By Arab News
By Ellen R. Wald*
Politics is an unpleasant endeavor. At its core, it is a fight for power — whether in a democracy, autocracy or some system of governance between the two. That desire to win and control can cause politicians to do all sorts of despicable things.
For millennia, city states warred with each other to gain a little more power for their local princes. In the early years of the Ottoman Empire, princely brothers would kill each other for the chance to inherit their father’s throne. Then there are the purges. Joseph Stalin is the most infamous political leader known for ruthless purges to eradicate any possible threat to his power.
In modern times, however, the global community frowns upon wars of conquest, like Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Political assassinations still occur today, but they rarely involve top princes or politicians. And, yes, purges are common in more authoritarian systems, but they are exceedingly difficult in established republics. Instead, the most effective method of hurting a political opponent today is to accuse him or her of some form of national betrayal. Politicians have learned to accuse opponents of treason and simply watch as the mob takes over.
On a podcast last week, Hillary Clinton, the ultimate Washington insider, said that one particular female candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president was “the favorite of the Russians,” and a “Russian asset.” It was clear from her description of this candidate that she was talking about Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, although Clinton did not use her name. Later, a spokesperson for Clinton confirmed that she was, in fact, accusing Gabbard of being an asset of the Russians. Neither Clinton nor her spokesperson provided any evidence.
The accusation was absurd on its face, and the lack of evidence highlights how nefarious it was. Gabbard is a US Army veteran. As part of the Hawaii National Guard, she served a tour of duty in Iraq and another stationed in Kuwait. She still serves as an officer. Just this summer, Gabbard took a break from campaigning for a brief deployment overseas. She has served in the US Congress since 2013, where she has sat on important committees overseeing military and foreign affairs. There is no indication she would sell out her country to Russia.
Yet Clinton has reason to want to harm Gabbard’s political future. When Clinton ran for president in 2016, Gabbard was vice-chair of the Democratic Party. She resigned that post so she could endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders in his campaign against Clinton. Gabbard’s was one of the first major endorsements won by Sanders. Clinton, who seemingly believed the nomination and the presidency was hers by right, was reportedly livid that Gabbard would actively support Sanders and oppose the Democratic Party’s obvious attempts to install Clinton.
Gabbard is not the only politician Clinton maligns in this way. In the same podcast, she also accused Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party candidate, of being a Russian asset. Presumably, Clinton believes Stein, a radical progressive, took some votes from her in that election. Clinton also made accusations against President Donald Trump but, then again, she has been accusing him of working for Russia for more than three years now. She continued to do so even after thorough FBI and special counsel investigations found no evidence of coordination by Trump or his campaign with Russia.
The anti-Trump mob took over after Clinton and her 2016 campaign — aided by the Steele dossier, which her campaign and the Democratic Party commissioned — began claiming “collusion” between Trump and Russia. Now, after all of the investigations, even those who disapprove of Trump’s policies should be willing to admit that there was never any evidence that he partnered with Russia or committed a crime. Yet it does not matter. Many Americans who dislike the president still believe Trump is guilty of colluding with Russia, whatever that means. The Russian collusion frenzy became so big that it will not die.
These are old tactics, even in American politics. In the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, Sen. Joseph McCarthy led investigations into various Americans and US institutions, accusing them of communist sympathies and even working for the Soviet Union. Famously, he went after Hollywood and even the US military. He ruined people’s lives with wild accusations and by maligning them for their beliefs. Finally, during a contentious hearing with Boston lawyer Joseph Nye Welch, who represented the US Army, McCarthy began randomly accusing a young colleague of Welch’s based on that lawyer’s membership of a professional guild. It was a cruel insinuation about an innocent young lawyer. Welch responded: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” With that, Welch finally called out the bully, and the mob began to subside.
Clinton may be planning to run for president again. Even the New York Times broached the idea in the past week. If so, it makes sense for her to grab attention by attacking opponents with wild, unsubstantiated claims. But someone in the Democratic Party had better stand up and stand up soon before she maligns every opponent. The Democrats need a Welch moment.
- Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy