Can’t remember exactly when but we’re in Moscow about to start the day.
Can’t remember exactly when but we’re in Moscow about to start the day.
In his mordant novel Scoop, Evelyn Waugh has one of his characters explain what “The News” is:
News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead.
There is a great deal of wisdom in this little remark that I will attempt to unpack. It also, in my opinion, succinctly explains why we, who believe ourselves to be so brilliantly analytical and persuasive on sites like this one, have so little success in changing the opinions of our friends and neighbours (or awakening them as we might prefer to say).
First let us consider the “chap who doesn’t care much about anything”. There are, to be sure, two kinds of these but we’re only interested in the second. The person who really doesn’t care about anything doesn’t pay any attention to “The News”. No newspaper ritual for him, no dutiful watching “The News” at night; maybe he wants the sports news but he doesn’t care about “The News”. There are plenty of people like this. Some never were interested, others have given up pretending; as one has often said to me about political news: “What’s the point? There’s nothing I can do. It’s just depressing”. That’s a perfectly understandable point of view and it can be held by someone who, like the individual I’m thinking of, is generally aware that most of “The News” is propaganda or worse.
I’m not talking about people who don’t care much and don’t even pretend to care. What I am interested in are those people who do read newspapers, who do sit down at the TV: those who do devote a portion of their day to “The News”. Why would anyone who “doesn’t care much” do so? I can think of several reasons and these reasons, of course, overlap in many individuals. They may consider it to be a duty for a citizen to be to be informed and that they exercise that civic duty by paying attention to “The News” every day. Second, there may be an element of snobbery: because they “pay attention” and they are “concerned”, they are entitled to feel themselves superior to those lumps whose only interest is how their team did yesterday. “The News” provides an unending supply of conversational topics: everyone can talk about the current human interest story or project faux concern about tsunamis; those who wish to affect an interest in the outside world can express outrage at the destruction of “the last hospital in Aleppo”. And finally, there is simple habit: at breakfast there’s the paper, at night the TV news: you’ve been doing it for forty years, why stop now? A subset of followers of “The News” are politics junkies; but for many of them it’s a variation on team sports: “Did you hear what that idiot on the other political team just did? “
On the other hand, people who write on sites like this one or read them have broken away from “The News” habit. We are sceptical; suspicious; we notice that, all of a sudden, everybody is talking about the same thing in the same way and wonder what’s really going on; we remember what was said before; we research; we look up things; we compare: we no longer believe “The News”. That doesn’t make us smarter; it’s just a life choice. You can put it in terms of red pill and blue pill if you like – and from a propaganda perspective, there’s value in that analogy – but the essential difference between us and those who watch “The News” is that we do care much and they don‘t care much. And that leads to frustration on both sides of the care divide: we think that, just because these people spend time on “The News” that they are interested in the facts and subjects behind “The News”. But we’re wrong: they pay attention to “The News” out of a sense of duty, a feeling of superiority, a desire to participate in the latest narrative or habit. They’re not actually very interested in the subject matter: as Waugh understood, they don’t care much. They are not watching or reading critically. And they are certainly not interested in having us tell them more about the realities or, worse, telling them that they are being misled. They don’t really care about “the last hospital in Aleppo” but they do care about being told that they’re being deceived: “Are you saying I’m stupid?”.
And that leads us to the second half of Waugh’s comment. “it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead”. There’s no memory in “The News” for those who don’t care much: they have no memory that “the last hospital in Aleppo” was destroyed last week too, and the week before that and three times the week before that. If it’s not on “The News” any more, it doesn’t exist; if it’s not now, it’s not. Because they really don’t care much. Their motivation for paying attention to “The News” is not, in fact, or if so only very weakly, to become informed about hospitals in Aleppo, tsunamis or political developments in Sudan. There is of course a factual reality underneath “The News” – there are hospitals in Aleppo, the tsunami did happen, Sudan exists – but, seen through the lens of “The News”, it’s a transient and ephemeral factual base. It’s only news when it’s perceived and it ceases to be news when it’s not perceived. “The News” is a continual present. It is a rolling story, or series of stories: early reports of the tsunami hitting, rolling banner “Tsunami Watch”, our reporter on the scene, films and photos, teddy bears, smashed buildings, rescuers, funding appeals, talking heads, and the story fades away. Meanwhile another narrative has been building up to replace it. The stories roll on and on and there’s always a new cliffhanger to make you tune in tomorrow.
Waugh’s observation is profound indeed. It explains why so many people spend significant time ingesting “The News” and also why “The News” leaves so little trace. It explains why those of us who care much about the actual realities underneath “The News” have almost no success in persuading our news-watching neighbours that what they saw last night was partial, or slanted, or a lie. They don’t care much about it, they’re not really watching “The News” very deeply or with close attention and they quickly forget the stories as they roll by. They’re not stupid – although it’s tempting for those us who do care much to think so – they just don’t care much.
It’s rather depressing isn’t it? The ones who don’t bother to watch “The News” don’t care, and those who do watch “The News” don’t care either. The only encouraging thing that I can think of is that the people who watch “The News” will watch whatever is put in front of them: if the central narrative changes completely, it will still be “The News”.
(People can change of course although I suspect it’s a solitary occurrence when some excess makes an individual start to question the deception. I recommend Phil Butler’s book Putin’s Praetorians in this respect. It contains the testimonies of people who came to question the Russia narrative as presented by “The News”. But, in most cases, it wasn’t because somebody persuaded them, it was because they came to doubt it themselves. After that, persuasion had a chance to reinforce their new viewpoint.)
AMERICA-HYSTERICA. I believe that we are approaching the exposure of the plot. Some reading to bring you up to speed. The conspiracy explained (part of it actually – there were other players. MSM too). Happenings: 1) documents 2) interviews of principals 3) reborn investigations of e-mails and Clinton Foundation. First charges laid in Uranium One (an American charged with bribing a Russian too!). Today’s step. The Dossier is central to the conspiracy. I reiterate: there was no Russian government involvement in the US election; there was no Russian government collusion with Trump. It was a story invented to support a conspiracy against Trump and then an attempt to cover up the conspiracy when, in the destruction of the plotters’ expectations, he was elected. This is very big.
HEALTH. The Minister has provided some statistics that show the steady improvement in Russians’ health. For the first 11 months of 2017, the death rate decreased by about 3% with a considerable drop in deaths by alcohol poisoning (16%). Infant mortality continued its steady decline and so the population increases from each end. In the last five years, alcohol consumption dropped a lot as has smoking; meanwhile exercise rates are up. The overall effect is an increase in life expectancy: now put at 72.6 years for men and 77 years for women. It seems that Russians are more optimistic about the future and less depressed by the present. This further strengthens my belief that Russia is poised to take off in a way that it never has before.
GOLD. Russia has bought quite a lot of gold (and maybe more than it’s telling us). Photos from the gold vaults. I wonder if China will show its hoard.
RUSSIA INC. Growth of 1.7% and inflation down to 2.5% last year. In comparison the EU’s growth forecast was 1.7% but they’re now saying 2.2%; the USA’s was 3.2%. But here are different figures with USA 2.2%. But, anyway, considering sanctions and so on, that’s not bad.
RUSSIAN BASES IN SYRIA ATTACKED. On the night of 5/6 January the Russian bases at Khmeimim and Tartus (Syria) were attacked by 13 UAVs, 10 at the former. The aircraft were armed with mortar bombs. Seven were shot down, six were hacked of which three of which were safely landed. The aircraft themselves were fairly crude but the navigation systems and other electronics were quite sophisticated. The attack was launched from the de-escalation zone in Idlib. On the 12th in a complicated operation involving special forces, artillery with smart munitions and air reconnaissance, the MoD says the people responsible were killed and the depot destroyed (videos). Plenty of rumours of course: a US reconnaissance aircraft was said to be in the area; the Pentagon denies involvement; Putin said it wasn’t Ankara. Certainly the air defences showed their ability – especially by taking over six of the UAVs and bringing three to a soft landing. So, if the US was involved (and who knows what’s going on in Washington’s idiotic and incoherent activities there?) then it discovered that Russian air defences are formidable. (They will only be strengthened – this was an all round learning experience.)
BEEDO! BEEDO! BEEDO! A rather ridiculous publicity video showing the USAF bravely intercepting two Russian fighters flying from Russia to Russia along the very restricted international air corridor in the Baltic. The US side claims the Russians did not “did not broadcast the appropriate codes required by air traffic control and had no flight plan on file”. The Russians say they did. I remind readers that it was NATO that rejected a Russo-Finnish proposal that all aircraft fly with their transponders on.
KOREA. As Churchill observed, jaw-jaw is better than war-war and we’re getting talking in Korea. One assumes Beijing is somewhere in the background. Moscow and Beijing are coordinating their efforts. Much, if not most, is hidden and consumers of the MSM would be astounded to hear that President Moon gives Trump some of the credit.
THE TRUMP EFFECT. Whether I, Korybko or the Saker has got it right, things are changing and “America First” is making other countries wonder where they fit in. Doctorow observes, others bemoan, but it’s happening.
FANTASIA UKRAINIA. There are no nazis in Ukraine. And, if there are, there aren’t many of them. And if many, they have little influence. If influential there, then nowhere else. Never mind: 25 December is now a holiday and Hallowe’en is making progress so all is well. (This fatuous piece savaged here).
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer
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President Trump is a new phenomenon on the American political scene. Not a professional politician begging for funds but a rich man who spent his own money and raised money on his own name: he arrived in office unencumbered with obligations. Free from a history in politics, he owes nothing to anyone. Add in his personality, grandiosity and late-night tweets and the punditocracy is in a state of angry incomprehension. Even more offensive to their notions of propriety is that this “dangerously incompetent“, unqualified, mentally ill man beat the “most qualified presidential candidate in history“. No wonder so many of them believe that only cunning Putin could have made it happen – even if they don’t know how. But the punditocracy is as befuddled about him today as it was last year and the year before. (Scott Adams, who got it right, reminds us just how clueless they were.) The very fact that Trump won despite the opposition of practically every established constituency in the United States shows that there is more to him than readers of the NYT and WaPo or watchers of CNN and MSNBC (can) understand.
What follows is an attempt to divine Trump’s foreign policy. It proceeds from the assumption that he does know what he’s doing (as he did when he decided to run in the first place) and that he does have a destination in mind. It proceeds with the understanding that his foreign policy intentions have been greatly retarded by the (completely false) allegations of Russia connections and Russian interference. There was no Russian state interference in the election (the likelihood is that Moscow would have preferred known Clinton) and, as I have written here, the story doesn’t even make sense. I expect when the Department of Justice Inspector General completes his report that the Russiagate farrago will be revealed as a conspiracy inside the US security organs. We do not have a date yet, but mid-January is suggested. Readers who want to follow the story are recommended to these websites: Dystopiausa, CTH and Zerohedge.
We start with four remarks Trump often made while campaigning. Everyone would be better off had President Bush taken a day at the beach rather than invade Iraq. The “six trillion dollars” spent in the Middle East would have been better spent on infrastructure in the USA. NATO is obsolete and the USA pays a disproportionate share. It would better to get along with Russia than not.
To the neocon and humanitarian intervention crowd, who have been driving US foreign policy for most of the century, these four points, when properly understood (as, at some level, they do understand them), are a fatal challenge. Trump is saying that
A Chinese leader might call these the Three Noes (no regime change wars, no overseas adventures, no entangling alliances) and the One Yes (cooperation with Russia and other powers).
Which brings us to his slogan of Make America Great Again. We notice his campaign themes of job loss, opiates, lawlessness, infrastructure, illegal immigration, the stranglehold of regulations, the “swamp”, the indifference of the mighty, the death of the “American Dream”. None of these can be made better by overseas interventions, carrier battle groups or foreign bases. But they can be made worse by them. There is every reason to expect that by MAGA he means internal prosperity and not external might. Trump has little interest in the obsessions of the neocon and humanitarian intervention crowd. “We need a leader that can bring back our jobs, can bring back our manufacturing, can bring back our military – can take care of our vets… The fact is, the American Dream is dead.” No foreign adventures there. So, in summary, Trump’s foreign policy of Three Noes and One Yes is a necessary part of making America “great” again. If I am correct in this and this is indeed his aim, how can he do it?
There is a powerful opposition in the United States to the Three Noes and One Yes. And it’s not just from the neocon/humanitarian interventionists: most Americans have been conditioned to believe that the USA must be the world’s policeman, arbiter, referee, example. Perhaps it’s rooted in the City on a Hill exceptionalism of the early dissenter settlers, perhaps it’s a legacy of the reality of 1945, perhaps it’s just the effect of unremitting propaganda, but most Americans believe that the USA has an obligation to lead. Gallup informs us that, in this century, well over half of the population has agreed that the USA should play the leading or a major role in the world. The percentage in the punditocracy believing the USA must lead would be even higher.
Interventionists are becoming aware that they do not have a soulmate in the White House and they’re wagging their rhetorical fingers. “The fact is, though, that there is no alternative great power willing and able to step in“. “If nations in the South China Sea lose confidence in the United States to serve as the principal regional security guarantor, they could embark on costly and potentially destabilizing arms buildups to compensate or, alternatively, become more accommodating to the demands of a powerful China” warns the intervention-friendly Council on Foreign Relations. The US has an obligation to lead in North Korea. It must lead for “Middle East progress“. A former NATO GenSek proclaims the US must lead. “US should be the great force for peace and justice globally“. “The absence of American leadership has certainly not caused all the instability, but it has encouraged and exacerbated it.” The ur-neocon tells us that America must lead. Chaos is the alternative. Must resume (resume??!!) its imperial role (which apparently means even more military expenditure lest its military lead be lost). Innumerable more examples calling on the US to lead something/somewhere everything/everywhere can easily be found: it would be much more difficult to find one pundit advising the US to keep out of a problem somewhere than find twenty urging it to lead.
If I have understood him aright, what would Trump see if he read this stuff? Lead, lead, lead… everything everywhere. The South China Sea, the Middle East and North Korea specifically but everywhere else too. More infrastructure repairs foregone so as to ensure what?… That ships carrying goods to and from China safely transit the South China Sea? “Friendly” governments installed in “Kyrzbekistan“? Soldiers killed in countries not even lawmakers knew they were in? 40,000 troops out there somewhere? Trying to double the Soviet record for being stuck in Afghanistan? How many bridges, factories or lives is that worth? Trump sees more entanglements but he sees no benefit. He’s a businessman: he can see the expense but where’s the profit?
How to get out of these entanglements? It’s too late to hope to persuade the legions bleating that “America must lead” and, even if they could be persuaded, there isn’t enough time to do so: they salivate when the bell rings. President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements?
By getting others to untie it.
He walks out of the Paris Agreement (“a watershed moment when it comes to debating America’s role in the world“). And the TPP (“opened the door toward greater Chinese influence, and won’t benefit the U.S. economy in the slightest“). His blustering on Iran caused the German Foreign Minister to express doubts about American leadership. He brusquely tells NATO allies to pay their own way (“America’s NATO allies may be on their own after November if Russia attacks them“). By announcing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel he unites practically everybody against Washington and then uses that excuse to cut money to the UN. His trash talk on North Korea has actually started the first debate about the utility of military force we’ve seen for fifteen years. He pulls out of Syria (quietly and too slowly but watch what he doesn’t talk about). One last try in Afghanistan and then out. Re-negotiate all the trade deals to US benefit or walk away. Be disrespectful of all sorts of conventions and do your best to alienate allies so they start to cut the ties themselves (his tweet on the UK was especially effective). Attack the media which is part of the machinery of entanglement. Confiscate assets. It’s a species of tough love – rudely and brusquely delivered. He (presumably) glories in opinion polls that show respect for the USA as a world leader slipping. He doesn’t care whether they like him or not – America first and leave the others to it.
The Three Noes and One Yes policy will be achieved by others: others who realise that the USA is no longer going to lead and they will have to lead themselves. Or not. Perhaps, as the neocons love to say, US leadership was necessary in the immediate postwar situation, perhaps NATO served a stabilising purpose then but there has been nothing stabilising about US leadership in this century. Endless wars and destruction and chaos and loss. Thus abroad and – the part that Trump cares about – so at home. It’s not incompetence, as the people who fail Adams’ test tell themselves; it’s a strategy.
(All real theories must be falsifiable; let’s see in a year’s time whether the US is more entangled or less entangled. It should be pretty apparent by then and, by the end of Trump’s first term, obvious to all.)
(Afterword: I have been thinking about this for some time as I ponder the Trump phenomenon. But I was inspired to write by Israel Shamir’s piece about how the Jerusalem decision has united everybody against it. I was also pleased to see that Andrew Korybko has just published a piece that argues along the same lines as I. The principal difference between his take and mine is that he sees the plan as using the chaos to strengthen the US’ world position whereas I see Trump as essentially an isolationist. But we both see the same mechanism at work.)
Comment on some website a couple of days ago by someone operating under a pseudonym
sorry, but we are better off siding with the Chinese. Russia is a poor banana republic full of alcoholics that can’t produce a damn thing of quality. We would end up being their sugar daddy providing endless welfare.
LOST OPPORTUNITY. Karlin reminds us that once the USA was extremely popular in Russia. In the early 90s a high of 80% felt good about the USA. 35% then thought the US was friendly and 3% thought it hostile: today it’s 3% and 59% respectively. I’m sure someone will blame Putin for the reversal.
SECURITY. The FSB Director tells us in his annual roundup that 120 foreign and international NGOs, covertly used as tools of foreign intelligence, were stopped and 137 agents of foreign special services were uncovered. 23 terrorist attacks were prevented.
CORRUPTION. The former Economic Development Minister was found guilty of accepting bribes and sentenced to 8 years in a penal colony and a fine of 130 million rubles.
POVERTY. The Labour Minister tells us that about 13% of population lives below the poverty line. Putin has raised the minimum wage and, beginning in 2019, it will be set to the “employable population’s subsistence level for Russia as a whole for the second quarter of the previous year”.
COMMUNISTS. The Russian Communist Party (the real opposition in terms of votes, policies and seats) has nominated the head of the Lenin State Farm, Pavel Grudinin, as its presidential candidate. Although not an actual CP member, he runs a successful farm in Moscow on socialist principles. (Google Maps). He may bring in more votes than the charisma-free Zyuganov did in numerous previous runs.
ELECTION. I quote Karlin a lot because he is, in my opinion, one of the best of the best observers on Russia and has the advantage of having lived both here and there. I recommend his discussion of the function of elections in a country when everybody knows the super popular President and his pedestal party will be re-elected. He argues that the political leadership wants to own the broad centre of opinion; the performance of parties on the wings allow course corrections. A species of demos-kratia isn’t it?
DEPT OF IRONY. “UK turns to Russian project targeted by sanctions for gas supply“.
TARTUS. I was scornful of earlier Western excitement over the “naval base in Syria” which was not a huge facility but just a corner of a small port used as a rest stop. But it will become bigger: Putin just signed the law. Described as a “inventory and logistics support centre” the lease is for 49 years. This will allow the Russian Navy to have a permanent Mediterranean presence. (A tiny voice asks whether Moscow is becoming tempted by its success – does it really need bases here and there? Is that really in its national interest?)
SYRIA WRAPUP. 34 thousand sorties and 215 new weapons systems tested and lots of experience. They say (but the claimed precision is preposterous) 60,318 terrorists killed, 2840 of them Russian-born.
SYRIA. There is still a US military base in Syria, the Russian CGS says it is fully blocked by the Syrian army. Again we wonder who’s in charge? Washington has lost in Syria and it’s time to leave. But it doesn’t: still stories of “moderate rebels” being trained; still stories of Daesh fighters being protected. A much better informed observer than I has a theory: two delegators in the chain create confusion.
AMERICA-HYSTERICA. CNNoids were no doubt shocked or puzzled by this: “Trump is right about the FBI“; video). The London Review of Books unveiled a bit (but not much: the piece could have been written a year ago). “Was the Steele Dossier the FBI’s ‘Insurance Policy’?” moves closer. Even the WaPo starts to doubt. Stay tuned: a big document dump is coming.
TRUMPOLOGY. I put this theory out there for your consideration: “Trump Cuts the Gordian Knot of Foreign Entanglements“. Andrew Korybko has something similar here. Certainly plenty of people are saying that he is “isolating” the USA; but they assume it’s because he is “incompetent“, Korybko and I think he’s doing it on purpose. (Trump’s alleged incompetence is a prime pillar of the Russia interference panic: for the believers, no one so “dangerously incompetent“, unqualified or mentally ill could have beaten the “most qualified presidential candidate in history” on his own.)
POLAND-UKRAINE. Poland, which had something to do with encouraging and assisting the Maidan coup, is increasingly concerned about what it helped stirred up. A lot of Poles were murdered by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army which is much loved by today’s Kiev. A monument to the Volyn massacre is under construction: it shows a baby impaled on a trident. See also the recent movie. History has not stopped in that part of the world.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer
(Asked by Sputnik on my thoughts that South Korea wanted to talk to North Korea face to face.)
I believe that there is a settlement in the Korean situation. And it is what the Chinese call the “double suspension“: North Korea gives up its missile and nuclear activity; South Korean and the USA stop their military exercises.
What many in the West do not understand (although they are starting to learn it) is the stunning death and destruction visited upon North Korea by the USA in the war. But it is not forgotten by the grandson of North Korea’s ruler at the time. North Korea’s national ethos is built around resistance: resistance to Japan in Hideyoshi’s invasion, resistance to Japan in 1910, resistance to the USA and its allies in 1950, resistance today. And resistance at enormous cost: Hideyoshi issued an instruction that only noses were to be taken as trophies; there were already too many mountains of heads. LeMay thought 20% of the population had been killed. The latest in the Kim series believes that nuclear weapons protect North Korea. And, every year, there is an exercise that convinces him all over again. That’s on the one side.
One the other side, Pyongyang insists that it is the one and only true capital of united Korea and maintains an enormous army (nearly 10 million). And it did invade in 1950. South Korea, whose capital is within range of thousands of guns, is understandably nervous.
So, breaking the cycle is necessary. And such was tried before two decades ago but Washington didn’t keep its side of the bargain.
So, Washington is not trusted by the North side. Therefore, in an ideal world, Washington would step back and leave the negotiations to the two Korean principals and their three neighbours.
Therefore, the fact that South Korea wants to talk to North Korea, hopefully with China chairing the meeting, is a good sign.
Because, as I said, the solution, or the beginning of it, is out there in the “double suspension”. It’s a (big) local problem but one which the locals can solve. If China (and to a lesser degree Russia) can act as guarantors, and the USA can keep out of it, some sort of initial settlement can be constructed which can, one hopes, lead to something longer term.
(I would observe that Trump’s trash talk has at least started the first debate in the USA of the utility of military force since…. when? And it is driving the Two Koreas and the Three Neighbours to start thinking hard and doing something. Which – IMO – is the whole idea. See this https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/01/02/trump-cuts-gordian-knot-foreign-entanglements.html)
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Sometimes things can be made more complicated than they really are. And such is the case with the story that the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee so as to help Trump become president.
In July 2016 Wikileaks released a number of documents showing that the nomination of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for president had been rigged. A month earlier the DNC had announced it had been “hacked” and the cybersecurity company it hired announced that the Russians had done it – one of the reasons they gave was that the hackers had helpfully left the name of the Polish founder of the Soviet security forces as a clue.
Since then, this story has been broadly accepted and it has spun on and on for eighteen months. But it doesn’t really make any sense.
Let us pretend that Moscow wanted Trump to win. Let us further pretend that Moscow thought that there was a chance that he could win despite the fact that almost all news outlets, pollsters and pundits were completely confident that he could not. And let us pretend that Moscow thought that, with its thumb on the scale, Trump could make it. And, the fourth if, let us pretend that Moscow decided to put its thumb on the scale.
How to do it? Let us pretend (number five) that the strategy was to try and discredit Clinton. Let us further assume (this assumption is the one that’s probably true) that Moscow has very good electronic intelligence capacities. So, we imagine the scene in headquarters as they look for an approach; they quickly find one that is very good, a second that is pretty good and a third area that is worth digging around in.
The Russians would know all about the Uranium One matter where, as even the Clinton-friendly NYT admitted, “a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation“. It would be very easy for them to package this as a case of Secretary of State Clinton selling US policy for personal profit. Russian intelligence organisations would have a great deal of true information and would find it easy to manufacture material to fill in any gaps in the story. Presented as a case of corruption and near treason, the story could have done a great deal of damage to her. And, given that it had happened six years earlier, all the details would have been known and ready to be used. It would have been a very powerful attack that even the complaint media would have had difficulty ignoring.
We know, and it’s very likely that the Russians did too, that she ran a private e-mail server on which there were thousands and thousands of official communications. The server was very insecure and we can assume that Russia’s signals intelligence (and everyone else’s, for that matter) had penetrated it. Think of all the real material from that source that could be revealed or twisted to make a scandal. That would make quite a campaign. Further, it is a reasonable assumption that Russian intelligence would have some of the thousands of e-mails that were “bleached”. There would be enough material for a months-long campaign of leaks.
Finally, Hillary Clinton has been in public life for many years and there would have been ample opportunities, and, many would say, ample material in her scandal-plagued career, for the construction of many campaigns to weaken her appeal.
So, a preliminary look would suggest that there were several angles of attack of which Uranium One would be the easiest and most effective. But, failing that, or as a supplement to that, there was plenty of embarrassing and incriminating material in her illicit private server. Now we have to pretend (number six), contrary to the universal practice of security organs in all times and places, that the (always assumed in the story to be implacably hostile) Russians would decide to forgo the chance of compromising a future POTUS in favour of a harebrained scheme to get another elected.
But we’re supposed to believe that they did. The Russians, the story goes, with all this potential material, with a solid hit with Uranium One, decide instead to expose the finagling inside the Democratic Party structure. And to expose it too late to make any difference. As I said at the beginning, sometimes things are easier to understand when you, as it were, turn them upside down.
In the middle of June 2016 the DNC admits that its documents have been obtained – a “hack” they insist – and almost immediately, “Guccifer 2.0” pops up to claim responsibility and the DNC’s experts (Crowdstrike) claim Russia was behind it. A month passes before Wikileaks releases the first batch of DNC documents showing the extent of the manipulation of the process by Clinton – who had, according to most counts – already secured the nomination about two weeks before. A couple of days before the release, Trump gets the Republican nomination and a couple of days after that Clinton easily wins the Democratic nomination by a thousand-vote majority.
So, the first thing that should have occurred to the observer (but didn’t) was, if the Russians had had this incriminating evidence that the Democratic Party nomination had been fixed in Clinton’s favour, wouldn’t it have been more useful to put it out at a time when Sanders who was, after all, the swindled one, might have been able to do something about it? Instead those supposedly clever Russian state hackers dropped the news out at a time when it made very little difference. No difference in fact: Clinton got the nomination and there was no comeback from Sanders’ people.
So, the “Russian hackers” made their arrow, shot it, hit the target and… no one cared. The people who devoutly believe in the Russian hacking story now have to explain (but don’t) why the Russian state, apparently so determined to bring Clinton down, didn’t immediately hit her with the Uranium One documents and anything else they had that could feed the flames of scandal.
But, as we all know, they didn’t. While long rumoured, and even briefly reported on, we only learned of Uranium One in a big way in October 2017 and the fact that her server contained Special Access material (the very highest classified secrets) was confirmed authoritatively only in November 2017. If the Russian had really had this sort of information and the hostility to Clinton that we’re incessantly told that they had, two years earlier would have been the time.
So, on the one hand we are supposed to believe that the Russian government is so clever that it can hack anything, has innumerable social media trolls that influence elections and referendums around the world (“control the American mind“), drives a “fake news” campaign at a fraction of the cost but with far greater effectiveness than the massed legions of the Western media, is a threat to practically everything we hold sacred… but is too stupid to get it right. Possessing great and powerful secrets and a stunningly powerful machine to spread them, it chooses to fire a damp squib too late to make any difference and passes up the chance to have a compromised US president for it to control.
In other words, it’s nonsense: we don’t really need the forensics of VIPS; we don’t need to argue with people who say it’s fake news about Seth Rich, or that Assange is a Putinbot, or carefully ignore Murray. Those efforts are useful enough but they’re not necessary. In any case, the Russia story is a Gish gallop and a whole academy of wise men and women couldn’t keep up with the latest. (Robert Parry bravely attempts to list the most prominent ones from the Vermont power facility, through all 17 agencies to 14th not 4th.)
Just common sense will do it: if the Russians had wanted to bring Hillary Clinton down, they had far more powerful charges which they could have detonated much earlier. It is not plausible that all they had was the rigging evidence and that they then deployed it too late to have an effect.
Or, maybe they’re not so all-competent in which case all the other stuff we’ve had shoved down our throats for months about “Russian information warfare” is even bigger nonsense.
CIVIL SOCIETY. If you believed the Western media you’d think that Putin did everything in Russia from writing editorials to planning the state doping program and that whatever feeble civil society existed was the creation of selfless foreign NGOs now suffering “squeezing“and a “devastating” “crackdown“. One of the authors sent me the report “Indigenously Funded Russian Civil Society“. In this researched and balanced picture of the state of play we learn that 1) foreign NGOs never funded much (a high of 7% in 2009); 2) there’s quite a lot of civil society activity; 3) there are quite a few sources of funding from government, businesses and private individuals. Read it: a summary of an important subject that gets mostly propagandistic treatment. Russians are doing things on their own at an accelerating pace.
PRESIDENCY. Putin said he’ll run again. This will be his last term – he will be 72 at the end – so, apart from anything else, he will be grooming a successor. He will be elected. And for good reason: you’d vote for more of the same too. Quick summary of today’s press conference. English. Russian.
CORRUPTION. According to the Procurator-General, since 2014 corruption has cost Russia about US$2.5 billion; 122,000 corruption-related crimes have been registered, more than 45,000 sentenced, of whom 4500 were law enforcement staff, 400 were politicians and 3000 were officials.
AMERICA-HYSTERICA. The story so far. “Wife of DOJ Deputy Was Fusion GPS Employee, CIA Research Aide, and Applied for HAM Radio License Month After Contracting MI6 Agent Christopher Steele… “. Oh, maybe he and they went a little too far. I think we’re getting close to the exposure of the whole rotten conspiracy. “What in the hell is going on with the Department of Justice and the FBI?“
RUSSIA INC. “Expert” predictions of doom fail again; tiny budget deficit and foreign reserves up.
EU-USA. The German Foreign Minister has called for more independence from Washington. In particular he mentioned the damage done by the Congressional sanctions and the fear that abrogating the Iran agreement could be dangerous.
PROBLEMS WITH THE NARRATIVE. The Western Official Narrative is getting harder to spin. Apparently Ukraine is a disappointment in its “fight against corruption” (Washington, IMF). Well, duh: if you replace crooked oligarchs with different crooked oligarchs what would you expect? Meanwhile the BBC says British taxpayers subsidised Daesh. US too. Unintentionally. Of course.
SYRIA. Putin says it’s basically over. The BBC gives an entertainingly grudging report, Fox, USA Today, France 24, Haaretz, New Yorker ditto: lots of only helping blood-soaked dictator, killing civilians, chemical attacks, US coalition did the real work. Washington alternately claims credit or says the declaration is premature. French Foreign Minister ludicrously says Russia “misappropriated the victory“. Washington says it will stay: not a good idea. Bad losers all: complete defeat.
IOC. Doping! What’s that got to do with it? US Senator says we have to stand up to Putin the bully. Thereby giving the whole game away. A very flimsy case – based, in fact, on a single source.
NEW NWO. Putin’s trifecta: Assad, Sisi and Erdoğan all on the same day. Trapped in their misinformation bubble most Westerners can’t see it, but Moscow is establishing a reputation in the rest of the world for competence and reliability. China ditto. The world is readjusting itself. We approach a tipping point, I think, in which the reality can no longer be hidden. I am stunned by the speed of the decline: only a quarter of a century ago the West was triumphant in everything.
MUST READ. Gilbert Doctorow’s presentation of his book Does the United States have a future? He starts: “I will explain why a book about the United States failing on the world stage deals so largely with what is happening in Russia.” The neocons and their liberal allies, in their overreach, had to attack Russia “Because it has been the only major power to publicly reject the US global hegemony both in word and in deed.” Their attempts, ranging from “colour revolutions” to sanctions to regime change in neighbours to Olympic boycotts, have made Russia stronger, more united and more determined and brought Russia and China into close partnership. The ricocheting failure feeds the crescendo of hysteria that is tearing the US polity apart. And the losing wars go on and on. My readers will have noticed that these Sitreps lately have had more to do with Russia-in-the-world and less with Russia internally: Doctorow explains why Russia is now so very central in the geopolitical rebalancing. That was very much not the case when I began the series twenty years ago.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer
FOREIGN MEDIA. I don’t know what Sputnik’s and RT’s audiences actually are in the USA or elsewhere but indications are that they are small or even tiny. But this hasn’t affected the year’s conniption fit and so we must be protected from their influence by Google, Twitter and now the US government. Well, apart from the mockery this makes of common-sense, proportionality and those Western values they’re always boasting about, Moscow has reacted. And, as usual, in a much more powerful way. Putin signed the amendment; now “foreign media outlet distributing printed, audio, video and other messages and materials designed for an unlimited number of people may be recognised (может быть признано) as a foreign agent.” Quid quo pro. Whining has begun: the BBG, HRW, State Department.
CORRUPTION. According to Transparency International’s 2017 report, a third of Russians say they had to pay a bribe for some public service. Like Karlin, I can believe this (plus or minus – there is some tradition of giving gifts there) because, unlike the easily cooked perception scores, this is a yes or no question. But, as I argue here, this is the lowest and least important form of corruption: the worst forms aren’t even detected by the little guy because the service was stolen long before he tried to buy some of it. And I would further observe that, whatever you may say about the Duma, you can’t say it’s run by “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests“: it pretty much does what the popular and elected government tells it to do. In short, not all corruptions are equally bad.
AMERICA-HYSTERICA I. It’s not working. 52% believe it’s better to have Russia on “our side” than not; 76% of Republicans and 51% of independents agree but only 29% of Democrats. (I presume Dems find it easier to believe that Trump won because Putindunnit than that he beat their candidate fair and square). It’s not working in Europe either: another poll show large majorities in Germany, Poland, France and UK would like better relations with Russia. But the effluent is still pumped out: “weaponised information“. (As a readers’ guide to this sort of thing, you won’t go wrong assuming that whatever US/NATO accuse Russia of doing, they are actually doing. For example, the Pentagon “weaponised information” years ago: “Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media“.)
AMERICA-HYSTERICA II. “FBI and Justice Department officials have told congressional investigators in recent days that they have not been able to verify or corroborate the substantive allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign outlined in the Trump dossier.” The collapse of the Fusion GPS operation will unravel the whole construction. And it’s coming. (And don’t forget Awan.) All this because the Dems fixed their nomination and then lost anyway.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE. There has been some kind of coup or prevented coup in Lugansk. The head of State, Igor Plotnitsky, has resigned and is said to be in Moscow. The official story is that a “criminal group” controlled from Kiev has been arrested and a coup averted. A group of Ukrainian saboteurs have been arrested. No doubt, more information will trickle out.
PAPER TIGER. Further to my suggestion that NATO is a paper tiger we learn that half of Germany’s tanks are not ready for action. Less belligerent behaviour might be prudent: Moscow doesn’t get the joke: “We need to plan and undertake measures that will help us to respond to such a scenario quickly…“.
SYRIA. Lots of action. Trump has cut off arms supplies to Kurds in Syria (but, as always, can a mere POTUS make them do it?). Putin has been talking to everyone in and around the neighbourhood and lots of meetings. Patrick Lang, a connected observer, thinks it’s about over.
MAIDAN SNIPERS. One of the founding myths of the “Revolution of Dignity” was the massacre on the Maidan. Ivan Katchanovski has proved, to anyone with the capacity for objective thought, that it was a false flag operation; here is his paper; here is a summary. Two Georgian snipers have come forward to confess; here is a summary of what they said with links to the original. The story continues to develop and Katchanovski is following it.
UKRAINE. A country put together out of bits and pieces of other countries should worry as it fails further: “Poland does not hide its ambiguous intentions towards western Ukraine. First, create positions of influence, then formulate territorial claims“. Meanwhile, Maidan II seems to be going nowhere (no support from outside, I guess).
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer