TWENTY YEARS LATER – WHAT PUTIN FORGOT

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

This site has just published my assessment of what Putin (and his team) got right in the program laid out, twenty years ago, in his essay “Russia at the turn of the millennium”. I concluded that he outlined four main projects: 1) Improve the economy. 2) Re-establish central control. 3) Establish a rule of law. 4) Improve Russia’s position in the world. I assessed that he accomplished three of them triumphantly and one reasonably well.

But, re-reading the essay, I noticed something that he did not mention. A something that in the twenty years has become rather important. Here is his only mention in the essay of that thing.

Russia was and will remain a great power.. It is preconditioned by the inseparable characteristics of its geopolitical, economic and cultural existence. They determined the mentality of Russians and the policy of the government throughout the history of Russia and they cannot but do so at present. But Russian mentality should be expanded by new ideas. In the present world the might of a country as a great power is manifested more in its ability to be the leader in creating and using advanced technologies, ensuring a high level of people’s wellbeing, reliably protecting its security and upholding its national interests in the international arena, than in its military strength.

Once. That’s it. That’s the only time “military strength” is mentioned and it is mentioned disparagingly: other things – technologies, wellbeing, diplomacy – are more important in this new world of the Twenty-first Century as Putin then saw it.

There is, in fact, almost nothing in the essay about the outside world and therefore little from which to deduce Putin’s expectations of how his program would be received. At one point he writes that Russia, after the dead end of the Soviet years, “has entered the highway by which the whole of humanity is travelling”, in another that an important aim is to “integrate the Russian economy into world economic structures”. This sounds as if he either expected Russia to be welcomed into these structures or that its arrival on the highway would, at least, not be impeded.

But, in one of his first interviews to a foreign source, a German newspaper in June 2000, the outside world made it presence known in three issues – the US flouting of the ABM Treaty, US missiles in Europe and NATO expansion. A year later an interview with American reporters (JRL 20 Jun 2001) is almost completely given over to American plans to place ballistic missile defences in Europe. In short, he wasn’t at his new job very long before his daily schedule started to have a large foreign component. And, from his perspective, all problems. We see in these first interviews points that Putin will return to over and over again in the coming years. He doubts that the Bush-era ABM systems have much to do with “rogue states”; he regards the ABM Treaty as vital to nuclear stability; he objects to the expansion of NATO. But most of all, he talks of a multipolar world, or as some call it a “Westphalian” system, of sovereign countries. This, he argues, again and again, is the only route to peace and stability. These themes feature in almost every speech on foreign issues he has made since. Given weight by the knowledge that Moscow wasted 70 years on the exceptionalist, moralistic path – a dead end as he said in his millennium essay.

So if, as the essay suggests, Putin was expecting the mostly domestic task of reconstructing Russia – “the price which we have to pay for the economy we inherited from the Soviet Union” – to proceed with a benign reaction from the outside world, he was soon disabused of the notion. The West, for all its honeyed words, was taking advantage of Russia’s weakness.

In short, he forgot the saying attributed to the Emperor Alexander III thatRussia has only two allies – its Army and its Navy”.

Eventually missiles were emplaced in Europe, the ABM Treaty and two of the other keystone arms control treaties were abandoned and NATO kept expanding. And much else. By February 2007 Putin had had enough and said so in the famous Munich Conference speech. The essence of his speech – and who today can deny its prescience? – is that that “security for one is security for all”. He proclaimed the unipolar world dead – as it has become. He decried the ignoring of international law; today there isn’t even the pretence: keep their oil, Bolivia coup. He pointed out the broken promise about NATO expansion – no longer can it be denied. He never quite gives up hope: who can forget his question, referring to the mess in the Middle East caused by Washington and its minions (September 2015): “I’m urged to ask those who created this situation: do you at least realize now what you’ve done?” or (October 2016) “I address the players once again: The extremists in this case are more cunning, clever and stronger than you, and if you play these games with them, you will always lose.

So, at some point between 1999 with the millennium essay and the Munich speech of 2007, Putin realised that the reconstruction of Russia would have to proceed in a hostile atmosphere; Washington and its allies did not want a strong Russia as a partner or or even as peaceful competitor: they wanted the Russia of 1999 – poor, divided, lawless and insignificant. Or perhaps his turning point was NATO’s destruction of Libya in 2015. Or when Washington did kill the ABM Treaty in 2002. Most likely, though, it was a gradual process by which Putin and his team realised they had to look to Alexander’s allies.

And they did. They warned – Putin told the American reporters in 2001 “We are offering cooperation. If that is acceptable, we will do this with pleasure. If not, then we will act independently” – and, quietly, they did.

In March 2018 he showed the Federal Assembly and the world what the Team had been working on. A final reminder:

We proposed working together in this area [prolonging the ABM Treaty – ‘the cornerstone of the international security system’] to ease concerns and maintain the atmosphere of trust. At one point, I thought that a compromise was possible, but this was not to be. All our proposals, absolutely all of them, were rejected. And then we said that we would have to improve our modern strike systems to protect our security.

Six new super weapons: the Sarmat ICBM, Burevestnik nuclear powered cruise missile, Poseidon nuclear powered underwater cruise missile, Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched missile, Avangard hypersonic manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle and the Peresvet combat laser. He warned:

Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, weapons of short, medium or any range at all, will be considered as a nuclear attack on this country. Retaliation will be immediate, with all the attendant consequences.

He couldn’t resist adding “nobody wanted to listen to us. So listen now.” They scoffed: just virtual reality. But they’re not; US inspectors have been shown the Avangard which, with its ability to hit anywhere in less than half an hour, ends the US dream of antiballistic missile defence. The two cruise missiles present a unprecedented threat – lurking over Antarctica or in the ocean deeps for months ready to strike? A volley of Kinzhals coming in at Mach ten will obliterate any carrier group or staging harbour or base in Europe. Checkmate.

But there’s more: great advances have been made on conventional defence as well. As I argue here, the Putin Team understood that the two essentials of NATO’s war-fighting doctrine are air superiority and assured communications. They won’t have them against Russia. The First Guards Tank Army has been revived and far exceeds anything that NATO has in offensive power. NATO has been writing NSF cheques for years and Moscow has called its bluff.

So, eventually, the Putin Team did take Alexander’s advice. Russia’s army and navy and air force have probably made Russia more secure against attack than at any time since his Great Uncle entered his capital in triumph two years after Napoleon’s attack or when Marshal Zhukov accepted the enemy’s surrender in his capital four years after Hitler’s attack.

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And, as an afterword, at Munich Putin said this:

It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.

Do we not see this today? The USA is tearing itself apart over imagined Russian collusion, imagined Russian electoral interference and real Ukrainian corruption. And, meanwhile, the forever wars go on and on.

TWENTY YEARS LATER – HOW DID PUTIN DO?

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation picked up by JRL, Greanville Post, The Liberty Beacon, Technical Politics, Covert Geopolitics, Astute News, Europe Reloaded, The Falling Darkness,

(NOTE: Thanks to Veleslav Grivov who pointed out that in my World Bank figures below, the billions should be trillions and the millions billions. Too many zeroes for me!)

Twenty years ago a not very well-known Vladimir Putin published an essay “Russia at the turn of the millennium”. It was printed in Nezavisimaya Gazeta and at the Russian government website. The only copy that I can find on the Net in English now is here but I will be referring to the official English translation and Russian text that I downloaded at the time.

Putin had been Prime Minister for about five months and, when Yeltsin resigned the day after the publication of this essay, he became Acting President. Since that day his team has been running Russia. It is reasonable to regard this essay as his program and, on its twenty-year anniversary, appropriate to see how well he (and his team – it’s not a one-man operation) have done.

I concluded that he outlined four main projects:

  • Improve the economy.

  • Re-establish central control.

  • Establish a rule of law.

  • Improve Russia’s position in the world.

Putin took power at a time when people were seriously saying Russia is Finished. And, however silly this may look now when we are hysterically told every day that “Putin’s Russia” is infiltrating, controlling, interfering, attacking, hacking, conquering, violating, cheating it is worth running over what the author said. Assassinations, mafiya, corruption, kryshas, oligarchs, unpaid salaries, military collapse: “the Russians are likely to face a long, slow, relatively peaceful decline into obscurity – a process that is well under way”. The author acknowledged the changing of the guard – the piece was published in May 2000 – but believed Putin was picked only because he had the “security connections to protect” Yeltsin’s entourage; he was just another centraliser building a personality cult in “Zaire With Permafrost.”

The author – like almost everyone else – got Putin wrong but generally he was describing the reality of Russia in 2000. It was a mess. In Putin’s own words last June:

But I must note that during that time our social sphere, industry and the defence sector collapsed. We lost the defence industry, we practically destroyed the Armed Forces, led the country into a civil war, to bloodshed in the Caucasus, and brought the country to the verge of losing sovereignty and collapse.

As far as I know, most Western intelligence agencies (but not the one I was involved with) would have agreed with his prediction that Russia was, inevitably, going down to “obscurity”. The fear then was of chaos – rogue generals, nuclear weapons gone missing (remember suitcase nukes, “red mercury“?): Russia’s weakness was the threat, not its strength. We appreciated how badly off Russia was but also knew that Russia in its thousand years has often been down but never out. We also knew that there was more to Putin than the absurdities that were said about him of which I especially remember this:

Psychiatry recognizes a condition known as ‘moral idiocy’. Every time he opens his mouth in public, Putin confirms this diagnosis for himself.

In my group we took note that he had been the trusted disciple of Anatoliy Sobchak who was, in the terminology of the time, a “reformer” and therefore a “good Russian”. We had also read the millennium paper and saw the program. I am not pretending that, in 1999, I or my colleagues expected him to do all this but at least we saw the possibilities. We, as it were, saw a half full glass where others saw a glass quickly emptying.

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He and his team were trying to make Russia prosperous, united, law-governed and internationally significant. A formidable program from the perspective of 1999 to be sure. How well have they done?

Taking the economy first. One of the famous quotations from the millennium paper was this:

It will take us approximately fifteen years and an annual growth of our Gross Domestic Product by 8 percent a year to reach the per capita GDP level of present-day Portugal or Spain,

That mission has been accomplished and much more than merely accomplished. According to the World Bank Russia’s GDP in purchasing power parity in 2018 (4.0 billion trillion) was nearly 12 times as high as Portugal’s (339 million billion) and twice Spain’s (1.8 billion trillion). It was in fact larger than France’s (3.0 billion trillion) or the UK’s (3.0 billion trillion), two other countries he mentioned. (By comparison, China 25 billion trillion and USA 20 billion trillion). Valuations of Russia’s GDP in US dollars contradict reality: as I have argued elsewhere, Russia’s economy is in fact full-service and it is one of four potential autarkies on the planet. And, the way things are going, it won’t become any less so: as Awara points out it is one of the most independent economies in the world, well positioned to survive a world recession. While individual Russians could certainly be richer, the improvement from the desperate situation in 2000 is extraordinary. Ironically, Western sanctions (and Moscow’s adroit response) have strengthened the Russian economy; as Putin said in his last direct line program:

Look, if ten years ago I or anyone else in this hall had been told that we would be exporting agricultural products worth $25.7 billion, like we did last year, I would have laughed in the face of the person who said this.

An outstanding success.

The second point was re-centralising power. In 2000 there were concerns that the federation might break up: the CIA in 2004 (has there ever been an organisation with a worse track record of Russia predictions?) thought it could break into as many as eight different parts by 2015. Many of the “subjects of the federation” had negotiated sovereignty pacts with Moscow and, as of 2000, Chechnya was effectively independent. So, in fact, the CIA’s prediction was not, of itself, idiotic but it assumed a temporary weakness to be a permanent condition: a longer view of Russia’s track record shows weak periods but it always comes back. As Putin said in the millennium paper:

For Russians a strong state is not an anomaly which should be got rid of. Quite the contrary, they see it as a source and guarantor of order and the initiator and main driving force of any change.

Russia is a civilisation statePresident Macron’s expression – Europe by contrast has always been a series of (quarrelling) independent states. For much of the time, the state – the King’s power – was something to be resisted or limited. Russia, on the other hand, during its “prey-fish” period, learned to value the state as the guarantor of its existence. And so, to Russians, state power is much more important than it is to most Europeans. Western commentators have to understand this or else they look like fools to Russians: Russians think centralisation is good, they respect state power, not slavishly as Western prejudice would have it, but because Russia has fought for its existence too many times for them to want to risk anarchy. Putin and his team have re-established state power; that someone like David Satter thinks Putin is a dictator or the Western media calls his elections fake, matters nothing to Russians. Russia exists again and it’s full of Russians. A rather interesting illustration can be seen in this video when the Chechen MP in Syria says we are all Russians. The Russian language has two words that would be translated as “Russian”: one for ethnic Russians, the other for citizens of the country. A Chechen can’t be the first (and wouldn’t want to be) but he can be proud of being the second. Again, we have to agree that the Putin Team achieved its second aim.

The third aim was rule of law. And here assessment is on more uncertain grounds. The first question to ask is whether any country actually does have a “rule of law”. Britain is holding Assange in jail on rape charges jumping bail… what charges? What exactly did Maria Butina do? Why did Canada seize a Chinese executive? Whataboutism they call this but it establishes the base of reality – all countries have corruption, all countries have one law for the powerful and another for the weak; it’s not absolute, it’s a matter of degree. Certainly, by any standards, twenty years ago Russia was very lawless; how lawless is it today and how successful has the Team been? I don’t know know of any good study on the matter – I don’t take Transparency International seriously: Ukraine less corrupt than Russia? – but it does appear that things are much better than they were. Certainly we hear very little about businesses needing criminals’ protection today and Russia’s ranking on ease of doing business is continually improving and is respectable today. This guide indicates some remaining problems but generally assumes that it’s possible for foreigners to do business there as does this guide. Recently we learned that “Nearly one in six Russian mayors have faced criminal prosecution over the past decade” which is either evidence of a lot of corruption or a lot of success combatting it. The construction of a new cosmodrome has involved much theft but other mega projects – like the Crimea Bridge or the new Moscow-St Petersburg highway – seem to have been carried out with little. A balanced (and sourced) piece argues that there has been considerable improvement in the rights of the accused in the twenty years. But a frequent complaint in Putin’s Q&A sessions are over-zealous officials destroying businesses – perhaps for venal purposes. So a cautious conclusion would suggest that the two decades have seen a reduction in criminality and an improvement in rule of law. How much of each is debatable and the argument is not helped by tendentious pieces asserting that the imitation of the American foreign agents law was “a landmark on the journey towards the end of the rule of law in modern-day Russia.” So some success in this aim but some distance to go still.

The fourth aim was to improve Russia’s standing in the world. Here another enormous turnaround is seen – even if not much to the liking of those who ruled the world in 2000. There’s no need to spell it out – despite the West’s efforts to isolate and weaken Russia, Putin is a welcome visitor in many places. The delirium over Russia’s imagined influence and control proves that it is hardly “decline[d] into obscurity”. Moscow’s status is, of course, especially recognised in Beijing where the Russia-China alliance grows stronger day by day. When we see the NYT, after years of “Trump and Putin: A Love Story“, solemnly opining “President Trump is correct to try to establish a sounder relationship with Russia and peel it away from China” or President Macron suggesting that Russia shouldn’t want to be “a minority ally of China” we see the belated realisation that twenty years’ of pushing around an “insignificant” Russia has not turned out so happily for the pushers. The NYT and Macron are too late: why would Moscow or Beijing ever trust the West again? Meanwhile Moscow manages to have, for example, good relations with Iran, Iraq and Syria as well as with Saudi Arabia and Israel; quite a contrast with Washington and much of the West.

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

So, in conclusion, twenty years later the program has been very successful.

Improve economy? Yes, dramatically, extra marks.

Re-centralise control? Yes, full marks.

Rule of law? Considerable progress, part marks.

Improve Russia’s role in the world? Yes, dramatically, extra marks.

The West resents this achievement and has been in an economic (sanctions) and diplomatic (ditto) war with Russia. But, many would argue, that the only Russia the West has ever liked is a weak one (except, of course, in times of war against Napoleon, the Kaiser or Hitler); enmity is a given and the only way the West would like Russia would be if the Putin Team had failed and it had remained, poor, divided, lawless and insignificant.

A remarkably successful achievement; not accomplished by accident or luck: a good plan, intelligently and flexibly carried out.

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As an afterword, given the repetitive scare stories about the return of Stalin, here’s what Putin said about the Soviet period (Note: this is the official English translation; it takes some liberties with the original but is true to the spirit).

For almost three-fourths of the outgoing century Russia lived under the sign of the implementation of the communist doctrine. It would be a mistake not to see and, even more so, to deny the unquestionable achievements of those times. But it would be an even bigger mistake not to realise the outrageous price our country and its people had to pay for that Bolshevist experiment. What is more, it would be a mistake not to understand its historic futility. Communism and the power of Soviets did not make Russia a prosperous country with a dynamically developing society and free people. Communism vividly demonstrated its inaptitude for sound self-development, dooming our country to a steady lag behind economically advanced countries. It was a road to a blind alley, which is far away from the mainstream of civilisation.

Почти три четверти уходящего столетия Россия жила под знаком реализации коммунистической доктрины. Было бы ошибкой не видеть, а тем более отрицать несомненные достижения того времени. Но было бы еще большей ошибкой не сознавать той огромной цены, которую заплатили общество, народ в ходе этого социального эксперимента. Главное же, пожалуй, в том, что власть Советов не сделала страну процветающей, общество -динамично развивающимся, человека – свободным. Более того, идеологизированный подход к экономике обрек нашу страну на неуклонное отставание от развитых государств. Как ни горько признаваться в этом, но почти семь десятилетий мы двигались по тупиковому маршруту движения, который проходил в стороне от столбовой дороги цивилизации.

Hardly an endorsement is it?

SULEIMANI ASSASSINATION

Answer to question from Sputnik

Three pretty likely consequences: Washington has begun its last foreign war and Trump’s future is in Tehran’s hands. Iran’s reaction will completely surprise Washington for the simple reason that smart people are smarter than stupid arrogant ignorant people.

Some questions:
Given that a large number of Israelis have dual citizenship, how many will stay when the rockets start to fall?
What will Washington do when (not if) the Iraqi government orders all US troops out?
But, it’s not August 1914: China and Russia will keep out and, one hopes, will have the good taste not to laugh out loud at this monstrous error.
One might suggest that Washington finish a few wars before starting a new one: on the 25th, Washington and its minions will have been in Afghanistan for twice as long as the Soviets were.

WE’RE NOT JUST TALKING TO OURSELVES – OTHERS FIND US

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired.

(Often rephrased as: “You cannot reason people out of something they were not reasoned into”).

Jonathan Swift

This site (Strategic Culture Foundation) has attracted a large stable of writers; by and large, most of the time, generally speaking, we agree with each other pretty well. The point of view of most of the writers is counter Establishment. In today’s frenzied Russophobia that opens us to the charges of being Putinbots but, in truth, we write against the prevailing WaPo/NYT/Economist/Guardian view on many subjects. The fact that that commentary is now penetrated with demented fears that Putin is shaping minds and getting his stooges elected and so on, means that any denial of that delusion makes them call us Putin apologists. Just as, to take another case, Tulsi Gabbard’s condemnation of Washington’s addiction to regime change wars makes her an Assad apologist and – insanity seeks out insanity – Putin’s favourite candidate. I have never had a word changed in anything I have written, but then what I write fits the editorial model of Strategic Culture Foundation. And so does what I read there.

On the other side of the divide are the writers and readers of the WaPo/NYT/Economist/Guardian established media. They also generally agree with what they read, approve of each other’s writing and nod their heads in agreement. They are in their comfort zone.

Two solitudes – two bubbles. An agreeable agreement bubble for each: different bubbles to be sure but the same warm comfortable feeling of reassurance that they’re well-informed.

So what’s the point of writing? I already agree with you, you already agree with me. Our readers are here because they also agree. Writing becomes a mechanical operation, moving along a pre-determined course. No minds are changed, no minds are even engaged.

But there is one big and important difference between the two solitudes which leads us out of the my bubble/your bubble stalemate.

The well-informed person will be less often surprised than the poorly informed person.

There is an objective reality and people who actually do have a pretty good take on things, see that reality more clearly than those who don’t. In short, those who actually are well-informed will be less often surprised than those who aren’t. Surprise is the clue: it is both the consequence and the evidence of ignorance.

Surprise.

Here the difference between the two camps is very clear. We, over on our side of the great divide, were not surprised by what the leakers in the OPCW have to say. We were always sceptical of the proffered statements on Libya. We knew Trump’s communications were being listened to. We were not surprised that Milosevic was found not responsible. We are not surprised that the Russian economy is doing reasonably well. We already knew about Malaysia’s scepticism about the JIT. We are not surprised that protests in Moscow have pretty well fizzled out. We are not surprised that Guaidó’s coup is faltering. We comprehend the discontent in the Western World. We expect Beijing to be several steps ahead of Washington. We see through faked up colour revolutions. We weren’t surprised that Mueller found no collusion. We knew Browder was making it up.

(Of course we were surprised but in a different way: leaks from the sewn-up OPCW? The stooge ICTY makes an objective ruling? ECHR actually considers evidence? The Mueller investigation stops? But it’s a cynical – an informed – surprise.)

But the readers and writers of the WaPo/NYT/Economist/Guardian bloc were surprised. They are certain that Assad gasses his own people when there’s no reason to; they believe that Qaddafi “bombed his own people“; they laughed when Trump said he was taped; they called Milosevic the “butcher of the Balkans“; they expect the Russian economy to collapse; they’re confident that the JIT is an honest investigation; they expect the protests will weaken Putin; they believe the “world community” recognises Guaidó; they are confident the West would be happy if Putin weren’t sowing discord; they expect that the next world problem will be managing China’s decline; they know where to find democracy in Hong Kong. And, especially, they were confident that Mueller will find a bombshell to blow up Trump. They remain believers in Browder’s story.

The devotees of the establishment media bloc are almost always surprised by the way things turn out. That, by itself, shows that they are poorly informed about reality. Everybody is surprised some of the time but the poorly informed are surprised all of the time.

Another indicator of which bubble is better grounded in reality is that we know both bubbles – it’s not possible for us in the alternative media not to know what the WaPo/NYT/Economist/Guardian bloc is saying (if for no other reason than we delight in searching for examples of their errors as I just did above). They, on the other hand, have been drilled to regard us as conspiracy theorists, fringe extremists or Putin/Assad/villain-of-the-moment bots: our opinions are doubleplusungood and must be prevented and the Atlantic Council, Big Brother’s ideal fact-checker, is helping Facebook weed out crimethink. We have a very good idea of what they say; they have very little idea of what we say. In short, we’ve been there but they haven’t been here.

Which brings me to my final point and the answer to the question of why do we in the Strategic Culture Foundation stable and the many other new media sources do it. Why do we spend hours obsessing, researching and writing if all we’re doing is painting the inside of our bubble? It is very unlikely – we’ve all tried it and we’ve all failed – to reason the consumers of the establishment media out of their assumptions. These are typical responses: “How do you know these things?” “Why do you think your sources are always better than mine?” “Don’t call me stupid”. They weren’t reasoned into their complacency and they won’t be reasoned out of it. There is little chance that some conventional believer will stumble across some piece in any alternative source and change his mind.

But people do change and our audience is growing. How can that be happening if we change no minds?

Because the individual makes the first step on his own.

Phil Butler’s 2017 book Putin’s Praetorians has stories of how people came to change their views. What struck me was that, in almost every case, these people had found us, we hadn’t found them. A very common cause of the conversion of Butler’s individuals was the coverage of the Sochi Olympics three years earlier. It was so one-sided, so over-the-top, so meretricious that they couldn’t believe it and went looking for alternate points of view. For Butler’s people it was mostly Sochi; for another it was the “hysterical Russophobia of the MSM and the Democratic Party since the 2016 election” that sent him looking “for sources that would broaden and deepen my perspective. Indeed, I found an avalanche of web material that rarely makes it through the gatekeepers in the U.S.”. The triumphant success of the Russian-hosted World Cup demolished the ranting of the Establishment (“England football fans visiting Russia for the World Cup are at serious risk of homophobic, racist and anti-British attacks“); it will surely lead more to conversions.

I use the word “conversion” because it is, like religious conversion, a life-changing revelation to realise that the WaPo/NYT/Economist/Guardian bloc, when it’s not careless with the facts or mindlessly re-typing official handouts, is just out and out lying. (Paul Robinson points out a recent example from the WaPo.) To understand that a great deal if not almost all that you have been told by “trusted sources” is false; that a great deal of what is in your head is just plain wrong; that much of what you thought was true is not, is a life-changing event. It’s frightening and disturbing but, once you have absorbed that into your belly-feel, there’s no going back. This young man and his father will never again believe anything the conventional media tells them about Russia; and neither will this man – “Everything they told us about this place was a lie.” And not just everything “they” told you about Russia is a lie: the WaPo/NYT/Economist/Guardian bloc’s coverage of Iran, Syria and Ukraine is almost 100% lies, most of the coverage of China is ludicrously off-target, Venezuela is another subject of fake news, certain subjects are never mentioned, the Trump obsession is now as fact-free as the Putin obsession – indeed the two delusions merged long ago in a crescendo of craziness – watch this video from the NYT. It’s like unravelling a sweater: once you pull on one thread, it all comes apart. Apart from sports coverage or the comics, what is there left to trust in the “trusted sources”? Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is a fundamental legal principle for a good reason: liars lie.

So this is the reason why we write and speak and – religious allusion again – testify. People we’ve never heard of, disgusted by the strident one-sided nonsense, surprised by some unexpected reality they bump into, stop passively believing, begin to doubt, search around and find us. Our writings then show them they were right to doubt and lead them to a better appreciation of reality. We don’t persuade them, they persuade themselves; we don’t convert them, they convert themselves. But we reinforce their conversion and show them that there is more reality (less surprise) on our side. Once gained to our side, they won’t leave. It’s conversion.

It’s happening: we’re growing, they’re shrinking. How fast I don’t know but I know it’s happening. And the attempts to regulate Twitter, Facebook and the others shows that they know it’s happening too.

So, it is worth the effort, even if we seldom hear of our successes.

 

 

FAILURE IN PLAIN SIGHT

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Bolton’s Excellent Adventure never got to that point because Trump would not sign off on the bombing stage and so his scheme failed in plain sight. Let us remember what Trump said while he was campaigning: everyone would be better off had President Bush taken a day at the beach rather than invade Iraq; the “six trillion dollars” spent in the Middle East would have been better spent on infrastructure in the USA; NATO is obsolete and the USA pays a disproportionate share; it would better to get along with Russia than not. Bolton, on the other hand, was all in favour of the Iraq war, believed one more war in the Middle East would have been good, thought NATO was great, and Russia terrible. (There’s a rumour that Trump was considering easing the failed Iran pressure and Bolton’s objections led to his firing.)

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

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

The attack was an amuse-bouche for what Iran

and its many allies could do

if Washington attacked it.

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

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

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

But the war party has painted him into several corners.

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

ENOUGH AND NOT TOO MUCH

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation, also posted on SST, picked up by The Daily Coin, in French,

 

Moscow will not engage in an exhausting arms race, and the country’s military spending will gradually decrease as Russia does not seek a role as the “world gendarme,” President Vladimir Putin said. Moscow is not seeking to get involved in a “pointless” new arms race, and will stick to “smart decisions” to strengthen its defensive capabilities, Putin said on Friday during an annual extended meeting of the Defense Ministry board. “Intelligence, brains, discipline and organization” must be the cornerstones of the country’s military doctrine, the Russian leader said. The last thing that Russia needs is an arms race that would “drain” its economy, and Moscow sure does not want that “in any scenario,” Putin pointed out.

RT, 22 December 2017

It’s easy to forget it today, but the USSR was, in its time, an “exceptionalist” country. It was the world’s first socialist country – the “bright future“; it set an example for all to follow, it was destined by History. It had a mission and was required by History to assist any country that called itself “socialist”. The USSR had bases and interests all over the world. As the 1977 USSR Constitution said:

the Soviet state, a new type of state, the basic instrument for defending the gains of the revolution and for building socialism and communism. Humanity thereby began the epoch-making turn from capitalist to socialism.

A novus ordo seclorum indeed.

Russia, however, is just Russia. There is no feeling in Moscow that Russia must take the lead any place but Russia itself. One of the reasons, indeed, why Putin is always talking about the primacy of the UN, the independence of nation states, the impermissibility to interfere in internal activities – the so-called “Westphalian” position – is that he remembers the exceptionalist past and knows that it led to a dead end. Moscow has no interest in going abroad in search of internationalist causes.

Internationalism/exceptionalism and nationalism: the two have completely different approaches to constructing a military. The first is obsessed with “power projection“, “full spectrum superiority“, it imagines that its hypertrophied interests are challenged all over the planet. Its wants are expensive, indeterminate, unbounded. The other is only concerned with dealing with enemies in its neighbourhood. Its wants are affordable, exact, finite. The exceptionalist/interventionist has everything to defend everywhere; the nationalist has one thing to defend in one place. It is much easier and much cheaper to be a nationalist: the exceptionalist/interventionist USA spends much more than anyone else but always needs more; nationalist Russia can cut its expenditure.

The USSR’s desire to match or exceed the USA in all military areas was a contributing factor to the collapse of its alliance system and the USSR itself. Estimates are always a matter for debate, especially in a command economy that hid its numbers (even when they were calculable), but a common estimate is a minimum of 15% of the USSR’s production went to the military. But the true effort was probably higher. The USSR was involved all over the world shoring up socialism’s “bright future” and that cost it at home.

Putin & Co’s “bright future” is for Russia only and the world may do as it wants about any example or counterexample it may imagine there. While Putin may occasionally indulge himself by offering opinions about liberalism and oped writers gas on about the Putin/Trump populism threat, Putin & Co are just trying to do what they think best for Russia with, as their trust ratings suggest (in contrast with those of the rulers of the “liberal” West), the support and agreement of most Russians.

The military stance of the former exceptionalist country is all gone. As the USSR has faded away, so have its overseas bases and commitments: the Warsaw Pact is gone together with the forward deployment of Soviet armies; there are no advisors in Vietnam or Mozambique; Moscow awaits with bemusement the day next January when the surviving exceptionalist power and its minions will have been in Afghanistan twice as long as the USSR was. The United States, still exceptionalist, still imagining it is spreading freedom and democracy, preventing war and creating stability, has bases everywhere and thinks that it must protect “freedom of navigation” to and from China in the South China Sea. It has yet to learn the futility of seeing oneself as The World’s Example.

Putin & Co have learned: Russia has no World-Historical purpose and its military is just for Russia. They understand what this means for Russia’s Armed Forces:

Moscow doesn’t have to match the US military; it just has to checkmate it.

And it doesn’t have to checkmate it everywhere, only at home. The US Air Force can rampage anywhere but not in Russia’s airspace; the US Navy can go anywhere but not in Russia’s waters. It’s a much simpler job and it costs much less than what Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev were attempting; it’s much easier to achieve; it’s easier to plan and carry out. The exceptionalist/interventionist has to plan for Everything; the nationalist for One Thing.

Study the enemy, learn what he takes for granted and block it. And the two must haves of American conventional military power as it affects Russia are 1) air superiority and 2) assured, reliable communications; counter those and it’s checkmated: Russia doesn’t have to equal or surpass the US military across the board, just counter its must haves.

Russia’s comprehensive and interlocking air defence weaponry is well known and well respected: it covers the spectrum from defences against ballistic missiles to small RPVs, from complex missile/radar sets to MANPADS; all of it coordinated, interlocking with many redundancies. We hear US generals complaining about air defence bubbles and studies referring to Russia’s “anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) exclusion zones“. Russian air defence has not been put to the full-scale test but we have two good indications of its effectiveness. The first was the coordinated RPV attack on Russian bases in Syria last year in which seven were shot down and six taken over, three of them landed intact. Then, in the FUKUS attack of April 2018, the Russians say the Syrian AD system (most of which is old but has benefited from Russian coordination) shot down a large number of the cruise missiles. (FUKUS’ claims are not believable).

The other area, about which even less is known are Russian electronic warfare capabilities: “eye-watering” says a US general; “Right now in Syria we are operating in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet from our adversaries. They are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etcetera.” Of course, what the Americans know is only what Russia wants them to know. There is speculation about an ability to spoof GPS signals. AEGIS-equipped warships seem to have trouble locating themselves (HNoMS Helge Ingstad) or avoiding being run into (USS Lake Champlain, USS John McCain, USS Fitzgerald). Bad seamanship may, of course, be the cause and that’s what the US investigations claim. So more rumour than fact but a lot of rumour.

In the past two or three decades US air power has operated with impunity; it has assumed that all GPS-based systems (and there are many) will operate as planned and that communications will be free and clear. Not against Russia. With those certainties removed, the American war fighting doctrine will be left scrabbling.

But AD and EW are not the only Russian counters. When President Bush pulled the USA out of the ABM Treaty in 2001, Putin warned that Russia would have to respond. Mutual Assured Destruction may sound crazy but there’s a stability to it: neither side, under any circumstance, can get away with a first strike; therefore neither will try it. Last year we met the response: a new ICBM, a hypersonic re-entry vehicle, a nuclear-powered cruise missile with enormous flight time and a similar underwater cruise missile. No defence will stop them and so MAD returns. A hypersonic anti-shipping missile will keep the US Navy out of Russian waters. And, to deal with the US Army’s risible ground forces in Europe, with or without NATO’s other feeble forces, Russia has re-created the First Guards Tank Army. Checkmate again.

No free pass for US air power, strained and uncertain communications, a defeated ground attack and no defence against Russian nuclear weapons. That’s all and that’s enough.

And that is how Moscow does it while spending much less money than Washington. It studies Washington’s strengths and counters them: “smart decisions”. Washington is starting to realise Russia’s military power but it is blinded and can only see its reflection in the mirror: the so-called “rising threat from Russia” would be no threat to a Washington that stayed at home.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tzu

BYE BYE INF, HELLO MAD

(Response to a question from Sputnik on what’s next now that the INF Treaty is dead.)

Washington has killed the third of the four arms control treaties left to us by the Cold War. All that remains is the strategic agreement of Obama and Trump says he doesn’t like that either. It’s possible that Trump expects some re-negotiation of these treaties this time involving China as well but, if so, Beijing is probably not going to bother. So all that’s left is mutually assured destruction: no matter what one side does, the other can obliterate it.

We know what Moscow’s response will be but because it’s already here: a new ICBM, a hypersonic re-entry vehicle, a nuclear-powered cruise missile with enormous flight time and a similar underwater cruise missile. No defence will stop them and so MAD returns. Checkmate.

If the US re-creates the Pershing missile, where will it station it? Many European and Asian countries would be unwilling to paint a target on their heads. So that remains to be seen.

BIDEN AND START II

(Answer to Sputnik about my thoughts about Biden endorsing a renewal of START II.)

(Pretty hypothetical questions. I don’t think Biden will be chosen and I am confident Trump will be re-elected.)

Biden is running as Obama’s heir, therefore it’s not surprising that he would support START 2; he will probably claim he had a lot to do with it.

The Cold War left 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 (Bush II) 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 (Obama); Washington has just pulled out of the INF Treaty (Trump). All that remains is the New START Treaty of 2011 (Obama) which Trump has said he doesn’t like and. So if he’s POTUS in 2021, that’s probably gone too.

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.

It’s a good question whether anyone in the Democratic base is even aware of this reality or much interested. Maybe Biden can awaken people to the danger. Or is the Democratic Party too far down the rabbit hole of Trump conspiracies, PC obsessions and social justice warriors to notice important things?

THE TRUMP MYSTERIES: INCONSISTENT INCONSISTENCIES

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation, Picked up by SOTT, entelekheia, astutenews.com, aisle c, apokalyps nu, The Russophile,

Unlike the American Democratic Party, the Western news media and most of my neighbours, I do not fully understand Trump. Although, unlike all of them, I thought from the start he had a good chance of winning and, as time went on, became more confident and finally bet he would win.

One of the consistent themes of Trump’s campaign was that foreign entanglements were not to the country’s advantage and the wars were a waste of resources; bad for business, as it were. Now, I’m not so simple-minded as to believe campaigning politicians. Bush promised a quieter foreign policy and Obama was going to close Guantánamo; but what made me pay attention to Trump’s statements was that they weren’t just the disconnected laundry list of focus-groups handed out by most politicians, they had an internal consistency. (And consistent over quite some time: watch this interview from 1987.)

That consistency could be found in his slogan Make America Great Again. It was the “again” that was the clue. Shattered tells us that Bill Clinton tried to get his wife to perceive the dissatisfaction in the USA, Sanders tapped into some of it but Trump saw and understood it early and based his campaign on it; Clinton never understood. Again, that’s the clue. I concluded that Trump saw a connection between the loss of “greatness” and the foreign entanglements: the “six trillion dollars” spent in the Middle East would have been better spent on infrastructure“. Of course he was right: there is a direct connection. But to stop that drain, Trump, now President, has to break the entanglements and that will not be easy. Last year I formed the theory that he would try to get the allies to break these entanglements and updated the idea recently. (It was written just before we heard that Trump is considering to charging allies 150% for the cost of US bases – something that is sure sure to cause a lot of re-thinking and disentangling.)

So I expected a Trump Administration to cut entanglements and not create any more. But here we come to the inconsistencies. There have been three actions inconsistent with this view: important inconsistencies. Added to which, Trump seems to have gone out of his way to surround himself with entanglers. And that is a major and puzzling inconsistency: he’s free to choose his advisors but he has chosen warhawks almost every time. This inconsistency has driven many people to conclude either that he didn’t mean what he said when he was campaigning or that he has been captured by the war party. (Others – see first sentence – remain certain that he’s just an idiot, unfit for the office, can’t be elected and so on.)

There are three events of the Trump period that I cannot fit into either the Trump-the-disentangler theory or the Trump-dupe-of-war-party theory. These actions just don’t fit either: they are inconsistently inconsistent.

On 7 April 2017 the USA attacked a Syrian airfield with (it said) 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. This was in retaliation for a supposed CW attack for which (certainly wrongly) Assad was blamed. No time was allowed for inspections or any other examination before the strike. The attack was entirely consistent with the long-time attempt by the war party (entanglers all) to overthrow Assad. But, on closer look, while loud (“beautiful” missile launches at night) it would be hard to imagine a less effective strike. The airfield they hit was empty and no real damage was done to anything. At the time I assessed it as a show for the home audience designed to take the pressure off the “Trump isn’t legitimate” meme and, certainly, there was much effusion from the war party and anti-Trump media. But the strike could hardly have been less effective if Assad himself had picked the targets.

A year later there was another bogus CW attack blamed on Assad. And another immediate missile attack (this time France and the UK joined in thereby creating the memorable acronym FUKUS). Again it was a stunningly ineffective attack in which nothing was destroyed. Added to which, it appears that many of the attacking missiles were shot down – unless you can bring yourself to believe the official story that 76 missiles hit this site (here’s just one missile hit for comparison). Again the loud, immediate but completely ineffective action. (And, a year later, the attack justification is looking poorly – a BBC producer has just said the hospital scenes were faked and the OPCW found no nerve agent traces. But anyone paying attention already knew this at the time.)

Mystery piled on mystery: the disentangler would realise that Syria was no concern of the US and have done nothing. (And Trump has ordered the troops out.) As to the CW attack claims from the media and the intelligence agencies, the disentangler would immediately ask cui bono? and realise that it certainly wouldn’t be Assad; and Trump is surely the last person to believe what the media or intelligence agencies tell him. The disentangler would do nothing, or at least wait until there was some actual evidence. On the other hand, always ready to blow something up, the warhawk would have found valuable targets and struck them hard. No attack – yes; an effective attack – yes; but an immediate attack that does no damage? You can’t make any sense out of it.

And now we come to Venezuela. Venezuela has been on the war party’s hit list for many years: Obama declared it an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” and there were many attempts to overthrow Chavez. The disentangler would immediate know that that was nonsense on stilts – nothing Caracas could do would affect the MAGA goals: no bridges would be built or destroyed, no opioid victim cured or addicted, no manufacturing jobs gained or lost. Nothing. But the warhawk wants a regime-change/resource-theft operation to bring Maduro down.

But what do we see? Certainly an rc/rt op but a singularly incompetent one. The USA is good at these, it’s had a lot of practice, its allies are toeing the line, the media is re-typing the handouts: it should be well on the way by now. But what do we see: the US official put in charge is notorious for involvement in shady coups in Latin America and the Iran-Contra affair, the puppet president is almost completely unknown in Venezuela, the concert was a flop, the “humanitarian aid” another flop, the Venezuelan Army holds firm, no country is willing to provide troops, the big demos in the country are pro-Maduro and anti-intervention (small “thousands” here). So inept a performance that even the NYT is losing enthusiasm: “Footage Contradicts U.S. Claim That Maduro Burned Aid Convoy” thereby blowing up all the faux outrage of “What kind of a sick tyrant stops food from getting to hungry people?” (The significance is not that the NYT has suddenly discovered fact-checking after years of cheering on rc/rt ops but that it is trying to distance itself from this particular one.) Which is not to say that Washington can’t destroy Venezuela: enough “precision bombing” can turn Caracas into Raqqa.

One of the reasons Trump won was his implied promise that he would stay at home and repair domestic deficiencies. And yet he jumped to bomb Syria twice and is involved in a regime change/resource grab in Venezuela. But the two bombings could not have been less effective and the Venezuela adventure is looking more idiotic by the moment. Contradiction within contradiction and it’s hard to make sense out of it.

Justin Raimondo has been brave enough to try; he thinks the Venezuela rc/rg op is a cunning plot by Trump: “Instead of taking on the neocons directly, Trump embraces them – and we can see the knife go in as this whole scenario plays out.” The ridiculous concert just reinforced his conviction “It’s all a show, produced and directed by that expert showman: Donald J. Trump.” I’ve wondered that myself – it’s so incompetent and at the same time so transparent that it can’t be real. For example, Bolton says out loud what is supposed to be said in private: the “humanitarian concerns” are just a cover for the resource grab:

You know, Venezuela is one of the three countries I call the troika of tyranny. It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.

I don’t know, but I wonder why such noisy but ineffective missile strikes by people who know how to find and destroy valuable targets and such an idiotically-incompetent rc/rt op effort by people with many successes under their belts.

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.