In 1984, at the height of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign ran an ad. The ad, simply called “The Bear,” hit at the heart of the difference between Republican and Democratic views on the Soviet threat. The ad was simple enough, footage of an American grizzly bear wandering through the woods while a narrator speaks:
“There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it’s vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who’s right, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear.”
The ad never mentions the Soviet Union, the Cold War, Ronald Reagan, his opponent Walter Mondale, or even the race for President. A graphic at the end simply notes it was paid for by the Reagan campaign. The power of the ad and its place in American political history cannot be understated. It ranks up there with Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Daisy” ad as one that instantly affected the American political conscience and helped secure the re-election of a President. Reagan won the 1984 election in a landslide, carrying 49 of the 50 states losing only Walter Mondale’s home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
More than at any time since the end of the Cold War, Russia has become a key issue in an American election. In the race between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russia has once again become a key issue in a presidential race, but with the Democrats accusing the Republican nominee of being supported by Russians and, specifically, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The ad assault against Donald Trump is fierce with the Clinton campaign strongly hitting him on the claim that he has the backing of Russia.
To add to the claim, former CIA Director Mike Morrell has even gone so far as to state in an op-ed he pinned for the New York Times that, “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
John Schindler, a former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer, doubled down calling Trump what Lenin termed a “useful idiot.”
The intrigue seems like something out of an Ian Fleming novel. The Russians secretly devise a plot to elect their own man into the White House to bring the “Arsenal of Democracy” to its knees. Surely, it seems to the average observer that Russia, and Putin especially, is favoring the Republican nominee. Right before the Republican and Democratic conventions, Wikileaks dumped thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, emails that were allegedly obtained thanks to the work of Russian hackers. The result was clear evidence that the supposedly neutral DNC was working behind the scenes to support Hillary Clinton’s bid and planning attacks against her primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Chair of the DNC, was forced to resign and other staff and leadership have followed suit.
Trump added his own fuel to the fire by calling for Russian hackers to find the more than 30,000 emails that the FBI had said were deleted by Hillary Clinton and her lawyers from Clinton’s personal server. While the joke may be in politically poor taste, especially to Democrats still trying to think of how to spin their way out of the scandal, joking or not, it re-enforces in the minds of some voters of Trump’s supposed strong ties to Russia. What’s more, spinning it in that direction once again deflects from the point that Hillary Clinton and her lawyers deleted 30,000 emails.
This should all be cause for concern when coupled with the Trump’s statements regarding the U.S.’s continued role in NATO. Trump has said the U.S. should reduce its role in NATO to be in proportion to that of the other member nations. Right now, the U.S. shoulders a larger burden financially in NATO than that of other members. Of course in a political election year, that statement has been spun to Trump wanting to destroy NATO, probably at the behest of his political soul mate, Vladimir Putin.
Trump also says he wants warmer US-Russian relations, and Putin, has praised Donald Trump calling him, among others compliments, “bright and talented.” However, with all of the media coverage of the “bromance” between Vlad and The Donald, surely it is cause for concerned that the strong policies designed to keep Russia in check developed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama will be at best undermined in a Trump Administration, and at worse, completely reversed, or at least it would seem that way to the casual observer.
Former CIA Chief Mike Morrell’s comments are troubling, or are they? Is Morrell’s analysis being clouded by the fact he was appointed to head the CIA by President Obama and served with Sec. Clinton? He says he is not a registered Democrat, but, if he lives in Virginia, where CIA Headquarters is located, a state that does not have political party registration, then of course he’s not registered. No one is.
Also, Morrell and the media seem to conveniently forget the goodwill that Clinton and Obama have both showed to Russia, and the homage they have both paid to Putin’s oligarchs. When Barack Obama came in as President in January 2009, he quickly went to work to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations, even sending his new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Russia with a “reset” button. Never mind that “reset” was mistranslated into Russian and the button actually said “overcharged.” Maybe that wasn’t a mistake, but in reference to the millions of dollars Russian interests would funnel into the Clinton Foundation during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.
During a March 2012 meeting in Seoul, South Korea, President Obama was caught on an open mic telling outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to relay to incoming President Putin that he would be able to be more “flexible” with Moscow after his re-election. The Romney campaign immediately jumped on the slip, and started raising the alarm. In the eyes of the Romney camp, Russia was the United States’ biggest “geopolitical foe.”
Obama soon turned the tables on Romney, telling him in their third presidential debate, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
The “zinger” that was championed in the press in 2012 seemed a little out of place when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea two years later. President Obama’s response was, well, can we say, “flexible?”
While there has been little secret of the ties Trump’s Campaign Chairman, Paul Manafort, has with Russia, successfully managing the campaign for pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and that Trump himself looked at building a Trump Tower in Moscow, a project that never materialized, what seems to have been swept under the geopolitical rug has been Hillary Clinton’s ties to the Russian economy. The Wall Street Journal noted that Clinton, while still serving as Secretary of State, encouraged American technology firms and investors to explore new opportunities in Skolkovo, which Russia was touting as their “Silicon Valley.”
While Clinton was encouraging technology investment, the FBI sent out a warning stating they believed, “the true motives of the Russian partners, who are often funded by their government, is to gain access to classified, sensitive and emerging technology from the companies.”
There is a big difference between joking that Russian hackers should release Clinton’s emails and actively encouraging U.S. tech firms to move operations to Russia, giving Russian hackers easier access.
While Trump’s campaign chairman may have ties to Russia, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman’s hands aren’t very clean either. John Podesta’s company, Joule Unlimited, received a $35 million contract from a Kremlin backed investment fund, which Podesta failed to disclosed when he came to work in the Obama White House.
If this wasn’t enough, in 2013, while she was still Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton signed off on a Russian takeover of Uranium One, a Canadian mining company that controlled 20% of the uranium mining in the United States. Before and while the $3.5 billion deal was being negotiated, Uranium One’s sellers made over $31 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation. While Hillary Clinton’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. was reviewing the deal for approval, Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 to speak in Moscow to the Kremlin-backed investment bank that was promoting the Uranium One deal.
While it’s refreshing that the Democratic Party, and its nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, are finally looking seriously at the threat Russian poses not only to European, but global political stability, they seem to be very recent converts, which should alarm even the most casual observer.
In light of this, the best course of action for the Republican nominee would not be to continue to cozy up Putin, but to take up Mitt Romney’s talking point that Russia has continued to show it is our geopolitical foe, a nation that consistently allies with other nations that demonstrate time and again human rights abuses and curtailed civil liberties. There does not seem, however, to be any indication that Trump is even willing to entertain that thought.
There still is a bear in the woods. Now the question isn’t about seeing the Bear, but seeing which of the two candidates is feeding that bear. If there is a bear.
Jason Shepherd is an attorney and former political consultant in Atlanta, GA. He has served on the political staff of House Speaker Newt Gingrich and as the General Counsel of the Young Republican National Federation, as well as Committee Counsel for the International Relations Committee. He received his BA in political science from the University of Georgia, his PGDip in Global Business from the University of Oxford Saïd Business School, and his JD from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School.