And just like that, the collusion narrative imploded.
Which doesn’t mean there is a political winner in the United States. Far from it.
What emerges from the indictment produced by Mueller et. al, in addition to some truly laugh-out-loud funny capers pulled on dimwitted, blinded-by-rage Trump rally stooges, is the picture of a magnificently coordinated, extremely well-financed, and brilliantly conducted psy-op campaign whose principle aim was to discredit the results of an election, sow instability, and thus to destabilize the nation and weaken its ability to act cohesively.
And the results are clear. Mission accomplished. With honors and distinction.
Truly, it was an almost flawless performance. At the cost of a few million rubles, a handful of shell companies, a hundred or so agents, and an array of phony Twitter and Facebook accounts, Russian intelligence agents accomplished by way of social media zombies, blinkered political partisans, and the manipulation of Americans’ ideological hatred for each other, what no military power on earth could ever do in a toe-to-toe slugfest.
Enter Sun Tzu. Writing 2000 years ago, the great Chinese sage reminded his audience that all war is based on deception, and that “Those who were called skillful leaders of old knew how to drive a wedge between the enemy’s front and rear…(and) when the enemy’s men were united, they managed to keep them in disorder.”
By allying oneself to an enemy’s weaknesses, Sun Tzu wrote, one can subdue the enemy without fighting at all.
The Russians, and Uncle Vova in particular, understand our weaknesses all too well. Among those weaknesses are a gargantuan capacity for self-absorption, and extraordinary levels of arrogance. By brazenly, and apparently quite easily, aligning themselves with those weaknesses, the Russians produced a kind of digital hallucination, convincing many in the end that they had installed a Manchurian Candidate in the oval office.
The Russian success has also shown that they aren’t the least bit concerned about potential consequences, which says something about American power projection.
“If your opponent is temperamental,” Sun Tzu wrote, “seek to irritate him.”
It would be difficult to locate a more temperamental bunch than those legions of Americans now so encamped in their binary—and mostly antique—political platforms, and so manipulated by social-media algorithms that they routinely stumble into parked cars and telephone poles, or topple into water fountains while rubbing their smartphones.
That isn’t happening because people are paying close attention to their surroundings.
The Russian success is admirable, and probably unparalleled in its ease. The irritation of the last election cycle has now bloomed into a full blown rash, driving a gigantic wedge into our domestic and international politics, paralyzing congress, turning otherwise respectable news organizations into mud-slinging political shills, and even pitting neighbor against neighbor in endless rounds of meme-think and juvenile one-upsmanship.
It would be hard to argue, at this point, that the United States today is anything other than severely diminished as a great power on the world stage, and internally diseased.
That was going to be true no matter who got elected, and what the Russians accomplished was a brilliant exercise in adding fuel to an already overheated domestic fire.
A careful parsing of Rosenstein’s language leaves room for a spring collusion surprise, but that looks increasingly unlikely, and it has been clear for some time that Mueller’s investigation was heading in a different direction from the Republicans’ greatest fear, and the Democrats’ greatest hope.
Mueller’s indictment of some artful Russian spies won’t stop the other investigations either, but they are hamstrung by credibility problems throughout and it’s a safe bet they aren’t going anywhere. Particularly now that so many in Washington D.C. have egg on their face, not least among them every single person at the FBI.
And it won’t stop the grassy-knoll conspiracy junkies who have been backsliding around, post-indictment, with suggestions that somehow—and this is a classic desperation mindset—the utter absence of prosecutable evidence of collusion is still prosecutable evidence of collusion.
And once any conspiracy theory reaches that critical point—when no evidence is the evidence—it’s time to call in the dogs and put out the fire.
Partisan hacks, of the deeply steeped variety, won’t be able to see, and will certainly never admit, that the brilliance of the Russian operation was in its duping of virtually everyone. Each will continue to insist the other side was more duped than they were and, in a sordid twist, will insist that either winning, or losing, the election proves them right.
But neither claim is true, and the sad reality is that everybody was duped equally, even spectacularly, and while the Russian agents are at home dancing the kazachok, many Americans are left standing around with severe political hangovers and no real idea who it was that drove them home.
What’s clear from the latest indictment is that in some manner, to some degree, it was Russia that drove us home. We were drunk on partisanship, on self-absorption, and we were arrogant. And we got beaten. Badly. By experts.
And what makes that pain even more acute, in a grown up world, is that we have only ourselves to blame.