Friday, February 24, 2017

Trump is awful but so is the opposition - and perhaps more dangerous.

I have only posted one short blog since the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States.  There are plenty of things I could have said about his awful performance to date, but I would just be repeating what many others have said before.  Instead today I want to discuss the opposition to the Trump's presidency, which I view,  in many ways, to be just as bad,   Indeed I view the campaign to smear Trump by association with Vladimir Putin and Russia, as every bit as unscrupulous and lacking in substance as many of the untruths and exaggerations that Trump himself has uttered.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with my concern in the way in which propaganda is readily accepted as fact by many in the mainstream media and how it soon becomes the accepted narrative in public discourse.  Qualifications such as "alleged" or "according to some reports" soon get dropped and reporters, columnists and others are soon talking about 'Saddam Hussein's WMD" or "Russian hacking of the election" as if these are accepted facts.

Whether the media complicity in this process is by intent or through laziness or incompetence, is open question.   I suspect at the top, the level of publishers and editors, it is by intent;  at the level of individual reporters and journalists I suspect that, with a few exceptions, they soon learn what is expected of them, and toe the editorial line, without challenging the underlying assumptions.  No doubt this helps them in career advancement, whereas to challenge the accepted line requires courage and self belief.  

Perhaps the most consequential piece of propaganda that became "received wisdom" was the way in which Iraq was painted as an existential danger to the civilized world, possessing weapons of mass destruction which could bring about another event as cataclysmic as 9-11.  Indeed without the spectre of 9-11 lurking in the background, I doubt if it would have possible for such a propaganda coup to have been foisted on the public.  Be that as it may, I think it is important to remember how it happened.

There was of course the official voices making the case - elected leaders such Bush, Cheney and Blair with nearly all members of their governments echoing the claims; and then there were the leaders of the intelligence services - Tenet of the CIA, Scarlett of MI6 et al. brought in to add gravitas.  False stories were leaked about Saddam buying yellowcake uranium ore in Niger, and "intelligence" from the supposed Iraqi defector Curveball.

All of these untrue claims were accepted and promoted by most of the mainstream media, with the Washington Post and New York Times out in front.  Remember Judith Miller of the NY Times.  Remember the evidence, complete with photographs, of mobile chemical weapons labs, that Colin Powell presented at the UN.  

On the basis of these lies, the US, with its "coalition of the willing", illegally invaded another country, essentially destroying it, killing hundreds of thousands of its citizens, and provoking a civil war, and the rise of extreme jihadi groups such as ISIS.  The consequences of this enormous disaster are still being played out, both in Iraq and Syria and even Turkey.  Would the tragedies of Aleppo and now Mosul have occurred if Iraq were not invaded in 2003?  

The costs to the invaders, while small compared with those of Middle Eastern countries, are still significant.  Estimated US troop casualties are around 4,500 dead and 35,000 wounded, not to mention the suicides and domestic tragedies of sufferers of PTSD.  The financial cost to the US was estimated at $1.7 trillion in 2013.  The accumulated costs to the US economy are considered to be considerably higher. 

And all of this was justified by false propaganda!

Shocking as this may seem. it is my opinion that a propaganda operation of similar magnitude is now being foisted on the American public.  The perpetrators belong to both major parties in the US, and as with the Iraq WMD operation, the intelligence services, especially the CIA, are deeply involved, along with the compliant media.  

I am referring to the attempt to smear Donald Trump, as being "compromised" by his association with the Russia of Vladimir Putin. As some commentators have pointed out it is reminiscent of the McCarthy communist witchhunts of the 1950s.  

Russian scholar Stephen Cohen, in an article in The Nation lists six ways in which Trump's name is detrimentally linked to Russia:
1. Trump has lavished praise on Putin, calling him a strong leader and suggesting it would be in US interests to cooperate with Russia.
2. Trump has had business dealings with Russia.
3. His one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was hired as an adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, before his ousting in the Maidan "revolution" of 2014. This in spite of the fact that Manafort apparently advised Yanukovych to tilt towards the EU partnership agreement and away from Russia.  
4.  The dossier, released by BuzzFeed, compiled by a former  MI5 agent, claiming that the FSB held incriminating evidence on Trump (including footage of Trump caught in a "honey trap") which could be used to coerce him.  None of this was ever confirmed.  No evidence was produced. 
5. The claim that Russia helped Trump win the election through the hacking of the Democratic National Convention computers, and the subsequent release of e-mails to WikiLeaks embarrassing to Hillary Clinton.  It was claimed that Russian State actors were involved, with the direct knowledge and authorization of Vladimir Putin.  A report was issued by the intelligence community (CIA-FBI-NSA) supposedly justifying the claims.  But it didn't.  It contained no more proof than did Colin Powell's report to the UN on Saddam's WMD. It comprised "assessments", based on surmised motivations.  Wikileaks has claimed the material was "leaked" (i.e. taken from the computers by an insider) rather than "hacked" from outside.  Also a number of American cyber experts have said that if Russian State hackers were involved they would not have "left fingerprints" as US intelligence officials claimed they did.   The only way US intelligence could know that Vladimir Putin authorized the operation would be if they had done exactly what they accused the Russians of doing i.e. hacked into Russian State computer networks (or possibly had a spy in the Kremlin).  
6.  Before the Trump's inauguration his nominee for the post of National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, had phone conversations (on open lines) with the Russian Ambassador to the US.  He was forced to resign over this, or perhaps, more accurately because he had misled Vice-President Mike Pence over the content of these calls.  But apparently Flynn was doing nothing that other past presidential nominees had done.  Jack Matlock, US ambassador to the USSR under Reagan and George H. W. Bush, has said he arranged meetings in Moscow for Jimmy Carter's transition team, and President Obama's Russian adviser Michael McFaul has said publicly that he visited Moscow in 2008, even before the election in that year, for talks with Russian officials.

So it seems that what is being presented is a farrago of allegations, rumours and "assessments" which somehow link Donald Trump with Russia.  None of these amount to anything.  There is not a shred of real evidence that Trump is in any way compromised by his relationship with Russia.

To my mind all of this is very reminiscent of the WMD misinformation campaign.  The game plan seems to be to keep piling on allegation and innuendo so that people start to think there must be something in it - after all there is no smoke without fire.

All of this builds on a campaign of demonizing Russia over the past few years.  Again the media have been complicit in presenting a false picture.  The "accepted" narrative of the crisis with Russia over Ukraine goes something like this (words of Washington Post's senior foreign affairs writer Karen de Young)  

"That conflict began when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, then backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine in what became a grinding war, despite a deal to end it, called the Minsk agreement, negotiated with Putin by the leaders of France and Germany."

But this synopsis is simply not true.  Russia did not "invade" Crimea. Most of the residents of Crimea are Russian and they did not like the new government in Kiev (one of its first acts was to de-legitimize Russian as an official language declaring Ukranian the only official language).  In a hastily called referendum the citizens of Crimea voted 96% to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia.  There was a similar response in Russian speaking eastern Ukraine (Donbass).  Citizens in Donetsk and Lugansk declared that they no longer recognized the government in Kiev.  The response of the Kiev government was to send tanks and artillery to start shelling the cities.  

The events of the Maidan "revolution" are still subject to dispute.  But they are certainly not as simple as the Western media narrative of "brave unarmed Ukrainians overthrow  Russian backed tyrant, leading to his ouster."  If readers would like a concise summary I think that given by Robert Parry does a good job. 

His alternative to Karen de Young's synopsis goes like this 

“The Ukraine conflict began when U.S. officials supported the violent overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych, prompting Crimea to rejoin Russia and causing ethnic Russians in the east to rise up against the U.S.-backed coup regime in Kiev, which then sought to crush the rebellion. The Kiev regime later torpedoed a peace deal that had been hammered out by Russian, Ukrainian and European negotiators in Minsk.”

And then there is the way Russian involvement in Syria is presented. You know, the way Russian planes were bombing civilians in besieged east Aleppo.   We don't hear much now about how US and NATO planes are bombing west Mosul.  When they do get reported civilian deaths are usually attributed to ISIS hiding itself among the civilian population. So ISIS is responsible.  But not the Nusra front jihadis in Alleppo.  There it was the Russians responsible for indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas.  

Russia and China are the only two countries in the world that come anywhere near to the USA in terms of the power they yield - Russia because of its nuclear weapons and military strength (though still only a fraction the size of the American military) and China because of its size and its industrial might.   To many in the US the very existence of centres of power which are not US controlled, seems to be an affront. They cannot accept that Russia is a country with interests of its own, which sometimes conflict with US interests.  In Syria for example, Russia has a naval base - its only base in the Mediterranean. It certainly didn't want to give up that base - just as it would never give up its Black Sea base in Sevastapol, Crimea.   I am not claiming that Russia is any better, in a moral sense, that the US.  But I would like to see US recognition that there are other countries in the world that do not want to become US tributaries.  

The whipped up hysteria against Russia has travelled beyond the US. The London daily The Independent this week carried a story in which former Labour minister Chris Bryant claimed in parliament that there was "clear evidence" that Russia had interfered in the last UK general election, which Labour lost.  But of course he didn't present any evidence, clear or otherwise, nor did he suggest the form the interference took.  He also alleged Russian interference in France and Germany:
“There is now clear evidence of Russian direct, corrupt involvement in elections in France, in Germany, in the United States of America, and I would argue also in this country”. 

Maybe there is some truth in this, maybe not.  Without specifics and evidence presented it is just impossible to determine.  I suspect one could make a better case of Western interference in Russian elections - indeed Time magazine had a front page story a few years back how American "consultants" had helped Boris Yeltsin get elected. Certainly we know that the NSA tapped Angela Merkel's phone, and that Canadian intelligence hacked into the computers of Brazil's ministry of natural resources.  The reality is that all countries with the capabilities are engaged in electronic spying, on both friend and rival. No doubt malicious acts also occur when the perpetrator feels they can get away with it, e.g. the introduction of the Stuxnet worm into Iranian systems by US and Israeli parties.  

Who is behind this campaign to malign Donald Trump by association with Russia, and beyond that to demonize Russia?

Well, the Democratic Party were stung by their loss in the presidential election, and were quite happy to find an easy excuse, and at the same time discredit Donald Trump.  And quite a few Republicans were unhappy at Trump's takeover of their party.  Hence Republican senators such as John McCain and Lindsay Graham have been amongst the most vocal proponents of Russian involvement. These two have also long been vocal critics of Russia and promoters of a very aggressive foreign policy.  The press by and large were "all in" on supporting the election of Hillary Clinton and like the Democratic party have been happy to find an excuse for La Clinton's loss.  

But I suspect that behind all of this there are "Deep State" actors who do not want at any cost to see a rapprochement with Russia, as Trump has proposed.  I believe that the CIA is  deeply involved in this.   Since at least the time of George W. Bush, many senior positions in the intelligence and foreign policy branches of government have gone to people of a NeoCon persuasion - the State Department's Victoria Nuland of Maidan notoriety is a good example.  These people were counting on a Clinton victory and an aggressive policy towards Russia. Trump's victory disrupted the plans, but they quickly re-grouped and found a way to both pursue a "Cold War 2" at the same time and discredit Donald Trump. 

Whether it will work or not remains to be seen.  The first signs did not look good.  After National Security head Michael Flynn was removed, it seemed that Trump was caving on his policy of rapprochement with Russia - he tweeted how he expected Russia to de-escalate the violence in Ukraine and to return Crimea (one might as well ask Israel to return all of the land it has stolen since the 1967 war!).  But it could be that in Flynn's firing, Trump has only sacrificed a pawn, and that he is now re-grouping in order to take on his 'Deep State' enemies.  It seems that there is a battle royal going on behind the scenes, with Trump's enemies determined to take him down.  This article by former British diplomat and intelligence insider, Alistair Crooke,  analyzes the situation

I am sad to say that I am on Trump's side on this.  If the NeoCon factions win we can expect more of the discredited and disastrous regime-change policy in evidence in the Bush and Obama presidencies, only this time with nuclear-armed Russia in the crosshairs.  That is why to my mind Trump's liberal opponents are mistaken to rally around the "Russian puppet" meme, in order to discredit him.  They themselves are being played as puppets by a very powerful and unscrupulous players. 

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