Apr 1

Fiona Hill On Russia, Trump, The American Dream

You probably know her as Trump's foreign policy adviser who testified at his impeachment. But there's a lot more to her career, and life, than that.

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Appears in this episode

Andrew Sullivan
Unafraid conversations about anything

Fiona Hill was an intel analyst under Bush and Obama and then served under Trump as senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council. Currently a senior fellow at Brookings, her new book is There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century. She also co-authored a book called Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin. It was a really pleasant chat — especially talking about our parallel paths from Britain to America.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For two clips of my convo with Fiona — on why a self-reliant country would pick a tyrannical ruler in Trump, and on the pathos of leaving your hometown for more opportunity — head to our YouTube page.

Also, heads up: a new Dish transcript just dropped, this time with Cornel West — who believes, unlike Jon Stewart and his panelists, that “we’ve got to fight the notion that whiteness is reducible to white supremacy.” The Christian socialist is a powerful foe of tribalism:

Below are many readers over my latest column, “The Strange Rebirth Of Imperial Russia.” First up, the dissenters:

You wrote, “But Putin is not without allies. China, Brazil, India, Israel — they’re all hedging their bets, alongside much of the global South.” That was an excessively glib statement on your part. Israel? I think you need to back-up and examine this. In terms of the politics of Middle East conflict, Israel has been successfully Finlandized by Russia, severely circumscribing its freedom of movement in matters military and diplomatic.

The tenor of discussion within the Jewish State on this very topic is brisk and contentious. Israel is the ultimate democracy — the acme of public democratic input, sometimes to a fault. I know you are no friend of what I would call the Jewish National Project, and I don’t expect you to be. I’ve taken your measure on this subject long ago. But I do expect you to be better informed and for your critiques to demonstrate greater political acuity.

Yes, Israel has been seriously compromised diplomatically re: Ukraine by the godfather role Russia plays in Levantine politics, but it has nothing to do with “ally” status. The Russian hand is inside Israel’s pants and clutching its balls.  There is no alliance.

I am absolutely a friend of the Jewish National Project. My issue is with the way Israel treats the United States, and the completely lop-sided nature of that relationship. I think it’s deeply unhealthy for both parties. Another dissenter asks:

Why do you keep accusing Israel of supporting the Russians? It was Obama who placed Russia on Israel’s border (the war in Syria) and Israel has to coordinate with Russia to prevent Iranian missiles. Stop your simplistic view.

Yep, it was Obama who turned Aleppo into a graveyard and Biden who invaded Ukraine. Please.

A much longer dissent on Israel:

I believe your characterization of Israel grossly misrepresents the extremely difficult position it has been in since Russia invaded Ukraine. First, 43 countries did not vote in favor of calling on Russia to end the war in Ukraine, but Israel voted for the UNGA resolution demanding an end to the unconscionable violence. Query why you thought to include Israel on your list of Russian “allies” and not Armenia, Cuba, South Africa, Iran, North Korea or Vietnam — to name only a handful of the 43. 

Second, Israel has provided a significant amount of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including setting up an Israeli-staffed field hospital in the Lviv region, sending over 100 tons of medical supplies, hospital generators, water purification systems, winter coats, sleeping bags and other items, assisting fleeing Israelis and Ukrainian Jews seeking to move to Israel, and taking in non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees who are not eligible or looking to immigrate to Israel. 

Thousands of Russian- and Ukrainian-Israelis have also come together in Tel Aviv and other major Israeli cities to protest the war. For a small country of approximately nine million citizens, Israel is punching far above its weight in aid and support provided to Ukraine. This level of humanitarian commitment is obviously not being provided by the other countries you listed as Russian “allies.”

Israel is walking a thin tightrope between the two countries. Prime Minister Bennett is at the forefront of global efforts to end the fighting and serve as a mediator, while also in the unenviable position of having to protect large Jewish communities in each country and the interests of his own nation (keep in mind the need to avoid provoking Syrian-based Russian troops on Israel's northern border).

I recognize that this is a lengthy response to just one sentence in your column, but I think it’s important. It’s a false moral equivalence to say that Israel is “hedging its bets” with Russia; rather, the more accurate framing is that Israel is doing its best to uphold its Jewish and democratic values as a “light unto the nations” while also taking into account its own interests — which it cannot be faulted for, given that we know what happens to Jews when they don’t have a country committed to protecting the Jewish people.

Speaking of threats to the Jewish people, Sam Ramani last week addressed the presence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine:

This next dissenter shifts gears:

You are spot on with your latest column — except in this one regard: Russian imperial/nationalistic mysticism. With roots going back hundreds of years, Russian mysticism does NOT always rely on historical Mongolian roots for its exceptionalism. Rather the opposite: it locates exceptionalism where it can find it. You should look up the doctrine of the Third Rome — which dates, as I remember it, to something like the 14th or 15th Century.  

Sure. I was talking specifically about Gumilev’s and Dugin’s weird alternative. Another reader looks to Christianism:

Your take that the church in Russia is a “Christianist” tool is shared by many Western church leaders. This op-ed explains what’s happening in the non-Russian world of Orthodoxy in reaction to Kirill’s support of Putin and his ideology.

Another continues a previous dissent thread:

In response your reader comparing Trump to Churchill, you wrote:

The second is that comparing Trump to Churchill is obscene. Maybe if Churchill had joined Hitler in the early 1930s to endorse occupying the Sudetenland, we’d have a parallel, or if he’d praised Nazi intelligence over MI5. 

But I think you ran right past one of the dissenter’s main points. The dissenter listed a number of policies and actions Trump took or advocated that were indisputably hostile to Russian interests: increased US energy production, attempts to export LNG to Europe, pushing for more NATO spending from other members, etc. It’s hard to think of an actual policy Trump enacted or advocated that served Russian interests. Many, including you, point to his statements in Helsinki, but we know years later that he was basically right that US intelligence got the entire Russia story dead-wrong (and that active and former intelligence officials got the Hunter Biden laptop story dead-wrong).

Joe Biden, on the other hand, has made North American energy production more difficult, approved pipeline construction into Germany, said that the US would essentially tolerate a “minor incursion” into Ukraine, and taken other actions that the Russians surely could not believe their lucky stars would be taken by an American president. Yes, he’s gotten onboard with heavy sanctions, but recall that his approach was minimalist at first (recall, we needed to wait “around 30 days” to see if the initial sanctions were enough). And Biden only agreed to heavier sanctions after Western Europe began imposing them.

So, it’s difficult to reconcile the actual public record with your retort to last week’s dissenter that Churchill could only be compared to Trump if Churchill had “joined Hitler . . . to endorse the Sudetenland.” The record seems, if anything, to point precisely in the opposite direction.

My reader’s points about Russian policy under Trump are dead-on. It’s one reason I find the whole collusion narrative unpersuasive. But Churchill? One of the greatest statesmen in history equated with the worst president in history? Nah.

And lastly, more on biolabs!

The explanation for this is easy. I am somewhat familiar with the program, since a close friend was the scientific director of a similar US program in another relevant country. The idea really was to employ biologists and people with the relevant lab experience in the former Soviet Union — while also tracking pandemic threats to livestock. 

As this friend — an experienced veterinarian (and not a US national, indicating that this was not a secret program) — explained, “a single person with third-semester laboratory skills could do massive amounts of damage to US and Western agriculture.” For that reason, the labs were put into place from Ukraine across the Caucasus to Central Asia as an employment opportunity. And yes, there was a degree of hush-hush about it, because the idea was not to loudly advertise the threat one was worried about.

But you don’t have to take my word for it — a respected media outfit with experienced people on the ground has broken down the story, here. I do think it is important to get the story about all of this out there, against the somewhat deranged claims. 

Happy to help get the word out.

As we mentioned on the main Dish, because the main column was so long this week, packed with so many links, we ran out of space on that page — otherwise the emailed version of the Dish would be cut short in readers’ in-trays. So our weekly recommended reading “In the Stacks” and the next window contest is seen below.


In The ‘Stacks

  • Is Putin, in fact, winning? Biden’s mouth has become a minefield.

  • For Dems in the New York Assembly, it’s pay equity for thee and not for me, and it’s probably a broader trend.

  • When it comes to “the race game,” Michael DC Bowen wants out. He calls for “personal deracination” — a kind of Benedict Option.

  • Major props to Filipovic for going to Notre Dame to “debate issues I don’t believe should be up for debate” — abortion — and for “doing the slow work of change.”

  • What’s worse than banning books? Snuffing them out before they hit the page.

  • Ever heard of Mercy Otis Warren? A Founding Mother of sorts.

  • After getting squeezed out of the NYT and going through the censorship of Russia Today in the East and YouTube in the West, Chris Hedges finds a safe haven in Substack. Welcome!


The View From Your Window Contest

Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a three-month sub if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!

The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today.