PSYCHOANALYSING NATO: CONFIRMATION BIAS

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation)

(Earlier parts of this intermittent series discussed NATO’s projection and gaslighting.)

Psychology Today defines confirmation bias as:

Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. Thus, we may become prisoners of our assumptions.

Or, closer to the topic of this essay:

Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.

This quotation is from an interview of George Kennan by Thomas Friedman published in the New York Times twenty years ago. He was speaking about what was then called “NATO expansion” (later changed to the more anodyne – and deceptive – phrase “NATO enlargement”. (I as a civil servant in the Canadian Department of National Defence used to amuse myself by seeing if I could sneak the forbidden “expansion” – an altogether more honest word – into briefing notes for the Higher Ups. As I recall, I got away with it about half the time. A trivial pleasure in the evolving disaster.)

But back to Kennan, Mr X, the author of the Long Telegram, the founder of “containment“, the man who actually lived long enough to see his recommendations, not only followed, but successful. He was right: in the long term, the Soviet system was not sustainable; it was, as Russian President Putin said: “a road to a blind alley“.

I think [NATO expansion] is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else…. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. It was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs… Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.

The man who got it right in 1947 also got it right in 1998.

a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you

Could there be a better illustration of the truth of Kennan’s percipience than this headline from the New York Times in July 2017: “Russia’s Military Drills Near NATO Border Raise Fears of Aggression“? The chutzpah of the headline is hard to swallow: Russia hasn’t moved anywhere. “The troops are conducting military maneuvers known as Zapad, Russian for ‘west,’ in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.” Belarus is an ally of Russia, Russia has a Baltic coastline of more than 400 kilometres, Kaliningrad is part of Russia. So what exactly is the reason what Russia can’t do whatever military things it wants to at home? Imagine the reaction if Moscow dared question an American military exercise in the USA. But this reversal of truth is now the propagandistic norm: New photos show Russia’s building up its military on NATO’s doorstep, but the alliance says it won’t be intimidated” and “Russia Building Up Military on NATO’s Borders” in October 2018 (just before a large NATO exercise that actually is on Russia’s border). NATO idiotically assures us that Russian notions that NATO is encircling Russia “ignores geography” because of Russia’s 20 thousand kilometre border NATO touches only a teeny weeny bit. Well, if it can add Finland, Ukraine and Georgia, it will be a bit more. But I doubt any Russian has said “encircling”. Russians know there’s no NATO in Asia but they do see NATO moving its doorstep towards it. These are perfect examples of the confirmation bias that Kennan predicted: the NATO expanders are telling us that Russia’s actions inside its unchanged borders are exactly why we had to expand NATO’s borders. Russia’s reaction to NATO’s expansion enlargement justifies NATO’s enlargement expansion.

Here’s NATO patting itself on the back: NATO enlargement has contributed to spreading democracy, security and stability further across Europe.” NATO’s official enumeration of its sad relations with Russia and Moscow’s many unfounded accusations and inexplicable failure to accept the simple declaration that this military alliance advancing every closer to Russiadoes not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia” may be found here. Parenthetically it is interesting that the specific accusations made against Russia in this apologia, which we are to believe sadly made NATO take other steps, are Crimea and Ukraine which greatly postdate NATO expansion. How clever of the expanders in the 1990s to foresee Russia’s actions in Ukraine nearly two decades later! Another clear case of confirmation bias.

This sort of thing goes on all the time. From the Washington Post in November 2016, a reliable mouthpiece of the US war party, “Russian warplanes keep buzzing the Baltics. Here’s how NATO scrambles.

A Russian fighter jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft on Thursday in the latest military provocation by Moscow over the Baltic Sea, the U.S. European Command said Saturday.

Russian War Planes Threaten a US Navy Ship in International Waters” (Note the video reconstruction and see if you think it’s an accurate representation of what the actual video shows.) “Russia defends sending warships through English Channel”. Russia’s Existential Threat to NATO in the Baltics is a perfect fulfilment of Kennan’s observation “We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way”. And because we can’t defend them, the very existence of NATO is threatened.

I will agree that there are a few cooler heads around:

Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, told reporters he and his NATO counterparts have not seen obvious offensive acts from Russian aircraft or troops.

but they seem to be without much effect in the prevailing weather of Russia Threatens Massive Military Buildup to Counter US, NATO, Vladimir Putin’s nuclear warships pictured steaming towards the English Channel as Royal Navy prepares to scramble fleet, Latvia faces hybrid threat as EU, NATO boost defenses and many more.

The same confirmation bias can be found on the other side of the world in which we are ceaselessly told that China provokes US Navy ships peacefully exercising their free passage in international waters. This can stand for the numerous examples:

At approximately 0830 local time on September 30, a PRC LUYANG destroyer approached USS DECATUR in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea.

Imagine the reaction in Washington if Chinese warships patrolled the Gulf of Mexico “to ensure freedom of navigation“! The USN patrols to ensure the safe passage of goods to and from China in the South China Sea; Beijing reacts; proof that more patrols are necessary and justified.

So, after two decades of NATO’s expanding its doorstep to the edge of Russia, after years of the USN doorstep moving closer to China, where are we in terms of the stability that NATO expansion is supposed to have brought us? At least two wars – in Ossetia in 2008 and eastern Ukraine starting in 2014 – are consequences of NATO expansion. But, more to the point, we have two announcements, not, I suspect, by coincidence made a few hours apart.

25 October 2018, China

The Southern Theatre Command has had to bear a “heavy military responsibility” in recent years, state broadcaster CCTV quoted him as saying during an inspection tour made on Thursday as part of his visit to Guangdong province. “It’s necessary to strengthen the mission … and concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” Xi said. “We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly. “We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war.”

26 October 2018, Russia

Speaking at the UN on Friday, Andrey Belousov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Nonproliferation and Arms Control, echoed Putin’s comments from last week that Russia is indeed readying itself for war, but only so it can defend its people against American aggression. “At a recent meeting, the US stated that Russia is preparing for war. Yes, Russia is preparing for war, I can confirm it”, Belousov said adding that “We are preparing to defend our homeland, our territorial integrity, our principles, our values, our people.”

No stability, no security. And still the expanders blame Russia and China for responding to what they gratuitously began.

The last words go to George Kennan

There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else… This has been my life, and it pains me to see it so screwed up in the end.

AMERICAN WAR DECLARATION

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation; picked up by JRL/2018/193/25)

 

Wess Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the US State Department, gave a remarkable presentation to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 21 August 2018. Titled “U.S. Strategy Towards the Russian Federation” it ostensibly lays out the US reaction to Russia’s continuing aggression, hostility, interference and so forth. It is written in the tone of a sadder but wiser householder who, formerly expecting better from his neighbour, now realises that there will be no better: the neighbour, alas, is not capable of decent behaviour. While remaining ever hopeful that reason will prevail, the peaceful neighbour must gird himself for an unpleasant struggle – Washington must respond to Moscow’s disruption. How sad.

But in all of these areas, it is up to Russia, not America, to take the next step. Our policy remains unchanged: steady cost-imposition until Russia changes course.

But, in an interesting slip of the tongue, he gave away the real policy. I say “slip of the tongue” because the State Department version of his speech leaves out the two sentences that tell you that most of Mitchell’s testimony is sleight of hand to distract the audience.

Senate testimony version

The starting point of the National Security Strategy is the recognition that America has entered a period of big-power competition, and that past U.S. policies have neither sufficiently grasped the scope of this emerging trend nor adequately equipped our nation to succeed in it. Contrary to the hopeful assumptions of previous administrations, Russia and China are serious competitors that are building up the material and ideological wherewithal to contest U.S. primacy and leadership in the 21st Century. It continues to be among the foremost national security interests of the United States to prevent the domination of the Eurasian landmass by hostile powers. The central aim of the administration’s foreign policy is to prepare our nation to confront this challenge by systematically strengthening the military, economic and political fundaments of American power.

The State Department version leaves out the two emphasised sentences.

So, Mitchell – who ought to know – is telling us that a “foremost [but there can be only one foremost] national security interest” of the USA is to

prevent the

domination of

the Eurasian landmass by

Russia and China

In 1904 Halford Mackinder wrote a paper in which he divided the world into “the World-Island” (Europe, Asia and Africa); the “Offshore islands” (British Isles, Japan and others), and “the Outlying Islands” (the Americas and Australia) and discussed the geopolitical implications. In 1919 he summed his theory up as:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;

who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;

who rules the World-Island commands the world.

In Mitchell’s presentation, the principal “Outlying Island” and its allies in the “Offshore Islands” must prevent Russia and China from controlling the “Heartland”. Echoed by George Friedman’s remarks that the essence of US policy for a century or more was to prevent Germany and Russia from uniting.

Now Americans have always been a bit uncomfortable about their imperium. Going so far sometimes as to deny that there is any such thing. Perhaps a hegemony but only an empire if President Bush makes the wrong decisions (which I suppose the author would say he did). Niall Ferguson says it’s an “empire in denial“. Friedman seems prepared to use the word. A “tempered American imperialism” maybe. Not an empire; yes it is but it’s a good empire. And so on: there’s as much or as little debate as you want but the central reality is that Americans are not comfortable with the idea of being an imperial power. Not so the Romans: they gloried in it; Rome had the power and it used it. Cato the Elder was delighted with the death and enslavement of the Carthaginians. Caesar claimed to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more and there’s nothing to suggest he lost a moment’s sleep over it. Vae victis.

What Mitchell would be saying, if he were a Roman, is that we intend to remain the world’s predominant power and if Russia is an obstacle, we will crush it. That’s the way of the world and that’s what we’ll do. And China and Iran and anyone else. But he’s an American so he must pretend that the USA is the peaceful householder and Russia is the troublesome neighbour; he must tell the Senate committee, and it so expects, that Moscow has broken the peace and deserves punishment.

The specific charges he makes against Russia are nonsense.

In Ukraine, we have maintained an effort under Ambassador Kurt Volker to provide the means by which Russia can live up to its commitments under the Minsk Agreements.

The word “Russia” doesn’t even appear in the Minsk Agreements; there are no “commitments”.

unprecedentedly brazen influence operations orchestrated by the Kremlin on the soil of our allies and even here at home in the United States

A few Facebook ads, most of which appeared after the election and only “Russian” by assertion. Even at the most generous interpretation of “Russian-influenced”, it’s a negligible number of possibles. And, as I have argued elsewhere, had Moscow wanted to influence the election it would have used the Uranium One case to either blackmail or smear Clinton.

Putin wants to break apart the American Republic, not by influencing an election or two, but by systematically inflaming the perceived fault-lines that exist within our society. His is a strategy of chaos for strategic effect.

I suppose that the “factual basis” for that is that some American who wants to break California into two parts lives part time in Moscow and a Russian professor thought that the USA would break up into a number of pieces. So what? there are lots of opinions around, who cares what some academic says or thinks? Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was a lot closer to power than these Russians, thought that a “loosely confederated Russia” of three parts would be a good idea. And Stratfor’s Friedman thinks Russia will break up soon. But when a senior US official says that “Putin wants to break apart the American Republic”, that’s existential; that’s a pretty serious charge. Is it a nuclear war kind of charge?

the Putinist system’s permanent and self-justifying struggle for international dominance.

(But didn’t Mitchell say something about preventing the “domination of the Eurasian landmass by hostile powers”? Wouldn’t his Russian equivalent be able to point to his speech and talk about how Russia must resist Washington’s “permanent and self-justifying struggle for international dominance”?). It’s not Moscow that has 800 or so military bases around the world; Moscow isn’t expanding its military alliance to the US border. Projection.

There’s lots of projection in Washington’s and its minions’ assertions about Russia. As far as official Washington is concerned, Moscow’s resistance to the Imperium can only mean that it wants to crush the US, break it up, incite civil war and impose its imperium on the world. (Romans would agree: either Rome eats, or Rome is eaten.) If you look in a mirror you see yourself. Projection again.

Doing so involves an evolved toolkit of subversive statecraft first employed by the Bolshevik and later the Soviet state, which has been upgraded for the digital age. While these tools and technologies differ depending on the context, the key to their success is that the Kremlin employs them within a common strategic and operational framework aimed at leveraging all available means to achieve a decisive strategic effect.

Bolsheviks, Putinists whatever: Russia, the Once and Future Enemy. I think my favourite part – what adjective? – deluded? crazy? insane? McCartheyesque? is this bit:

we formed a new position – the Senior Advisor for Russian Malign Activities and Trends (or, SARMAT) – to develop cross-regional strategies across offices.

SARMAT – a Russian ICBM named after the Sarmatians, who may have been the origin of the Arthurian legends. Is this a joke? But who can tell these days? But one can be certain that the office will grow and grow as it busily finds evidence of Russian involvement everywhere: Star Wars, organic food, guns, Mueller, vaxx; whatever brings in the salaries and promotions. (But a rather unimaginative name though: why not SPecial Executive for Countering Terrorist Russian Excesses? Or Special Ministry for Engaging Russian Sabotage and Horrors?)

Pretty crazy stuff indeed – frighteningly so – but, thanks to Mitchell giving away the secret, we don’t have to waste our time debating Russia and Ukraine or how cute puppies “sow discord and chaos“. They’re only shoved in because Americans have to be the white hats – “Moscow is attacking us!” – when a Cato would bluntly say: “Moscow must be destroyed!” But it’s the same thing: it’s a Mackinder war. So far with sanctions (the economic fundament) and propaganda accusations (the political fundament). The military fundament fortunately remains offstage.

***********************

But Mitchell is late to the party. Moscow and Beijing know they’re on the hitlist and their alliance grows and strengthens. Iran, a significant player on the “World-Island” knows it’s on the hitlist too. India is playing both sides. The endless American wars in the MENA do not strengthen Washington’s control of the “Eurasian landmass”. CAATSA will alienate everyone else. Even Zbigniew Brzezinski came to understand “[the US was] no longer the globally imperial power“.

I would argue that the American dominance of the Twentieth Century was principally due to four factors. A tremendous manufacturing capacity; great inventive ingenuity allied to the ability to exploit new inventions; a stable political system; the emotive reality of “the American Dream”. How much remains? A recent government report summarises the outsourcing of manufacturing. Is the inventive capacity more than just social media, pop music or a different iPhone button? Political stability wobbles. And as to the American Dream: will your children be better off than you are? One should not forget that Trump was elected on the slogan “Make America Great Again“.

Perhaps the Mackinder War has already been won by the “Heartland” powers.

********************************

Statement of A. Wess Mitchell

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

U.S. Strategy Towards the Russian Federation

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Menendez, thank you for inviting me to testify today. I will use my prepared comments to outline in brief form the overarching strategy of the United States towards the Russian Federation. The foundation for this strategy is provided by three documents, as directed and approved by the President: the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy and the Russia Integrated Strategy.

The starting point of the National Security Strategy is the recognition that America has entered a period of big-power competition, and that past U.S. policies have neither sufficiently grasped the scope of this emerging trend nor adequately equipped our nation to succeed in it. Contrary to the hopeful assumptions of previous administrations, Russia and China are serious competitors that are building up the material and ideological wherewithal to contest U.S. primacy and leadership in the 21st Century. It continues to be among the foremost national security interests of the United States to prevent the domination of the Eurasian landmass by hostile powers. The central aim of the administration’s foreign policy is to prepare our nation to confront this challenge by systematically strengthening the military, economic and political fundaments of American power.

Our Russia policy proceeds from the recognition that, to be effective, U.S. diplomacy toward Russia must be backed by “military power that is second to none and fully integrated with our allies and all of our instruments of power.” To this end, the administration has reversed years of cuts to the U.S. defense budget, begun the process of

recapitalizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, requested close to $11 billion to support the European Deterrence Initiative, and, in the past year and a half, worked with NATO Allies to bring about the largest European defense spending increase since the Cold War – a total of more than $40 billion to date. In addition to commitments from over half of the Alliance to meet NATO’s two-percent defense spending requirement by 2024, the United States achieved virtually all of our policy objectives at the NATO Summit, including the establishment of two new NATO Commands (including one here in the United States), the establishment of new counter-hybrid threat response teams, and major, multi-year initiatives to bolster the mobility, readiness, and capability of the Alliance.

In tandem, we have worked to degrade Russia’s ability to conduct aggression by imposing costs on the Russian state and the oligarchy that sustains it. Building on Secretary Pompeo’s recent testimony, I am submitting for the record a detailed list of actions this administration has taken. These include, to date: 217 individuals and entities sanctioned, 6 diplomatic and consular facilities closed or kept closed, and 60 spies removed from U.S. soil. The State Department has played the lead role in ensuring that these efforts are closely and effectively coordinated with European allies through synchronized expulsions and the continued roll-over of sanctions related to Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

Our actions are having an impact. Research by the State Department’s Office of the Chief Economist shows that on average sanctioned Russian firms see their operating revenue fall by a quarter; their total asset valuation fall by half; and are forced to fire a third of their employees. We believe our sanctions, cumulatively, have cost the Russian government tens of billions of dollars on top of the broader impact on state-owned sectors and the chilling effect of U.S. sanctions on the Russian economy. Following the announcement of sanctions in April, the Russian company Rusal lost about fifty percent of its market value. In the five days following our August 8 announcement of Chemical and

Biological Weapons Act sanctions, the ruble depreciated to its lowest level against the dollar in two years.

Even as we have imposed unprecedented penalties for Russian aggression, we have been clear that the door to dialogue is open, should Putin choose to take credible steps toward a constructive path. In Syria, we created de-escalation channels to avoid collisions between our forces. In Ukraine, we have maintained an effort under Ambassador Kurt Volker to provide the means by which Russia can live up to its commitments under the Minsk Agreements. But in all of these areas, it is up to Russia, not America, to take the next step. Our policy remains unchanged: steady cost-imposition until Russia changes course.

As with the overall strategy, the premise of these efforts has been that our diplomacy is most effective when backed by positions of strength. We have placed particular emphasis on bolstering the states of frontline Europe that are most susceptible to Russian geopolitical pressure. In Ukraine and Georgia, we lifted the previous administration’s restrictions on the acquisition of defensive weapons for resisting Russian territorial aggression. In the Balkans, American diplomacy has played a lead role in resolving the Greece-Macedonia name dispute and is engaging with Serbia and Kosovo to propel the EU-led dialogue. In the Caucasus, Black Sea region, and Central Europe we are working to close the vacuums that invite Russian penetration by promoting energy diversification, fighting corruption, and competing for hearts and minds in the lead-up to the 30th anniversary of the end of Communism.

Our strategy is animated by the realization that the threat from Russia has evolved beyond being simply an external or military one; it includes unprecedentedly brazen influence operations orchestrated by the Kremlin on the soil of our allies and even here at home in the United States. These activities are, as FBI Director Wray recently stated, “wide and deep,” being both extensively resourced and directed from the highest levels of the Russian state. We work closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and, and

the National Security Council to ensure that all relevant resources are being brought to bear to thwart and punish any Russian influence campaigns in the run-up to the elections.

It’s important to state clearly what these campaigns are and are not about.

What they’re not about is any particular attachment to specific U.S. domestic political causes. They are not about right or left or American political philosophy. The threat from Russian influence operations existed long before our 2016 presidential election and will continue long after this election cycle, or the next, or the next. As the recent Facebook purges reveal, the Russian state has promoted fringe voices on the political left, not just the right, including groups who advocate violence, the storming of federal buildings and the overthrow of the U.S. government. Russia foments and funds controversial causes – and then foments and funds the causes opposed to those causes. Putin’s thesis is that the American Constitution is an experiment that will fail if challenged in the right way from within. Putin wants to break apart the American Republic, not by influencing an election or two, but by systematically inflaming the perceived fault-lines that exist within our society. His is a strategy of chaos for strategic effect. Accepting this fact is absolutely essential for developing a long-term comprehensive response to the problem. The most dangerous thing we could do is to politicize the challenge, which in itself would be a gift to Putin.

What Russian efforts are about is geopolitics: the Putinist system’s permanent and self-justifying struggle for international dominance. As stated by a handbook of the Russian Armed Forces, the goal is “to carry out mass psychological campaigns against the population of a state in order to destabilize society and the government; as well as forcing a state to make decisions in the interests of their opponents.” Doing so involves an evolved toolkit of subversive statecraft first employed by the Bolshevik and later the Soviet state, which has been upgraded for the digital age. While these tools and technologies differ depending on the

context, the key to their success is that the Kremlin employs them within a common strategic and operational framework aimed at leveraging all available means to achieve a decisive strategic effect.

The State Department takes this threat very seriously. From my first day on the job, I have established for our team that countering this threat, in both its overt and covert forms, will be among the highest priorities for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. As a co-chair of the Russia Influence Group, I work with General Scapparotti to bring the combined resources of EUR and EUCOM to bear against this problem. Under EUR’s leadership, all 50 U.S. missions located in Europe and Eurasia are required to develop, coordinate and execute tailored action plans for rebuffing Russian influence operations in their host countries.

Within the Bureau, we recruited one of the architects of the Global Engagement Center legislation from the staff of a member of this committee; in addition, we formed a new position – the Senior Advisor for Russian Malign Activities and Trends (or, SARMAT) – to develop cross-regional strategies across offices. Early this year, EUR created a dedicated team within the Bureau to take the offensive and publicly expose Russian malign activities, which since January of this year has called out the Kremlin on 112 occasions. Together with the GEC, EUR is now working with our close ally the UK to form an international coalition for coordinating efforts in this field. The State Department requested over $380 million in security and economic assistance accounts in the President’s 2019 Budget for Europe and Eurasia that can be allocated toward combatting Russian malign influence.

In these efforts, we recognize that Congress has an important role to play in providing the tools and resources that will be needed to deal effectively with the combined Russian problem set. As Secretary Pompeo made clear in his recent testimony, we are committed to working with all of you to make headway against this problem and align our efforts in support of the President’s Russia strategy.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for inviting me to speak today. I welcome your questions.

OCKHAM’S RAZOR AS A GUIDE TO SLICING NONSENSE AWAY

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noli multiplicare entia praeter neccesitam

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

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

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

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

NATO THEN AND NATO NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NOVICHOK TALES, PART √-1, SECTION DUMBER

(Overheard in the Kremlin by our secret source)

Bad news Boss! Those damned Brits have figured it out.

What now?

Remember all those BSL-4 labs that Ivan Ivanovich said we should set up in public toilets all over Britain?

Yeah.

That fool thought it would be a good idea in case we wanted to whack somebody out and then remix the binary agents so we could re-package them in perfume atomisers.

Da da da. The guy with all the bright ideas, the Elon Musk of the Cheka we used to call him.

Anyway, the Brits have finally figured out that that’s where we do our preparations and they will be shutting them down all over the place. More millions wasted.

Yeah Ivan. Well, he’s going on an all expenses paid tour of the cold parts of Siberia. Won’t be seeing him around any more. But thank heavens that Durakchok can be made anywhere and Russians are naturally immune to it.

PSYCHOANALYSING NATO: GASLIGHTING

First published at Strategic Culture Foundation 17 July 2018

Picked up by Zerohedge; Internationalist 360º; Straight Line Logic; Uebersetzungen aus dem Imperium (in German); Link Zeitung;JRL/2018/138/18

NOTE: Because “NATO” these days is little more than a box of spare parts out of which Washington assembles “coalitions of the willing”, it’s easier for me to write “NATO” than “Washington plus/minus these or those minions”.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has called on Russia to explain “exactly what has gone on” after two people were exposed to the Novichok nerve agent in Wiltshire. (BBC)

The Russian state could put this wrong right. They could tell us what happened. What they did. And fill in some of the significant gaps that we are trying to pursue. We have said they can come and tell us what happened. I’m waiting for the phone call from the Russian state. The offer is there. They are the ones who could fill in all the clues to keep people safe. (UK security minister Ben Wallace)

Leaving aside their egregious flouting of the elemental principle of English justice, note that they’re uttering this logical idiocy: Russia must have done it because it hasn’t proved it didn’t. Note also, in Javid’s speech, the amusing suggestion that Russia keeps changing its story; but to fit into the official British story “novichok” must be an instantly lethal slow acting poison which dissipates quickly but lasts for months.

This is an attempt to manipulate our perception of reality. In a previous essay I discussed NATO’s projection of its own actions onto Russia. In this piece I want to discuss another psychological manipulation – gaslighting

The expression comes from the movie Gaslight in which the villain manipulates her reality to convince his wife that she is insane. Doubt the official Skripal story and it is you – you “Russian troll” – who is imagining things. Only Russian trolls would question Litvinenko’s deathbed accusation written in perfect English handed to us by a Berezovskiy flunky; or the shootdown of MH17; or the invasion of Ukraine; or the cyber attack on Estonia. Only a Russian troll would observe that the fabulously expensive NATO intelligence agencies apparently get their information from Bellingcat. Argumentum ad trollem is everywhere: count the troll accusations here or admire the clever anticipatory use of the technique there.

This is classic gaslighting – I’m telling the truth, you’re the crazy one.

We may illustrate the eleven signs of “gaslighting” given in Psychiatry Today by Stephanie A. Sarkis with recent events.

They tell blatant lies.

The Skripals were poisoned by an incredibly deadly nerve agent that left them with no visible symptoms for hours but not so deadly that it killed them; at least not at Easter; nor the policeman; a nerve agent that could only have been made in Russia although its recipe was published in the open media; that poison having been administered on a doorknob that each had to have touched at the exact same minute that no one else touched; a nerve agent so deadly that they only bothered to clean up the sites 51 days later. And so on: a different story every day. But your mind must be controlled by Putin if you smell a falsehood at any point. And, now we have it all over again: apparently the fiendishly clever Russian assassins smeared the doorknob and then, rather than getting out of town ASAP, sauntered over into a park to toss the container. (Remember the fiendishly clever Russian assassins who spread polonium everywhere?)

And, speaking of proven, long term, repeating liars: remember when accusing the British government of complicity in torture renditions was a conspiracy theory? Well, it turns out the conspiracy was by the other side. “Conspiracy Theorist” is the perfect gaslighting accusation, by the way: you’re the crazy one.

They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.

The Skripal case gives a perfect illustration: here’s the UK Foreign Secretary saying Porton Down told him it was Russian (“absolutely categorical”) And here’s the UK Foreign Office disappearing the statement: We never said Porton Down confirmed the origin. It’s rare to get such a quick exposure of a lie, so it’s useful to have this example. Here is an obvious fake from Bellingcat. Already the Douma story is being re-polished now that the OPCW has said no organophosphates.

Most of the time it takes years to reveal the lie: gaslighters know the details will be forgotten while the impression remains. 64 years later we learn the “conspiracy theorists” were right about the CIA/UK involvement in the Iran coup. It’s rather amazing how many people still believe the proven liars this time around.

They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.

Russians cheat at the sports you follow, scatter nerve agents and radioactive material in places you could be in, sneak into the voting booth with you, blow up airplanes you might be on and tear up the “very fabric of our democracy.” Your favourite actor tells you “we are at war with Russia“.

And the children! The boy on the beach. The boy in the ambulance. Bana from Aleppo. Miraculous recoveries. Dramatic rescues with camera! Dead children speaking. And finally, the little girl, Trump and the Time cover.

If it’s a child, they’re gaslighting you.

They wear you down over time.

Skripal story fading? How about a CW attack in Syria? No? Back to MH17: same story with one new obviously suspicious detail. Pussy Riot is forgotten and Pavlenskiy an embarrassment, but “Russian bear in Moscow World Cup parade video sparks PETA outrage“! This is what is known as a Gish Gallop: the gaslighter makes 47 assertions, while you’re thinking about the first, he makes 20 more: in former times it was recognised by the the folk saying that “a fool can ask more questions than ten wise men can answer”. But the fools quickly come up with more: dead dogs in Russia: without tuk-tuks, with tuk-tuks; your choice.

You are worn down by ten new fake outrages every month: all expressed in simplistic terms. How much context is stuffed into this imbecilic headline? The Plot Against Europe: Putin, Hungary and Russia’s New Iron Curtain. How many thousand words, how many hours to discuss it intelligently? Too late! Time for “Trump and Putin’s Too-Friendly Summit” (NYT 28 June). Forget that! “Sexism at Russia World Cup the worst in history as female fans and broadcasters are harassed“. (Telegraph 30 June). Gone! “We already gave Syria to Putin, so what’s left for Trump to say?” (WaPo 5 July) Stop wondering! “Amesbury poisoning: Here’s what we know about the novichok victims” (Sky News 6 July). No! Trumputin again! “Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart — Or His Handler?” (NY Mag 8 July). Gish Gallop. The sheer volume of easily-made accusations forces two conclusions: they’re right and you’re wrong (smoke: fire) or, more simply, eventually you – you crazy one! – give up.

Their actions do not match their words.

They bomb hospitals on purpose, we bomb them by accident. Discussed further here but the essence of the point is that

it would be physically impossible for Russia to be more destructive than NATO is.

If you want a single word to summarize American war-making in this last decade and a half, I would suggest rubble.

They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.

There are direct rewards of course: cue Udo Ulfkotte; many benefits to swimming with the stream; swimming the other way, not so many. It’s only after they retire that British generals question the story, the cynic observes. German generals too. Maybe even US generals.

But for the rest of us, NATO bathes us in gush: “NATO’s Enduring Mission – Defending Values, Together”. Together, our values: we – you and I – have the good values. NATO loves to praise itself “the Alliance also contributes to peace and stability through crisis management operations and partnerships.” Remember Libya? “A model intervention” said the NATO GenSek of the time. Here is the view on the ground. Most of the “migrants” tearing Europe apart are fleeing the destruction of NATO’s wars. NATO backs (plus/minus minions) the intervention in Mali, a country destabilised by its destruction of Libya. Cue the positive reinforcement: “Projecting Stability: an agenda for action“. In NATOland the gaslight burns bright: “Nato chief: Vladimir Putin ‘weaponising’ refugee crisis to ‘break’ Europe“. NATO keeps pouring butterscotch sauce on the rubble: “NATO is based on some core values – democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty” (25 June).

All I can say, over and over again, is Libya. NATO destroyed Libya, weird as it was, killed Qaddafi, weird as he was, and smugly congratulated itself: “NATO’s Victory in Libya: The Right Way to Run an Intervention“. Ubi solitudinum faciunt pacem appelant. But should that thought occur to you, you’re part of “Russia’s secret plan to destroy EU and NATO“.

They know confusion weakens people.

Remember PropOrNot? Sites that do not agree with the Establishment are Russian bots! Authenticated experts! 100% reliable! The WaPo published the list; when under attack even from proponents of the Putindunnit hysteria, it feebly backtracked: it “does not itself vouch for the validity”. Vermont power grid hack? WaPo fell for that one too. Confusion from the endless Gish Gallop about Putin: in December 2015 I compiled a number: Aspergers, pychopath, slouching and on and on and on.

You may be confused but the gaslighter isn’t: Russia’s to blame for whatever-it-was!

They project.

NATO projects all the time and this headline from the NYT is classic: “Russia’s Military Drills Near NATO Border Raise Fears of Aggression“. I discuss NATO’s projection here.

They try to align people against you.

NATO exerts a continual pressure for unanimity. Again, the Skripal story is a good example: London accused Russia and, “in solidarity“, Russian diplomats were expelled all over the world. Allies took its word for it. Now the doubts: in Germany especially. Sanctions must be imposed on Russia because we must be in solidarity with Kiev. “Solidarity” on migrants. “Solidarity” is perhaps the greatest virtue in NATOland. We will hear more pleas for solidarity as NATO dies: when mere “solidarity” is the only reason left; there’s no reason left.

They tell you or others that you are crazy.

It also must be said that when elected officials — including members of Congress — and media platforms amplify propaganda disseminated by Russian trolls, they are aiding the Russians in their efforts.

The goal is to undermine democracy. So you want America to look unstable and Americans not to trust each other.

How Russian Trolls Won American Hearts and Minds

An “existential threat posed by digitally accelerated disinformation“. So no forgiveness to you, crazy Putin trolls. And don’t dare doubt that American democracy is so feeble that it can be directed by a few Facebook ads. Never forget that NATO’s opponents are crazy: Putin is a “madman“; Qaddafi was “crazy“; Saddam Hussein “insane“; Milosevic “rabid“. Only crazy people would defend crazy people.

They tell you everyone else is a liar

Honest people don’t have to tell you they’re trustworthy, and neither, once upon a time, did the BBC. The Atlantic Council smoothly moves from “Why Is the Kremlin So Fixated on Phantom Fascists?” in May 2017 to “Ukraine’s Got a Real Problem with Far-Right Violence (And No, RT Didn’t Write This Headline)” in June 2018. But it still calls Russia the liar: “Why the Kremlin’s Lies Stick” (May 2018). The Atlantic Council hopes you’re dumb enough not to notice that Russia hasn’t changed its line but the gaslighters have. (Remember O’Brien and two plus two?)

Russian Federation is not the USSR

I said it the last time: the USSR did lots of things in its time – influencing, fiddling elections, fake news, gaslighting and so on. But, in those days the Communist Party was the “leading and guiding force” but today it’s the opposition. Things have changed in Moscow, but NATO rolls on.

Some hope, though

While many people are still taken in by the gaslighters, there are hopeful signs. Once upon a time Internet versions of the mass media allowed comments. Gradually, one by one, they shut down their comments sections because of “trolls”, “fake news” and offended “standards” but really because of disagreement. Perhaps the most famous case is that of the Guardian: an entire website, has been created by people whose comments were rejected because they violated “community standards”. I always read the comments in the Daily Mail, especially the best rated, and on the Skripal stories, the comments are very sceptical indeed of the official story. For example.

This is rather encouraging: for gaslighting really to work, the gaslighter either has to be in such a position of power that he can completely control the victim’s surroundings or in such a position of authority that the victim cannot imagine doubting what he says. Those days are gone.

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms they are chose to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

Putin is a sinking ship whose looking for every avenue to save face including worshipping bibi to gain sympathy and some help from America.

Russia is lucky they were able to deceive the American voters in voting for trump… If Hilary had won the story would have been different.
Even bibi would not be able to save Russia.

THE NOVICHOK TALES, PART √-1, SECTION DEUX, BIS

(Our secret source intercepted communications from Salisbury to Moscow)

OK, Boss, I’ve smeared it on the doorknob; it’s nice and thick and gooey and it won’t come off in the rain. I’m just leaving for the airport.

Not yet.

Not yet? Why?

There’s something else for you to do.

What?

Take the rest of Novichok, get back in the car and drive to the secret laboratory we set up.

OK Boss, I’m there. Now what?

Put on the protective gear and take the thick Novichok and thin it so it can work as an aerosol. Then put it in the legitimate perfume bottle you’ll find in the drawer on the counter and seal the bottle in the perfume box. Be careful; it’s very dangerous.

OK Boss, done it.

Now get back in the car and drive to the park. Drop the perfume box where somebody can pick it up.

OK Boss, done it.

And don’t forget to spray Durakchok all around to make more stupid English people.

Done it Boss, I’ve used it all up.

Well done. Now come straight home. Oh wait – I forgot – send a message to us saying “package delivered” so we know you’ve done everything.

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms they are chose to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

Tweet no doubt connected to Trumputin Derangement Syndrome

Tell all the men we lost in WW2 , fighting communism, Where McCarthy when you need him

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

This one is from the New York Times. Once upon a time this outlet affected a certain decorum but, driven to madness by Trumputin Derangement Syndrome, it has disappeared into its own craziness. I have embedded the video at a low resolution should the original be disappeared.

Should you, Dear Readers, have the stomach to watch all the way to the end, you will see credits. In short: the people who made this are proud of it.