The crusade to restart the Cold War got another boost this month.
A New York Times story recently revealed that the FBI launched an inquiry in 2017 about whether President Donald Trump was “working on behalf of Russia against American interests.” To the ardent anti-Russians, it perfectly fit the narrative of Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin directly conspiring to corrupt democratic governance.
Surely, federal agents would never flex their investigatory might without a good reason! Never mind that there still is no evidence available to show Trump is under control of the Russians, a fact New York Times reporters didn’t get around to mentioning until the ninth paragraph.
If anyone should know better, it is we Iowans.
Henry Wallace, the progressive hero of Iowa political history, was investigated for years by the FBI for suspected loyalties to the communist cause. Longtime bureau chief J. Edgar Hoover made a habit of sponsoring such inquiries, as journalist Glenn Greenwald recently reported, and Wallace was “perhaps the most notable case.”
Wallace was a prominent member of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, including four years as vice president, challenging the foreign policy establishment and advocated for warmer relations with what was then the Soviet Union.
More than 500 pages from Wallace’s surveillance file were obtained by the Des Moines Register in the 1980s, years after Wallace’s death. The documents were partially redacted, but there was no solid evidence Wallace was working for foreign governments. Just because someone piqued the suspicion of the intelligence community, it does not necessarily mean they are a foreign agent.
Today, many people are reasonably concerned with Russia’s attempts to influence U.S. politics, and about documented connections between some Trump allies and sketchy foreign actors. Others, however, are so blinded by Russophobia that they promote conspiracy theories intended to show Trump — along with any political figure who dares to suggest we should seek to improve relations with Russia — is taking orders directly from the Kremlin.
I worry those conspiracy theorists are dumbing down our foreign policy discourse and drowning out legitimate questions about the United States’ role in the world, just as their ideological predecessors did last century.
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Wallace delivered a speech in 1946 entitled “The Way to Peace,” urging fellow citizens to reassess the nation’s outsized global influence. His remarks would lead to his ouster from the Harry Truman administration.
“On our part, we should recognize that we have no more business in the political affairs of Eastern Europe than Russia has in the political affairs of Latin America, western Europe, and the United States,” Wallace reportedly said.
The war hawks won that debate, locking the United States into a costly Cold War for the next four decades and helping to establish the vast and unsustainable U.S. military presence that persists to this day.
The Trump presidency begs us to reconsider. Will we listen this time?
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