The Skeptics

The New McCarthys Attack Trump on Russia

The effort to discredit Trump and his foreign policy views extends into the Trump campaign organization. Opponents have attached great importance not only to Trump’s business dealings in Russia, but those of campaign manager Paul Manafort and other aides as well. They also attacked the Trump campaign for insisting on softer language in the GOP party platform about aid to Ukraine rather than explicitly embracing proposals for military assistance. Apparently that was evidence of undue Russian influence, too.

Trump is only the most recent and prominent victim of the new McCarthyism as it applies to policy toward Russia. Princeton University professor Stephen F. Cohen, a long-time distinguished scholar regarding that part of the world, has had his motives impugned and his reputation sullied because he dared advocate a conciliatory policy toward Russia.

The new McCarthyism would be reprehensible simply because of its intrinsic unfairness. But there is a larger reason to oppose it. The original McCarthyism badly chilled foreign-policy debate in the 1950s and beyond, producing dangerous stereotypes and rigidities. It was a major factor that prevented the American people and U.S. policymakers from recognizing that a civil war in far off Vietnam was just a civil war and not part of a Soviet/Chinese communist global offensive. That tragic miscalculation cost fifty-eight thousand American lives and more than one million Vietnamese lives.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Donald Trump. His views on immigration, as they apply to both Hispanics and Muslims, can accurately be termed xenophobic. His willingness to embrace torture as an interrogation technique recalls some of the worst excesses of George W. Bush’s administration. And his apparent fondness for unconstrained executive power should alarm even the most passionate advocates of that doctrine, which, ironically were mostly found on the left side of the political spectrum in recent decades. But we must not allow the new McCarthyism to chill debate about how to deal with Russia. Proponents of a hardline policy who smear Trump and other advocates of accommodation do their country a monumental disservice.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies for the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the author of ten books and more than six hundred articles on international affairs.

Image: Sen. Joseph McCarthy chats with his attorney Roy Cohn. Wikimedia Commons/Public domain