REAL CRICKETS, FAKE NEWS

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation

You’re an American diplomat. Posted to Cuba. You compose yourself for peaceful slumber, as an innocent American dip should… What’s that noise? Whine, buzz. Get up. Lights on. Look. Nothing. Head on pillow. Whine, buzz. We’ve all been kept up nights by some unidentifiable sound. You promise yourself you won’t listen to it. Aha, it’s stopped… no, there it is again. Another night of tossing and turning. Very understandable. The next morning you tell a colleague, heard it too, another hadn’t but can’t help listening. Soon everybody is awake listening to this irritating noise. Doctors come, check people out and find this and that (as ageing apes we all have something. Is there any before and after take on these injuries?) This is happening in Cuba, a country richly furnished with noisy insects. At some point, this irritating sound, that could be insects, morphs into something more sinister: “‘microwave hearing,’ also known as the Frey effect” for example.

The US Embassy in Havana re-opened in July 2015. About a year later, it was reported that some American diplomats complained about strange noises. The Guardian reported the story using numerous variations on the word “attack”. Crickets are mentioned, but only to be dismissed; “But this is Cuba”, wink, wink, nudge, nudge; Russia peeps above the horizon:

In fact, almost nothing about what went down in Havana is clear. Investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack: by Cuba’s government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third country like Russia or some combination thereof. Yet they’ve left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other, less nefarious explanation is to blame.

Attacks – the story builds. A recording is produced (verrry irritating; keep anybody awake). “High pitched cricket sound”. That’s because they are insects say the Cubans. The phrasing of the AP report that covered the Cuban findings has to be read to be believed: it’s written in the sneering tone that tells you to ignore them:

Cuba on Thursday presented its most detailed defense to date against U.S. Accusations… Cuban officials attempted to undermine the Trump administration’s assertion… alleged was a lack of evidence for the U.S. Accusations… an exhaustive investigation ordered by “the highest government authorities,” a clear reference to President Raul Castro… Thursday night’s special did not present an alternate explanation for the facts presented by U.S. officials, with one significant exception…

What a dishonest way to cover a report by Cuban specialists saying we compared the recordings with cicada sounds and there was a good fit. Fortunately, as we shall see, honest people did follow that lead.

American tourists are solemnly warned “Exercise increased caution in Cuba due to attacks targeting U.S. Embassy”. Washington expels Cuban diplomats and the Guardian helpfully tells us:

Cuba employs a massive state security apparatus that keeps hundreds and possibly thousands of people under constant surveillance. US diplomats are among the most closely monitored people on the island. It’s virtually impossible for anyone to take action against an American diplomat without an element of the Cuban state being aware.

So the state of play as of the end of 2017 is this. Facts: noises, medical findings, investigations, expulsions. Speculation: they’re “attacks”, the Cuban authorities control everything and the insect explanation should be laughed at. Next year it’s China’s turn.

But at last, in September 2018, the Russian sun rises over the horizon.

The suspicion that Russia is likely behind the alleged attacks is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence, amassed during a lengthy and ongoing investigation involving the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. agencies. The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence… If Russia did use a futuristic weapon to damage the brains of U.S. personnel, it would mark a stunning escalation in Russian aggression toward Western nations, compounded recently by the use of a military-grade nerve agent to poison an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain.

Love the juxtaposition of “suspicion”, “likely” and “alleged”: how many degrees of uncertainty is that? You have to wonder whether an Integrity-challenged Initiative clusteroid gave that little gem to NBC – the “signals intelligence” will probably turn out to be a five-year-old RT report about insomnia. Also note that the US military “has been working to reverse-engineer the weapon or weapons used to harm the diplomats”.

Ensorcelled by this “un-elaborated” “intelligence”, the Gadarene media swine rush straight for the cliff:

Did Russia Attack U.S. Officials in Cuba? U.S.S.R. Used Microwaves Against American Diplomats During Cold War (Newsweek) Russia Is No. 1 Suspect in Mystery Brain Attacks in Cuba and China: Report (Daily Beast) Russia Might Be Behind Those Sonic Attacks on U.S. Government Workers in Cuba and China (Fortune) The U.S. Now Believes RUSSIA May Be Behind Sonic Attacks On Americans In Cuba And China (Daily Wire) So the Russians were ‘sonic-ing’ down in Cuba? (American Thinker) Russia main suspect behind illnesses of US staff in Cuba and China – report (Guardian) Russia suspected in Cuba mystery ‘attacks’ against US diplomats (NBC) Report: Experts Suspect Cuba May Have Had Russian Help in ‘Sonic’ Diplomat Attacks (Breitbart)

Altogether a perfect illustration of how fake news is built.

Step One. Something that could be lots of things but we’ll call it an attack.

Step Two. Attacks have attackers, so who is it? (I find it interesting that they weren’t quite ready to blame Havana, although they expelled a few Cuban diplomats: “‘I still believe that the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government can bring this to an end,’ Tillerson added.”)

Step Three: Drum roll… Putindunnit!

It’s surprising, actually, that it took so long; after all, Putin has weaponised Soviet history, Syrian refugees, Photoshop, humour, Pokemon, and Russophobia, why would you think he’d have forgotten crickets? Nothing is beyond or beneath him: “14-legged killer squid found TWO MILES beneath Antarctica being weaponised by Putin?“.

This happy complacency was interrupted…

by…

a loud…

POP!

The Sounds That Haunted U.S. Diplomats in Cuba? Lovelorn Crickets, Scientists Say.

And, because they’re Western scientists, not Castro’s Cuban Collaborators, we have to believe them. Two honest scientists – remember their names: Alexander Stubbs of the University of California, Berkeley, and Fernando Montealegre-Zapato of the University of Lincoln in England – on their own it seems, applied human reason to the problem and solved it. Here’s a summary of their paper.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

So that’s it; the story’s dead (although the NYT does its best to keep it alive: “That’s not to say that the diplomats weren’t attacked, the scientists added”). Would be nice, though, if State took its warning down. In time the details will fade away leaving a vague sense that Cuba’s a bad and dangerous place and nasty Russians do nasty things for the fun of it. But that’s the purpose of propaganda: to leave an impression when the details are forgotten.

So what really happened? Irritating cricket sounds produced a kind of dancing mania among US diplomats and the presstitutes sank to the occasion – even though the Cuban evidence was out there – and blamed Russia.

PS. My neighbours often ask me from where I get my news when I tell them something they’ve never heard of. Well not from the Guardian or the NYT or NBC or the others that boomed this fake story: I learned from Moon of Alabama that it was crickets waaaay back in October 2017 when he (a one-man operation who does more reporting than the entire NYT building) beat the NYT by 14 months. You should read him too so you too can get next year’s NYT headlines today.

BACK TO THE USSR: HOW TO READ WESTERN NEWS

(First published in Strategic Culture Foundation. Picked up by ZeroHedge, JRL/2019/5/20, Biedex.com, YoNews, Daily Read List, The Fringe News, Nation and State, PeoplesTrustToronto, 911grassroots, TradingCheatSheet, StraightLineLogic, SOTT, SGTreport, AustrianEconomicBlogs, WeatherInternal, The Duran, Russia Insider.)

The heroes of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers visit the fictional borough of Eatanswill to observe an election between the candidates of the Blue Party and the Buff Party. The town is passionately divided, on all possible issues, between the two parties. Each party has its own newspaper: the Eatanswill Gazette is Blue and entirely devoted to praising the noble Blues and excoriating the perfidious and wicked Buffs; the Eatanswill Independent is equally passionate on the opposite side of every question. No Buff would dream of reading the “that vile and slanderous calumniator, the Gazette”, nor Blue the ”that false and scurrilous print, the Independent”.

As usual with Dickens it is both exaggerated and accurate. Newspapers used to be screamingly partisan before “journalism” was invented. Soon followed journalism schools, journalism ethics and journalism objectivity: “real journalism” as they like to call it (RT isn’t of course). “Journalism” became a profession gilded with academical folderol; no longer the refuge of dropouts, boozers, failures, budding novelists and magnates like Lord Copper who know what they want and pay for it. But, despite the pretence of objectivity and standards, there were still Lord Coppers and a lot of Eatanswill. Nonetheless, there were more or less serious efforts to get the facts and balance the story. And Lord Coppers came and went: great newspaper empires rose and fell and there was actually quite a variety of ownership and news outlets. There was sufficient variance that a reader, who was neither Blue nor Buff, could triangulate and form a sense of what was going on.

In the Soviet Union news was controlled; there was no “free press”; there was one owner and the flavours were only slightly varied: the army paper, the party paper, the government paper, papers for people interested in literature or sports. But they all said the same thing about the big subjects. The two principal newspapers were Pravda (“truth”) and Izvestiya (“news”). This swiftly led to the joke that there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestiya. It was all pretty heavy handed stuff: lots of fat capitalists in top hats and money bags; Uncle Sam’s clothing dripping with bombs; no problems over here, nothing but problems over there. And it wasn’t very successful propaganda: most of their audience came to believe that the Soviet media was lying both about the USSR and about the West.

But time moves on and while thirty years ago 50 corporations controlled 90% of the US news media, today it’s a not very diverse six. As a result, on many subjects there is a monoview: has any Western news outlet reported, say, these ten true statements?

  1. People in Crimea are pretty happy to be in Russia.
  2. The US and its minions have given an enormous amount of weapons to jihadists.
  3. Elections in Russia reflect popular opinion polling.
  4. There really are a frightening number of well-armed nazis in Ukraine.
  5. Assad is pretty popular in Syria.
  6. The US and its minions smashed Raqqa to bits.
  7. The official Skripal story makes very little sense.
  8. Ukraine is much worse off, by any measurement, now than before Maidan.
  9. Russia actually had several thousand troops in Crimea before Maidan.
  10. There’s a documentary that exposes Browder that he keeps people from seeing.

I typed these out as they occurred to me. I could come up with another ten pretty easily. There’s some tiny coverage, far in the back pages, so that objectivity can be pretended, but most Western media consumers would answer they aren’t; didn’t; don’t; aren’t; isn’t; where?; does; not; what?; never heard of it.

Many subjects are covered in Western media outlets with a single voice. Every now and again there’s a scandal that reveals that “journalists” are richly rewarded for writing stories that fit. But after revelations, admissions of bias, pretending it never happened, the media ship calmly sails on (shedding passengers as it goes, though). Coverage of certain subjects are almost 100% false: Putin, Russia, Syria and Ukraine stand out. But much of the coverage of China and Iran also. Many things about Israel are not permitted. The Russia collusion story is (privately) admitted to be fake by an outlet that covers it non stop. Anything Trump is so heavily flavoured that it’s inedible. And it’s not getting any better: PC is shutting doors everywhere and the Russian-centred “fake news” meme is shutting more. Science is settled but genders are not and we must be vigilant against the “Russian disinformation war“. Every day brings us a step closer to a mono media of the One Correct Opinion. All for the Best Possible Motives, of course.

It’s all rather Soviet in fact.

So, in a world where the Integrity Initiative is spending our tax dollars (pounds actually) to make sure that we never have a doubleplusungood thought or are tempted into crimethink, (and maybe they created the entire Skripal story – more revelations by the minute), what are we to make of our Free Media™? Well, that all depends on what you’re interested in. If it’s sports (not Russian athletes – druggies every one unlike brave Western asthmatics) or “beach-ready bodies” (not Russian drug takers of course, only wholesome Americans) – the reporting is pretty reasonable. Weather reports, for example (Siberian blasts excepted) or movie reviews (but all those Russian villains). But the rest is some weird merger of the Eatonswill Gazette and Independent: Blues/Buffs good! others, especially Russians, bad!

So, as they say in Russia, что делать? What to do? Well, I suggest we learn from the Soviet experience. After all, most Soviet citizens were much more sceptical about their home media outlets than any of my neighbours, friends or relatives are about theirs.

My suggestions are three:

  1. Read between the lines. A difficult art this and it needs to be learned and practised. Dissidents may be sending us hints from the bowels of Minitrue. For example, it’s impossible to imagine anyone seriously saying “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon“; it must have been written to subversively mock the official Russia panic. I have speculated elsewhere that the writers may have inserted clues that the “intelligence reports” on Russian interference were nonsense.
  2. Notice what they’re not telling you. For example: remember when Aleppo was a huge story two years ago? But there’s nothing about it now. One should wonder why there isn’t; a quick search will find videos like this (oops! Russian! not real journalism!) here’s one from Euronews. Clearly none of this fits the “last hospitals destroyed” and brutal Assad memes of two years ago; that’s why the subject has disappeared from Western media outlets. It is always a good rule to wonder why the Biggest Story Ever suddenly disappears: that’s a strong clue it was a lie or nonsense.
  3. Most of the time, you’d be correct to believe the opposite. Especially, when all the outlets are telling you the same thing. It’s always good to ask yourself cui bono: who’s getting what benefit out of making you believe something? It’s quite depressing how successful the big uniform lie is: even though the much-demonised Milosevic was eventually found innocent, even though Qaddafi was not “bombing his own people”, similar lies are believed about Assad and other Western enemies-of-the-moment. Believe the opposite unless there’s very good reason not to.

In the Cold War there was a notion going around that the Soviet and Western systems were converging and that they would meet in the middle, so to speak. Well, perhaps they did meet but kept on moving past each other. And so, the once reasonably free and varied Western media comes to resemble the controlled and uniform Soviet media and we in the West must start using Soviet methods to understand.

Always remember that the Soviet rulers claimed their media was free too; free from “fake news” that is.

RUSSIA IS FINISHED QUOTATIONS

And yet more from the Russia is doomed collection. Alternate this with Russia is winning! Russophrenia.

Russia’s ongoing attacks on Ukraine and its persistent subversion of Western states demonstrates that Washington and Brussels have failed to restrain Moscow’s imperial ambitions.Engagement, criticism and limited sanctions have simply reinforced Kremlin perceptions that the West is weak and predictable. To curtail Moscow’s neo-imperialism a new strategy is needed, one that nourishes Russia’s decline and manages the international consequences of its dissolution.Russia is more fragile than it appears, and the West is stronger than it is portrayed. Under the regime of Vladimir Putin, which will soon enter its third decade, the country has transitioned from an emerging democracy to an unstable authoritarianism.

Janusz Bugajski, “Managing Russia’s dissolution“.

And here he is, a decade ago, saying the same thing:

NATO expansion in the Caucasus has been thwarted and the humiliation of the Mikheil Saakashvili government is a terrible warning to other westward-looking leaders around the Black Sea. Hopes that the Nabucco gas pipeline project can by-pass the Kremlin stranglehold on Europe‘s energy have also been shaken. Yet celebrations by the Vladimir Putin-Vladimir Medvedev tandem may be premature. Having started the fire of secession, the Kremlin now risks being burnt by its flames.”

Blah blah blah. Bet he turns up on an “Integrity” Initiative list.

C’EST TOUJOURS LA MÊME CHOSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PSYCHOANALYSING NATO: THE DIAGNOSIS

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation, picked up by SouthFront, ZeroHedge, Straight Line Logic)

In previous essays I argued that NATO tries to distract our attention from its crimes by accusing Russia of those crimes: this is “projection“. NATO manipulates its audience into thinking the unreal is real: this is “gaslighting“. NATO sees what it expects to see – Moscow’s statements that they will respond to medium range missiles emplaced next door are re-jigged as the “threats” which justify NATO’s earlier act: this is “confirmation bias“. And, finally, NATO thinks Russia is so weak it’s doomed and so strong that it is destroying the tranquillity of NATOLand: this is a sort of geopolitical “schizophrenia“. (I must acknowledge Bryan MacDonald’s marvellous neologism of Russophrenia – a condition where the sufferer believes Russia is both about to collapse, and take over the world.)

I wrote the series partly to amuse the reader but with a serious purpose as well. And that serious purpose is to illustrate the absurdities that NATO expects us to believe. NATO here being understood as sometimes the headquarters “international staff”, sometimes all members in solemn conclave, sometimes some NATO members and associates. “NATO” has become a remarkably flexible concept: Libya was a NATO operation, even though Germany kept out of it. Somalia was not a NATO operation even though Germany was in it. Canada, a founding NATO member, was in Afghanistan but not in Iraq. Some interventions are NATO, others aren’t. The NATO alliance today is a box of spare parts from which Washington assembles its “coalitions of the willing”. It’s Washington’s beard.

NATO and its members are inexhaustible sources of wooden language and dishonesty. Take Washington’s demand that Iran get out of Syria while US forces stay there. Syria has a recognised government, that government invited Iran in; no one invited the USA and its minions in. A child could see the upside down nature of this: it’s a housebreaker demanding the host evict the guests and hand over their bedrooms. This, apparently, is what NATO calls the “rules-based order”. Here’s the American official insisting it’s all legal: “our forces are there under a set of legal and diplomatic documents… “; but he only mentions one and it’s an American one. Putin is condemned for saying “Whatever action a State takes bypassing this procedure are illegitimate, run counter to the UN Charter and defy international law“. We are expected to solemnly nod our heads rather than contemptuously laugh when unilateralism is meretriciously named “rules-based”. These inversions of reality are routinely fed to us by NATO and its mouthpieces.

A very recent revelation of NATO’s gaslighting is the Integrity Initiative (such a gaslighting name!) busy trolling away with a couple of million from the British taxpayer. Its remit, apparently, includes infiltrating political movements of an ally and it “defends democracy against disinformation” by smearing its own political actors with disinformation. Does Russia do this? Well there’s RT and Sputnik and “Russians” did spend nearly $5000 on Google and $7000 on Facebook fixing the US election. And almost one dollar on Brexit ads. And one should never forget the insidious effect of Masha and the Bear. But don’t dare laugh at these preposterous assertions: the BBC earnestly assures us that humour is Putin’s newest weapon. Against this mighty effort, there can be no vigilance too strong! The only way to protect our values is to trash them: defend freedom of thought by secretly planting fake stories, defend democracy by smearing the opposition as Russian stooges. Pure gaslighting, defended by projection and confirmation bias: “This kind of work attracts the extremely hostile and aggressive attention of disinformation actors, like the Kremlin and its various proxies“.

NATO hyperventilates about “Russia’s military activities, particularly along NATO’s borders“. Only in NATO’s counterfeit universe could this be imagined; in the real world Russia’s military is inside its own borders. Once again, the proper response is a contemptuous sneer rather than solemn head nodding.

NATO collectively and severally manifests a detachment from reality. Its website is full of pious assertions about being a defensive alliance that brings stability wherever it goes, replete with valuable values. And it always tells the truth. The reality? No rational person would regard Moscow’s concern about a military alliance creeping ever closer as “aggressive”. There is less stability in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan than before NATO entered them. Fooling around in Yugoslavia, Georgia and Ukraine have sparked actual shooting wars. NATO’s activities in Syria (illegal by any standards of international law, be it remembered) has not brought stability. More civilians killed, Raqqa obliterated, hospitals methodically destroyed. All “tragic accidents” of course; but don’t look here! look at Russia! Only in its imagination is NATO a bringer of stability. As to its values, they’re mutable – it’s good to break up Yugoslavia, invade Iraq and Afghanistan and destroy Libya but Crimeans taking the opportunity to return to Russia is a heinous crime. NATO’s so-called values are whatever NATO does. And as to NATO’s promises: well it did expand, didn’t it? (Here’s NATO’s official weasel-wording: “Personal assurances from individual leaders cannot replace Alliance consensus and do not constitute formal NATO agreement”. And suddenly its narrative jumps to President Clinton. Wrong POTUS, actually; NATO’s caught gaslighting again.) Its intervention in Libya was very far from what the UN resolution approved: it was an armed intervention against the government on false pretences.

Here’s what NATO’s so-called “stability projection” has actually produced: riots in France, partly connected with the influx of “migrants” coming from the Libya that NATO destroyed. But, we supposed to believe it has nothing to do with NATO, it’s Putin! Only an idiot could believe that.

NATO had a purpose when it was formed, or at least it thought it did. It is true that, at war’s end where the Soviet Army stood “elections” were held and socialist or communist parties came to power and stayed in power. (Austria being an exception). There were at least two ways that one could understand this extension of Soviet power. One was that they were the actions of an expansionist hostile power that fully intended to go all the way to Cape Finisterre if it could and, if not prevented, would. In such an case the Western Allies would be fully justified in forming an defensive alliance to deter Soviet expansion. Another possible interpretation was that, after such a hard victory in so fearfully destructive a war, Moscow was determined that never again would its neighbours be used as an assembly area and start line for the forces of another Hitler. Such an interpretation would call for quite another approach from the Western Allies. We all know which of the two interpretations was followed by. I have speculated elsewhere that Reinhard Gehlen may have had a strong influence on that decision. But, for whatever reason, the NATO alliance was founded on that first assumption and it shaped the world in one direction rather than another.

Since the USSR broke up, taking with it NATO’s original raison d’être, NATO members, sometimes under the NATO flag and sometimes not, have helped break up Yugoslavia and Serbia, invaded Afghanistan, Iraq (twice), Syria, destroyed Libya, incited a war in Georgia, carried out a coup d’etat in Ukraine and participate in the civil war there. That’s not stability. And, where NATO has set foot, it stays. KFOR is still bringing “peace and stability” in Year 19 and Kosovo is home to a huge US base. Afghanistan is in Year 15. Iraq is in Year 14. Syria is Year 4 and set to run forever. Ironically Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians are back in Afghanistan; different flag, same place. That’s not stability either.

And still the wooden language rolls out. But turn off your brain when you read it.

POLITICAL – NATO promotes democratic values and enables members to consult and cooperate on defence and security-related issues to solve problems, build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.

MILITARY – NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military power to undertake crisis-management operations. These are carried out under the collective defence clause of NATO’s founding treaty – Article 5 of the Washington Treaty or under a United Nations mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organisations.

 

Has post-USSR NATO ever peacefully resolved a dispute? Anywhere? Any time? It’s always military power. What did Article 5 (an attack on one is an attack on all) have to do with NATO’s war on Libya? Did it attack one of them? How about Serbia? One can argue that someone in Afghanistan attacked the USA but who did in Iraq? As to “democratic values”, well, it will be amusing to watch NATO’s reactions to Ukraine President Poroshenko trying to avoid the election. And nobody likes to mention the pack of organ harvesters and drug runners NATO gave a whole country to.

If NATO were a human individual on the couch, a case could be made that it is living in a fantasy world in which everything is reversed.

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil;

that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;

that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Delenda NATO est!

PSYCHOANALYSING NATO: SCHIZOPHRENIA

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation; picked up by SouthFront)

NATO sorrowfully explains its problems with Russia on its official website:

For more than two decades, NATO has worked to build a partnership with Russia, developing dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest. Cooperation has been suspended since 2014 in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine but political and military channels of communication remain open. Concerns about Russia’s continued destabilising pattern of military activities and aggressive rhetoric go well beyond Ukraine.

None of this – of course – is NATO’s fault: on the contrary NATO is concerned that

Russia’s military activities, particularly along NATO’s borders, have increased and its behaviour continues to make the Euro-Atlantic security environment less stable and predictable, in particular its practice of calling snap exercises, deploying near NATO borders, conducting large-scale training and exercises and violating Allied airspace.

Suffice it to say that this statement would have a closer relationship with reality if the words “NATO’s borders” were replaced with “inside Russia”. And I would be interested to hear the details of “violating Allied airspace”. Why even the Daily Telegraph in 2015 with its suggestive headline of Mapped: Just how many incursions into Nato airspace has Russian military made? had to admit “The Ministry of Defence says the Russian bombers have never violated Britain’s sovereign airspace, which extends 12 nautical miles from the coast.” Likewise Violated US Airspace 16 Times In Last 10 Days turns out to be Air Defence Identification Zones which is not the same thing at all. Or Most Russian Plane Intercepts over Baltics Due to Error: NATO General. So NATO’s statement needs a further calibration so that “violating Allied airspace” becomes “flying in international airspace close to Allied countries’ airspace”.

Therefore, properly understood, NATO accuses Russia of 1) holding military exercises in its own territory, 2) flying in international airspace, 3) supporting secessionist movements in places that weren’t part of Yugoslavia or aren’t in the Middle East or North Africa. And they accuse it of invading countries that NATO didn’t invade first. NATO projects its behaviour, gaslights its audience and confirms its initial assumption when Moscow objects. But that’s NATOLand for you – the unicorns roam free and all is sunny until the bear smiles.

There is a striking schizophrenia among NATO’s members: Russia is, at one and the same time, so weak it’s “doomed” and so strong that it’s demolishing NATOLand.

Russia is forever, eternally, endlessly, doomed. Always on the edge of collapse. (But Russia has always been doomed here’s Time in 1927) and it was altogether finished in 2001. But doom dooms on. Has an ‘open society’ doomed Russia to fail? (September 2012); Russia Is Doomed (March 2014); Why Putin’s Adventure in Ukraine Is Doomed (April 2014); Putin’s Nationalism and Expansion Strategy Is Doomed to Fail (September 2014); Sorry, Putin. Russia’s economy is doomed (December 2014); Remember Russia? It’s still doomed (January 2015); Morgan Stanley thinks Russia’s doomed (February 2015); Secretary of Defense: Russia Doomed to Fail’ in Syria (September 2015); Is Russia’s Economy Doomed to Collapse? (July 2016); Why The Saudi-Russian Oil Agreement Is Doomed To Fail (September 2016); Putin’s Bridge to Crimea Is Doomed to Collapse (January 2017); Russia’s Su-57 Stealth Fighter Is Doomed to Fail (December 2107); The Russian economy looks doomed (March 2018); Russia is doomed to steadily fall behind the rest of the world (August 2018); Why Putin’s 5-100 project is doomed to fail (October 2018). And its soccer team too! Aging and Inexperienced: Why Russia Is Doomed to Fail (June 2018).

You’d think, with all this doom dooming away at Russia, that no one would be much worried about it. Except of course for the risk of getting bits of it spattered on you when it finally crashes down. Said collapse confidently predicted three years ago by Alexander Motyl, who, making his wish the father of his thought, declaimed that Russia might even “disappear”:

As the new year begins, both Ukraine and Russia are making steady progress. The difference is that, while Ukraine is slowly, and more or less surely, adopting a raft of systemic reforms that will make it a normal Western market democracy, Russia is becoming a failed state. If current trends continue, as they probably will, Russia may even disappear.

But, amazingly, Russia has become more powerful than ever before. Not even Stalin in his wildest dreams imagined choosing the next US President. Yet, even as “weak and dying” Russia freefalls, Putin has done exactly that: “Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West—and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump” Trump being what Putin would design to “undermine American interests – and advance his own”. “Trump is Putin’s ally in Russia’s war on the West”. But even before he animated his Trumpenpuppet, his tendrils had slithered deep into Washington: “Putin’s Got America Right Where He Wants It: And that’s bad news for Obama”. So Putin, although he’s no genius, just another Brezhnev, has a puppet in the White House.

But not just there: Putin (Aspergers, “gunslingers’ walk”, lonely psychopath that he is), through his “useful idiots“, affects everything, everywhere. Brexit. French election. Italian election. German election. Austrian election. Dutch election. Canada’s next election. Catalonian separatism. Gilets jaunes. Hungary’s Prime Minister is a Putinist. And it’s more, so much more: Russia and the Threat to Liberal Democracy: How Vladimir Putin is making the world safe for autocracy. Moscow’s unstoppable “Hybrid War” weaponising Information, Culture and Money. Separatism, migrants, left wing right wing.

Sounds as if we’re the ones who are doomed.

In this race of the doomed: who will get to the FINAL DOOM first?

THE WEST SLIPS DOWN ANOTHER STEP

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation, picked up by ZeroHedge, JRL/2018/216/19, YouTube, WITSNEWS, The Good Fight, Viral News, The Fringe News)

There is much on the Internet these days about documents allegedly hacked by Anonymous; these documents belong to the “Integrity Initiative” and describe a multi-country effort, funded by London and Washington, to counter “Russian propaganda” and “fake news”. Since the initial story broke, a good deal of confusion has been laid down: Wikileaks is doubtful, and Anonymous itself is being evasive. On the other hand, Integrity Initiative doesn’t entirely deny.

But even if entirely false, they would be in that curious category of “fake but true”: Integrity Initiative does actually exist and here is its website. It is certainly engaged in anti-Russia propaganda. It publishes articles locking the barn door after the horses have escaped: yes, “Novichok” is terribly deadly but that doesn’t mean it will kill you. But, if it isn’t strong enough to kill you today, it may be strong enough to kill someone four months later. Its most memorable statement is surely this:

The Kremlin has invested more operational thought, intent and resource in disinformation, in Europe and elsewhere in the democratic world, than any other single player.

A statement that would stun anyone who’s ever been in a hotel and gone channel cruising: RT’s in there somewhere along with CNN, MSNBC, Fox, BBC, DW, France Télévisions, Rai and so on. A tiny voice in a bellowing crowd. But, after all, these are the people who tell us that Russia affected the US election with one FB message per 400 million others.

The Integrity Initiative is one of many. We had, and still have, the Legatum Institute which worried about “Russian disinformation” back in 2013, a pair of British thinktankers two years later also worried about “Russia’s information warfare in the UK“. Then it was time for “hybrid war“, a supposed Russian invention. The so-called intelligence assessment (of “all 17 agencies“, but actually a hand-picked group from only three, one of which only had “moderate confidence”) on Russian hacking devoted nearly half its space to a four-year old rant about RT!

Such an obsession with RT and Sputnik! How many eyeballs do they reach? Not that many by all evidence. We’re talking small – not 1/413,000,000th small – but small. A good deal less than the BBC alone. Amazing! But the West bravely marshals its feeble power against the colossus of RT and creates the British Army’s “77th Brigade” of Twitter commandos, the US has its soldiers at Fort Bragg trolling away, NATO’s Centre of Excellence in Tallinn pumps it out and now the Integrity Initiative extrudes copy. Even little Canada has got into the act. Then we have the so-called independent think tanks busy creating “objective” “impartial” “scholarly” expliqués of the Russian threat. Some of these are nothing but beards for the arms industry. An example is CEPA (“a tax-exempt, non-profit, non-partisan, public policy research institute”) supported by, inter alia, the US Mission to NATO, NATO Public Diplomacy Division, US Naval Postgraduate School, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Raytheon Company, European Defense Agency, Chevron Corporation, Bell Helicopter, Textron Systems and BAE Systems. Its “non-partisan” reports tell us Russia is sowing chaos, that we must defend the “Sulwaki Corridor”, Nord Stream is a bad idea and so on. You may not have noticed Moscow’s hand in Catalonian separatism, but they have. All very predictable and just the sort of thing a company making big weapons wants out there to buttress its sales pitch. Bearded guys in turbans and sandals with IEDs are not big business; Russians in tanks are. A rather curious idea of “non-partisan”.

But, despite this, we’re supposed to believe that RT and Sputnik have awesome powers and that one little tweet from a Russian bot has an overwhelming effect against which these “non-partisan” outfits have a tough struggle. An intelligent child can see the nonsense.

But enough sarcasm, this isn’t funny: it’s actually very serious. Apart from the dangers of building up war fever against a power that could obliterate the West, it’s a telling indication of the decline of the West. And so triumphant and so confident only two decades ago!

In the Cold War Moscow’s sin was that it was actively trying to overthrow us and send those of us it didn’t shoot to the GuLag. Today its crime is contumacy: it persistently refuses to accept the blame that the West puts on it.

But neither do many of us. So, if you, as I do, think that the Western version of the MH17 story is a bit fishy, doubt that Assad is dumb enough to do the one thing that would invite Western missiles, regard Whitehall’s Skripal story as laughably incoherent, doubt that Litvinenko could write a perfect English sentence, find it absurd to assume that Putin kills people by such easily noticed means, know that there were Russian troops in Crimea all along, notice that the White Helmets have received millions yet can only afford dust masks and flip flops, had heard of the Crimean Tatars before, notice that NATO has expanded up to Russia’s borders and not the other way around, know something about Ossetian-Georgian relations, know what the Ukrainian Constitution says about getting rid of presidents, remember Nuland’s telephone call, can remember all the people falsely demonised by the Western propaganda machine… If you dare to think those thoughts, these people will call you a victim of (or accomplice in) Russian disinformation and say you need re-education. Certainly they don’t want you to be heard.

Of course no one is calling for the end of freedom of speech, just a shutting down of “fake news”. Social media is doing its best to do so, advised by such “impartial” organisations, in the case of Facebook, as the Atlantic Council. Which is funded by, well, many of the same organisations as CEPA, but with more foreign governments and oil companies. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, United Technologies, Boeing: they’re not interested in funding a venue for people who question the Russian threat meme, are they?

Once upon a time truth was considered to be the best defence. In the Cold War there was little effort to silence Soviet propaganda. Anybody could listen to Radio Moscow, read Soviet newspapers or anything else. Most countries had a legal communist party working, under Moscow’s strict control, for a communist takeover and pumping out propaganda as hard as it could. Innumerable front groups pushed communist and Soviet policy under a variety of covers. We didn’t worry too much: truth was the best defence. But the USSR did worry and it spent enormous efforts jamming Western broadcasts. A child could figure it out: the side that’s blocking the other side is afraid of the truth, it’s afraid of dissent, it’s afraid of freedom.

Twenty years ago most Russians would have agreed that Pravda & Co were lying both about the USSR and about the West. But not any more: read what Margarita Simonyan, the head of the dreaded RT, says: “Лет пятьдесят – тайно и явно – мы хотели жить как вы, а больше не хотим” (“For fifty years, secretly and openly, we wanted to live like you, but not any longer“). Reflect on what produced this contemporary Russian bittersweet joke: “Pravda lied to us about the USSR, but it told the truth about the West”.

So, in the end, Russians didn’t “drink the Kool-aid”. Willing once to believe, they believe no more. And that is Russia’s sin. It’s not bolsheviks lusting for blood, with nooses in their hands, charging down Park Lane and Wall Street these days, it’s Russians stubbornly being Russian. And that is unforgivable to a West that has lost the confidence that its positions stand strong and unaided.

Which it has. Why else these attempts to manipulate public opinion and block disagreement? It is, in a word, Soviet behaviour. The side that’s mostly telling the truth isn’t afraid of the other side’s lies. Again, a child could figure it out.

What they are telling us (forget all that Magna Carta, freedom of speech and thought, European Values stuff they were boasting about a few years ago) is this:

We don’t trust you to make up your mind, so we’ll do it for you.

Accept, Believe, Repeat. It’s a big slip down the slope.

Remember the notion, popular at one time, that the Soviets and the West would converge? Well, maybe they did and just kept moving past each other. Soon we’ll be fully Soviet in our response to Big Brother: believe the opposite, read between the lines, notice what you’re not being told.

But the “Russia information war” pays good money for people who can say with a straight face: “Novichok is deadly except when it isn’t” or “Our intelligence agencies rely on Bellingcat to tell them what’s going on” or “Assad gasses civilians when he’s winning because he likes being bombed” or “Putin kills all his enemies except the ones who are telling you he does” or “the Panama Papers prove Putin’s corruption even though his name isn’t mentioned” or, indeed, “Russia swung the US election with a trivial number of social media posts”. Oh, and RT is rotting our minds. Even if no one you know has ever watched it.

They are paid to believe what they believe to be paid.

 

 

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.

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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.

TWO WAYS TO APPROACH MOSCOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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