I have to admit, I never thought I'd see another “Red Scare” in this country – especially with the Soviet Union long out of business and the current administration being, probably, more collectivist in many ways than the Soviets ever were. But here we are with these dozen-odd “Russian spies” who were living a suburban life right out of “Life With Father” until the FBI knocked on their door. But here's what funny. So far, I haven't heard or read about anything they did that was all that spy-ish, to say nothing of downright espionage. I mean, what they're accused of doesn't sound much different from what lobbyists do. Oh, I suppose it's true that they “failed to register as foreign agents” -- but did the Clintons register as foreign agents when they were getting campaign money from China? And how about all those people with dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship? Are they registered as foreign agents? They were supposedly trying to "infiltrate United States policy-making circles." Yeah -- well, so is every large business, political organization, non-profit, NGO, and political action committee in the country. Are we going to arrest all million of them as well?
What I'm saying is not only is all of this likely to be nothing more than a tempest in a teapot, it's highly ironic. Lest we forget, the spiritual forebears of the Obama administration were, if not committed, card-carrying communists, then certainly sympathizers and “fellow travelers” -- and many of them are alive and well, even unto this day, in various political science departments in colleges and universities across the land. But of course, the Russia of today is not your father's Soviet Union, and the main reason the Obama administration is not larded through with Soviet agents the way the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were is simple: There are no more Soviet agents. The Russia of today is not communistic, despite the lingering nostalgia for Joseph Stalin... it's no more socialistic than any other part of Europe... and it's basically oligarchic in terms of politics and the economy. But worse, I suppose, is that it's been acting like a lone wolf of late... not invited (nor wanting to be) to the EU or NATO parties, having a hard time pursuing hegemony in some of the former Soviet republics, and having to look on while China prepares to swallow the U.S. whole economically. That must be kind of frustrating after all those decades of promising that they would “bury” us. They certainly don't have much of an empire left, having had to part company with Africa and Latin America as well as Eastern Europe. (Note that the new communistic governments in Latin America are doing it pretty much on their own, without much more than encouragement from the Russians.)
In other words, after the great post-Soviet shakedown, Russia has wound up being the odd man out, despite its size and natural resources. It has become, in fact, what it most likely would have become by now if there had not been a revolution – large, part European and part Asian, somewhat chaotic, full of potential but having a hard time getting its act together. Not a bad place by any means, but just a bit volatile and unstable... a bit too wedded to the idea of the “strong man” at the top... and thus a bit challenged when it comes to full participation in international affairs.
Wait, I was talking about Russia just then, and not the U.S.! But the resemblances kind of make you think. There could be a lot more symmetry there than there is now, if Russia would just make a few more changes, and loosen up a bit. But as I always say, national character has more to do with the success or failure of any political system than the merits, or lack thereof, of that system. There are people who can almost make communism work... and people who can make capitalism seem to work... and others who fail miserably at one or the other, or both. (This is something like what P. J. O'Rourke points out in his economic masterpiece, “Eat the Rich”.)
But let's back to the irony, and a mystery. The irony is that one of the most left-wing administrations in the history of the U.S. has decided to “out” a bunch of alleged Russian spies. These are the same people whose parents and grandparents took to the streets when the Rosenbergs were arrested, tried, convicted, and executed for being atomic spies for the Soviets. OK? These are people whose grandparents, back in the 1930s, had to make the required pilgrimage to Russia as part of the army of “useful idiots” so that, after a couple of weeks of being shown Potemkin villages and fed ice cream, they could come back here and join Alger Hiss in trying to bring down the U.S. government and install a people's republic in its place. And I could go on and on about this, but you get the point.
But as to the mystery – clearly, any administration has plenty of choices when it comes to which suspected spies to investigate, pursue, arrest, indict, etc. Do you think that everyone who could, or should, be arrested is actuallly arrested? Or that everyone who is arrested is guilty? Please. You don't have to be a cynic to realize that this is highly conditioned by politics -- by the "needs" of the moment, which means political (domestic and international). These people seem about as dangerous as that White House party-crashing couple – I mean, they are certainly nothing on the order of Robert Hanssen or Aldrich Ames. They could have been left alone and ignored – which they probably would have been by most previous administrations, who had much bigger fish to fry. But now they're being arrested and dragged into court, causing a great deal of awkwardness between us and the Russians, who – or so we thought – were finally starting to learn to work and play well with others. So why are we setting things back like this, for reasons which, though they may not be trivial, certainly don't loom large in the scheme of things? I mean, Israel could pull the same stunts a hundred times over and get a complete pass; it already has, in fact. The European powers, if they had the inclination, could pull the same stunts and no one would even notice. And as for the Chinese – they don't need to spy on us, since we give them everything they want before they even realize they want it.
And this, I suppose, is the key – you know, “two's company and three's a crowd”? The solution to that three-body problem that is the U.S., Russia, and China seems to be – or let's say, the powers that be have decided that it is – for us to get closer to China and more distanced from Russia. But to achieve that, there must be a reason to get more distanced – an excuse, basically. So we pick up a few hapless “spies” on their way out of the Dollar Store and parade them before the world, bemoaning the fact that, after all these years, the Russians still seem to think it necessary to commit espionage – when, really, there is little or nothing to commit espionage for, or about. World history has moved beyond that stage at this point, and now everything is economics and religion (as in, Islam vs. all other). No one has any secrets worth keeping any longer – at least none of the old, traditional sort. The secrets now are all of the economic sort – and I suppose that could give rise to a new form of espionage, but I'm not aware that many attempts have been made as yet. Surely penetrating the upper reaches of the world Money Power would be every bit as difficult as penetrating the Atomic Energy Commission... but if it's being done, I'm not aware of it. All we see in the media is fairly low-level puzzlement, indignation, and panic – but that doesn't explain anything. At least atomic weapons had a comforting tangibleness about them.
In sum, what this half-assed (if that) spy case represents – to all appearances so far – is us pushing the Russians off the world political (and therefore economic) stage – or trying to. And we may, in fact, be doing this at the behest of China... or Israel... or both at once (even though their respective interests are anything but complementary). And Russia could fight back, of course – but with what? How much sanctioning power does it have at this point? They did manage to keep our missiles out of some parts of Eastern Europe, but their influence in most of the former Soviet republics is something we've chosen to more or less ignore (even though we gave plenty of support, both covert and overt, to the so-called “color revolutions”). What I'm saying is in the post-Cold War maneuvering for influence, the game stands at pretty much of a draw at this point – which is apparently fine with both us and them, but maybe not so fine with China. And they (China) may have just, at some point recently, told Obama & Co. that they had to make a choice – just like 3rd-grade girls on the school playground – we could either be friends with Russia or with them, but not both. And if we chose Russia, well... you know the rest. It was an offer Obama could not refuse, so he gives the green light to the FBI to round up these mini-Maxwell Smarts and Agents 99, and now we have to sit through, probably, months of hearings, trials, accusations, counter-accusations, denials, etc. while Russia sits over there, all alone and feeling blue. But it will be “mission accomplished” for China, and that's all that counts.