MCCARTHYISM THEN AND NOW: BUT THERE WAS REALITY THEN

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. (Karl Marx)

Humor is reason gone mad. (Groucho Marx)

Every now and again, we hear about a “new McCarthyism“. Usually it’s the alternative media like Truthdig or Consortium News or left-wing outlets because mainstream outlets are so sunk in Trumpophobia that they have forgotten what the expression means. It’s not Trump who’s the new McCarthy (Trumpism Is the New McCarthyism or Is Donald Trump The New Joe McCarthy?) it is they: Is Trump Putin’s Puppet?, Trump Is Making the Case That He’s Putin’s Puppet; calling other people Moscow puppets is precisely what McCarthy did. And today’s Russhysteria has spread outside the USA: France to Probe Possible Russian Influence on Yellow Vest Riots; Why Putin Is Meddling in Britain’s Brexit Vote; Spain: ‘Misinformation’ on Catalonia referendum came from Russia. Endless torrents of delirium, nothing too absurd: Russia could freeze us to death!, Russian cricket agents, 14-legged killer squid found TWO MILES beneath Antarctica being weaponised by Putin? The Russophobes find Moscow’s influence everywhere: childrens’ cartoons, fishsticks, Pokemon. People who like to imagine that they’re taken seriously suggest the Russians are threatened by our “quality”.

But not so threatened, it appears, by our mental qualities.

Joseph McCarthy, making much of (and perhaps improving upon) his war record, was elected a US Senator in 1946. After three years in which he attracted little attention, he rose to national prominence with a speech in February 1950 in which he claimed to have a list of Communist Party members active in the the US State Department. There is still debate today about the precise numbers he claimed and to what degree he was used by other actors. But he realised he was on to a good thing (he secured re-election in 1952) and kept “revealing” communists in the government and elsewhere. Televised hearings showed his vituperative and erratic nature; the Senate censured him in 1954 and he faded away. “McCarthyism” has become a doubleplusungood swearword so stripped of meaning that it can be shaped into mud to be thrown at Trump.

But – and a very big but – whatever McCarthy’s motivation or cynicism, however unpleasant, shifty and unshaven he looked on TV, there was a reality behind what he was saying.

  • ITEM. August 1945. Elizabeth Bentley approaches the FBI and eventually reveals the spying activities of the CPUSA.
  • ITEM. September 1945. Igor Guzenko defects in Ottawa, revealing the extent of spying on its allies by the USSR. Thanks to his information Alan Nunn May, part of the British contribution to the atomic bomb project, is arrested March 1946. A number of Canadians are arrested – including the MP Fred Rose.
  • ITEM. August 1948. Whittaker Chambers, a CPUSA member disgusted by the Hitler-Stalin pact, in testimony to HUAC, names Alger Hiss, a senior State Department official, as a CPUSA agent.
  • ITEM. January 1950. Klaus Fuchs, an important player in the atomic bomb project, admits to spying for the USSR. His confession leads to Harry Gold (arrested May, 1950) which leads to David Greenglass (arrested June 1950), which leads to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (arrested in June and August 1950). The Manhattan Project was well infiltrated by Soviet agents.
  • ITEM. February 1950. McCarthy’s speech.
  • ITEM. Beginning in summer 1951 with the defection of Burgess and Maclean and only ending with the discovery of the last member in 1979, the revelation of extensive penetration by the Soviets of British intelligence – the Cambridge Five – caused continuing investigations and suspicions which tied up the CIA and SIS for years.

In conclusion, whatever you think of the man himself, “McCarthyism” was based on reality: there was extensive Soviet penetration in the USA and elsewhere.

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And today? The equivalent of McCarthy’s speech are the Clinton campaign’s excuses for losing.

We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election. (Hillary Clinton, 19 October 2016.)

That strategy had been set within twenty-four hours of her concession speech. [9 November 2016] Mook and Podesta assembled her communications team at the Brooklyn headquarters to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up. For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument. (From Shattered, quoted here.)

After the story had been happily re-typed by the complaisant media, the “intelligence community” weighed in with two fatuous “intelligence assessments”:

ITEM. The DHS/FBI report of 29 December 2016 carried this stunning disclaimer:

This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.

ITEM. The DNI report of 6 January 2017 crazily devoted nearly half its space to a four-year old rant about RT. But the real clue that the report was nonsense was its equally stunning disclaimer:

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.

In other words, DHS told us to ignore its report and the one agency in the US intelligence structure that would actually know who hacked what refused to sign its name to it.

And not “all 17”, only three. Then – the final nail – not really the three but only “hand-picked” people from them. Eventually, the NYT issued a correction. (“Correction” being presstitute-speak for “you caught us”.)

The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community. (New York Times correction, 29 June 2017)

And that was the beginning of the story that has consumed so much effort, done so much damage, metastasised so far and continues today. No Elizabeth Bentley, no atomic spies, no Venona. Only 1) an excuse for losing, 2) “hand-picked” writers, 3) forced plea deals and 4) the pompous indictment of a Russian click bait farm.

The fons et origo of today’s Russhysteria, I am convinced, was a conspiracy in the security organs to derail Trump’s candidacy and when that failed, to overthrow him. Little by little that story is dribbling out:

Congressional testimony backs up former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe’s account that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was talking to high-level officials about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office.

One can only hope that the conspiracy will finally be so revealed and so proven and so obvious that even the consumers of CNN, MSNBC, The Guardian, the NYT and the rest will understand what was really going on. Then, maybe, we can hope to edge away from the highly dangerous anti-Russia hysteria.

McCarthyism was based on reality, today’s recurrence is not. A significant difference indeed.

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Lavrenti Beria is reputed to have said “give me the man, and I will give you the crime”. And sleep depravation and teeth and blood on the floor delivered the confession. How little he understood his craft. Maria Butina, an innocent if naïve Russian girl who liked the Second Amendment, arrested, stuck in solitary, on suicide watch (sleep deprivation – Beria knew about that), innumerable charges, after months, makes a plea deal. Michael Flynn, innumerable charges, savings burnt up, makes a plea deal. Paul Manafort, early morning SWAT attack (Beria recognises that), innumerable charges, makes a plea deal. Cohen, Papadopoulos and so on. That’s the American justice system – not Stalin’s “beat, beat and beat again” – just innumerable charges, bankruptcy by lawyers’ fees, endless interrogations, SWAT raids. Then the plea deal. Beria was an amateur.

So the Marx brothers are both wrong: the second time it’s a much more dangerous tragedy and, when you actually see it in reality, reason gone mad isn’t actually very funny.

THE END OF THE INF TREATY

(Question from Sputnik. Picked up by UrduPoint — I’m always fascinated to see how far these things go.)

The Cold War left us with four important arms treaties. The ABM Treaty (1972) forbade anti ballistic missiles, the INF Treaty (1987) forbade intermediate range nuclear weapons, the CFE Treaty (1990 and modified) limited conventional weapons and the START Treaty (1991 and renewed) limited nuclear weapons. Washington abrogated the ABM Treaty in 2002; NATO never ratified the modified CFE Treaty and invented so many new conditions that Russia, which had ratified it, pulled out in 2015; Washington has just pulled out of the INF Treaty. All that remains is the New START Treaty of 2011, and given that Trump has called it a “bad deal”, we cannot expect that one to last either.

So it looks as if the entire arms control regime inherited from the Cold War will be gone in a few years: in all cases the initiative has come from Washington although Moscow has (of course) been blamed.

One can interpret Trump’s decision as the latest step in a exceptionalist/unipolar tendency in which Washington, confident that it can secure “full spectrum dominance”, throws out all agreements which limit it: Trump has boasted that the US will outspend everyone else. (And that it certainly will but are US weapons today designed to fight wars or generate cost overruns?) On the other hand, it may be another example of Trump’s negotiation style which we’ve seen with Korea and NAFTA: awful threats, extreme statements, bluster and then a negotiated settlement; Trump has several times suggested that he would like a new treaty, this time including China.

How realistic this strategy is remains to be seen. I don’t see any particular incentive for Beijing to bother and Moscow, which had foreseen the future when the ABM Treaty was dropped, already has weapons that can counter any intermediate threat Washington can come up with whether it’s Kalibre cruise missiles on land or Tsirkon hypersonic missiles in submarines off the US coastline.

And, now that their ally has painted targets on their backs, what will the Europeans do? They certainly weren’t happy the last time Washington wanted to base intermediate missiles there.

PREDATOR FISH AND PREY FISH

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

I have found this analogy useful: grosso modo, over the past millennium, some countries have been predator fish and some countries have been prey fish. Predators and prey have completely different self images, behaviour and understandings of how the world works and how countries interact. Like all analogies, it’s a rough guide: few countries have been wholly one or the other and for a time, military superiority enabled all European countries to become predator fish on the rest of the world. But I believe that it is a useful analogy today and especially when applied to the calamitous misunderstanding of the Anglo-Americans about Russia; they get it completely wrong and that can have disastrous consequences.

England is the paradigm predator fish. Confined to their small island with their warlike Welsh and Scottish neighbours, the English subdued the first but never quite the second. When James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne he cleverly invented “Britain” and the British people and bound English, Scots and Welsh to a common cause. This new amalgam then created the largest empire of human history: so extensive, the boast went, that the sun never set on it. In its shorter life, the United States of America has likewise been a successful predator fish. Starting as a ribbon along the lower sea coast of a continent – every bit of which was claimed by some European power to say nothing of the autochthonous inhabitants – it spread over half the continent. Today American military dominance in its hundreds of bases (it’s always dawn in a US base somewhere), world-wide naval presence and its sovereign currency make the empires of the Nineteenth Century look half-hearted. Even though its relative power is failing, it remains the predominant power in most categories. And, as the latest Wikileaks revelations show, Washington is happy to use the so-called international instruments like the World Bank, OECD and IMF as weapons in its arsenal. The United Kingdom and the United States are, sequentially, the most successful predators ever; defeating every challenge, they have ascended to greater world power than any two other states in history. They are history’s apex predators.

In contrast African states and kingdoms were prey fish to European and Arab predators: slaves, raw materials and space for colonists. The civilisations of Central and South America were swiftly felled by European diseases and more deadly weapons. For several centuries non-European countries and civilisations were prey fish to Europe. Even Belgium, prey at home, could be a predator in Africa. Mighty China was a prey fish too and one can only hope, in its coming pre-dominance, that it will not seek revenge for its “century of humiliation“.

One should be wary of carrying the analogy too far: Zulus, Incas, Aztecs and Iroquois were successful predator fish in their ecologies until greater predators destroyed them. Sweden was a rapacious predator until defeat at Poltava marked the end and since then it has been quiet and peaceful. Former super-predators like Spain or Portugal, weakened by overextension and collapsed economies, have given up. Austria is a small land-locked country.

National myths have been profoundly shaped by the predator/prey dichotomy. Poland’s independence has been ended more than once: most recently the USSR dominated it and so, today, there is more antipathy towards Russia than to Germany or Austria. The Galicians currently setting the tone in Ukraine show more animosity to Russia than Poland or Austria for similar reasons.

The relevance of this analogy to today’s war on Russia is that Russia is in the unusual position of being half prey fish and half predator fish. For half of its thousand years it was a prey fish: maintaining its existence was a continual struggle with horse peoples in the south and Teutonic Knights in the north. A struggle lost to the Mongols, beginning a centuries-long endeavour to throw off the “Tatar yoke” and re-unite the Russian lands. The ejection of Polish-Lithuanian forces (two prey fish at their moment of predation) marked the end of the prey period and in the next five centuries Russia expanded in all directions, sometimes peacefully and sometimes by war, but always larger.

But the prey fish memory persists. In Russia monasteries are fortified and there are no castles; in Europe, monasteries are not fortified and there are many castles. Russia, in its prey fish time, had to fight for its very existence: given the centrality of Orthodoxy to the essence of Russianness, that meant its religion. Fortunately for the Russian Church, the Mongol conquerors were indifferent to their subjects’ religion but the Teutonic Knights and the Polish-Lithuanians were Roman militants, Napoleon treated churches as stables and Hitler cared nothing for Russianness. Therefore monasteries, as the essence of Russianness, had to be fortified for the wars of national survival. The absence of castles is explained because, as private strongholds, they embodied the ability of local powers to resist the central power; in Russia the central power was the guarantor and protector of Russian existence. Europe, for all its wars, never, since the victory of Tours (a fright at Vienna in 1683) was threatened in its very essence. (Spain, Portugal and the Balkans, however, have Russian-like histories: resistance to the alien and a long re-gathering of their lands).

As a result of these historical realities, Russians have a completely different view of war: for Russia it’s life or death. For medieval Europe it was a sport for kings, ruinous in its neighbourhood but of limited effect elsewhere: from the peasant’s perspective King A or King B meant little. The destructive wars of religion and revolution never threatened Europe qua Europe because they were civil wars between different types of Europeanness.

Russians remember the prey fish period better than they do the predator fish period. The prey fish memory makes it very difficult for the Russians to think of the Great Caucasus War or the wars in Central Asia as the predations that they actually were. They see the wars against the Persians or Ottomans as wars of liberation rather than the eating of weaker predators. The prey fish memory remains strong not only just because the early experience set the pattern but because of the powerful reinforcement of 1941-1945.

The Anglo-American experience of war has no memory like that. They have never been in a war in which every soldier that get to the enemy capital has passed through endless wastes of destruction of his homeland. (Americans: think of Sherman’s march to the sea through the entire Confederacy and then extend it to take in the rest of the country on the Atlantic coast. Britain has nothing to match this other than, on a much smaller scale, the desolation of the Scottish borders under Edward I or the Highlands after Culloden.) This book makes the point that the USA and the UK have no conception of a war of annihilation but Russia has known many. The scars of the latest are still visible: there are nearly half a million dead Leningraders in Piskaryovskoye Cemetery alone: more than all the dead of Washington’s overseas wars. A completely different conception of “war”. This makes Russians defensive, suspicious and ready to fight for the Motherland but not very willing to acknowledge their predator period. The Anglo-Americans expect another profitable predation and sugar coat their predation with moralistic posturing as we perfectly see today in Venezuela: we must seize its oil for humanitarian reasons. A clash is inevitable.

While Russia cannot forget the prey period, its neighbours only remember its predator fish period. The contrast of memories is well expressed in this video from the Russian side of the benefits brought to the prey by “Russian occupants”. But from the Lithuanian prey fish point of view, we have this completely different take of death and destruction. Each is true, each is false: but the difference in perception must be understood.

In other words, prey fish remember being eaten; predator fish have no such memory, or even appreciation of such fears. Predators cannot imagine being pushed to the edge because it’s never happened to them, prey fish remember when they were; predators eat well, prey fish fear extinction. And so today the Anglo-Americans, unable to eat Russia (so confident they were that it was prey so short a time ago! gas station masquerading as a country, makes nothing), project their predatory disposition onto Russia.

The Anglo-Americans, after decades of successful predation, think they can push Russia back forever. But Russia cannot forget its prey period and its bred-in-the-bone understanding of what happens to prey. The danger is that, at some point, it will decide its very survival is at risk and then it will, as it has before, do whatever it needs to do, at whatever the cost, to survive.

Certainly, it would be a global disaster for humanity; a disaster for the entire world. As a citizen of Russia and the head of the Russian state I must ask myself: Why would we want a world without Russia?

It’s a dangerous and possibly fatal misunderstanding given Russia’s immense arsenal; unstoppable says a American general (retired and so able to see reality).

C’EST TOUJOURS LA MÊME CHOSE

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation. Picked up by Oriental Review.)

I have just read the memoirs of General Armand de Caulaincourt who accompanied Napoleon throughout the Russian venture. He was France’s Ambassador to Russia from 1807 until 1811 and got to know the Emperor Alexander quite well. Napoleon recalled him and he eventually resumed his tasks as his Master of the Horse.

His account begins with a long conversation with Napoleon. Just before he left St Petersburg, Alexander called him in for what was, unmistakeably, a message and warning to be passed on. De Caulaincourt really tries hard – but unsuccessfully – to make Napoleon get the point. He tells him that Alexander said he had learned something from the Spanish resistance to France and that was that Napoleon’s other opponents had given up too early; they should have kept fighting. Napoleon is unimpressed: his generals in Spain are incompetent and and his brother (to whom he had given the Spanish throne) is an idiot; he sees no larger lessons and believes that Spain is not important in the great scheme. De Caulaincourt reiterates that Alexander kept returning to that point, giving other illustrations of giving up too soon and emphasised that, if Napoleon invaded, he would persevere: he would keep fighting from Kamchatka if need be; Russia was very large and the weather very severe. One good battle and they’ll give up insists Napoleon. Napoleon then mentions how angry the Poles are getting with Russia. De Caulaincourt retorts that the Poles he knows, while they would certainly prefer a free and independent Poland, have learned that living under Russia is not as bad as they thought it would be and that real freedom might cost more than it would be worth. De Caulaincourt then, no doubt repeating what Alexander has told him, describes the compromise that would settle the problems between him and Russia; but Napoleon’s not interested. After five hours of this, Napoleon dismisses him but de Caulaincourt asks leave to say one more thing: if you are thinking of invading (now de Caulaincourt realises that he’s set on it) please think of France’s best interests. Oh says Napoleon, now you’re talking like a Russian.

Well, the similarities just leap off the page don’t they? Napoleon today is played by Washington. (One may hope that Trump’s pullout from Syria marks the beginning of real change. But let’s wait and see what actually happens.) There have been years of ignorant overconfidence in Washington – just like Napoleon’s – Russia is a gas station pretending to be a country, it doesn’t make anything and its GDP is less than Canada’s or Spain’s or some other not very important country. (In truth, since Russia’s arrival in Syria, some hawks are starting to sound less confident: as a recent example an American thinktank warms that the US Navy might not prevail against Russia and China.) But the popular expectation remains that one more push and Putin will cave in: he won’t be holding out in Kamchatka. Russia today is played by Russia, of course. As to who’s playing Poland, Ukraine makes a good stand-in (although Poland may be trying to reprise its role). Napoleon’s assertion that Poland wants war with Russia is replicated by today’s Kiev regime: it is doing its best to make it happen. But, like de Caulaincourt’s account of actual Poles, there is little to suggest that ordinary Ukrainians have much stomach for a war and one may suspect that a majority would be happy to a return to the (miserable, but not as miserable) time before the “revolution of Dignity”. Who plays the role of Spain, the nation that didn’t understand that it had been beaten? Today gives us several candidates: you may choose from Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.

But, what’s really contemporary, and he repeats it several times, is Napoleon’s sneer that de Caulaincourt has become a Russian: even two centuries ago, long before RT, Sputnik or Facebook ads, Russia’s malign “information war” and “fake news memes” were polluting Western minds! Then, as well as today, anyone who deviated from the received wisdom must be echoing Russian falsehood.

As I said, the similarities jumped out at me a couple of pages into de Caulaincourt’s account. On the one hand we see the man who actually knows what he’s talking about and who is trying to relay an important message to his superior; on the other the arrogant superior who knows everything and calls all disagreement Putinism Russianism. And, in the background, the yappy little players trying to wag the Imperial Dog. And, airily dismissed, the years-old failures on other battlefronts.

Well, we all know what happened, don’t we? Napoleon put together an army (with lots of Poles) and invaded. De Caulaincourt was there at his side every step in and out. And Russia proved (as it did again in 1941) that it didn’t realise when it had been defeated. De Caulaincourt takes us through it. Napoleon’s confidence that the Russians are falling back and he will defeat them in detail. The shocking losses of horses and the gradual wearing away of cavalry scouts. The invisibility of the Russian army. Scorched earth – de Caulaincourt compares the Grande Armée to a vessel alone on a huge, empty ocean. Supply problems. More horse losses. Distance and more distance and still no victorious battle. Guerrillas. No prisoners. No information.

Let us consider Smolensk. Napoleon occupied it and, after a brief fight (and the burning of the city), took possession. David Glanz has convincingly argued that the Battle of Smolensk in 1941, while a German victory, was actually Germany’s defeat because it meant that the short blitzkrieg victory Berlin counted on was no longer possible; in a long war, the USSR’s mighty industrial capacity would come into play. And so it was for Napoleon: too late, too little and still no negotiations. But he convinced himself that there would be peace in six weeks (he is now about the only optimist left in the Grande Armée). Messengers are sent to Alexander. No answer. The Grande Armée marches east in search of The Battle. At last – Borodino, one of the bloodiest days in warfare – but the Russian army disappears again. He takes Moscow – now Alexander must talk. He – another echo of today – has convinced himself that Russia’s nobles (big businessmen) will force Alexander (Putin) to give in because they are losing so much. But they don’t. Through de Caulaincourt’s reporting we see the adamantine self-delusion of Napoleon. At last Napoleon gives up, goes home and the Russian Army follows him all the way back to Paris. See the famous graph.

Napoleon still doesn’t get it: one of his sillier complaints is that Kutuzov doesn’t understand strategy; well it’s not Kutuzov who’s plodding through icy roads littered with abandoned equipment, butchered horses and dead soldiers, is it? “I beat the Russians every time, but that doesn’t get me anywhere”. Winning every battle and losing the war is not as uncommon as all that: we have seen it from Darius and the Scythians to the US and Afghanistan.

Everything turns out as de Caulaincourt warned him. Except that, in the end, Alexander doesn’t go to Kamchatka, he goes to Paris instead. The story is that the French bistro owes its name to the Russian быстро! (quickly!). True or not, there once were Russian soldiers in Paris demanding quick service. There are already bistros in Washington, So after Napoleon (USA/NATO) invades Russia (Russia) ignoring de Caulaincourt’s (lots-of-people-on-this-site’s) advice, what new culinary event will Russian (Russian) soldiers leave behind in Paris (Washington)? A Ёлки-Палки on every street? Kvas trolleys?

Oh, and Poland, after 70,000 casualties in the Russian war, remained partitioned.

We return to today. Napoleon (USA/NATO) professes its desire for peace but… those pesky Russians (Russians) are making trouble for Poland (Ukraine – or is it Poland again?) which presses for an attack. The Spanish (Afghans/Iraqis/Syrians) say, whatever Napoleon (USA/NATO) may think, they don’t feel beaten yet. Alexander (Putin) says “he would not fire the first shot, but also that he would sheathe the sword last”.

To quote Field Marshal Montgomery, who had more experience in big wars and standing on the victory podium than any US general since MacArthur: “Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: ‘Do not march on Moscow'”. (His second rule, by the way, was: “Do not go fighting with your land armies in China.” As Washington’s policy drives Moscow and Beijing closer together…. But that is another subject).

I don’t know who the next US Defence Secretary will be, but I have a suggestion for some introductory reading.

REALLY STUPID THINGS SAID ABOUT RUSSIA

For example, in Georgia in 2008, without using American military forces on the ground, we used a whole set of – a whole smorgasbord of tools, international tools with Sarkozy, the president of France at the time, leading the international diplomatic effort, sanctions and other actions that eventually saw the Russians withdrawing to their start positions at the beginning of that conflict in Georgia. So that’s an example of how you can do it.

Briefing by James F. Jeffrey, (US) Special Representative for Syria Engagement, 14 November 2018

I’ve been waiting for Washington to claim it pushed Russia out of Georgia and now here it is. The Russians never had any intention of staying and that’s a big difference between the Russia way of war and the American: the Russians know that there are only certain things you can do with violence; the Americans still haven’t figured that out.

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”.

 

WHAT WE THREW AWAY

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation)

Forty years ago I was quite impressed by the books of Jean François Revel in which he argued that The West was pretty much doomed because it was messy and indecisive. On the other hand, the communist world was decisive, centrally controlled, had a goal in mind and was patient and cunning in achieving that goal (the communisation of the planet, of course). They pushed on all fronts, where the West woke up and pulled itself together enough to push back, the communists recoiled, but the advance continued elsewhere. And so, bit by bit, the world became redder. These were, as I recall, the principal arguments of The Totalitarian Temptation (1977) and How Democracies Perish (1983). And there were plenty of other people bemoaning the fact that the inchoate Western democracies were frittering away valuable time.

And then, suddenly, the Warsaw Pact and the USSR fall apart and essentially took communism into the grave with them. The West was left standing. Still argumentative, inchoate, indecisive and all the rest of it but – and this is my point – still existing when the other was dead. And come to think of it, we’d outlasted that other stainless-steel perfection of centrally directed will and power, Nazi Germany. And there had been plenty of people in the 1930s who thought that, between communism and naziism, the West was doomed. This set me to thinking that Revel and the others had missed something in their analysis.

We outlived them. We survived, they didn’t. And that what I wondered about – there must be something in the West’s way of doing things that led to survival and something in the nazi or communist systems that led to death. I thought some more and the analogy that occurred to me is that there are many kinds of trees. Big ones, little ones, in-between sized ones. Some live in the wet, others in the dry, others half drowned by the sea and so on. There is in fact, a tree, or several trees, for almost any conceivable environmental condition. And therefore, there will always be trees. Why? Because instead of one Perfect Tree, there is a multitude of different trees. And of fishes, beetles, birds and so on. Nature is pluralistic: many many solutions for every imaginable situation and the ability to change to meet new challenges. Arnold Toynbee called this “challenge and response”; a society responds to a challenge: a good response and it survives to meet the next challenge, a bad response and it fades away.

Could this be the clue? Naziism and communism had One Big Answer for every question. That answer worked for a time until it met some questions it couldn’t answer and down it went. To grossly oversimplify things: the nazis loved force and they went to war with everybody, but you can’t win against everybody else, although you may do well for a while; a hammer and a sickle do not really mentally equip you for life in the later twentieth century; “a road to a blind alley” as Putin called it. Grossly simplified to be sure. If you prefer, ideological societies can only function inside the ontological assumptions of that ideology. But no ideology is any more than a small subset of boundless reality.

So what do we (or, sadly I have to ask, did we) have in the West? I think the three fundamental freedoms in the West are free speech, free politics and free enterprise. Looking at these through the lens of pluralism, they are pluralism of thought, pluralism of power and pluralism of action. Remember that the question I was trying to answer was why did the West survive? I wasn’t asking who’s better, more ideal, more moral; just why is one still around and the other two not? To me the answer was the same thing that allows us to be certain there will still be trees and beetles around in the future – pluralism: lots of different trees and beetles.

Take free speech or pluralism of thought. Everybody’s different, everybody has different ideas, insights, points of view. Let’s assume that, for some issue, mine is the winning idea today. But tomorrow you may have a better solution for the problem that appears tomorrow. If I suppressed you (“no man no problem”, as Stalin used to say) or otherwise prohibited your irrelevant (today) but relevant (tomorrow) idea, we would be in trouble tomorrow and less likely to survive until the next day. So, since we don’t know what tomorrow’s problems are, it’s best to let everybody think his thoughts because who can say whose ideas will be winners tomorrow? The same argument can be made for the other two pluralisms/freedoms. And so, by practising pluralism of thought, power and action, a society improves its chances of survival. That’s all: survival. But that was the question I asked myself in the first place.

So, to my mind, that was the great secret that communism’s fall had revealed – social or national survivability is best assured by pluralism of thought, power and action. So, in all humility, we should have understood that and proclaimed it. And, of course, the essence of pluralism is that you are free to be, and should be, yourself. All nations should be themselves: Russians should be Russian, Hungarians Hungarian and so on. Who can say who will have the next good idea? Who is so wise that he can direct his neighbour’s life? That to me was what should have been done and, had that been the message the West had preached, I think we’d all be better off today.

What instead? We had the fatuous proclaiming of “values”: we had ’em and they didn’t. All over the West stuffed shirts got up in parliaments to boast of “our values”. How we got them no one knew. Did God hand them out to some people but not to others? Russians, too lazy or shiftless or something, having missed the ceremony? Had they mysteriously grown in some national soil over long time? A relict of ancient Saxon customs that only their descendants could inherit? The product of centuries of learning? And what is a “value” anyway? A practical guide to action or a virtue that you either have or don’t? Was it something innate or something learned? Could they get these values? Could they be taught? But, whatever, we had ’em and they didn’t; we were virtuous, they weren’t. And there was another tiresome thing about this, especially when, as it often was, the values were given the adjective “European”. Franco, Hitler, Marx, Engels, Mussolini, Robespierre, Napoleon, Quisling and all the rest of them were Europeans. Every single one of them based his ideas and political views on sources deeply rooted in European thought and experience. And, for certain, had it not been for the Soviets and the Anglosphere, the “European values” Eurocrats and their flunkeys would have been boasting about today would have involved a lot more leather, jackboots and stiff-armed salutes. The whole enterprise resembled something from the movie Idiocracy: “Brawndo has what plants crave because plants crave what Brawndo has“. It was weirdly fascinating to watch.

Our “values” and our “virtue” entitled us to rule the world. We were licensed to do just about anything because we had “what plants crave”. And so triumphalist arrogance and complacent ignorance combined with the West’s monopoly of exportable brutal power. And so it went. An unexamined conceit, frighteningly widespread, became the justification, and cover, for less noble actions.

But some responses to challenges are not so successful and we must ask what has become of our boasted “values” today? Well, we’re still free to speak our minds. Not of course if it’s hate speech or fake news; who could defend that? And not, certainly, to offend anyone’s safe space. And you’d probably better not say anything in Russian. Political freedom? Not entirely gone I suppose, in those little corners not already bought up by lobbyists. And it would certainly be wrong to question anything said or done by “those brave men and women who put their life on the line for our safety”. Free enterprise of course still flourishes. In whatever tiny spaces a few gigantic and well-connected corporations have not yet got to.

Altogether, we can’t be very happy with the state of pluralism in the West. And if I’m correct that pluralism is the key to survival, how much longer do we have?

So who did win the Cold War in the end?

 

OBAMA MARRIES THE LIBERALS TO THE NEOCONS

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation)

When President Bush decided to attack Iraq in 2003 there were enormous protests in the United States and around the world. Not, of course, that they stopped the attack or even slowed it, but people did protest in large numbers. When Obama – “leading from behind” – and some NATO members decided to attack Libya in 2011 there were, as far as I know, no protests anywhere. Nor were there protests as wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and a secret war in Syria dragged on for nearly his whole eight years.

The surface explanation is that Obama, as a Democrat, the First Black President, an “intellectual” and a Nobel Prize winner, got the free pass that Bush as a Republican and an “incurious idiot” did not get. But there was another factor at work, I believe.

In the Obama years the marriage of the neocons and the humanitarian interventionists was effected. The neocons, with their doctrine of American Exceptionalism are always ready for an intervention and their justification is always the same: “American moral leadership”:

Our world needs a policeman. And whether most Americans like it or not, only their indispensable nation is fit for the job.

So there was never any difficulty getting neocons and their ilk to support another bombing campaign to do a bit of “morally exceptional police work”. The Obama change is that liberals, whose historic tendency is to oppose another war, are now in the War Party. And so there was hardly anyone was left to go out on protest.

Their first date, as it were, was NATO’s intervention in Kosovo/Serbia in 1999. That experiment proved that liberals would happily agree to go to war if the intervention could be coloured as morally acceptable: “genocide” and “rape” being especially powerful words. And, on command, it happened. “Serbs ‘enslaved Muslim women at rape camps‘”. Hundreds of thousands missing, feared murdered. 10,000 in mass graves. But the ur-source was the official NATO spokesman, Jamie Shea. (The following quotations are from NATO press briefings I collected at the time. I do not know whether they are still available on the NATO website, although, like the first one, many are still visible.) In March he told us that “we are on the brink of a major humanitarian disaster in Kosovo the likes of which have not been seen in Europe since the closing stages of World War II.” The NATO operation was conducted to “stop human suffering” (15 April). On 20 April he gave us a catalogue of Serb horrors: hundreds of Kosovar boys possibly preserved as living “blood banks for Serb casualties”; Kosovar human shields tied to Serb tanks; “chain gangs of Kosovars” digging mass graves; “systematic destruction of civilian homes”; rape camps. On 4 May “at least 100,000 men of military age are missing”. And so on: how could you not support the “alliance of civilised nations” (his description) intervening to stop these horrors? And CNN was there every step of the way; later we learned that US military psyops personnel had “helped in the production of some news stories“. Other media outlets were equally quick on board, again with occasional “help” from US intelligence:

In the case of Yugoslavia, the gullibility quotient has been breathtakingly high: Only material that conformed to the reigning victim-demon dichotomy would be hunted down with tenacity and reported; material that contradicted it, or that served to weaken and disconfirm it, would be ignored, discounted, excluded, even attacked.

Entirely one-sided with the media (predominantly liberal in sympathy) following the choir leader.

Later, too late in fact, we learned that it wasn’t so simple. A UN court ruled that it wasn’t “genocide” after all. Milosevic, dead in prison, was exonerated. Not so many mass graves after all. And, after all those deaths, whom did NATO put in power and give a whole country to? Organ harvesters and arms smugglers. And yes, the CIA was in there from the get go. A completely manipulated discussion. And the Serbs have been driven out of Kosovo right under NATO’s nose. Too late indeed.

In his essay, “Hidden in Plain View in Belgrade“, Vladimir Goldstein discovers, under the heading “What For?”, a memorial to the people killed in the attack on the TV centre. His conclusion, with which I agree, is:

Thus was R2P implemented—with no protection for Yugoslav Serbs. They had to die in the experiment to explore the limits of U.S. power and the limits of its resistance.

The experiment worked: it showed that an aggressive war could be packaged so that liberals signed on: all you had to do was push the war crimes/humanitarian/genocide button. And, as a bonus, it was discovered that when the truth finally came out, no one remembered and you could sell the same shabby story again; and so, Serb-run “rape camps” became Qaddafi’s men with Viagra.

It was around this time and these circumstances that the responsibility to protect (“R2P”) idea began to gain traction. Finally formalised at the UN in 2005, the essence was that governments are obliged to protect their populations from atrocities and that the “international community, through the United Nations” may intervene. That was the magic potion: if the war party could make a case for R2P (and, as Kosovo showed, the case didn’t have to last any longer than the war did) liberals would cheerfully sign on.

Obama celebrated the liberal-interventionist/neocon marriage at West Point in 2014. Starting with the neocon foundation on which all their wars are erected, that America will and must lead, comes the liberal deal-clincher: “not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.” And that leading involves a “backbone”, not of example or persuasion, but of bombs: “The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership”. When should the USA use “that awesome power”? Certainly when “core interests” demand it but also when “crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction”.

Which brings me to the fourth and final element of American leadership: Our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.

And, he assured us, it all works out for the best in the end:

remember that because of America’s efforts, because of American diplomacy and foreign assistance as well as the sacrifices of our military, more people live under elected governments today than at any time in human history.

And, finally, this paladin of liberalism declared:

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.

When the “victim-demon dichotomy” media siren is turned on, any war, any bombing campaign, can be massaged to fit “core interests” and/or “human dignity”. We’re all exceptionalists now.

Despite a successful movie showing us, step by step, how to do it, the scam still pulls in the suckers: justifying the attack on Libya, Obama said (note he combines leadership and atrocities):

To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action. [My italics]

The atrocities? In September 2013, after Qaddafi had been murdered and Libya destroyed, Harvard’s Belfer Center said the “model intervention” was based on false premises:

• The Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong. Libya’s 2011 uprising was never peaceful, but instead was armed and violent from the start. Muammar al-Qaddafi did not target civilians or resort to indiscriminate force. Although inspired by humanitarian impulse, NATO’s intervention did not aim mainly to protect civilians, but rather to overthrow Qaddafi’s regime, even at the expense of increasing the harm to Libyans.

• The Intervention Backfired. NATO’s action magnified the conflict’s duration about sixfold and its death toll at least sevenfold, while also exacerbating human rights abuses, humanitarian suffering, Islamic radicalism, and weapons proliferation in Libya and its neighbors.

The cynic would say, the real lesson is get the intervention over before anybody notices the atrocity stories have been “sexed up“. When they do, it’s too late and few remember. And it will work the next time around. And so the happily-married couple proceeds: “The West cannot stand by in Syria as we did for too long in Bosnia.

That is Obama’s real legacy: the union – marriage – of the neocon assumption that America must “lead” with the liberal desire to “do good”. And the issue from the happy marriage? “The US is running out of bombs — and it may soon struggle to make more.”

 

 

 

YES, PUTIN ONCE DREAMED THE AMERICAN DREAM

The other day, reading another extrusion of anti-Russia propaganda (here’s the first example that comes to hand) telling us that Putin and those misguided Russians who support him are wholly and obdurately opposed to America and All It Stands For, I was reminded of Charles Heberle’s contrary experience with Putin and Russia two decades ago.

I met Charles nine years ago in Washington on a trip Sharon Tennison organised. Charles wrote up the following account for Sharon’s website Russia, Other Points of View and I referred to it in my Sitrep 20100506. ROPV is now defunct but Charles still had a copy and I asked him for it so as to reprint it on my site to keep it on the record.

In essence, he was invited to teach Russians how to do it the American way and his program was fully supported by Putin (who had just become President); he believes, and the evidence indicates, that the whole idea might have originated with Putin. It is distressing how much has changed in the 18 years since his story begins.

In short, 18 years ago Putin thought so highly of American democracy in theory and in practice that he supported an American program to teach Russians how to be American-style democrats. From Putin’s perspective, the years since 2000 have seen NATO expansions, broken promises, regime change operations, wars, sanctions, accusations and propaganda, none of which well illustrate the program’s citizenship skills. I rather doubt that he would be so confident today that the American Revolution had succeeded but maybe I’m assuming too much. At any rate, Charles assures me that the program is still being practised in Russia and still has official support.

If you watch his video interview, you will see that the program, while undeniably grounded in the US Constitution, is not exclusively American: it is applicable to most societies. It is a training process, a drill – Charles was in the US Army – that generates situations that force the participants to speak and think for themselves, but (this is the kicker) not in some vapid and complacent “self-esteem” way, but with a humble understanding of their imperfections, The program makes them cooperate with others in a spirit of respect and understanding in order to get the job done. Which, when you think about it, are the requirements for a real democracy to work.

But the main point of my reprinting this is to show that Putin, rather than being the fundamentalist anti-American that the anti-Russia camp tells us that he is, started out supporting the inculcation of what he saw as American virtues (values, if you will: “subjects becoming citizens”) into Russia.

I reprint Charles Heberle’s account as he sent it to me.

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Transforming Subjects into Citizens – an Experiment in Russia by Charles Heberle

Many people, when they hear that I have been working in Russia for 9 years, have asked me about the intentions of the Russians. Are they going back to Communism? Do they hate us? Why are they going back to dictatorship? Of course I have no way of knowing the real intention of the Russians, but I get glimpses of it from my experience there. I am writing this article to outline my personal experiences in Russia to help shed some light on these questions.

It started with an email out of the blue in January 2000. It said, “Hello I represent the non-governmental organizations of Northwest Russia. We are unhappy with what your government calls democracy. Our analysis over the past nine years shows us that it will just trade one elite for another. We have had quite enough of this. We want to be country of, by, and for the people. Can you help us?” I was floored. I spent the next 4 months in negotiations with this mystery person, ending with trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. When I arrived I had no idea what I was in for. I quickly learned, however, that Russians don’t do things by halves. The organization consisted of some of the leading intellectual lights of St. Petersburg. They had set up a front organization, researched every web site in the world to find those that purported to teach democracy, invited them to St. Petersburg, and set up a rigorous testing process to make sure they knew what they were doing and that what they were doing would work. I was immediately put through a test where I had complete run of a Russian school for a week and the director did anything I said. I already had developed and copyrighted a civic education program for schools in the USA, so I simply copied the training. This process continued for a year. During that time I spent about 8 weeks in St. Petersburg attending conferences, undergoing a thesis type defense where I was grilled by 5 professors for about two hours, and then more demonstrations in different types of schools. I passed.

They then gave me my mission statement. It was “To help us build a training program that will distill the attitudes, understandings, and skills learned by the American colonists from 1620 to 1775 that made the American Revolution successful where others failed.” They said they wanted to inculcate those values and understandings and skills in their people too so that democracy could flourish in Russia. They felt that until the populace at large was trained no democracy was possible. They feared that simply creating a democratic form of government and some NGOs to work in the field would lead to a “velvet oligarchy”, or worse. They wanted to be a “normal”, that is western, nation of, by, and for the people but could not afford to wait 150 years for their people to understand the process. They wanted me to help them build a training system that could change the mindset of the entire Russian populace from being “subjects” to becoming “citizens” in a generation.

They then sent me to a province near St. Petersburg where we could develop this program without great publicity and opposition and where it could be tested and tried before taking it nationwide. I spent two years there in the capital city giving classes to teachers and monitoring the development of the lesson plans which at that point were all for schools. They gave me the head teacher of the province as my team leader and we rapidly developed a volunteer corps of 200+ teachers who helped develop the program. The program was enthusiastically received and fully supported by the Minister of Education whom I briefed regularly on its progress. Then an election was held in 2003 and the Governor of the province was re-elected. The Minister called us in the next week and the teachers were asked why they supported our program. They said, “Because it is simple, but wise”. The Minister said, “Fine, you are no longer experimental, have a 5 year plan on my desk by Monday.” It was Friday. This resulted in the approval of an official far reaching plan that went way beyond schools and was to end up training the whole population.

The next year our city had a forum, sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry, to explore ways that democracy could be furthered through people to people contacts. I was a featured speaker and the Russian NGO that we had helped form was in charge of a sub-forum on civic education. The next day, at that sub-forum, we had a large number of people. I was asking my staff where they were all from and they pointed out all of the visitors from Russia and other countries, except one. I said, “Who is he, a new teacher here?” My team leader, with a look of concern on her face, said “We don’t know.” Having learned that, in Russia, everything is known, I was a little concerned too. At lunch I approached the man and, in my halting Russian, thanked him for coming. He replied in fluent English and said he was President Putin’s personal advisor on civic education. We then had lunch together and I explained what we were doing, that I was here at the invitation of Russia and if he had any suggestions or wanted us to do anything differently to please speak up. He said he was very pleased with what he was seeing and that it was exactly what Russia needed. We then talked about things military and it became clear that he had a lot of high level and formerly top-secret information about the breakup of the Soviet Union. Without talking about things that were Top Secret on our side when I learned them, I can only say that his knowledge was far above that of a foot soldier. I have no doubt that he had good connections within the Kremlin at some time or another. He closed the conversation by asking if I would like to meet then-President Putin’s close associate Sergei Ivanov some time, as he would be glad to arrange a meeting. I said thank you, no as I felt sure Mr. Ivanov had better things to do. At the end of the day he came up to me again and gave me his personal email and telephone number in Moscow and said to come and see him anytime and to call him if we ran into any trouble.

I visited him in Moscow later and asked why they could not fund me directly if they were pleased with the program. He said that Mr. Putin’s team was performing a delicate balancing act between competing factions in the Kremlin and that they had to appear scrupulously neutral. Any outright support of a program run by an American would be seized upon as favoring one side over the other, and so, while they appreciated my work, they could not be seen to support it outright. I said that if they could at least give us a small amount of support to show the locals, some of whom thought of the program as “American”, that it was approved. Within a month we got a call directly from the President’s office to tell us we had been awarded a small grant to promote civil discourse and improve race relations in the province. It came down through channels signed, V. Putin. There has never been any political opposition to the program since.

These specific events and the fact that there has been strong and continuing official support of the program from the start have convinced me that the Russians do want to become a democracy. They also want to do it the Russian way, which is to say plan it thoroughly, follow the plan, and do it on a large scale. Nowhere have I seen them deviate from this in action. Maybe their words are confusing sometimes, and no doubt aimed at a particular audience, but their actions over time are entirely consistent with the goal stated to me in St. Petersburg in 2000.

In retrospect it has become clear that the Russian group was started at the request of Mr. Putin, who had just become President. This accounts for the complete and continuing support of the Russian governments at all levels which is key to its success there and why it delivers so much value for dollar. We were able to train a whole province for one-fifth of what USAID spent on one city in southern Russia. The fact that our program was born out of frustration with the USA’s then and current methods of teaching democracy, which had failed for them, accounts for the fact that it has a completely different basis from the current approved USA methods of teaching democracy – one that is much more useful and effective because it is designed by a first world, highly educated, group of former dictatorial subjects who know their problems in achieving and see this as the best way to solve them.

This makes it extremely difficult to get our part of it funded by the bureaucracy here in the United States. Our goal now is to get additional seed funding from this Administration and/or private foundations to help the Russians expand the program to about 40 million people in NW Russia over 5 years, which would then solidify it. It would also give us a tried and true and extremely well-planned and documented program to use in other former dictatorships. As it were, our program (and Putin’s too, as I have learned) is an attempt to “reset” Russians so that, rather than being resentful subjects of an inimical power, they become participating citizens of a res publica. They all need this before they can become true democratic republics.

All these experiences and watching the Russian hierarchy from the inside convince me that they are serious about becoming a normal western country and have a long term plan for doing so. Thus the current reforms come as no surprise. If my experience is any guide, the Putin/Medvedev efforts are part of a continuum. Maybe someday it will be Russia that teaches the world how to build a democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WAS GEHLEN A FRAUD?

(First published at http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2018/05/was-gehlen-a-fraud-by-patrick-armstrong.html)

For some years I have wondered about Gehlen and I have written this up for SST in order to get the opinions of such a well-informed group on the two questions I ask at the end.

Reinhard Gehlen (1902-1979) was a German General Staff officer who in July 1941 was assigned as senior intelligence officer to the Fremde Heere Ost (Foreign Armies East) intelligence section of which he took command about a year later. In April 1945 he was fired (or more likely, seeing the way things were going, quit) and resurfaced in May, surrendering to the US Army and offering his knowledge and organisation to the victors. His offer was accepted, his past and the past of his group cleansed, and eventually the Gehlen Organisation became the nucleus of the West German intelligence organisation and he became its boss. Wikipedia tells us he was forced out of that position in 1968 because his organisation had been penetrated by the Soviets and because of “poor leadership”. For an anti-Soviet specialist, he did run a pretty sloppy outfit: vide Heinz Felfe, a Soviet agent who was brought into the Gehlen Organisation quite early in its history. He wrote a book in which he justified all this which I read years ago. Which all contributes to the question that I am asking you to comment on.

But before I get to the question, a vignette in a railway car in Finland. On 2 June 1942, a year after the German attack on the USSR, Hitler invites himself to Marshal Mannerheim’s 75th birthday celebration. The Finns record the first eleven minutes of their conversation before the Germans catch them and the recording exists. This bit sets the scene:

They have the most monstrous armament that is humanly conceivable (‘menschendenkbar’)…so…if anybody had told me that one state… if anybody had told me that one state can line up with 35.000 tanks (Hitler uses the word ‘tank’), I had said ‘you have gone mad’…

Hitler continues expressing his astonishment at the Soviet armaments industry, complaining that the Germans have only “good weather armament”. After other remarks indicating that he is beginning to realise that he is in a contest Germany cannot win, the recording ends.

All of which leads me to this observation: German intelligence on the Soviet military was poor.

If we look at the whole course of the war we see that almost all the surprises come from the Soviet side. While the initial attack surprised the Soviet leadership (although it did have quite a bit of intelligence of the coming attack), after that it’s almost always the Germans who are surprised. Hitler’s dumbfounded comments to Mannerheim shows there was no conception of the scale of Soviet industrial production, to say nothing of its surge capacity. David Glantz has convincingly argued that unexpected resistance in the Battle of Smolensk sealed the end of the hope of a quick victory. The appearance of unknown divisions in front of Moscow (thanks to a Soviet intelligence coup) in the winter of 1941 was a surprise. The Stalingrad counter-attack was a surprise. The Soviets almost seem to have been aware of the Kursk battle plans before the German front line commanders were and again the counter attack was a surprise. Operation Bagration, perhaps the biggest military operation in history, while the Germans were expecting something, was another shattering surprise.

So, in a word, the Russian military intelligence has many surprises to its credit while Gehlen’s FHO… not so many intelligence successes. (And taking Hitler’s rant to Mannerheim into account, not at the beginning either.)

The Americans and the other Western allies were delighted with Gehlen’s offer. Washington in particular had very little knowledge of the Soviets; indeed the FBI seems to have been only dimly aware that one of the most important Soviet defectors ever – Aleksandr Orlov – was living quietly in the USA. The British had some intelligence from earlier times from people like Bruce-Lockhart or Reilly but that was long out of date and it is unlikely that they had much in 1945. And, as we now know, British intelligence was practically a branch plant operation of Moscow Centre. Neither France nor Canada (Gouzenko was September and had nothing much to offer on the Soviet Army) would have had anything to offer. So they were very happy to take up Gehlen’s offer – a whole network of agents, knowledge, historical records, reputation and interrogation data: a treasure trove; offered for nothing except making the Nazi past disappear. One must assume that the Gehlen organisation became the primary source – if not the sole source – of information on the USSR’s military.

I can’t now find the reference but I remember being told by a specialist that there was an important meeting in the late 1940s chaired, as I recall, by Field Marshal Montgomery, that discussed what the nascent Western Alliance could do against a Soviet attack or military threat. The meeting assumed (I recall) that the Soviets could field 150 divisions on fairly short notice for an attack. The Western Allies couldn’t possibly muster anything like that number. The conclusion was that any attack from the USSR could only be stopped by nuclear weapons. Who could have been the source of the 150 division figure other than Gehlen?

Now it is true that, in whatever country the Soviet Army had ended the war, “elections” were held in which socialist or communist parties came to power and stayed in power. (Austria being an exception). There were at least two ways that one could understand this extension of Soviet power. One was that they were the actions of an expansionist hostile power that fully intended to go all the way to Cape Finisterre if it could and, if not prevented, would. In such an case the Western Allies would be fully justified in forming an defensive alliance to deter Soviet expansion. The other possible interpretation was that, after such a hard victory in so fearfully destructive a war, Moscow was determined that never again would its neighbours be used as an assembly area and start line for the forces of another Hitler. Such an interpretation would call for quite another approach from the Western Allies. We all know which of the two interpretations was followed by the Western Allies. And who else would have encouraged that interpretation than their new expert on all things Soviet?

So we find two extremely important founding Cold War decisions taken right at the start: that Moscow was expansionist and that the Soviet Army was so powerful that nuclear weapons gave the only hope of stopping them. Each decision might well have been taken without him but it is surely reasonable to see Gehlen’s hand in both.

So I have the following questions:

1. Did Gehlen actually know anything about the Soviet Armed Forces or was he basically winging it all along?

2. How influential was he in setting the course of the Cold War towards hostility and away from cooperation?