THE WEST SLIPS DOWN ANOTHER STEP

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation, picked up by ZeroHedge, 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.

RUSSIA-TURKEY IDLIB

(Quick response to Sputnik question about significance of Russia-Turkey agreement on Idlib)

It’s not the end of the war, as the recent attack shows, but it’s another step. It presumably defers the threatened FUKUS attack until a different political constellation forms as Ankara-Washington relations worsen and the US mid-term elections either free Trump from the Russia hoax or lead the USA further towards dysfunction.

Meanwhile Moscow gives us a master class in war, showing that it’s more than just killing and destruction: diplomacy, talk and patience are also needed to move towards a settlement.

And FUKUS+I have been shown to be nothing but spoilers: all they can do is blow things up or induce their hired “moderate rebels” to do so. There have no positive role to play in Syria or, for that matter, elsewhere in the MENA area.

WHAT WE THREW AWAY

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who did win the Cold War in the end?

 

OBAMA MARRIES THE LIBERALS TO THE NEOCONS

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, finally, this paladin of liberalism declared:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

LATEST AMERICAN SANCTIONS

Response to a question from Sputnik. https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201808141067172415-usa-russia-opcw-inspection-absurd/

The official justifications for this latest set of sanctions proves that they are not the real reasons because they are too ridiculous to be taken seriously by any thinking person. The ever-changing Skripalmania story, preposterous at the outset, has descended into incoherence as the crack Russian assassination team is now said to be using public toilets to remix “novichok” to put into perfume atomisers. The OPCW certified last October that Russia had eliminated its CW stocks; who is supposed to certify that it still has? “Election interference” is a loose and shifting collection of accusations, with no evidence presented, which is said to have made no difference to the final result but is nonetheless Pearl Harbor, Kristallnacht and 911 rolled into one. These so-called reasons are the leaky krisha erected over Washington’s latest attempt to make Russia submit to its diktat or break it. The upshot? The Moscow-Beijing alliance will be strengthened and Moscow’s determination to reduce its exposure redoubled.

Now that Washington punishes countries and businesses that do not go along with its sanctions, the sanctions will hurt its allies. And probably, as with the earlier sanctions and counter-sanctions, hurt them more than Russia. The upshot? Following the abrogation of the Iran agreement by Washington, relations between Washington and its minions will be further strained. One of these days, they will break.

This move is also part of the deep state coup against US President Trump (concisely described here) because it curtails his freedom of action. The upshot? The USA moves a bit closer to terminal dysfunction. Or has the second civil war already begun?

Altogether another small step in the Decline and Fall of the Imperium Americanum.

I think it is time for Moscow to educate the many in the US government who believe it is a weak fragile minor state that “makes nothing”. Time to show them that it makes rocket engines, Boeing’s titanium and ISS taxis. And one of America’s favourite guns. And, if we’re talking about closing air routes, the largest country on earth. And the supply route into the endless American war in Afghanistan. Or demand payment for oil and gas in anything but USD? But I’m sure the clever people in the Kremlin can think of many more things than I can.

NATO TRUMPED

First published at Strategic Culture Foundation

Picked up by The Duran; JRL 2018/135/17; Zenith News; South Front; Straight Line Logic;

Those of us who regard NATO as one of the primary sources of international instability thanks to its wars of destruction in the MENA and provocation of Russia were looking forward with delighted anticipation to Trump’s appearance at the NATO summit. We were not disappointed. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Trump came late to the meeting where Ukraine and Georgia were banging on about the Russian threat, started ranting about spending and blew up the decorous charade. Ukraine and Georgia were then dismissed and a special meeting was convened. (A side effect of his “creative destruction” was that the Ukrainian President delivered his speech to a practically empty room). He started his assault before the meeting, opening Twitter fire on Germany, returning to the attack in his breakfast meeting with NATO’s GenSek:

Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting from 60% to 70% of their energy from Russia, and a new pipeline, and you tell me if that’s appropriate because I think it’s not and I think it’s a very bad thing for Nato.

Good fun for some of us but a stunner to the Panjandrumocracy: “meltdown“, “tantrum“, “latest diplomatic blowup“, “making bullying great again” and so on.

As ever, Trump’s statements were extreme and his numbers might not stand up to examination but most commenters (typically) left out the context. Which was a piece by German Chancellor Merkel herself in which she called for NATO to focus on the threats from Russia: “the alliance has to show determination to protect us”.

This gave Trump the opening to pose these questions (posed in his own way, of course, in a strategy that most people – despite the example of North Korea – have still not grasped). You tell us that NATO ought to concentrate on the Russian threat. If Russia is a threat, why are you buying gas from it?

        1. You tell us that Russia is a reliable energy supplier. If Russia is a reliable supplier, why are you telling us it’s a threat?
        2. I hope you’re not saying Russia is a threat and its gas is cheap but the USA will save you.

Good questions to be sure; questions that crystallise the contradiction of NATO. If Russia is such a big military threat to them – as NATO communiqués incessantly say it is – then why aren’t the Europeans, presumably first on Moscow’s cross hairs, doing more to meet that threat? And, if, as their doing so little about their defence suggests, they don’t fear Russia, then why do they say that they do? From the latest NATO communiqué:

meeting Russia’s aggressive actions, including the threat and use of force to attain political goals, challenge the Alliance and are undermining Euro-Atlantic security and the rules-based international order.

I always like to count words in these cliché-ridden screeds: it gives a metric of importance and saves force-marching my eyeballs through 12,000 words of self-satisfied pap. In the countries where NATO forces are actually deployed, the communiqué mentions Afghanistan twice, Kosovo six times and Iraq 14 times. NATO destroyed Libya but it only gets six references; it’s doing its best to repeat the performance in Syria (nine). But Russia leads with 54 mentions, none of them complimentary. Why even NATO’s favourite mush words, “values” (16) and “stability” (26), appear fewer times. Ukraine, on the other hand, has 25 appearances, all in what could be called the phantasmagorical verbal mood: “We welcome significant reform progress”. So, in NATOland, Russia’s back. By contrast, the Riga Summit communiqué in 2006 mentioned Afghanistan 17 times, Iraq eight times and Russia ten times (“values” and “stability” scored 15 each). But NATO was still looking for a purpose then:

It recognizes that for the foreseeable future, the principal threats to the Alliance are terrorism and proliferation, as well as failing states, regional crises, misuse of new technologies and disruption of the flow of vital resources.

The logic of NATO’s very existence creates the contradiction. NATO, having lost its raison d’être when the Warsaw Pact and the USSR disappeared, having floundered around in out-of-area operations and the “War on Terror”, has returned to “the Russian threat”. (But in a bureaucracy nothing ever actually stops: this week’s meeting approved a NATO training (!) mission in Iraq Year 15 and more British troops in Kabul Year 16.) Without the “Russian Threat” there would be no reason for NATO to exist, and certainly no big arms contracts, and all the warm butterscotch sauce of “common values” or “projecting stability” could not keep it together. Because, the brutal truth is that military alliances are kept together, not by common values, but by common enemies.

But, no question about it, it’s Washington that bears the major responsibility: Washington pushes NATO expansion, adding monomaniacal anti-Russian members; Washington foments colour revolutions; Washington blew up Ukraine and tried to snatch the Sevastopol naval base; Washington “twists arms“; Washington demands European sanctions and Magnitskiy Acts; Washington’s failed wars in the MENA suck in NATO members; Washington dropped the ABM Treaty inspiring Russia to create its super weapons. The truth is that, whatever might have happened otherwise, Washington drove NATO in the anti-Russia direction.

But Donald Trump is not that Washington: he is the anti-Washington. He tosses bombs into gatherings of complacent apparatchiks: if you believe what you’re saying, act on it; if you don’t act on it, stop saying it. Then he threw the spending bomb. For years there has been a vague commitment that NATO members should spend 2% of their GDP on defence; the commitment appears to have been formalised in 2014. (14) But the members aren’t paying much attention. Few have achieved it and the downward trend, begun at the end of the Cold War, has continued. Regardless of whether “2%” makes any sense or how it is calculated, Trump was right to remind NATO members that they themselves agreed to it. Again Trump raises the pointed question: why don’t you act as if you believe what you’re saying?

Indicators of European NATO members’ actual readiness and combat capability are stunning; the latest being “Only 4 of Germany’s 128 Eurofighter jets combat ready — report“; “Ground force: Half of France’s military planes ‘unfit to fly’“. “Britain’s ‘withered’ forces not fit to repel all-out attack“. “Europe’s Readiness Problem“. Obviously they’re not expecting a Russian attack any time soon. NATO is, as I have argued here, a paper tiger. It is questionable whether NATO members can conduct any operation without the USA providing satellite navigation and observation, air defence suppression, airborne command and control, inflight tankers, heavy lift and ammunition resupply to name a few deficiencies. So, either the Europeans are not worried; or, as Trump likes to say, they are free riders.

Six months ago I suggested that Trump may be trying to get out of what I called the “Gordian knot of entanglements

President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements? By getting others to untie it.

 

He stamps out of NATO leaving them quaking: if you say Russia is the enemy, why do you act as if it isn’t; and if you act as if it isn’t, why do you say it is? And firing, over his shoulder, the threat: 2% by next January.

I believe it is a threat and a very neat one too:

If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye.

If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.

Another strand of the knot gone.

 

NO, YOUR INTELLIGENCE IS ACTUALLY BAD. VERY BAD.

First published https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/05/02/no-your-intelligence-is-actually-bad-very-bad.html

Picked up by https://russia-insider.com/en/us-thinks-it-knows-russia-keeps-getting-surprised-it/ri23357

JRL 2018-#79/4

About a year ago, one Evelyn Farkas boasted “we have good intelligence on Russia…“. She was an important functionary on Russian matters in the Obama Administration and was, therefore, much involved in “intelligence on Russia”. My immediate reaction when I read it was: No, you do not have good intelligence on Russia; if you did, you wouldn’t be surprised all the time and your boss wouldn’t be saying such silly things. In March 2015 I enumerated some of the delusions. Vide this famous quotation from a 2014 interview:

But I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything. Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking. And so we have to respond with resolve in what are effectively regional challenges that Russia presents.

Obama was surely repeating what Farkas and others told him. Wrong on all three counts: Russia makes many things; it is the second immigrant destination on the planet; and its life expectancy and population are growing. This was not hermetic knowledge, available only to the Illuminati; these facts were easily discovered by any competent intelligence agency. That is not good intelligence. He liked to tell us that “Russia is isolated” or that “its economy [is] in tatters.” Wrong again.

The Duke of Wellington once observed:

All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill.’

That is a concise description of intelligence. When done right, intelligence minimises surprise: it gives an idea of what is on the other side so that when it does come over the hill, you’re prepared. You can imagine anything you like, of course, but when it does come over the hill, you find out. Which made it all the more amusing to watch Obama when it did come over the hill: by two years later reality was making him admit that Russia was no declining regional challenge but

an important country. It is a military superpower. It has influence in the region and it has influence around the world. And in order for us to solve many big problems around the world, it is in our interest to work with Russia and obtain their cooperation.

Today Obama’s political party thinks Russia so powerful that it is suing it because “Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign.” Deep persistent ignorance: the opposite of “good intelligence”.

Washington was not prepared for Russia’s action in Crimea. It was so sure that it had the naval base there that the US Navy was soliciting bids on a real estate development in Sevastopol. But really… who thought that Moscow would acquiesce to the snatching of a territory that had been part of Russia before the USA existed and a part of the Byzantine-Russian space half a millennium before Columbus? Moscow moved and moved quickly and Washington was left inventing humanitarian crises in Crimea. Intentions and capabilities: the very stuff of intelligence. Both wrong.

Nor did they learn from their mistakes: Moscow had moved quickly after Saakashvili attacked South Ossetia and again Washington had had to explain it away with silly theories that Russia tricked him into attacking. Better intelligence would have considered that Moscow might react to its soldiers being killed and might have the capability to do so. Intentions and capabilities again.

In 2015 I speculated on the reasons why Moscow ran rings around Washington all the time:

So it’s not that complicated: competency, attention to first principles, reality, planning, consistency of purpose and unity of execution beats incompetency, interfering in everything everywhere, illusion, sloppy assumptions, confusion and disunity.

Syria was the next to show that American intelligence hadn’t seen over the hill. Some of the surprises.

  1. Relatively insignificant boats in the Caspian Sea with a thousand kilometre punch.
  2. The high sortie rate of Russian aircraft.
  3. “Dumb bombs” turned into “smart bombs”.
  4. Russian EW capabilities.
  5. The S-300/400/500 series, a major off-stage frightener.
  6. Impressive stunts like the “White Swan” strike from the Kola Peninsula, or the Kalibr cruise missile strikes from the super-silent Varshavyanka submarines were another unexpected display of capability.
  7. And, of course, the speed and decisiveness with which Moscow moved.

And the surprises keep coming. Whether the Syrian air defence (with, no doubt, Russian help) really did shoot down 70% of the missiles in the latest FUKUS strike as the Russian MoD claims, there is no doubt that FUKUS is hiding something (unless you believe their absurd claim that 76 missiles hit this site). An American general complains that

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.

Another surprise from the country “that doesn’t make anything”. Today the US Defense Secretary talks of “the erosion of U.S. military advantage in relation to China and Russia.

So, in short, bad intelligence. Wrong on the significance of Russia; wrong on its capability; wrong on its determination; wrong on its military sophistication. Wrong too on the effect of sanctions.

‘It seems that the people working on this lost their way a bit,’ said a former Treasury official who was involved in drafting the sanctions imposed in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. ‘The bottom line is that the US government has a very shallow bench on Russia. And so they end up acting more-or-less at random.’

“Shallow bench”? More of an echo chamber in which people at the top expect to hear what they want to hear and are told it; reinforced by a news media full of people paid to believe what they believe to be paid. The only challenge to this bubble of complacent idiocy is the difficulty of inventing excuses for failure: Putin tricked Saakashvili, Ukraine would be rich if Putin hadn’t “invaded”, Crimeans are suffering, Russia’s not really fighting ISIS, Putin hacked our elections, the Russian economy trembles, Putin is about to fall (here’s the latest in the long series).

We do know what we’re doing; tomorrow will prove us right; we’ll shout louder.

All this would be harmless and amusing if it were about Ruritania and the Duchy of Strackenz. But this complacent bubble of idiocy directs and informs the behaviour of the “world’s indispensable power” in its undeclared war against a power with enough nuclear weapons to obliterate it.

THOUGHTS ON KOREA

(Response to a question from Sputnik. https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201804301064040839-kim-north-south-korea-summit/)

I have long thought that the solution in Korea is what the Chinese call the “dual suspension”: the north gives up its nuclear weapons and the south agrees to stop the annual threatening exercises with the USA. Kim remembers the horrors visited on North Korea by the USA in his grandfather’s time and has little trust in Washington. Especially after the destruction of Libya.

But, getting from here to there will take a lot of careful testing of intentions and actions. Yesterday’s announcement suggests a step towards “dual suspension” in this sentence: “South and North Korea agreed to carry out disarmament in a phased manner, as military tension is alleviated and substantial progress is made in military confidence-building.” But a seven-decade situation will take a long time to end.

The real question is what will Washington do? The last agreement in 1994 – a type of “dual suspension” – was broken by Washington; Washington is what Pyongyang really fears. Will Washington step back and let the locals solve the problem?

Reading his inaugural speech, one would expect Trump to want to get out. But who can say? Washington is, as the Russians say, not-capable-of-agreement-with (недоговороспособниы). One President says no to NATO expansion; the next says expand. Korean agreements are passed by presidents, blocked by Congress. UN resolutions are used as licences to kill. One says deal with Iran, the next says no deal. Syrian ceasefires are negotiated by State and cancelled by the Pentagon. The present one says time to get out of Syria and a week later attacks Syria. Impossible to predict; impossible to trust; impossible to agree with.

That’s the problem. I believe that the two principals and their immediate neighbours could work their way to a solution over time; Washington is the unpredictable part.

WHY MOSCOW’S FOREIGN PHILOSOPHY IS “WESTPHALIAN”

First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/04/02/why-moscow-foreign-philosophy-is-westphalian.html
These days there are two styles of foreign policy being practised; Paul Robinson here describes them: one is a “a traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. In the other style, there are said to be two kinds of states: “the just and the unjust”; they are not “legally or morally equal”. Others have called the second “idealism” or “moral diplomacy”. There is a continuous tradition of the USA regarding itself as quite a new category of country as recounted here and so the moralistic stance is sometimes called “Wilsonian” after the President who wished to “teach the South American republics to elect good men” but it’s quite bipartisan: witness the “Roosevelt Corollary” in which Theodore Roosevelt arrogated to the United States of America, as a “civilised country”, the right to intervene “in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence”. Neither of these approaches is new: there have always been countries that have believed that their gods gave them the mission of instructing and disciplining their neighbours and there have always been countries that were content to leave others alone.

The moralistic position is erected on the assumption that the speaker’s country is virtuous; that its virtue is evident and demonstrable: that its virtue is a fact. The lack of virtue of the other country is also a fact. Some countries are virtuous and others are not and the virtuous ones are permitted to do things the others can’t. Not assumption but reality; not hope but realisation; not relative but absolute; not subjective but objective. Stated that baldly, one wonders how any adult can believe such a thing. But they do. And with straight faces too:

Our children need to know that they – the citizens of the exceptional country, the most powerful, good and noble country in the history of mankind.

Most of all, America is indispensible — and exceptional — because of our values… The world looks to us to stand up for human rights, LGBT rights, religious and ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities and people everywhere who yearn for peace. We challenge ourselves and other nations to do better.

How fortunate that the best and noblest country in human history is also the most powerful! The United States is the current headquarters of the notion that some (or is it only one?) countries are “exceptional” and operate under different, but higher, standards than mere ordinary ones. In the last couple of decades the idea has spread throughout the Western world generally via, as Robinson observes, the (self-awarded) distinction of “those who respect and those who don’t respect human rights“. The West, it need hardly be said, considers itself to be a respecter.

So some of us are morally elevated and the rest of us are not. Those who aren’t should look to their defences: it’s bad for one’s life expectancy to be on the defaulters’ list as Slobodan Milosevich, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi can attest. It is striking how often this moral superiority is expressed by sanctions and bombing rather than by example, but the morally exceptional can do such things because they are morally exceptional. And, when Milosevic is exonerated, the WMD that was the pretext for Saddam’s overthrow isn’t there and it’s discovered that Qaddafi wasn’t “bombing his own people”, moral purity lets the exceptionalists shrug it off and move on; children die, but in a good cause. Exceptionalists bomb hospitals by mistake; the others do it on purpose.

The “idealistic” camp is led by Washington, while Moscow has come to be the chief spokesman for the “realistic” camp. Practically every speech Putin makes on foreign affairs has an appeal to “multilateralism” or to Robinson’s “traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. Here he is in an interview in 2000, but many many times since:

The world cannot develop effectively and positively if one state has a monopoly on taking and implementing whatever decisions it wants… In the history of mankind, such a drive for a monopoly has never ended well. For that reason, we are constantly proposing a different democratic world structure.

There are several reasons why Putin (and Yeltsin before him) calls for the primacy of the United Nations in a multilateral world system. Two are obviously self-serving: Russia is a permanent member of the UNSC and, second, it fears that it’s on the Exceptionalist hit list. And, given the predominance of “human rights violations” as justifications for “humanitarian interventions”, the annual condemnatory US State Department human rights report shows it has reason to fear.

But there is another reason why Moscow is dedicated to “a traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. And it’s one that’s easy to forget:

The USSR spent 70 years pushing an “exceptionalist” foreign policy and it was a bust.

The USSR, as the “world’s first socialist state” was the standard-bearer for the “bright future of mankind”, a novus ordo seculorum, even a new type of human – “новый советский человек“. It was the exceptional country, it was the “most good and noble country in the history of mankind”, it was the leader of “people everywhere who yearn for peace”. It intervened all over the world in support of its self-awarded moral superiority. National Communist parties echoed Moscow’s superior wisdom. The German Communist Party collaborated with the Nazis to weaken the Weimar Republic. Why? Because socialism would prevail when Weimar went down. But it didn’t: the Nazis prevailed and the USSR paid a mighty price for their triumph. Cuba, a socialist state (“The Island of Freedom”), had to be supported by the Leader of World Socialism. That support brought the world close to a nuclear war. Any little movement that called itself socialist called for Moscow’s help, even countries the Politburo’s decrepit members had never heard of. They had to be provided with weapons, loans, aid and diplomatic support. It would have been impossible for the World’s First Socialist state not to intervene in Afghanistan when the so-called socialist government there began to wobble. Once socialist, socialist forever:

When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.

How could the USSR avoid lending money or weapons to any state that said it was socialist? Peace movements had to be infiltrated because theory said that only socialism brought peace. Being exceptional has heavy obligations:

More than any other people on Earth, we bear burdens and accept risks unprecedented in their size and their duration, not for ourselves alone but for all who wish to be free. (John Kennedy actually, but Brezhnev probably said something like it, although at greater length.)

And it all came to nothing. Consider, for example, Poland. The USSR liberated it from the Nazis who had killed off about a fifth of the population; Stalin redrew the map so that, for the first time in history, all historical Poland was united and that territory was almost completely ethnically homogeneous. The USSR intervened in Polish politics and civil life for four decades by enforcing, as it believed it was morally obliged to do, the “bright future of mankind” to the expected benefit of the Polish people. Or so the exceptionalists in the Kremlin said. And with what result? The moment it became clear that the tanks weren’t coming, Poland threw off the Soviets, the alliance and the whole socialist package. And so throughout the other Fraternal Socialist States. It was a bubble. Exceptional countries have no friends because they have no equals, they can only have clients; but clients have to be fed or coerced.

The Russian Federation, as the successor to the USSR, inherited what it owed and what it was owed. But there was a big difference: the debts were real; the credits were not. Russia has paid all that it owed and written off most of what it was owed. In the case of Cuba, in 2014 Putin wrote off $32 billion in debt. The USSR had lent money to African “socialist” countries – as Leader of the Socialist World how could it refuse? Putin just wrote off $20 billion of that. And so on. Exceptionalism was money down the hole.

In 1987 a short piece by Yevgeniy Primakov appeared in Pravda: “A New Philosophy of Foreign Policy”. Essentially it argued that the USSR’s foreign policy had been a failure: it had reduced security and was bankrupting the country. After 70 years of exceptionalism, what was left? No friendship, often the opposite. No monetary profit, just costs. The Leader of the Socialist Bloc and the Bloc itself evaporated as if they had never been. It was all for nothing. And worse than nothing: here’s Putin himself in 1999:

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.

“Outrageous price”. “Historic futility”. “Inaptitude”. “Steady lag”. “A road to a blind alley”. Nothing: no money, no friends, no power, no prosperity. Nothing: neither at home nor abroad.

Moscow knows the exceptionalist road is “a road to a blind alley” because it wasted 70 years on that road. However imperfect and irritating the “traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities” may be, Moscow knows that “idealism” is completely worthless.

It’s worth observing that the “Westphalian system” is named after the several agreements in 1648 that ended the religious wars in Europe by accepting the principle of cuius regio, eius religio or that each state would be allowed to do things its own way. In other words, Westphalianism was accepted only after idealism had burned everything to the ground.

It’s an old lesson that Russia has learned but Washington, with its still-large purse, hasn’t. Yet.