Monday, April 3, 2017

Demonizing Russia - The Psychology and Consequences of Neo-Mccarthyism

The American public is being conditioned to fear and hate Russia, but why?

Go To Original

is article is not intended to alter your position in regard to Donald Trump in any way. Whether you love him or hate him isn’t an issue of global importance, nor is his political survival relevant to this analysis. Some of the tactics being used in the push to take Trump down however, are.

THE STAKES

Before we dive into the quagmire that the topic of of Russia, Trump and the 2016 elections has become, it behoves us to anchor to the stakes: Russia is a nuclear power. The demonization of foreign nations is a precursor to war, and even a limited conflict between the United States and Russia would kill millions (if not billions) of people; rendering much of the planet uninhabitable for decades. Using U.S. Russian relations as a political football in this context is foolish and irresponsible. 

THE TRUMP VARIABLE

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign made tying Trump to Russia a central pillar of their messaging strategy. This line of attack was predicated on comments made by Trump over the years expressing respect for Putin. For example:
“Look at Putin – what he’s doing with Russia – I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean this guy has done – whether you like him or don’t like him – he’s doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period,”Trump to Larry King on CNN - October 2007
“I think I’d get along very well with Vladimir Putin. I just think so.”Trump - July 31, 2015
Clinton used these and other statements to weave the narrative that Trump is “Putin’s puppet”. The mainstream media, and left-leaning blogosphere took that narrative and ran with it. Those who didn’t were labeled “fake news”, and attacked as collaborators. The goal was to capitalize on existing anti-Russian sentiment by attaching it to Trump and his supporters (and to pressure those on the fence distance themselves).

This wasn’t just innuendo. Take this headline from Buzzfeed for example: Trump Supporters Love Russia And Think CNN And The New York Times Are “Fake News”. Or this one from TheWeek: Why are Republicans so blindly backing Trump over Russia?
This is an age-old political tactic. Guilt by association and honor by association (aka acquired equivalence) may be logical fallacies, but they are highly effective… most of the time.

Studies have shown that not only does guilt by association transfer negative sentiments from an individual who is disliked to the target in question, but also to anyone associated with them.
The pairing of a target with a (dis)liked person not only affects the evaluation of the previously neutral person but spreads to other individuals who are (pre)associated with the target (spreading attitude effect).
This line of attack got plenty of traction on the neoliberal left, and from the old neocon contingent led by the likes of John Mccain (which have long pushed for a confrontation with Russia) but elicited virtually no response from Trump’s base. Why? Because Trump supporters don’t view Putin as the boogie man the corporate media has worked hard to depict him as. They view him as a conservative, a brilliant strategist, and a strong leader. They don’t see him as perfect, but they consider him to be better than Obama (and by a long shot).

Obviously a lot of “progressives” take issue with that perception, and have found it very frustrating that they were unable to roll over that obstacle as if it wasn’t there. Their response to this, and to other similar failures, has been to declare that we are living in a “Post Truth Era”. 

That’s a topic in and of itself, but for those who have paid close attention to geopolitical developments over the past eight years, the irony is thick.

THE RUSSIAN HACKING ALLEGATIONS

When the 2016 election didn’t go as expected, people were looking for someone to blame. Of course blaming Hillary for being a terrible candidate (any honest progressive will acknowledge this), or for running a terrible campaign, was out of the question, and of course they couldn’t acknowledge that the backlash over the DNC’s shut down of Bernie Sanders played a role. So of course they blamed Russia.

Now playing loose and fast with the facts for political purposes is a mainstay of American partisanship, but when foreign policy gets thrown into the mix, and “leaders” start accusing a nuclear power of “an act of war” the facts matter.

As of today, many months after the election, no one has put forth any evidence that Russia hacked anything related to the election whatsoever. None. The closest thing anyone has even resembling evidence is the word of CrowdStrike, the company hired by the DNC to investigate their servers, after someone released emails showing that Democratic party officials had been working behind the scenes to discredit and disable the Bernie Sanders campaign.

There are several problems with the CrowdStrike angle however. The first problem, is that the DNC refused to allow the FBI to look at the servers themselves. The FBI instead just took their word for it. The second problem is that CrowdStrike has a SIGNIFICANT conflict of interest in this situation. Google is a major stakeholder in CrowdStrike, and Eric Schmidt the Executive Chairman of Alphabet (the parent company of Google) was working directly on the Clinton campaign effort. He was providing tech assistance, he drew up her campaign plan, and he was even photographed wearing a “staff” badge in an exclusive area during election night.


This doesn’t pass the smell test, at all.

Furthermore, the anti-Russian angle peddled by CrowdStrike was premised on the “fact” that the malware used in the attack was of Russian origin. As any security expert will tell you, once malware is used in the wild, anyone can pick it up and use it (including other state actors).


To bolster their claim, CrowdStrike attempted to draw parallels to a supposed hack on Ukrainian artillery communications that used the same technique. That however, blew up in their face when both the Ukrainian military and the International Institute for Strategic Studies came forward to debunk their assessment.

Then there is the fact that Wikileaks has been very clear about the fact that their source was NOT Russian.
“We can say, we have said, repeatedly that over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party,”
The rabbit hole on this topic goes deeper, and clearly there is room for a lively debate, but it takes a willful act of intellectual dishonesty to treat it as a slam dunk case where the villain is clearly defined.

Anyone who has studied crowd psychology knows that one of the most important principles of ideological contagion is repetition. It doesn’t matter if something is true or false. If you repeat something enough times people will start believing it. Once an idea becomes an accepted belief, it takes on characteristics of religious orthodoxy. To question becomes heresy.

The quote below is characteristic of the anti-Russian rhetoric and conspiracy theories that have been parroted endlessly after the election.

But what would be illegitimate, and perhaps even treasonous, is an effort to soften American policy toward Russia’s actions in its near abroad without a clearly stated policy rationale and in return for help from Russian intelligence in defeating a domestic political opponent. “Promise to help us in Ukraine and we’ll help you win against Hillary Clinton by releasing stolen emails that make her look bad”: That and other possible acts of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign are what the FBI is investigating.Damon Linker - The Week
The trouble with these kinds of accusations, is that once enough people believe them, they have a way of taking on a life of their own. Demands for investigations into Trump’s links to Russia were made, and balls got rolling, but they didn’t find what they were looking for.
“On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all. There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell - (A prominent Clinton Backer)
THE UKRAINIAN AND SYRIAN VARIABLES

The demonization of Russia didn’t actually begin at the Ukrainian crisis of 2014 or even during the Syrian crisis. There were always a few crazies in the back of the room (like John Mccain and Mitt Romney) pushing the narrative, but no one was listening to them. However Russia’s successful defiance of the U.S. in Syria and Ukraine triggered the equivalent of a temper tantrum on the part of the U.S. and European ruling elite. Obama in particular got egg in the face several times during these crises, and this created an emotional link for those who were committed to supporting the Obama administration no matter what. Russia had made their leader look bad. Therefore Russia was an enemy. This phenomenon is an expression of the pack instinct. The Alpha must be protected at all costs.

The counterattack became a question of repetition and psychology, rendering the facts irrelevant. Rather than acknowledge that over 95% of the Crimean people voted to reunite with Russia in a referendum that no one has been able to discredit in any meaningful way, or the fact that under international law, the right to self determination is a valid premise for such a reunion, the mainstream media blurred the issue with a simple slur, parroted endlessly: Russian aggression, Russian aggression, Russian aggression.

THE LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES

The short term political utility of tying Trump to Russia has blinded many on the left to the long term effect such a strategy is bound to have. Consider for a moment the implications of an entire generation being raised in the United States right now marinating in news and commentary which frames Russia as enemy number #1 (or #2 depending on where Trump supposedly fits). The facts and specifics won’t matter to these formative minds. It all boils down to sentiment. This sentiment can (and likely will) be used in ways that those fomenting it never imagined.

A recent poll by Reuters found that a stunning 82% of Americans now view Russia as a threat. This is a ticking time bomb.

It is a strategic error to assume anti-Russian propaganda will always work in the favor of the political left. Remember the original Mccarthyism. Neocon Republicans like John Mccain and Mike Pence would like nothing more than a chance to clip Putin’s wings, and in the right context that’s exactly what they would attempt to do. By linking Russia to Trump (arguably one of the most hated political figures in American history) the left is unwittingly laying the psychological groundwork for war.

If and when the moment comes where a Republican president decides to escalate tensions with Moscow (by direct or proxy intervention), “progressives” will find themselves in an extremely uncomfortable dilemma: either they get carried along with their enemies in the wave of anti-Russian sentiment they helped create, or they try to reverse tack and play opposition.

Reversing tack wouldn’t be easy under any circumstances, but in the midst of a crisis it would be all but impossible, and such protests would be easily shot down with snippets of their own words. Hypocrisy is after all, a vulnerability in and of itself.

Trump's Stealth Partition of Syria - "Safe Zones" and the Siege of Raqqa

Go To Original

With Russia backing the Syrian army the U.S. and the rest of the Sunni Axis seem to have given up their plans for a full regime change in Syria. This does not, however, mean that the danger of an escalation has passed. Plan B among U.S. foreign policy hawks has always provided for two backdoor paths to war: the establishment of no-fly zones (now renamed as “safe-zones”), and the partition of Syria along sectarian lines.
Trump has signaled that he supports the establishment of “safe-zones” in Syria to manage refugees before they reach Europe. However in practice it is unclear how this would be any different from Clinton’s proposal to establish no-fly zones; a policy that Trump at one point warned could spark World War III.
“What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria,” Trump told The Guardian. “You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton.” He continued: “You’re not fighting Syria anymore, you’re fighting Syria, Russia, and Iran, all right? Russia is a nuclear country, but a country where the nukes work as opposed to other countries that talk.”
Safe-zones would be toothless without control of airspace, so either Trump hasn’t thought this through, or is assuming that renaming the venture will be enough to put anti-war activists off the scent. Foreign policy analysts, however, are viewing this as potential flashpoint.
“I do think that it presents escalation risks,” Melissa Dalton, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who was formerly a country director for Syria at the Department of Defense, told Business Insider. “If the US decides to pursue a safe zone, it needs to do so in the broader framework that looks at what sort of levers, what sort of coercive measures can the US bring to bear on Russia, Assad, and Iran to ensure that the safe zone is not violated and to mitigate the risks of military confrontation.”
Russia has expressed concern, but is keeping their response diplomatic, warning the U.S. to “think about the potential consequences of establishing safe zones”

THE SIEGE OF RAQQA

As the U.S. military and Kurdish forces surround Raqqa in preparation to take the city, most media attention has focused on the possibility of its dam being destroyed by ISIS. However a far more important development passed under the radar. On March 23, Radio FreeEurope reported that the U.S. intends to use the operation to block Syrian government forces.
Besides recapturing the dam, SDF said the U.S.-backed operation also aimed to block any advance by Syrian government forces from the west.
The implication here is that the U.S. doesn’t intend to give Raqqa back to Syria at all, but would rather hand over power to one of their proxies and facilitate the establishment of a new government. If this is indeed the case, it would be naive to assume that this new government would limit its territory to this one city. In order to hold its position over the long term, they would have to extend their borders significantly, most likely towards Turkey. Turkey clearly sees this implication, and is not pleased. Turkey obviously isn’t concerned about violating Syria’s sovereignty, but they view any move that strengthens the Kurds as a potential threat.

RUSSIA’S STRATEGY

At this stage it is clear that Trump’s anti-war campaign rhetoric will have little bearing on policy. Russia sees this, and you can rest assured that they are planning accordingly, but as of yet they have declined to expose their hand. Their lack of an immediate response does however indicate that they intend to allow the U.S. to commit itself fully before making any significant move. Once the U.S. is holding Raqqa this will cease to be a war of airstrikes, and proxy insurgencies, and will become an occupation, and that’s a completely different ball of wax.

This is comparable to an amateur chess player pushing a cluster of pieces deep into enemy territory early in the game with no real long term plan. Russia will bide its time.

Pentagon exercises free rein in global military escalation

Go To Original

Two months into the administration of Donald Trump, the US military is involved in a relentless military escalation from the Baltic Sea in Eastern Europe to Central Asia, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. The “war on terror” launched by the Bush administration more than fifteen years ago, having already turned much of the region into a slaughterhouse, is taking an even deadlier turn.
In extraordinary testimony to a US Congressional panel, the top military commander of US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia essentially laid out a proposal for the buildup to war against Iran, even as the Pentagon is steadily escalating a murderous bombing campaign that has killed hundreds if not thousands of civilians in Iraq and Syria.
Gen. Joseph Votel, the chief of the US Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that Iran “poses the greatest long-term threat to security in this part of the world” and demanded that Washington act to “disrupt [Iran] through military means or other means.” He added, “We need to look at opportunities where we can expose and hold them accountable for the things that they are doing,” while calling into question the 2015 nuclear agreement signed by Iran, the US and the other major powers.
Votel went on to present the case for an expanded US military intervention in Yemen, declaring that “there are vital US interests at stake” in this, the most impoverished Arab country, where Saudi Arabia and its allies have waged a near-genocidal war against the population using American weapons along with indispensable US intelligence and logistical support. The remark came as the Pentagon is preparing to back an offensive by the Emirati military aimed at capturing a Red Sea port that constitutes Yemen’s last link between the outside world and its starving population.
Finally, Votel told the US congressman that the Pentagon is preparing to substantially increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan—the US commander there has suggested that as many as 5,000 more soldiers be sent into the more than 15-year-old war.
In the same breath, Votel asserted that it is “fair to assume” that Russia is “providing some sort of support to [the Taliban], in terms of weapons or other things that may be there.” That no one has presented any evidence to validate such an assumption did nothing to mask the significance of the US commander’s remarks. The US intervention in Afghanistan is part of a military strategy aimed at confronting Washington’s key rivals for regional and global hegemony: Russia, China and Iran.
Votel’s testimony came just a day after the chief of the US European Command, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, told the same Congressional panel that he wants another full US armored division—as many as 20,000 US troops equipped with Abrams main battle tanks, infantry combat vehicles as well as missile systems and Apache and Black Hawk helicopters—permanently deployed on Russia’s western borders. In addition, he called for an increased presence of US warships near the country’s shores—“It would be wonderful to have a carrier support group with amphibious forces”—as well as the provision of “lethal” weapons to the right-wing nationalist regime in Ukraine.
Denouncing Russia for its “aggression” and “malign activities,” he described Moscow as “a very lethal, tough enemy.” Never mind that the $54 billion increase that President Donald Trump has proposed for the Pentagon budget is the equivalent of 80 percent of Russia’s military spending.
A week earlier, the head of the US Africa Command, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, called for the Trump administration to lift the controls restricting US military operations in Somalia to pave the way for a full-scale American intervention in that impoverished African nation. The AP reported yesterday that the Trump administration has granted this request.
Functioning as 21st century proconsuls, these US regional commanders are increasingly dictating the key elements of US foreign policy. This is not an innovation introduced under the Trump administration, but rather has built up steadily over the course of a quarter century of unending US wars under both Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
Nonetheless, there are increasing indications that the Trump White House, which has installed an active-duty Army general as its national security advisor and two recently retired Marine generals as secretaries of defense and homeland security, has given a free rein to the military in conducting lethal operations abroad.
This has found its starkest expression in the murderous offensive being conducted by the Pentagon in Syria and Iraq, with US bombs reducing entire residential neighborhoods in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, to rubble, and killing innocent civilians in attacks on mosques and schools in Syria.
Allowing new “rules of engagement” that make mass civilian casualties inevitable, Washington is unceremoniously dispensing with whatever “human rights” window dressing was attached to the US interventions under the Obama administration, even as it pursued the same essential policy.
As much was acknowledged by a former senior Pentagon official under Obama, Andrew Exum, who commented recently, “Potentially, by giving field commanders more leeway to exploit opportunities on the battlefield, the Trump administration can execute the Obama administration’s strategy more efficiently.”
While cynically lamenting the “tragedy” of this efficient slaughter of civilians in Mosul, US commanders have made it clear that new and even worse atrocities are still to come. “As we move into the urban environment, it is going to become more and more difficult to apply extraordinarily high standards for things we are doing, although we will try,” Votel told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday.
Earlier, the chief of US operations in Iraq and Syria, Gen. Stephen Townsend, described the Mosul operation as “the most significant urban combat to take place since World War II”, characterizing it as “tough and brutal.”
The bulk of the brutality is now coming from the more than 500 bombs that US warplanes have dropped on the city every single week this month.
Urban combat, it should be noted, has been a key focus of US military planners in recent years. Quoting remarks by Gen. Mark Milley, the US Army’s chief of staff, at a “Future of War” conference held last week, Military.com reported, “If war is about politics, it is going to be fought where people live, and ‘it will be fought, in my opinion, in urban areas,’ Milley said. ‘That has huge implications for the United States Army.’”
The terrorized population of Mosul—including an estimated 600,000 children—is being used as guinea pigs by the US military in preparing its forces for such operations, which it sees as inevitable given the vast social polarization created by the profit system. Such future urban battles, it is well aware, will be waged not only in war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East, but in America’s own cities.
What is most extraordinary is the absence of any organized opposition to the military bloodbath that is being systematically implemented, and that contains within it the seeds of world war. Within the political establishment, the parade of generals testifying before Congress meets nothing but fawning praise from Democrats and Republicans alike. The organizations that orbit the Democratic Party, and once professed opposition to war, remain silent or, more often, do what they can to provide the humanitarian or “left” justifications for imperialist slaughter.
In the final analysis, the immense power and influence of the US military and its senior commanders notwithstanding, the drive to world war is rooted not in the unleashing of the generals by Trump, but in the crisis of global capitalism and the irresolvable contradiction between world economy and the division of the globe into rival nation-states that is driving every capitalist power to rearmament and militarism, with Washington leading the pack.