It didn’t take long for the Russki scare to settle into the 2018 Mexican elections. Maybe Chelsea Manning got hit faster, but that’s about it.
It started a month or so ago when H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, dropped as an aside during a speech on another topic that Russia is interfering in the Mexican electoral campaign.
Or might be interfering. Or is planning to interfere. Or might be planning to. There was (and is) no evidence shared. There were (and are) no details offered.
The Mexican press will jump all over any morsel coming out of the U.S. about their country. But the story, such as it is, got its boost from Frida Ghitis, a CNN and World Politics Review contributor who wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece dated Jan. 11 that Mexico’s presidential race is threatened by the “digital proximity of the Russian cyber brigade.”
Let’s save space by overlooking for now how rich it is for the U.S. press and security establishment to go after another country for trying to influence Mexican politics.
Instead, I’ll insert here my suspicion that there’s an element of red scare redux attached to this obsession with Russian election meddling. I’ll take that a step further and suggest that the resistance is making a mistake by over-emphasizing the collusion part of the Mueller inquiry into what’s a drop in the sea of Trump’s sins.
Now, if the all-in-on-collusion strategy serves to get him out of there, I’ll retroactively support it. But what if it comes up short? At the very least, he’ll have bought himself some time that he shouldn’t be allowed.
Which is not to say the meddling itself is a non-issue. Hey, we — Mexico and the U.S. — should let some thug from across the ocean send in his trolls to mess with voters’ minds? By all means, investigate. Find out what they’re doing, who’s doing it, and how to stop them.
But that’s not how the quasi-revelation of Russian meddling is playing out here in Mexico. It began life not as a national concern but as the newest weapon for bringing down the frontrunner via fear and character assassination.
If there were other viable candidates with something worthwhile to offer, said frontrunner could be defeated on merit. Since there’s not, we’ll be hearing more about him being a Russian agent.
We’re talking, of course, about Andrés Manuel López Obrador, formerly AMLO, now Amlovsky. If it seems absurd that a man who’s historically shown close to zero interest in anything beyond Mexico’s borders would seek or accept covert support from Russia, that’s because it is.
So why López Obrador? How does a politician criticized (with reason) for being overly nationalist get associated with international intrigue?
Ghitis lays out her case for Putin’s motives for supporting AMLO. It’s ridiculous — either on her part or Putin’s, depending on how right she (actually McMaster) is about the meddling.
You see, Putin’s goal of weakening the west in general, the United States in particular, and democracy in theory would be boosted should an “anti-American” who has been “lambasting the United States” and “who would dramatically alter the tenor and content of the [U.S.-Mexico] relationship” win the Mexican presidency.
“If López Obrador wins, Putin will have one more reason to flash a self-satisfied smile,” Ghitis writes. “That’s because López Obrador would not be good news for the United States.”
I promised myself after the last post that I would give up refuting this tired nonsense. The only evidence for it is that it gets repeated endlessly, so what can one say other than it ain’t so?
I will mention, however, that I covered AMLO’s 2006 campaign and its aftermath and I don’t remember much ranting against the United States, then or since. His ire was and is aimed at the PRI and PAN, the two parties that have controlled Mexico for close to a century. Might as well say he’s been lambasting Mexico.
Ghitis never says that López Obrador is complicit in the ostensible meddling in his favor. She does, however, cite the case for his agency promoted within Mexico. It centers around a U.S.-born UNAM law professor and political activist named John Ackerman.
Ackerman is of that breed of leftist who sees little wrong with Mexico that isn’t the fault of the United States. He even accused Barack Obama of being “directly responsible” for the tragedy of the 43 Ayotzinapa students in 2014. (Seriously. Read it here.)
But when he stays under the top, Professor Ackerman is a sharp observer of Mexican society, a witty pundit, and a dedicated advocate for anti-corruption causes. He’s also an outspoken supporter (though, he insists, not a surrogate, as the Amlovsky crowd contends) of AMLO.
What’s brought out the pitchforks is that he produces some commentary via RT, the Russian-based media outlet financed by the government (i.e. Putin). This is hardly uncharted territory for western journalists and commentators; Larry King has been there. But after the McMaster accusation, it caught the attention of the Mexican-born, U.S.-based journalist León Krauze, who wrote:
“The problem in the current context is that Ackerman’s work in Russia Today dangerously reduces the degrees of separation between Putin’s regime and Andrés Manuel López Obrador.”
“Russia Today” is no longer the name for RT, but the latter would not have served Krauze’s purpose as effectively as the former.
It’s interesting that it was Krauze who stepped up quickly to address the supposed AMLO-Putin connection. It was his father Enrique Krauze, an admired historian, who in 2006 energetically promoted the AMLO-as-Messiah theory, which along with “A Danger to Mexico” helped defeat the then-PRD candidate, who lost by less than a percentage point.
Note that neither Krauze père or Krauze fils, both left-leaning but anti-AMLO, accuse López Obrador of consciously participating — “colluding,” if you will — in Putin’s alleged hijinks. But that’s hardly the point. The idea is out there now, and as a tool in the anti-AMLO political kit it’s as good as a fact.
“Russian Intervention” is the new “A Danger to Mexico,” as one internet wag put it.
Here’s what it’s come to already:
Juan Ignacio Zavala, brother-in-law of Felipe Calderón, the panista who edged out López Obrador in the 2006 presidential election, has circulated a petition to have Ackerman expelled from the country for “representing the interests of the Russian government.” After 24 hours it had 4,565 endorsers.
But the internet moves fast. A counter-petition went online asking for Zavala himself to be expelled from the country “for being an asshole.” That got 2,284 signatures in five hours.