FAILURE IN PLAIN SIGHT

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Let us contemplate what John Bolton, quondam National Security Advisor to US President Trump, had in mind for “restoring democracy” to Venezuela. We are familiar with the first phase: 1) accusations, 2) threats, 3) stunts, 4) “world community” recognition, 5) appeals for coup, 6) sanctions.

1) You know, Venezuela is one of the three countries I call the troika of tyranny. It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of the United States. (January 2019)

2) All options are on the table. (January 2019)

3) After diverting aid needed badly by Venezuelans to Cuba last week (100 tons), and giving away billions of the Venezuelan people’s wealth to Cuba – now Maduro seeks aid from Cuba and China. All while denying the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis and rejecting aid at the border. (February 2019)

4) National Security Adviser John Bolton said on April 30, 2019 that what’s happening “is clearly not a coup” because the U.S. and many other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. (April 2019)

5) The FANB [Venezuelan military] must protect the Constitution and the Venezuelan people. It should stand by the National Assembly and the legitimate institutions against the usurpation of democracy. The United States stands with the people of Venezuela. (April 2019)

6) Bolton said the U.S. is “sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution. There is no need to risk your business interests with the United States for the purposes of profiting from a corrupt and dying regime.” (August 2019)

Despite “corrupt and dying”, Maduro was still in power, still supported by the population, the “burning aid” stunt failed (when you’ve lost even the NYT…) and the Venezuelan military remains loyal. (Irony alert! Washington’s sanctions on Venezuela increased Russian oil exports to the USA and Europe!)

What would Bolton have wanted to do next? (Easy speculation – we’ve seen it before.) A “coalition of the willing” (no matter how artificial), US aircraft attack key targets with “precision” “surgical” strikes; (more strikes added until, à la Serbia, bombing random bridges 200 kilometres away from the supposed target). The bombing and destruction would eventually force Maduro to leave. Enter the “liberators”, the “legitimate National Assembly” takes power, the “world community” recognises “Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president”. With “democracy restored” and “freedom returned” the next stage: “American oil companies really invest[ing] in and produce[ing] the oil capabilities in Venezuela“, privatisation and IMF austerity. Happiness all round: “good for the people of Venezuela… good for the people of the United States”. Is Maduro still resisting in the hills and jungles? A surge or two will take care of that; there’s plenty of light at the end of the tunnel and the obedient corporate media will bleat that Maduro will soon be gone: March, April, May, May again, August, September (The Latin America version of the Assad Must Go Curse.)

That would have been Venezuela’s fate with Bolton fully turned on. But Bolton has been turned off. Maduro is still in Caracas and the story has tip-toed off the front pages. Although Hollywood leaps to obey its Master’s Voice and Jack Ryan will save us from a nuclear-armed Venezuela.

The war party is accustomed to blame its quagmires on someone else. Iraq was a success until Obama spoiled it:

because Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a status of forces agreement that would have allowed some American combat troops to remain in Iraq and secure the hard-fought gains the American soldier had won by 2009, [the Islamic State] was able to be literally conjured up out of the desert.

Afghanistan likewise: Obama’s Failed Legacy in Afghanistan. Libya is far down the memory hole: an MSNBC special on Libya as the gateway of migrants to Europe never uses the word “NATO”.

To tell the story of Libya’s escalating migration crisis, one must weave together the threads of instability left behind by a toppled dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and the power vacuum filled by rivaling factions vying to take his place.

But Qaddafi didn’t just topple in a high wind, earthquake or other random phenomenon: NATO decided to topple him and did so – “We came, we saw, he died” cackled one of the architects. But MSNBC wants us to believe that the destruction was an inexplicable random event that nobody could have foreseen. And so, helped by the corporate news media’s goodthink, the war party slithers away from responsibility: Qaddafi “toppled”, we have a problem; nothing to do with us, or NATO, or Hillary. Bad stuff just happens. “The story of how Kosovo hosted an illegal market in human organs began to unfold today in a district court in the capital, Pristina” is so distant in time that only fringe websites talk about it. As to the Ukrainian disaster, news is starting to leak through the complacency membrane: Canadian officials honour Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, angering Jewish groups, Biden involvement, blowback.

With their excuses and deniability clutched in their hands, knowing the complaisant news media will back them up (CNN: Biden and Ukraine is a conspiracy theory), the war party rolls along. The wars start well, given the US military’s immense destructive power, and then bog down: US war-fighting doctrine is hard-wired for failure. Bolton’s Venezuela adventure, had it advanced to the bombing phase, would also have been pimped as a “success” – Guaidó inauguration, selected interviews, toppling of statues and the rest of the package. But Maduro and his supporters would not have given up and there’d be years of patrolling, “precision” bombing (eventually indistinguishable from “carpet bombing” – see Raqqa), door kicking, IEDs, ambushes, training failures. Iraq and Afghanistan again. They, in their turn, having repeated Vietnam.

But Bolton’s Excellent Adventure never got to that point because Trump would not sign off on the bombing stage and so his scheme failed in plain sight. Let us remember what Trump said while he was 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. Bolton, on the other hand, was all in favour of the Iraq war, believed one more war in the Middle East would have been good, thought NATO was great, and Russia terrible. (There’s a rumour that Trump was considering easing the failed Iran pressure and Bolton’s objections led to his firing.)

So why did he appoint Bolton in the first place? A theory: Keep you friends close but your enemies closer. The late Justin Raimondo agrees: “Instead of taking on the neocons directly, Trump embraces them – and we can see the knife go in as this whole scenario plays out.” When it’s clear that everything Bolton had a hand in was a spectacular flop, he’s tossed out of the tent with the knife in his back.

But Venezuela was not Bolton’s only failure in plain sight: his “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran turned out to be much feebler than Tehran’s “maximum”: the strike on Saudi oil production. Note that, despite billions of dollars of weapons, air defence, radars and the like, neither Riyadh nor Washington has any idea of where the attack came from. Whether Iran did it directly, indirectly, at a distance, supplied some or all of the weapons, was entirely uninvolved or any other possibility you can think of doesn’t really matter: it’s checkmate. Lots of entities in the region are friendly to Tehran and so we can know that:

The attack was an amuse-bouche for what Iran

and its many allies could do

if Washington attacked it.

Another Bolton failure. Read his How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal and note that he assumes that Tehran has no response. The greatest blind spot of the war party is its assumption that Washington always has the initiative and that its targets can only feebly squirm. But Tehran has been on Washington’s hit list for four decades and it hasn’t wasted that time. A war with Iran will, I am certain, be the Last War for the Imperium Americanum because Iran will stop the oil and the world economy will stagger and probably fall. It has outwitted Washington every step of the way. If Trump really is a reader of Sun Tzu, he should reflect on “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle“. The war party overestimates US power and underestimates the enemy’s will. Succumbs.

Returning to Raimondo’s theory, Trump is now in a position to tell the war party “see, we did what you told us to and it was a complete failure”. Will he appoint people in tune with his campaign thoughts? Apparently not, Bolton’s replacement is more of the same: “peace through strength”, US military dangerously weak, Obama “emboldened our adversaries and disheartened our allies” and the rest of the unreflective claptrap.

This is all part of the Mystery of Donald Trump: on the one hand he surrounds himself with the war party, on the other he hasn’t started any wars. (Bolton was fired in Trump’s day 963; by contrast Obama attacked Libya on his day 788 and called for Assad’s departure on day 940.)

But the war party has painted him into several corners.

(How can he get out of the corner? Easy – just blame his “bad advisors” and do it. The Trump haters won’t think any the worse of him and the rest of us will be glad to step away from the endless war and give him credit for deviousness in a good cause. Or, à la Macron’s suggestion, he can surrender while pretending to have won.)

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 10 OCTOBER 2019

HEALTH. Paul Robinson reads junk so that I don’t have to: a book by some academic explaining why so many Russians (wrongly – of course!) support the horrible Putin. Well, only a tenured intullekchul couldn’t figure it out. (I can never forget Orwell’s “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.“) Here’s two (more) reasons why so many Russian have liked and trusted Putin & Co for so long. An excellent report from Awara on Russian longevity. “In 2000, the difference in life expectancy between the two countries [USA and Russia] was 11.1 years or 14.5% in favor of the US. But by 2019, the difference had shrunk to only 4.8 years or 6.1% “. As it were, 20 years of Putin & Co cost his voters only 12! Suicides, homicides and infant mortality are also way down: a third or less of what they were in 2000. Boozing has dramatically decreased – a WHO report says down by 43%. Excessive drinking – especially binge drinking – was a weighty contributor to low life expectancies, suicide, homicide and infant mortality. The health system is improving hugely and Russians no longer have to drink their way through the Time of Stagnation and the misery and hopelessness of the 1990s. Many causes, certainly, but no one (except silly intullekchuls) could deny Putin and his team a lot of the credit. If you were a Russian, you’d support them too (well, maybe not if there’s enough American money – Navalniy’s operation just declared a foreign agent, BTW.) Putin and his team are doing what people hire governments to do. (I leave the reader to contemplate his own government’s achievements. Russia’s curves are all going up; ours are all going down. What will we see in another 20 years? And that’s not even mentioning China. For the West it looks bad. We want to start hoping that they – and Iran – are magnanimous in victory.)

NEW NWO. In August Rosneft said it would be moving to Euros to denominate its contracts, it has now done so. Ankara has signed on to the Russia replacement for SWIFT.

VISAS. Quick internet visas for St Petersburg are now being issued; the plan is that this will spread to the rest of Russia next year. Apparently the happy experience with the World Cup was the inspiration. The government is pushing tourism and I would expect it to grow significantly. Russian “soft power” is pretty inept but maybe they’re starting to figure it out: the experience of most visitors is that Russia “shows well”. For those of us in the “Five Eyes” the tiresome old procedure will remain.

SANCTIONS. US foreign policy today seems to be threats, bombs and sanctions. A GAO report declines to judge whether sanctions (20 countries!) are effective. (Are the other two effective?).

REMEMBER when they used to say once KGB always KGB? Does that also apply to former members of organs of state security who are now all over US TV as “independent experts”?

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS I. Years ago the anti-Russia mob were telling us that Moscow was doing something nefarious about Caspian Sea boundaries. I predicted the ultimate answer would be Baku’s and so, grosso modo, it has proved to be. The seabed is divided by the five. Putin just ratified it.

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS II. Remember the Russian submarine in Sweden in 2014? Well, not Russian: a “Swedish object”? It was pushed to boost defence spending. You’ll be glad to know Swedish state TV launched a campaign against fake news spread, apparently, only by Trumputin.

PROTESTS. Still believe they’re real? Read this.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Pelosi sees Russia’s “hand” in the Ukraine business and the NYT discovers a top secret scary Russia unit that’s bungled everything it tries to do. (Extremely unsecret, in fact.)

UKRAINE. After his disappointing meeting with Trump (“I really hope that you and President Putin get together“), Zelensky went home and signed on to the “Steinmeier Formula“. Which is really just a way of getting Kiev to do what it is already supposed to do in the Minsk agreements. Protests began immediately. Zelensky is in a difficult position: the plutocrats – who have the money – like to keep Ukraine lawless so they can steal more; the nazis – who have the guns – ditto; Trump doesn’t care and Europe is sick and tired of the mess. I reiterate that, at the end, I expect Ukraine to be much smaller.

WHERE DID IT GO? According to the head of Ukraine’s Central Bank, there is almost no gold left.

MH17. This could become interesting: Netherlands MPs demand investigation into Ukraine’s role. Do you think Zelensky might be tempted to blame his predecessors for that and the Maidan shooting?

SYRIA. US withdrawal? Or just rearrangement? Ankara’s actions and intentions? Where’s Russia in all this? The US war party is melting down. The Kurds will probably have to to make a deal with Damascus.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE, SAYING THE UNSAYABLE

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation, picked up by JRL/2019/155/16, ZeroHedge, Hedge Accordingly, Out of Mind,

We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.

The Showa Emperor, August 1945

A couple of months ago Putin observed that the time of modern day liberalism had passed.

There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose. Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable.

Liberalism, in its current manifestation, he suggested, was failing its people. The remarks were happily seized on to bolster the meme that Putin is the enemy. We were assured that liberalism was just fine and criticism was just what you’d expect from “a bloody dictator“. No, Mr. Putin, liberalism is not dead. Martin Wolf: why Vladimir Putin is wrong to claim liberalism is dead. Putin is wrong. Liberalism is more important than ever. So there the issue sat: Putin had been slapped down and any deviations from happy complacency – maillots jaunes, Brexit, Trump – were his fault. His attempts to wreck us would fail because “Defences have proven stronger; citizens are getting wiser“. In any case, Russia won’t be around much longer; the end was coming soon in 2001, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2014, 2019. Well… someday soon.

And then, out of the blue, appears this (my emphases):

We experience this world all together and you know that better than I, but the international order is being disrupted in an unprecedented way, with massive upheaval, probably for the first time in our history, in almost all areas and on a historic scale. Above all, a transformation, a geopolitical and strategic reconfiguration. We are probably in the process of experiencing the end of Western hegemony over the world. We were used to an international order that had been based on Western hegemony since the 18th century… Things change. And they have been deeply affected by the mistakes made by Westerners in certain crises, by American decisions over the last several years which did not start with this administration, but have led us to re-examine certain involvements in conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, and to re-think fundamental diplomatic and military strategy and on occasion elements of solidarity which we thought were forever inalienable… And it is also the emergence of new powers whose impact we have probably underestimated for far too long. China first and foremost as well as Russia’s strategy that has, let’s face it, been pursued with greater success over the last few years.

 

Putin’s gone over the top here: End of Western hegemony? Mistakes? Reconsider? Russia’s success? Well isn’t that just what he would want you to think? The sower of divisions, doubts and chaos just wants us to give up.

Except that the speaker is French President Emmanuel Macron

Video, English. Macron understands that things have got worse for many in the West and says so – maybe the maillots jaunes have got their message though. The market economy, that used to work well, today produces serious inequalities:

When the middle classes, which form the basis of our democracies, no longer have a fair share in it, they start to express doubts and are legitimately tempted by authoritarian regimes or illiberal democracies, or are tempted to question this economic system.

if we continue as before, then we will definitely lose control. And that would mean obliteration. (l’effacement).

He even (!) has a kind word for Orbán in Hungary.

(I don’t think he’s fully thought it out: if, as he thinks, the proper role for France and Europe is to balance between the USA and China, then that will require an independent position: Beijing could never regard an ally of Washington as a “balancer”. So… out of NATO. But he hasn’t got there yet.)

But what he says about Russia is more interesting: the West made mistakes (no counterfeit modesty of allowing that, perhaps, we’re in there for one or two percent of the blame):

We are part of Europe; so is Russia. And if we are unable to accomplish anything useful with Russia at any given time, we will remain in a state of deeply unproductive tension. We will continue to be stuck in conflicts throughout Europe. Europe will continue to be the theatre of a strategic battle between the United States and Russia, with the consequences of the Cold War still visible on our soil. And we will not lay the groundwork for the profound re-creation of European civilization that I mentioned earlier. Because we cannot do that without reassessing in depth, in great depth, our relationship with Russia. I also think that pushing Russia away from Europe is a major strategic error, because we are pushing it either toward isolation, which heightens tensions, or toward alliances with other great powers such as China, which would not at all be in our interest. At the same time, it must be said that while our relations have been based on mistrust, there are documented reasons for it. We’ve witnessed cyber-attacks, the destabilization of democracies, and a Russian project that is deeply conservative and opposed to the EU project. And all that basically developed in the 1990s and 2000s when a series of misunderstandings took place, and when Europe no doubt did not enact its own strategy [l’Europe n’a pas joué une stratégie propre] and gave the impression of being a Trojan Horse for the West, whose final aim was to destroy Russia, and when Russia built a fantasy around the destruction of the West and the weakening of the EU. That is the situation. We can deplore it, we can continue to jockey for position, but it is not in our best interest to do so. Nor is it in our interest to show a guilty weakness toward Russia and to believe that we should forget all the disagreements and past conflicts, and fall into each other’s arms. No. But I believe we must very carefully rethink the fundamentals. I believe we must build a new architecture based on trust and security in Europe, because the European continent will never be stable, will never be secure, if we do not ease and clarify our relations with Russia. That is not in the interest of some of our allies, let’s be clear about that. Some of them will urge us to impose more sanctions on Russia because it is in their interest.

The end of the INF Treaty requires us to have this dialogue [with Russia], because the missiles would return to our territory.

He’s not entirely free from delusion:

that great power [Russia], which invests a great deal in arming itself and frightens us so much, has the gross domestic product of Spain, a declining demographic, an ageing population and growing political tension.

(If it were declining it wouldn’t be as successful as he said it was earlier, would it? And the GDP argument is nonsense.) And “cyber-attacks, the destabilization of democracies, and a Russian project that is deeply conservative and opposed to the EU project” is the usual unexamined twaddle. And if Russia dreamed of destroying an entity which was giving “the impression” that its “final aim” was to “destroy” it, it would just have been defending itself, wouldn’t it? But every journey begins with a single step and this is very far from the usual “if Russia would behave ‘like a normal country‘ we might let it back into the club on probation”.

What really struck me was this:

Take India, Russia and China for example. They have a lot more political inspiration than Europeans today. They take a logical approach to the world, they have a genuine philosophy, a resourcefulness that we have to a certain extent lost.

So the West is not “logical”, has a “shallow philosophy” and no ingenuity. (You know it’s true, don’t you?)

One of the major players in the Western World’s ancien régime is saying:

Our day is coming to an end

and the other guys have a better take on things than we do.

We at Strategic Culture Foundation and other alternative outlets may take pleasure that when we said the world was changing, that the Western establishment was dangerously unaware, when we said that Russia and China were stronger and more resilient than complacent op-ed writers thought they were, that the West was fragile, that Western leaders had failed their people, we were not just crazy people shouting at lamp-posts: a principal of the ancien régime agrees with us. Maybe they do read us in the Elysée.

(Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, they haven’t got the memo:

We don’t always get it right. Not always perfect. But our efforts are noble and important, and we try to make America secure and at the same time [improve] the lives of people in every country … to improve their capacity for freedom and liberty in their own nation.)

But, when all is said and done, it’s just a speech. Will we see actions that prove intent? Suggestions: Crimea is Russian; the fighting in Ukraine is a civil war; Assad’s future is up to Syrians; Maduro’s of Venezuelans; everybody out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria ASAP; stop arming the killers in Yemen. Lots to admit to; lots to stop doing.

We may have a clue soon: a Normandy Format meeting on Ukraine to which Macron has invited Putin. If it’s more claptrap about how Moscow must honour its commitments under the Minsk agreement (there are none – the word “Russia” does not appear) then we’ll know that it was just words.

Western media coverage will be interesting to watch – not much at the moment in the Anglophone world and what there is misses the big points; several times it’s presented as just a “turn away” from Trump (which it is – more evidence for my Gordian Knot theory). But what he’s saying is hard to take in if you’ve been cruising along, confident that what is “really obsolete” is not liberalism but “authoritarianism, personality cults and the rule of oligarchs”; it will take time before it sinks in that one of the prominent figures of the Western establishment is pretty close to agreement with Putin.