..... I find the view… that prevails today in large portions of our governmental and journalistic establishments so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal, that it is not only ineffective, but dangerous as a guide to political action.
This endless series of distortions and oversimplifications; this systematic dehumanization of the leadership of another… country; this routine exaggeration of... military capabilities...: this monotonous misrepresentation of the nature and the attitudes of another... people...; ...this reckless application of the double standard to the judgment of…[their] conduct and our own, this failure to recognize, finally, the commonality of many of their problems and ours...: and the corresponding tendency to view all aspects of the relationship in terms of a supposed total and irreconcilable conflict of concerns and of aims; these, I believe, are not the marks of the maturity and discrimination one expects of the diplomacy of a great power...
And we shall not be able to turn these things around as they should be turned, on the plane of military and nuclear rivalry, until we learn to correct these childish distortions... If we insist on demonizing these… leaders -- on viewing them as total and incorrigible enemies, consumed only with their fear and hatred of us and dedicated to nothing other than our destruction -- that, in the end, is the way we shall assuredly have them, if for no other reason than that our view of them allows for nothing else, either for them or just us.
The above, edited-for-clarity quote comes to me courtesy of a thoughtful friend, E. Martin Schotz, and is taken from George Kennan’s 1982 book, The Nuclear Delusion: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age. Kennan is widely recognized as one of the architects of the Cold War. His post-World War II writing on the supposed Soviet threat spurred the US policy of containment. Some thirty-five years after he helped spark a wasteful arms race that threatened to destroy the world, Kennan had the powerful second thoughts reflected above.
I purposefully excised the references to the Soviet Union in the Kennan quote with the hope that others might see how unerringly Kennan’s words capture US foreign policy today towards our newly contrived “enemies.” Without much imagination, one could credibly substitute the names of countries that have been anointed “incorrigible enemies” of the US in recent years: Cuba, Yugoslavia, Serbia, Iran, Venezuela, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Russia, China, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Unfortunately, despite George F. Kennan’s never-too-late regrets, the arrogance of empire remains a deeply embedded disposition of US ruling elites. The frequent and persistent wars of aggression underscore the Marxist-Leninist thesis that a reach for dominance over all rivals or those daring to show independence is an essential, inescapable feature of mature capitalism.
If we take seriously Marx, paraphrasing Hegel, asserting that history repeats “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce,” then we must believe that we live in times of frightening absurdity. The irresponsible demonizing of Milosevic, Saddam, Gaddafi, or al-Assad has tragically sacrificed well over a million lives to US and NATO aggression, but the painting of Russia, DPRK, and the People's Republic of China (PRC) as absolute evil today reaches previously unimaginable levels of madness and danger.
Last week’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian entities only underlines the vacuity of the Mueller investigation. Over nine months of probing, interviewing, and developing evidence has produced (1) an admission of lying to the FBI by General Flynn, an indictment based on his efforts on behalf of Israel (and not Russia), (2) an indictment of Rick Gates, a lobbyist, fundraiser, and political operative accused of working unregistered for a previous Ukrainian government, (3) an indictment of a bigger fish, Paul Manafort, who for four decades represented any and every shady international character with the wherewithal to pay his fees. He, too, was accused of failure to register, laundering money, and making false statements, practices that occupied him for his whole career, (4) a guilty plea by George Papadopoulos, a bit player with an ego far larger than his résumé, who habitually met with any contact that he could impress that he was a “player,” (5) an indictment of and guilty plea of Richard Pinedo, an internet hustler who stole identities (any connection to Russia was “unwitting”), and most recently, (6) the guilty plea of Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who earned a brief imprisonment by lying to the FBI about the date of his last meeting with Gates, placing it in mid-August instead of September.
For a fishing expedition, the taxpayer-funded Mueller excursion has landed few trophies. Until last week’s indictment, it was hard to find anything importantly connecting Russia, the Russian government, or the highest levels of the Trump administration. No doubt the paucity of connections or evidence of “collusion” spawned the latest indictments.
But even assuming that there is evidence forthcoming to back up the latest Russian indictments (they are, of course, merely formal charges unless prosecuted), it is more than curious that there is no direct claim of linkage either to the Russian government or to the Trump presidency. Instead, we have a charge that a wealthy, well connected caterer has established an organization dedicated to injecting information onto social media and, in a few cases, staging modest political events in the US. This, surely, is a far cry from the primary mission of the Special Counsel: to establish “any links and/or coordination between Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.…”
Judging by last Friday’s indictments, one might be inclined to view the machinations of Concord Catering, the Internet Research Agency, Concord Management and Consulting, and their alleged mastermind, should the charges be true, as very much akin to the private operations of the intrusive NGOs funded by billionaires George Soros or Bill Gates in numerous countries. In all cases, wealthy individuals use their resources to change the direction of target countries in ways that conflict with the current leadership.
As weak as the Mueller investigation has been, it continues to stimulate a hungry news media bent upon demonizing Russia. And there are plenty of pundits and opinion-makers ready to accommodate.
One of the most ridiculous “contributors” to the RussiaGate fiasco is Harvard Law professor, Laurence Tribe. A liberal icon with academic and policy gravitas, Tribe claimed, according to Glenn Greenwald, that Russian President Putin may have been responsible for the death of an important, conspiracy-related person in a recent airliner crash in Russia. Tribe never bothered to verify that said “victim” was on the flight. He wasn’t. But never mind.
Thanks to the RussiaGate hysteria, the FBI and CIA now enjoy more credibility than at any time since the heyday of Joe McCarthy. The Pew poll reports that, for the first time, Democrats now have more confidence in these illiberal institutions than do Republicans.
Both the Washington Post and NPR have found their own FBI expert in the person of a three-year veteran of the agency, Asha Ranappa. Now serving as a lecturer at Yale University, her articulate, confident voice and intoxicating earnestness make one forget that a very brief tour as an agent hardly constitutes expertise on the history and workings of the FBI any more than my three high school years selling shoes in a department store make me an expert on the shoe industry. Nevertheless, the attractive Ranappa is the darling of the networks, even Comedy Central. She’s not above discussing with an interviewer that she was voted “America’s hottest female law school dean.”
In a Washington Post op-ed published earlier this month (and in a more recent NPR interview), Ranappa enthusiastically defends the FBI against the highly publicized Nunes memo. She rests the argument on a tissue of weasel phrases-- “would have,” “could include,” “would probably have,” “suggests that” and so forth-- that amount to a “just-so” story and not a robust defense of the FBI. She emphasizes the fact that FISA warrants are difficult for the FBI to acquire and renew. They are not. Out of 35,529 FISA requests for electronic surveillance from 1979 to 2013 only 12 have been denied! Unless one zealously believes that the FBI never oversteps its bounds, this speaks poorly for the scrutiny of a secret process by a secret court and Ranappa’s faith in the process.
On the thin basis of the Nunes memo, Ranappa stops a “could have” short of accusing Carter Page-- a target of FBI surveillance-- with being a Russian spy: “...the memo suggests that the Trump campaign could have had an active Russian spy working as a foreign policy adviser.” [my italics] No one but Ranappa has gone beyond collusion to lodge such a serious charge. In better times, without new evidence, this would surely be grounds for libel.
These are not better times.
Of course, the trusted FBI, working diligently with Mueller and feeding gossip to the mainstream press, failed abysmally to find and thwart the 19-year-old mass murderer in Parkland, Florida, despite multiple alerts from private citizens and a Facebook threat with the perpetrator identified by name! It never dawns on the pundits in the monopoly corporate media that these devastating, catastrophic errors suggest a more universal incompetence.
This failure did not deter NPR from offering the following inflammatory headline: “As An American Tragedy Unfolds, Russian Agents Sow Discord Online.” The source for NPR’s sensational story accusing “agents” of “sowing discord” over the Parkland shootings is a well-financed website dubbed Hamilton 68. As Julian Assange points out, H68 is less a watchdog over Russian propaganda than itself a source of propaganda. Its leaders and advisors are veteran Cold Warriors and intimates of the US national security apparatus, less-than-independent, less-than-objective monitors. Curiously, the identified ‘Russian agents’ that they monitor are the state-supported news and entertainment agencies that Russia has established internationally. They are only “agents” because the US government has insisted that RT, Sputnik, and others now register as such. Supposedly, the same logic would apply to NPR-- itself a government-supported news and entertainment agency. ‘Agents’ are lurking everywhere!
But the reigning award for Russia-baiting must go to former Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra, who has maintained that two years ago he overheard Vladimir Putin discuss grandiose plans to create a Greater Russia hacked out of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. When it was demonstrated that he could not possibly have overheard any such comments, he backed off and claimed that he had overheard a friend who had overheard… The ensuing kerfuffle forced his resignation.
Finian Cunningham reminds us that former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski also claimed that he personally overheard Putin express similar expansionist plans in 2008. He, too, was forced to retract, labeling his claim as a “surreal joke” (Sikorski is the spouse of the rabidly anti-Soviet, anti-Communist Washington Post pundit and Cold Warrior, Anne Applebaum).
And now (2-20-18, Code Red for America), The New York Times resident village idiot, Thomas Friedman, weighs in with a host of hyperbole: Russia presents “the biggest threat to our democracy today,” “...to undermine the very core of our democracy,” “...to poison American politics.” In his servile mind, “Our FBI, CIA, and NSA, working with the special counsel, have done us amazingly proud.”
Is it war that Friedman wants? He asks that “we bring together our intelligence and military experts to mount an effective offense against Mr. Putin-- the best defense of all.”
Russiaphobia and Putin-fever continue to reach absurd levels.
China and the DPRK
The PRC is also a target for hysterical patriot paranoia. FBI Director Christopher Wray, addressing the Senate Intelligence Committee, explained: "One of the things we're trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-of-government threat, but a whole-of-society threat on their end, and I think it's going to take a whole-of-society response by us." With this tortured “whole-of-society” explanation, the Director and his staff see danger from Chinese students, visitors, scholars, businesspeople, athletes, and entertainers-- all would-be “collectors.”
Presumably, US students, scholars, businesspeople, athletes, and entertainers (the “whole-of-society”) should be vigilant and active against the Chinese threat. Another step towards a vigilante society.
Predictably, The Washington Post picked up on this bizarre forewarning with an op-ed from the breathless Josh Rogin. Rogin expands the Chinese machinations into a “massive foreign influence campaign” (China is Infiltrating US Colleges, 2-19-18). Quoting the deranged Marco Rubio, Rogin sees a nefarious plot to implant a pro-China bias in innocent, vulnerable students and faculty in the Chinese university-affiliated Confucius Institutes. Established as a language proficiency and cultural link to US higher education, Rogin and his friends see a conspiracy lurking behind this innocuous facade.
Rogin offers a curious and contradictory defense of campus free speech: “Confucius Institutes must… yield full control over curriculum to their American hosts and pledge not to involve themselves in issues of academic freedom for American or Chinese students.”
Protecting “academic freedom” by denying it!
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is no newcomer to demonization. It has long been on the US and EU lists of “evil” actors despite neither owning foreign military bases nor pursuing any overt aggression. More than any other country, DPRK foreign policy revolves around the simple demand that they be left alone. The only official corollary to their isolationism is the goal of Korean unification.
Nonetheless, the US and some of its allies have been picking a fight with DPRK for several decades. As tensions mounted, the DPRK made overtures to the new Moon government of the Republic of Korea, including several highly publicized, well-received gestures surrounding the Winter Olympics.
A promise of peaceful, rational discourse was met with a feverish mania in US ruling circles and with their media servants. The Washington Post called the demure DPRK visitor to the games, Kim Yo-jong, “the Korean Ivanka Trump,” a witless comparison that serious people should find embarrassing.
Justin Peters, writing in Slate, gives the DPRK cheerleaders a proper smart-ass thrashing: “Why did the cheerleaders make the trip? Because North Korea is an oppressive totalitarian state that hopes to use every facet of its involvement in the Pyeongchang Games for propaganda purposes. The objective is to project strength, confidence, and unanimity, in the process extending the influence and stability of the Kim regime.” He offers his explanation for their prowess: “I suppose it is easy to mastermind mosaics on a large scale if participation is compulsory and missing your cue carries a hideous punishment, but, still, impressive stuff...To be clear, the cheerleaders’ enthusiasm is likely compulsory and the cheerleaders themselves are surely being monitored ceaselessly by state minders during their stay in Pyeongchang.”
Not to be outdone, The Guardian gave a slightly different spin: “At the end of each row, older male minders sat still for the entire game, a reminder that despite appearances, these women were also prisoners of one of the most brutal regimes in the world.” (Check out the video supplied by The Guardian and see if you can find the elusive “male minders.”)
But The Independent deviates from this slave/prisoner narrative. The cheerleaders are not intimidated into their cheerful performances, they are “picked for having the right ‘ideology.’ They are closely vetted to ensure that they’ll properly represent North Korea both at home and abroad, according to local reports, through a process that checks whether they’re related to Japanese sympathisers or defectors.”
Clearly, the corporate media do not know what to do with the DPRK cheerleaders-- The New York Post headline exclaimed: Kim impersonator a hit with North Korean cheerleaders, while the infamous Washington Free Beacon headline disagrees: North Korean Cheerleaders Were Not Impressed by Kim Jong Un Impersonator. Skye News thought the cheerleaders were ”appalled” and Reuters saw them as “caught off guard.”
Like the media lapdogs who, generations ago, demeaned any spark of humanity exhibited by Soviet citizens, today’s patriotic “journalists” stamp out any hint of human sentiment or empathy towards the “enemies” anointed by the imperialist state.
As the US empire recognizes its decline, it engages in more and more desperate means to shore up the sinking credibility of its institutions. The compliant media, two political parties that can only agree on manufactured enemies, and even a spineless left, join in conjuring evil spirits in need of an exorcist. Unfortunately, we live in a world of destructive, devastating weapons that threaten the very existence of the planet. As George Kennan’s belated apology reminds us, the folly of demonizing, fostering manufactured enemies, fear-mongering, and bear-baiting court disaster. We are well along that destructive path.
One can only hope that wiser heads will emerge and call for a retreat from this course.