mythology grew up around it.”[65] Adomanis observed, “Any student of Soviet history will recognize parts of the whataboutist canon.”[65]

 

Putin wanted to interrogate me. Trump called it ‘an incredible offer.’ Why?

When foreign affairs are, literally, personal.

He’d been received tepidly in his campaign to retake the presidency from his ally, Dmitry Medvedev, and he needed an enemy. So his proxies falsely argued that I had been sent by President Barack Obama to fund the opposition and foment revolution

.. During his two-hour one-on-one meeting with President Trump, Putin made his American counterpart an offer: He would permit U.S. law enforcement officials to witness the Russian interrogation of 12 Russian spies accused by the United States of interfering in the 2016 campaign, if his own agents could observe the interrogation of a similar number of American intelligence officers who, Russia alleges, committed crimes on Russian soil. In the fantasy Putin spun during the joint news conference, U.S. intelligence officers had helped American-born British citizen Bill Browder launder money out of Russia, which Browder then gave to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. It was a ludicrously false equivalency that linked the documented efforts of Russian hackers to tilt the election to Trump with a host of completely imagined offenses by U.S. government officials. Amazingly, Trump called Putin’s crazy proposal “an incredible offer.”

 

Why Some U.S. Ex-Spies Don’t Buy the Russia Story

the whole mess with Iraq and Afghan wars, and especially everything that Wikileaks exposed about them, is one of the biggest providers of source material for Russian “whataboutism” (see also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_you_are_lynching_negroes). In early 00s, it was mainly useful to justify the way Russia handled Chechnya. But from 2008 on, it became more and more important – South Ossetia, Crimea, Donbass, Syria.

.. With that in mind, leaks about any American administration serve those goals. Bush was certainly fair game. As do any leaks that concern any Western countries, their allies, and affiliated countries. Which happens to be exactly what Wikileaks has been focusing on.

.. I don’t get why people are so trustful of Assagne’s assurances the source wasn’t Russian. Unless he hacked it himself or was looking over the shoulder of the guy who hacked it, he simply cannot know who the ultimate source of the material is. The person he got it from may very well not have been Russian. But who did that person get it from? It’s no different than a Tor exit node delivering information it receives: it simply isn’t in a position to know the true origin.

The fact that Assange has come out very hard trying to imply it was Seth Rich and not Russians is itself the most suspicious thing.1. He can’t possibly know if Russia is the true source.

2. Seth Rich is a classic KGB style conspiracy theory with literally not one shred of evidence, at all.

So he’s doing two very odd things here that he’s never done. He’s saying Russia is NOT the source AND Seth Rich IS the source.

It’s typical for someone with good intentions to find themselves owned by a spy agency. Assange is most likely in so deep he can’t fix it.

It’s a fact he’s taken money from Russia and the theory of him being compromised by them goes back years before the election. He’s the one that arranged for Snowden to go to Russia.

So he’s compromised and a tool now. It doesn’t matter if he was once free or not at this point.

. I don’t think Assange is a Russian agent (even though he receives money from RT etc). I think he has his own motives. At the time this was more anti-Clinton that pro-Trump specifically.

More recently his Tweets have become more supportive of Trump personally (although interestingly not really his agendas necessarily). My uncharitable suspicion is that he’s hoping for a presidential pardon.

.. Why do you believe that the Russian reaction to pulling back would be to pull back as well? If anything, all experience shows that they’ll use that to do a power grab in the neighbouring countries instead. Treating “sphere of influence” as a valid concept is immoral, it essentially means allowing Russia to do whatever they want to others against their will; there’s a good reason why their neighbours are allying with the west – it’s because they want protection from being “sphereofinfluenced”.