TWO WAYS TO APPROACH MOSCOW

(I wrote this under a pseudonym four years ago today. Another reminder of the present mess.)

Apparently the Soviets were really concerned about Ronald Reagan; I guess they believed the propaganda that the liberal US media put out about low intelligence, fanatic anti-Soviet stance, ignorance and all round crazy unreliability. In fact Reagan was quite different and maintained at least one alternate source of information as Suzanne Massie retails in this fascinating memoir. She acted as a confidante, teacher and emissary and had many meetings with him. He wanted a different view of the USSR than he got from his advisors and she gave it to him.

Of course, I knew nothing of this at the time; I sensed relations were tense but, at my low level, I wasn’t aware of how dangerous it actually was in the early 1980s. Fortunately we were in touch with a Soviet undercover agent – Oleg Gordiyevskiy – who told us how worried and nervous the Soviets were. The story that I heard later was that the Soviets feared that a planned NATO exercise around this time might be a cover for the real thing – a surprise nuclear attack (remember the Western liberal press was saying Reagan was crazy enough to nuke ‘em). I already knew that, for the Soviet war doctrine, surprise was so important an advantage, that it could not be permitted. In short, if they really thought that we were about to strike them, they would face enormous pressure to make a pre-emptive strike. When all this was understood, the exercise was greatly scaled down so as to assuage the Soviet fears. In those days Reagan and other Western leaders understood that Moscow’s point of view was important.

Going back to Massie’s memoir, “So what was different about President Reagan’s approach and what is its relevance to today? From the beginning Reagan, who was always an extremely courteous man, treated Gorbachev with respect – as an equal. He did not scold him as if he were a bad child who didn’t do his homework – but as partner with whom one could talk and work out problems.”

Let’s compare this with President Obama’s approach as revealed in his interview with The Economist last month. “We had a very productive relationship with President Medvedev. We got a lot of things done that we needed to get done.” It’s clear who the first “we” is, who’s the second? Probably the same as the first: ie Washington. Doesn’t it sound as if Obama is saying that, at long as Washington got its way, relations were good? Then there’s “But I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything…” Doesn’t that sound like he’s saying that Russia isn’t important enough to bother taking its point of view into account?

Quite a different approach, isn’t it? From Reagan’s respect and mutual effort to casual dismissal.

No wonder Washington’s policies are failing across the board and a Gallup poll finds the USA heads the world’s choice as the “greatest threat to peace”.

 

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 11 OCTOBER 2018

WAR. I didn’t notice this at the time, but it’s effectively a declaration of war against Russia. I will be writing more but, in essence, the US State Department official responsible for Russia has given the game away. “It continues to be among the foremost national security interests of the United States to prevent the domination of the Eurasian landmass by hostile powers. The central aim of the administration’s foreign policy is to prepare our nation to confront this challenge by systematically strengthening the military, economic and political fundaments of American power.” It’s a Mackinder war; so far fought by sanctions (the economic fundament) and propaganda (political fundament). Ignore details of the latest accusations against Russia (Star Wars, organic food); they’re only there because, unlike the Romans, the Americans are uncomfortable about their imperium unless they drizzle moralistic cant over it. But think about it: when American businessmen outsourced manufacturing to China, Beijing took advantage of the gift. NATO expansion destroyed better relations with Russia. Washington alienates the Iran that its failed wars make more influential. Its wooing of India isn’t going well (see below). Destruction is its policy in MENA. And CAATSA will alienate everyone else. I call it a series of unforced errors.

SKRIPALMANIA. Has now been completely outsourced to Bellingcat. Which tells the discerning observer two things: 1) there is no evidence 2) the truth is probably the opposite. (And for those of you who take Bellingcat seriously: become discerning.)

LATEST. Do the Russians spy? They’d be fools not to. Do I believe this? Not from these sources.

THE CONSPIRACY. Bit by bit, slowly (far too slowly) the story comes out. A DNC/FBI/CIA conspiracy to discredit Trump. I just read Shattered where it is stated that the Russia story was invented as the excuse for failure: but the book establishes that defeat was the consequence of never being able to articulate a reason to vote for her, a disorganised campaign and not observing the dissatisfaction that Sanders and Trump (and Bill Clinton) perceived. The Russia stuff is 1) a distraction from failure, 2) a hook on which to hang Trump and 3) propaganda for the “Mackinder war”.

RETURN. Moscow has been quietly trying to get some of its rich emigrés to return. Here’s one interesting story. I am amused by the conceptual difficulties the authors have with his story: fear for his life or that his money will be lifted? Berezovskiy – and just after begging Putin to let him back, Perepilichniy, Glushkov, Golubev and Skripal and Litvenenko. Russian exiles don’t last as long in the UK as elsewhere; maybe GRU hitmen only have maps of England. And remember the “Cyprus haircut“.

LAUNCH FAILURE. The emergency system worked and both passengers landed safely. Videos.

BATTLEFIELD TESTING. Russia’s Military Operation in Syria: Three Years On” is a round-up of all the weapons they have tested. A lot.

S300s. Have been delivered to Syria – video. 24 S300PM launchers and 300-plus missiles. They were formerly in Russian service until replaced by S400s and were handed over for free. Tough talk from Israel. An alternative opinion: an Israeli writer thanks Russia for “saying to Israel: Stop right there”.

VICTIM OF RUSSIA. Says Volker. No, of Kiev. Americans do swallow whatever Kiev feeds them – remember Senator Imhofe and his photos of Russians invading through the Ukrainian mountains?

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. The Daily Beast has forgotten the first rule of decision-based evidence-making when it says there’s no evidence of Russian interference in US midterms: after the decision, you create the evidence. If the Dems win, then the Russians didn’t; if the Repubs win, they must have.

INDIA. Putin visited and business was conducted. Washington will not be happy: Delhi will buy Russian warships and S400s and oil from Iran. Some think Delhi has capitulated to Washington but I don’t agree. I think it’s doing what every wise middle power does: don’t be drawn into anyone’s orbit and avoid offending the mighty. Beijing’s very successful strategy: “hide your ambitions and disguise your claws”.

CHEAP AND STUPID. More nuggets from the Stupidity Mine. The US Navy will blockade Russia (are there no atlases in Washington?). Syria “that flopping cadaver of a regime“. Britain will defend the Arctic from Russian land grabs (atlas please). Destroy Russian missiles. They’re so frustrated: other people they’ve demonised have gone (Aidid, Saddam, Milosevic….) but Putin goes on and on.

US BIOWEAPON LAB? Suggested by a former Georgian minister; reiterated by the Russian MoD; denied by everybody else. Some reporting and a discussion; you decide; I don’t know, information wars go both ways. This story, however, does seem to be real.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

OCKHAM’S RAZOR AS A GUIDE TO SLICING NONSENSE AWAY

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation)

Why “razor”? Because it cuts away the unnecessary and redundant. Several Latin versions but this is the one I remember: noli multiplicare entia praeter necessitatem. Literally: “do not multiply essences without necessity” which is Medieval for “don’t make your theory any more complicated than it has to be” or “the simplest explanation is the best”. Or Newton (another Englishman, four centuries later): “Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes“. The modern American equivalent would be KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

On the anniversary of 911 we were again inundated with theories about “controlled explosions“. A great deal, if not almost all, of the “evidence” that 911 was an inside job is the presumed “free fall” of the buildings, jet fuel can’t melt steel, thermite and many many other supposed “proofs” that the buildings were actually collapsed by a planned implosion. I have never found this convincing and am perplexed why so much energy is spent arguing back and forth.

A more productive approach is to turn the question upside down which is the practical application of “Ockham’s Razor”. “Turning the question upside down” is a technique I recommend. And there is much relevance to an intelligent and independent-minded assessment of the Western propaganda war: Litvinenko, Skripal, US election interference, Assad and chemical weapons. If the West really had evidence for its accusations, it wouldn’t be relying on Bellingcat. Ockham’s Razor slices off the nonsense.

The essence of the “conspiracy theory” conspiracy theory is that everyone is so busy arguing over minutiae that they never ask whether the fundamental assumption makes sense. Does it fundamentally make sense that Putin would try to kill Skripal years after he was traded? No it doesn’t; so why are we arguing about perfume bottles? Does it fundamentally make sense that Putin would kill Litvinenko by such a convoluted and detectable way? No it doesn’t; so why are we arguing about tea rooms? Does it fundamentally make sense that Putin would try to swing the US election without using his best information? No it doesn’t; so why are we arguing about a ten minute meeting with a Russian lawyer? Does it fundamentally make sense that Assad would kill children with Sarin in the hour of victory? No it doesn’t; so why are we arguing about holes in roads? The more we argue about perfume bottles, holes or tea cups, the more the lies stick. And maybe that’s the intention: “The point of propaganda is to leave an impression after the details have been forgotten“.

Ockham’s Razor starts to cut when you ask yourself:

if it was a conspiracy, what is the simplest conspiracy?

911 is an illustration. Let’s pretend that our Secret Hidden Masters decide that a “War on Terror” would be good for them and that an attack on some American landmark by Crazy Muslim Fanatics will start it off. Angry Muslims are set up; easy enough: entrapments are done all the time. The Masters figure out a way to control the planes because they can’t be sure the dummies can or will do what what they’re supposed to do. They block communications because passengers phoning to say the hijackers are panicking too would wreck the story. And, on The Day, the planes hit the Twin Towers, they burn out leaving a memorable and exploitable image: lower two-thirds white, black above: “Candles of freedom” “Re-Light Freedom!” “Remember the Candles!”. The slogans write themselves. Chalked on bombs: 9 and two white stripes with black tops! Not too complicated: most of the people who could reveal the conspiracy die and the few others (who aren’t already in “The Club”) can have quiet car accidents off stage. A powerful effect at minimum exposure.

But suppose that one conspirator wants the buildings to come down. But this would be absurdly over-complicated: it takes a long time to openly prepare an empty building for a planned detonation; how much longer when you have to do it in secret? Every night you have to bet that several hundred people will notice nothing; every day you have to bet that several thousand notice nothing. They all know that the buildings were a target before and they will phone security. And if one person does, the plot is blown. Odds of millions to one, risking everything, for no discernible advantage.

Competent conspirators want their conspiracies to be simple, manageable and easy to execute. They want the risk of discovery to be as low as possible. Keep the buildings standing; it will serve the purpose just as well, or even better, and at a fraction of the risk. So, William of Ockham tells you to stop poring over videos: the controlled demolition stuff didn’t happen because it would have added immense and unproductive complication.

And he tells us that Putin didn’t kill Litvinenko by dribbling radioactive poison in every restaurant in London; he didn’t try to kill Skripal by scattering a nerve agent randomly around Wiltshire; he didn’t manipulate Americans “to get me out of the way”, ignoring his most powerful weapon; Assad doesn’t gas children to make his enemies attack him; Kerry doesn’t actually have data on MH17.

It’s not all that complicated once you think about the fundamental probability.

Noli multiplicare entia praeter neccesitam

What actually did happen? Who killed Litvinenko, brought down MH17, executed 911, what’s the story on the Skripals? It’s not our job to refute the Gish Gallop of accusations; the accusers are obliged to prove their cases. They have to prove them not by megaphone, petitio principii, Bellingcat’s inventions or by starting other false hares; they have to use the same old boring methods that we used to see English detectives do in dozens of BBC TV series: evidence, argument, proof. So, less “Litvinenko: A deadly trail of polonium“, more Miss Marple and Poirot from the BBC, please. To quote another fictional English detective who would be unable these days to get a job either in the BBC or in Her Majesty’s Government:

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

But I forget Ockham’s Razor: these accusations are not the result of detection, they do not involve reasoning, they’re Goebbels, they’re not Holmes. Propaganda.

(PS. I have referred to 911 to show that not all examples of petitio principii are done by the Establishment. It is depressingly common to assume the answer and remain in the bubble: confirmation bias, it’s called.)

NATO THEN AND NATO NOW

(I wrote this under a pseudonym four years ago today. Any updating needed do you think?)

Then I supported NATO and believed in the “Soviet threat”. I didn’t really think that the Soviets were planning to attack the West (although it wasn’t a bad idea to keep NATO strong, just in case) but I believed that they – the system, that is – were opposed to us. NATO was a necessary balancer. And nothing I have learned since has changed my mind.

But the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union disappeared. So what to do with NATO? Some said it had served its purpose, “won” the Cold War (everybody won it actually), and could justifiably pack up and sell off the Brussels headquarters. On the other hand, others argued, as the most successful peace-time alliance ever, it would be a pity to get rid of it. About this time I was interviewed for a job on NATO’s International Staff (big tax-free salaries, not very heavy work schedule, good location) and one of the questions was: What’s NATO’s future? Well, said I, to become an alliance of the civilised countries against whatever was coming next. Who might these “civilised countries” be? Present members of course but more too: Russia (or was it still the USSR then? can’t remember), Japan, Australia, Brazil, quite a few in fact. I didn’t get the job (not, I think, because of my answers but because it wasn’t my country’s turn to get a job on the IS).

Well, that’s not what happened. As we all know NATO expanded (amusingly somebody after a year or so decided “expansion” sounded bad and “enlargement” became the compulsory word). I remember one of my bosses (a well-connected one who had spent three years in NATO HQ) assuring me that NATO expansion was such a stupid idea that it would never happen.

But it did happen and today there are lots and lots of new members – can anyone outside the NATO bureaucracy name them all? (there’s a story that the Canadian PM mixed up Slovenia and Slovakia and so they both got in) – and possibly more coming. Open to all who want in; why NATO wouldn’t dream of interfering with a country’s free right to choose. But oddly enough, no one in Africa has applied. Or South America, or Australasia, or Asia. And as to Russia, well, you know its application will be lost in the mail.

So we came to Kosovo. And NATO discovered a new role doing “humanitarian interventions” (and everybody there preserved his job! Hurray!) Kosovo set a pattern we’ve seen several times since. Every media outlet reporting exactly the same thing. One side committing every possible crime: terrible human rights violations, aggression, racism, whatever. The other side painted as the victim. (They say Kosovar men are being marched around; walking blood banks suggests a NATO mouthpiece. No women from Serbian rape camps have been be found; their culture tells them to be ashamed suggests a CNN mouthpiece. What’s the collateral damage in a village of a 500-lb bomb dropped on some target identified from 20,000 feet? Nobody asks. Why was the bridge in Novy Sad destroyed? Nobody knows.) We must intervene! Short. Easy. Justified. Preferably by air. No casualties. On our side, that is.

And so it happens. It takes a LOT longer than it was supposed to. And there’s nervousness about an actual land invasion being maybe necessary. But it ends eventually; thanks (not that they are given) to Russia’s Chernomyrdin. (Not, come to think of it, the last time Russia saves Washington and NATO from its folly).

Doubts and difficulties are immediately forgotten. Human rights professionals, like a certain Canadian Harvard personality, praise the intervention as a model of power wisely used in a good cause. Best-selling military authors hail it as the first time air power has won a war all by itself. All is well, in the best of all possible worlds. And you’ll be glad to hear that Albright and Clark are doing OK in their business interests in Kosovo.

And there’s another pattern set by this first NATO “humanitarian bombing” mission. Later – in the actual case of Kosovo fifteen years later – we learn that we weren’t quite told everything:

unlawful killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions… ethnic cleansing… violence and intimidation… extrajudicial killings, illegal detentions, and inhumane treatment. We believe that the evidence is compelling that these crimes… were conducted in an organized fashion and were sanctioned by certain individuals in the top levels of the KLA leadership.

NATO gave these people a whole country. Well done NATO! Well done Western media outlets!

But, learning nothing, ever praising itself for making “a more secure world”, NATO tramples on. It has now become a box of spare parts from which Washington chooses its next “coalition of the willing” for the next “humanitarian bombing”. And what are the results? Kosovo is a major crime centre. Afghanistan is about the same as it was before but at least Al Qaeda isn’t running it. Iraq is worse than anything Saddam Hussein or his two loathsome sons could ever have produced. Libya is a jihadist playground. Ukraine, in the eleven months from postponement of the EU agreement to postponement of the EU agreement, is a horrible nightmare with worse coming. Al Qaeda is back, bigger and better, as ISIS. How exactly has NATO made a more secure world?

All NATO does nowadays is visit chaos, bloodshed, disaster and destruction on countries using justifications we later learn are exaggerated or faked. But no one asks what’s going on or how we could be so mistaken over and over again. The monster lurches on, destroying and threatening.

NATO is a serious threat to the security of its members. To say nothing of the rest of the world.