Please indulge me in the hypothetical situation that I will outline below. Any resemblance to current events is purely intentional.
Imagine in a parallel universe a powerful democratic republic that prides itself on its history of projecting leadership in the world by advancing ideals of freedom and democracy. We’ll call it “Country A.”
The president of this country has been accused of serious wrongdoing, however, and is facing impeachment in the legislative branch of government, an effort advanced by the opposition party in that forum.
What is the Country A’s leader accused of doing?
We’ll get to that but first some background. For many years, Country A has been engaged in a war of ideas and geopolitical gamesmanship with a historical authoritarian adversary on the other side of the world (Country X). To a significant extent, the foreign policy of Country A has been built around challenging the extension of power by its autocratic adversary, with the help of allies in that region. X is led by a strongman leader who formerly served in that nation’s fearsome intelligence service.
Over the past two years, Country A’s intelligence community has confirmed beyond doubt that Country X took aggressive steps to interfere in Country A’s last presidential election. X also flooded A’s social media platforms with discordant and false memes and links intended to further polarize the population. It’s still doing that today, and likely will continue doing it in 2020.
The president of Country A had been accused of colluding in that effort, which undoubtedly did benefit his 2016 election campaign. At the very least, he has downplayed it, providing no leadership on any serious effort to highlight what Country X is doing or to counter it.
A lengthy investigation into collusion charges by a special prosecutor – as well as related obstruction of justice accusations – failed to result in any criminal charges against President A. Lots of wrongdoing was verified in that probe, especially with regard to obstruction of justice, just nothing the special prosecutor felt he could prosecute. A Justice Department directive that the sitting chief executive could not be charged with a criminal offense also played a role in the decision to not recommend charges. Anybody who read the report that resulted from that effort would conclude at the very least that Country A’s president benefited from Russian interference and even encouraged it.
One of Country A’s most important allies in the conflict of ideas and geopolitical power with Country X is a small nation that shares a border with X. Country X and the A ally on its border (Country U) have been in a shooting war for several years, with the much more powerful X funding and directing military surrogates in Country U.
In accordance with Country A’s foreign policy, as agreed upon by both the executive and legislative branches, as well as both parties, Country A has supported U’s efforts to defend itself against X with both diplomatic and military aid.
The national security of U, obviously, but that of Country A as well – along with their other allies in the region – absolutely depends upon Country X’s aggression being confronted and countered. Not doing so gives X the greenlight to continue its disruptive actions around the world.
Yet, in recent months the president of Country A has been fixated on the widely discredited idea (not suprisingly promoted by Country X) that Country U rather than County X interfered in the 2016 presidential election in Country A. He also has sent his own private emissary to Country U to track down negative political information about a potential rival in the 2020 presidential election, whose son had been involved in some questionable but apparently legal activities in Country U. President A has not shown a similar concern for corruption in his own administrationanyplace else in the world, let alone.
The ongoing impeachment inquiry arose after a summary of a conversation between the President A and President U was released, strongly suggesting that the former had leaned on the latter to launch investigations into the aforementioned political issues. None of these things has anything to do with the shared national security interests of Countries A and U. It came to light, as well, that a massive military aid package to Country U, with money approved by A’s legislative branch, had been mysteriously held up. This delay in sending the money was a very serious matter for Country U, which is fending off military attacks from Country X. And this can’t be restated enough, the foreign policy and national security of Country A also would suffer if U couldn’t defend itself from X.
The impeachment hearings began, and witness after witness from Country A’s diplomatic corps testified about a back-channel campaign on behalf of President A to not only pressure Country U into launching those political investigations, but to discredit A’s ambassador to Country U. She had been raising questions about President A’s political efforts in U, suggesting they were undermining Country A’s foreign policy.
Testimony made it clear that the held-up military aid was directly tied to Country U’s agreeing to publicly pursue the desired political investigations.
Allies of President A in the legislative branch and his favored media outlets – rather than acknowledging the problematic nature of the president prioritizing personal political objectives over national security – performed back-flips of prevarication, deflection and character assassination in order to stymie the opposition party’s impeachment investigation. They even dismissed diplomats’ compelling testimony as “hearsay” at the same time that President A was refusing to allow his top officials with direct knowledge of these matters to appear in the hearings.
At least one witness has testified that he overheard President A talking in an unsecured phone conversation with a politically appointed diplomat in Country U about the desired investigations. This blew up the “hearsay” argument of the president’s allies (not to mention their past outrage at political foes’ use of unsecured communications).
As a result of all of this, while Country U ended up receiving the military aid, it has not been receiving needed diplomatic support from Country A’s State Department, which has been paralyzed by the ongoing scandal. This comes at a time when Country U desperately needs leverage in soon-to-begin negotiations with Country X. It’s widely agreed that U will be steamrolled in those negotiations without firm and substantial backing from Country A.
That would hurt Country A’s foreign policy in the area, eroding the security of a number of A’s regional allies.
Considering all of this, pushing the idea that President A’s feckless actions in order to further his own political standing is a victimless crime would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous and in direct violation of Country A’s international interests.