The Resistance, a self-aggrandizing term for what amounts to a relatively small but still powerful claque of embittered Clinton surrogates, has been keeping itself busy of late, fanning the flames of McCarthyite recriminations against anyone who dares question the rather flimsy public evidence that Russia influenced the results of the 2016 election, all the while cheering on President Trump’s expansion of the war in Syria.
Like its approach to the question of Russia and the election, the Resistance will brook no dissent over whether or not President Trump did the “right thing” in unleashing 59 Tomahawk missiles on a country which we are not at war with and which has never attacked us.
As with their hysterical claims that Russia stole the election from Hillary Clinton, the Resistance is loathe to allow facts, logic or evidence to get in the way of its view that Donald Trump acted in the security interests of the United States by bombing the Syrian military which (with air support from the Russians) is currently in the process in routing ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Neoliberal Clinton partisan Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote that in her view “Trump is, if not behaving normally, at least adopting normal positions.” Bombing Syria, in the absence of a legal mandate from the United Nations or with expressed authorization of Congress – both legal requirements if the U.S. Constitution and American treaty obligations are to be respected – is, to Marcus anyway, evidence of “Trump’s good judgment.”
Nor was Marcus alone. Clinton herself endorsed Trump’s decision to use force just hours before the attack, telling a crowd of well-heeled Resisters in New York that “I really believe that we should have and still should take out [Assad’s] air fields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.”
Former high-ranking Obama State Department officials Antony Blinken and Anne Marie Slaughter – he in the pages of the New York Times, she on Twitter – also praised Trump’s bombing of Syria as “the right thing” to do. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza declared, “The moral case for President Trump’s strike on Syria is uncontroversial.”
Punishing Anti-War Democrats
In the days following the Tomahawk missile attack on Syria, it became obvious that antiwar voices need not apply to the Resistance, which clearly remains in thrall to the 25-year-old interventionist orthodoxy begun under President Bill Clinton and which continues to be treated as unassailable dogma within the Democratic Party to this day. Those few who had the temerity to dissent from the Resistance party line were to be given no quarter.
One of the few prominent elected officials in Washington to voice skepticism of the Trump administration’s case for military action against Syria was Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who condemned the attack in a statement which accused the administration of having “acted recklessly without care or consideration of the dire consequences of the United States attack on Syria without waiting for the collection of evidence from the scene of the chemical poisoning.”
The knives came out for Gabbard even before the proverbial ink on the statement was dry. To no one’s surprise, The Washington Post quickly ran a smear job by Elise Vieback titled “What is Tulsi Gabbard thinking on Syria?” In it, Viebeck declared that “Gabbard has dug herself into a hole in recent weeks with her bizarre but insistent views about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his country’s bloody six years of civil war.”
But what really seemed to offended Vieback – and by extension, her employers at the Post – was Gabbard’s effrontery in committing an act of lese majeste against that which all right-thinking people in Washington “know” or, as Vieback put it: “her striking departure from the consensus that Assad’s government launched the attack.”
Vieback chronicled the Resistance’s disgust with the Congresswoman’s penchant for independent, critical thinking. No less a Resistance figure than MSNBC’s Joy Reid tweeted that “People who have insisted Gabbard is the future of the Democratic Party may need to consider her outré views on issues like Assad.” Other Resistance leaders piled on, too: The Daily Kos ; Center for American Progress president and close Clinton adviser Neeera Tanden; and former Vermont Governor and ex-Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean all voiced their opinion that Gabbard should face a primary challenge in 2018. Indeed, according to Dean, the heath insurance lobbyist, “Gabbard should not be in Congress.”
Of course, all the handwringing over Gabbard’s comments were simply another opportunity for the right-minded to double down on their criticism of Gabbard’s controversial meeting with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in January. Then as now, the Washington Post was at the forefront of the character attacks, running a piece by Josh Rogin titled “How Tulsi Gabbard became Assad’s mouthpiece in Washington” on Jan. 29. Yet Rogin’s piece was so sloppy and error-ridden that the Post had to append a humiliating paragraph long correction to it after it was published.
Ignoring Syrian Reality
Nevertheless, the Resistance’s cry of “what about Assad?” is a case of Democratic luminaries polishing up their reputations for virtue and signaling their commitments to career advancement, nothing more. It leaves out the fact that the Syrian opposition also bears responsibility for the start of the violence in 2011.
As Father Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch missionary to Syria who was murdered by rebel forces in 2014, put it: “From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”
The murdered Dutch priest also observed as early as 2011, that “The opposition of the street is much stronger than any other opposition. And this opposition is armed and frequently employs brutality and violence, only in order then to blame the government.”
The “what about Assad?” line also begs us to ignore what the likely consequences of his removal from power would actually mean: Who exactly do they think would fill the vacuum? The obsession with Assad also willfully ignores the immorality of U.S. policy, which involves repeatedly bombing Syria while funding and training violent extremists who seek to overthrow a sovereign government.
U.S. policy, wholeheartedly supported by the Resistance, tramples international law and makes a mockery of the tenets of Just War Theory. It results in violence, death and destruction abroad and sets the stage for retaliatory acts of violence upon our own people at home.
And so, in order to elide these considerations, the neoliberal left returns to the eternal, tiresome: “But what about Assad?” To which there is a pretty straightforward answer: Assad is fighting (quite successfully at present) the same enemies who attacked us on 9/11 in an attempt to stave off the wholesale takeover of Syria by Saudi-sponsored Salafists who would, as they promised in the early days of the uprising, drive “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave.” Never mind what they would do to women, Shia and other apostates should they topple Assad and gain power.
Anti-interventionist and pro-peace Democrats object to this joint Saudi-Turkish project of turning Syria, which under Assad had been a secular, multi-confessional police state, into a theocratic Sunnistan, thereby carving out a state for our worst enemies.
Backing the Terrorists
The Resistance may need reminding that international politics, like domestic politics, is about choosing, and the choice that pro-war Democrats (the vast majority of whom are die-hard Clinton supporters who still have not been able to reconcile themselves to her defeat) have made is clear: they’ve thrown their support behind radical Islamist terror groups in Syria because they have bought into the tedious fiction about the existence of “moderate” Syrian rebels.
But the Resistance would be better off leaving the fantasy of peace-loving moderate Syrian rebels to the hipsters at VICE and the neocons and neoliberal war hawks comfortably ensconced at Brookings, the Center for American Progress, CNN, The Daily Beast, The Atlantic magazine, and The Atlantic Council.
Another trend among the self-fashioned “Resisters” these days is towards an unthinking acceptance of U.S. government talking points, particularly with regard to Russian hacking and the Trump administration’s declassified four-page report on the Syrian chemical weapons attack.
Yet given the less than inspiring record of American interventions based on faulty, distorted or simply fabricated intelligence, as in the cases of Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011), the question isn’t why someone like Gabbard is out there questioning the Trump administration’s story, the question is: why aren’t more doing so? And wouldn’t questioning Trump’s unilateral, illegal decision to bomb Syria seem to be the right and proper role of something which bills itself as “The Resistance”?
But no. As a friend and colleague of mine recently put it, if they were honest, the Resistance’s motto really ought to be: “Long live the Cold War with Russia. Long live neoliberal Wahhabism and chaos in the Middle East.”
Yet the Resistance drones on, drowning out anti-war, anti-Wahhabi, pro-detente voices all in a bid to reinforce the neoliberal foreign policy orthodoxy within the Democratic Party in the vain hope of solidifying their positions of power and influence within it.
James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.
The Western media deliberately exaggerate the number of people killed in the Syrian conflict to create a “humanitarian pretext” for a possible intervention in the war-torn country, Syrian President Bashar Assad told Sputnik in an exclusive interview.
The official death toll of the Syrian war is much lower than the numbers presented by the Western media and amounts to “tens of thousands, not… hundreds of thousands,” Assad told Sputnik.
He went on to say that the West adds the number of terrorists and foreign mercenaries killed to the official death toll, to make it higher and create an image of a humanitarian catastrophe of an unprecedented scale.
“So, the numbers that we’ve been hearing in the Western media during the last six years were not precise, [they were used] only to inflate the number just to show how horrible the situation is, to use it as humanitarian pretext to intervene in Syria,” the president said.
Speaking about chemical weapons allegedly possessed by terrorist groups, Assad said that he is “100 percent” sure that the extremists receive them “directly from Turkey.” He added that “there was evidence regarding this” and “many parties and parliament members in Turkey… questioned the government regarding those allegations.”
He went on to say that Turkey is in fact “the only route for the terrorists to get money, armaments, every logistic support, recruits, and this kind of material” as they “don’t have any other way to come from the north.”
He also reiterated his belief that Turkey’s actions in Syria, as well as those of the US, are an “invasion.” He said that such actions violate Syrian sovereignty, and that Damascus cannot simply tell them “they can stay” or “let’s negotiate” after they have entered Syria without official invitation.
“It is your land, you have to defend it, you have to go and fight,” Assad said, adding at the same time that “the priority now is to defeat the terrorists.”
He also emphasized the importance of Syria’s territorial integrity by saying that all issues regarding local self-government and “confederation” should be resolved within the framework of the Syrian legal system after the end of the conflict, and should be based on a broad social consensus.
“Syria is a melting pot of different cultures, different ethnicities, religions, sects, and so on. So, a single part of this social fabric cannot define the future of Syria; it needs consensus. So, … it’s better to wait and discuss the next constitution” together with all sections of Syrian society, he said.
‘War is peace’, ‘Freedom is slavery’, ‘Ignorance is strength’ and ‘Lying is the truth’,
“Nineteen Eighty-Four”, George Orwell
Inside Syria Media Center | April 21, 2017
The statements of some Western politicians about the chemical attack on April 4, which occurred in the Syrian province of Idlib, once again confirm that the modern world is suffering a severe and chronic crisis of political will.
The lack of a clear and independent position on the issue (and also on most global problems) by the governments of Western powers is a serious obstacle in the fight against such threats as terrorism, organized crime, the struggle against hunger, the proliferation of nuclear weapons etc. This raises serious doubts about whether some politicians are competent and whether the opportunity to make the world safer under the leadership of such leaders is real.
UN experts have not yet published any objective conclusions about anybody’s involvement in the alleged use of chemical weapons in the city of Khan Sheikhun, Idlib.
Are diplomats from different countries really getting to the bottom of the truth? An analysis of the statements about the purported chemical attack in Syria makes it possible to give an answer that is close to reality.
The events that took place within a week after the air strike attack on Khan Sheikhun divided the world community into two camps. Some require immediate action, not caring about the truth, while the latter seek to establish the truth.
A list of supporters of Orwell’s Big Brother strategy:
1. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was one of the first which claimed that at least 80 people were killed, and 200 injured as a result of the attack. This armed opposition accused the Syrian Army of the action.
2. U.S. President Donald Trump put the responsibility for the alleged chemical attack in Syria on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
3. Turkish Foreign Minister, M. Çavuşoğlu called on all the parties, whose influence on the Syrian government is high, to “immediately stop the barbaric attacks, which grossly violate the truce and are directed against civilians.”
4. British Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, went much further. Despite the fact that the investigation hadn’t even begun, Johnson stressed that he had personally seen the evidence of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Army.
5. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, said that the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun coincided with other Syrian government actions.
6. France’s Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, also blamed Damascus for the incident in Idlib.
7. Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel refrained from accusing the Syrian authorities, but expressed fears that in the fight against terrorism, the bid for cooperation with Syrian President Bashar Assad shouldn’t be made.
… This list can easily be continued.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst the truth”
1. Staffan de Mistura called on the OPCW to launch an investigation of the chemical attack, and demanded to find those responsible for the attack in Syria’s Idlib. De Mistura also proposed to organize a meeting of the UN Security Council.
2. Even war hawk Frederica Mogherini has condemned Trump’s actions. The head of EU diplomacy, Federica Mogherini, said those who are responsible for using chemical weapons in the Syrian Idlib, should be punished.
3. Shock, but NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, called for bringing the perpetrators to justice and refraining from accusations against Bashar Assad.
4. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, called for an objective and fair investigation.
… Is it easy to continue this list?
Apparently, it does not make sense whether the second camp can establish the truth or not. The will of most of the Western leaders and diplomats is poisoned by political, financial and personal interests.
The Syrian people, who have been suffering from the war, received a slap by the missile strikes from the American destroyers. The process of re-establishing relations with the opposition in Geneva and Astana is again under the threat. The United States implied that they intend to be a leader of the whole world, that only they have the right to name the ‘enemies of democracy’. The situation in the Middle East reminds one of the theory of controlled chaos. So, the strategic goals have been achieved. Who needs to know the truth about the murdered Syrian children in such circumstances?
MOSCOW – Accusations against the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS) of election interference in the United States are unfounded, Russian Senator Oleg Morozov told Sputnik on Thursday.
“This is an attempt to give away normal analytical work as subversive activity. An absolutely worthless story in terms of logic that has no basis in reality,” Morozov said.
Morozov went on to point out that dozens of similar think tanks operate in Europe and the United States and analyze the political situation, which, according to the senator, is not considered to be interference in the election process.
His comments came a day after the Reuters news service cited three current and four former US officials alleging that RISS circulated two “confidential documents” ahead of the November 2016 vote. The June and October documents were described as a “plan to swing” the US presidential election. US intelligence officials were said to have acquired the RISS-drafted documents.
According to the media outlet, the first document allegedly recommended that the Kremlin initiate a propaganda campaign on social media, and that Russia’s state-run media persuade US citizens to vote for a candidate less critical to Russia than former US President Barack Obama.
The second document reportedly said that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had greater chances to win the election. As such, the paper allegedly called on the Kremlin to change the course of the campaign and intensify the information flow to undermine the US electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s image and reputation, the media outlet reported citing US officials.
According to the publication, the Obama administration’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the election process and accusations of cyber attacks against Clinton’s campaign staff were mainly based on these documents.
On March 20, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey confirmed that the institution was conducting a probe into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.
Russian officials have repeatedly denied Washington’s accusations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refuted any allegations about Russia’s alleged involvement in US election process and said that Russia did not cooperate with US President Donald Trump’s staff during the election campaign.
In the old days of journalism, we were taught that there were almost always two sides to a story, if not more sides than that. Indeed, part of the professional challenge of journalism was to sort out conflicting facts on a complicated topic. Often we found that the initial impression of a story was wrong once we understood the more nuanced reality.
Today, however, particularly on foreign policy issues, the major U.S. news outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, apparently believe there is only one side to a story, the one espoused by the U.S. government or more generically the Establishment.
Any other interpretation of a set of facts gets dismissed as “fringe” or “fake news” even if there are obvious holes in the official story and a lack of verifiable proof to support the mainstream groupthink. Very quickly, alternative explanations are cast aside while ridicule is heaped on those who disagree.
So, for instance, The New York Times will no longer allow any doubt to creep in about its certainty that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad intentionally dropped a sarin bomb on the remote rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in northern Syria on April 4.
A mocking article by the Times’ Jim Rutenberg on Monday displayed the Times’ rejection of any intellectual curiosity regarding the U.S. government’s claims that were cited by President Trump as justification for his April 6 missile strike against a Syrian military airbase. The attack killed several soldiers and nine civilians including four children, according to Syrian press reports.
Rutenberg traveled to Moscow with the clear intention of mocking the Russian news media for its “fake news” in contrast to The New York Times, which holds itself out as the world’s premier guardian of “the truth.” Rather than deal with the difficulty of assessing what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, which is controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and where information therefore should be regarded as highly suspect, Rutenberg simply assessed that the conventional wisdom in the West must be correct.
To discredit any doubters, Rutenberg associated them with one of the wackier conspiracy theories of radio personality Alex Jones, another version of the Times’ recent troubling reliance on McCarthyistic logical fallacies, not only applying guilt by association but refuting reasonable skepticism by tying it to someone who in an entirely different context expressed unreasonable skepticism.
Rutenberg wrote: “As soon as I turned on a television here I wondered if I had arrived through an alt-right wormhole. Back in the States, the prevailing notion in the news was that Mr. Assad had indeed been responsible for the chemical strike. There was some ‘reportage’ from sources like the conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones — best known for suggesting that the Sandy Hook school massacre was staged — that the chemical attack was a ‘false flag’ operation by terrorist rebel groups to goad the United States into attacking Mr. Assad. But that was a view from the [U.S.] fringe. Here in Russia, it was the dominant theme throughout the overwhelmingly state-controlled mainstream media.”
Ergo, in Rutenberg’s sophistry, the “prevailing notion in the [U.S.] news” must be accepted as true, regardless of the checkered history of such confidence in the past, i.e., the “prevailing notion” that Saddam Hussein was hiding WMD in Iraq in 2003. Today, to shut down any serious evaluation of the latest WMD claims about Syria just say: “Alex Jones.”
Thus, any evidence that the April 4 incident might have been staged or might have resulted from an accidental release of Al Qaeda-controlled chemicals must be dismissed as something on par with believing the wildest of silly conspiracy theories. (Indeed, one of the reasons that I detest conspiracy theories is that they often reject hard evidence in favor of fanciful speculation, which then can be used, in exactly the way that Rutenberg did, to undermine serious efforts to sort through conflicting accounts and questionable evidence in other cases.)
In the case of the April 4 incident, there were several alternative explanations that deserved serious attention, including the possibility that Al Qaeda had staged the event, possibly sacrificing innocent civilians in an attempt to trick President Trump into reversing his administration’s recent renunciation of the U.S. goal of “regime change” in Syria.
This notion is not as nutty as Rutenberg pretends. For instance, United Nations investigators received testimonies from Syrian eyewitnesses regarding another attempt by Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists and their “rescue” teams to stage a chlorine attack in the town of Al-Tamanah on the night of April 29-30, 2014, and then spread word of the bogus attack through social media.
“Seven witnesses stated that frequent alerts [about an imminent chlorine weapons attack by the government] had been issued, but in fact no incidents with chemicals took place,” the U.N. report stated. “While people sought safety after the warnings, their homes were looted and rumours spread that the events were being staged. … [T]hey [these witnesses] had come forward to contest the wide-spread false media reports.”
The rebels and their allies also made preposterous claims about how they knew canisters of chlorine were contained in “barrel bombs,” by citing the supposedly distinctive sound such chlorine-infused bombs made.
The U.N. report said, “The [rebel-connected] eyewitness, who stated to have been on the roof, said to have heard a helicopter and the ‘very loud’ sound of a falling barrel. Some interviewees had referred to a distinct whistling sound of barrels that contain chlorine as they fall. The witness statement could not be corroborated with any further information.”
Of course, the statement could not be corroborated because it was crazy to believe that people could discern the presence of a chlorine canister inside a “barrel bomb” by its “distinct whistling sound.”
Still, the U.N. team demanded that the Syrian government provide flight records to support its denial that any of its aircraft were in the air in that vicinity at the time of the attack. The failure of the Syrian government to provide those records of flights that it said did not happen was then cited by the U.N. investigators as somehow evidence of Syrian guilt, another challenge to rationality, since it would be impossible to produce flight records for flights that didn’t happen.
Despite this evidence of a rebel fabrication – and the lack of a Syrian military purpose from using chlorine since it almost never kills anyone – the U.N. investigators succumbed to intense career pressure from the Western powers and accepted as true two other unverified rebel claims of chlorine attacks, leading the Western media to report as flat-fact that the Syrian government used chlorine bombs on civilians.
The Dubious Sarin Case
Besides the dubious chlorine cases – and the evidence of at least one attempted fabrication – there was the infamous sarin attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, when there was a similar rush to judgment blaming the Syrian government although later evidence, including the maximum range of the sarin-carrying missile, pointed to the more likely guilt of Al Qaeda-connected extremists sacrificing the lives of civilians to advance their jihadist cause.
In all these cases, the Times and other Western news outlets behaved as if there was only one acceptable side to the story, the one that the U.S. government was pushing, i.e., blaming the Syrian government. It didn’t matter how implausible the claims were or how unreliable the sources.
In both the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin case and the current April 4, 2017 case, Western officials and media ignored the obvious motives for Al Qaeda to carry out a provocation, foist blame on the government and induce the U.S. to intervene on Al Qaeda’s side.
In August 2013, the Syrian government had just welcomed U.N. investigators who came to Damascus to investigate government allegations of rebels using chemical weapons against government troops. That the Syrian government would then conduct a poison-gas attack within miles of the hotel where the U.N. investigators were staying and thus divert their attention made no logical sense.
Similarly, in April 2017, the Syrian government was not only prevailing on the battlefield but had just received word that the Trump administration had reversed the U.S. policy demanding “regime change” in Damascus. So, the obvious motive to release chemical weapons was with Al Qaeda and its allies, not with the Syrian government.
Manufacturing a Motive
The West has struggled to explain why President Assad would pick that time – and a town of little military value – to drop a sarin bomb. The Times and other mainstream media have suggested that the answer lies in the barbarism and irrationality of Arabs. In that vaguely racist thinking, Assad was flaunting his impunity by dropping sarin in a victory celebration of sorts, even though the predicable consequence was a U.S. missile attack and Trump reversing again the U.S. policy to demand Assad’s ouster.
On April 11, five days after Trump’s decision to attack the Syrian airbase, Trump’s White House released a four-page “intelligence assessment” that offered another alleged motivation, Khan Sheikhoun’s supposed value as a staging area for a rebel offensive threatening government infrastructure. But that offensive had already been beaten back and the town was far from the frontlines.
In other words, there was no coherent motive for Assad to have dropped sarin on this remote town. There was, however, a very logical reason for Al Qaeda’s jihadists to stage a chemical attack and thus bring pressure on Assad’s government. (There’s also the possibility of an accidental release via a conventional government bombing of a rebel warehouse or from the rebels mishandling a chemical weapon – although some of the photographic evidence points more toward a staged event.)
But we’re not supposed to ask these questions – or doubt the “evidence” provided by Al Qaeda and its allies – because Alex Jones raised similar questions and Russian news outlets are reporting on this scenario, too.
There’s the additional problem with Rutenberg’s sophistry: Many of the April 4 sarin claims have been debunked by MIT national security and technology expert Theodore Postol, who has issued a series of reports shredding the claims from the White House’s “intelligence assessment.”
For instance, Postol cited the key photographs showing a supposed sarin canister crumpled inside a crater in a roadway. Postol noted that the canister appeared to be crushed, not exploded, and that the men in the photos inspecting the hole were not wearing protective gear that would have been required if there actually were sarin in the crater.
All of these anomalies and the problems with “evidence” generated by Al Qaeda and its allies should put the entire meme of the Syrian government using chemical weapons in doubt. But Rutenberg is not alone in treating this official groupthink as flat-fact.
Washington Post “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler awarded “four Pinocchios” – reserved for the most egregious lies – to former National Security Adviser Susan Rice for asserting last January that the Syrian government had surrendered all its chemical weapons as part of a 2013 agreement.
Kessler declared: “The reality is that there were confirmed chemical weapons attacks by Syria – and that U.S. and international officials had good evidence that Syria had not been completely forthcoming in its declaration [regarding its surrendered chemicals], and possibly retained sarin and VX nerve agent …. and that the Syrian government still attacked citizens with chemical weapons not covered by the 2013 agreement,” i.e., the chlorine cases.
But Kessler has no way of actually knowing what the truth is regarding Syria’s alleged chemical weapons use. He is simply repeating the propagandistic groupthink that has overwhelmed the Syrian crisis. Presumably he would have given four Pinocchios to anyone who had doubted the 2003 claims about Iraq hiding WMD because all the Important People “knew” that to be true at the time.
What neither Rutenberg nor Kessler seems willing or capable of addressing is the larger problem created by the U.S. government and its NATO allies investing heavily in information warfare or what is sometimes called “strategic communications,” claiming that they are defending themselves from Russian “active measures.” However, the impact of all these competing psychological operations is to trample reality.
The role of an honest press corps should be to apply skepticism to all official stories, not carry water for “our side” and reject anything coming from the “other side,” which is what The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the Western mainstream media have done, especially regarding Middle East policies and now the New Cold War with Russia.
The American people and other news consumers have a right to expect that the Western media will recall the old adage that there are almost always two sides to a story. There’s also the truism that truth often resides not at the surface but is hidden beneath.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
On MSNBC’s Sirius XM promos, Rachel Maddow tells the listener that the network—and by extension, herself as well—presents the news without “fear or favor.”
But a review of the month of March by Paste suggests that fear sells. With a single exception, Maddow led off every episode of her show in March with an extended, conspiratorial update for her viewers on the alleged connections between Russia and the Trump administration. Maddow’s monologues focused on the Russian oligarchic state and the authoritarian rule of President Vladimir Putin.
This obsession with Russia has had a palpable effect on the national conversation. Maddow is one of the most influential and popular voices for American liberals, and her theorizing on the Russia/Trump connection is part of a larger theory connecting the alleged collusion between the two to every world and national event.
As Aaron Mate points out in The Intercept, Maddow’s concentration on Trump is predicated on the idea that the President is a Russian pawn. It’s hardly a sure thing, and the focus may be more damaging than constructive for the “resistance.”
Maddow and likeminded influential liberals will have led their audience on a fruitless quest, all the while helping foment anti-Russia sentiment, channeling Democratic Party energy away from productive self-critique, and diverting focus from the White House’s actual policies. Trump would be handed a further gift via the damaged credibility of his “enemy”: the media responsible for holding him to account.
Look no further than the reactions to Trump’s bombing of a Syrian government airfield on April 6 for proof of that—despite the fact that Bashar al-Assad is openly backed by Russia, some liberal commentators refuse to see the missile strike as at all possibly opposed to Russian interests. “Donald Trump, Who’s Totally Not Vladimir Putin’s Puppet, Warned Russia Before Airstrikes on Syria,” was Salon’s sarcastic headline.
This is in large part because Maddow presents Russia as an outlier on the world stage, involved in activity and behavior that is incompatible with the American way of life. Yet her examples from the last month are hardly convincing.
In Russia, Maddow says, there is a “corrupt, elite class of connected thieves at the top who have been siphoning money out of that country.” Though she acknowledges that the US has massive income inequality and corruption, in Russia it’s different, because
the politically connected class at the top that is stealing is much smaller… and is much more traceable now, in the short amount of time, in terms of the way they have yanked money out of that country, and the way they have spread it all over the world to hide it and to disguise its origins.
Let’s hope nobody shatters Maddow’s image of America by pointing out that 400 Americans own as much wealth as the bottom 61 percent of the population. Or that, according to the World Bank, the United States and Russia have almost exactly the same GINI index—the standard measure of inequality.
Not only is Russia a unique kleptocracy, Maddow says, but it (along with China and North Korea) is also an abnormally bellicose nation, consumed by the need to show off its military prowess and power. This kind of behavior, Maddow argues, is antithetical to the American way of life (emphasis added).
There’s no law against parading your military, whether or not it’s an important anniversary. But through American eyes, this is a little weird, right? If this gives you the willies to look at, it`s because it`s supposed to. This is an unabashed, uncomplicated, undisguised display of military threat, military prowess or national insecurity, depending on how you look at it. I mean, this is not something that we do here in the United States.
It’s hard to know how Maddow would describe the constant flyovers by Air Force jets at football games, the honoring of fully dressed Marines at baseball games, or the numerous holidays the United States has that involve the strutting of US military machines, personnel and paraphernalia. One way to describe it, of course, would be as an unabashed, uncomplicated, undisguised display of military threat, military prowess or national insecurity—depending on how you look at it.
Instead of policy discussions, analysis of domestic issues or digging into the backgrounds of administration personnel, Maddow’s program spent March with a spotlight aimed at the new administration’s as-yet-unsubstantiated ties with Russian government intelligence services and the allegedly Russian-led hack of the DNC emails.
It paid off. Maddow’s program is the only non-Fox News program in the ten top-rated cable news programs for the first quarter of 2017, and the highest-ranked non-Fox program in the lucrative 25-54 demographic, according to AdWeek. Yet this success came with an obsession with Russia twinned with overblown dot-connecting, speculative reasoning stated as fact and an emphasis on a wide ranging, insidious conspiracy.
Maddow referenced Russia repeatedly in March. The highest number of mentions we found was 105 on March 9, the lowest was days earlier on March 6, when it came up only eight times. On average, the country was mentioned around 53 times a show—or over once a minute, once you subtract commercials from the airtime—and Maddow did not let a single opening segment go by for the entire month without at least a mention of Russia’s alleged ties to Trump.
The entire list is below, but here are three telling examples of Maddow’s obsessive attention to Russia at the expense of anything else going on in the news.
— March 7, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 71 times. Maddow acknowledged news about ACA and immigration, but chose to lead instead with a study of the Russian embassy, promising to cover the breaking domestic news later.
— March 14, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 19 times. The show led with the infamous tax return document that Maddow introduced with a winding 20-minute monologue that touched on a number of conspiracy theories for which she provided no proof.
— March 17, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 51 times. The show led with Tom Price, then moves to the Gorsuch hearings as a pretext for a long discussion on hypothetical discoveries about Russia in House hearings.
It was on the latter date that Maddow laid out the justification for her unrelenting focus—a thesis grounded on flimsy evidence, hyperbolic rhetoric and unsubstantiated allegations:
The Russian attack on our election last year, the unexplained connections between the Trump campaign and Russia during that time, during the time of the attack, the strangeness, particularly, the strangeness of the FBI in its treatment of this matter, it’s unsettling. It’s unsettling not just because this is one scandal among so many scandals for this young administration. So many scandals that some are being ignored because they’re not big enough to warrant attention amid other scandals, right?
This is unsettling not just because it’s one scandal among many. This is unsettling because if the worst is true, if the presidency is effectively a Russian op, right, if the American presidency right now is the product of collusion between the Russian intelligence services and an American campaign—I mean, that is so profoundly big. We not only need to stay focused on figuring it out, we need to start preparing for what the consequences are going to be if it proves to be true. We need to start thinking about how we’re going to deal with the worst revelations if they do come to light, if they are proved true.
Maddow could have just looked over reporting from the last four months to see that the allegations that Russia “attacked” the presidential election are questionable. But instead, she spent the entire month of March pushing an ever-escalating conspiracy theory to explain the Trump presidency, based on speculative hyperbole describing a mass web of collusion between the president, the Russian government and other actors.
“WikiLeaks got all inextricably bound up in our new national nightmare about Russia hacking our presidential election,” Maddow said (3/6/17), and “Russian intelligence was mounting an operation against us, against our election to try to affect the outcome” (3/9/17). Yet despite the fact that the MSNBC host had “been following this [with] pretty intense attention” (3/2/17), she conceded she didn’t “know what`s going on in terms of the law enforcement and intelligence investigations” (3/3/17).
That didn’t stop Maddow from speculating about what those investigations could find out about possible Trump/Russia collusion.
“We’ve had it confirmed today that what they are also investigating is whether, once again, the Russians had help from inside the United States when it came time to humble America and show our country what they are capable of,” Maddow said (3/20/17), elaborating remarkably on the testimony of FBI Director James Comey, who had said only that the agency was investigating potential ties between the campaign and the Russian government.
Maddow’s viewers wouldn’t have known that from her. Instead, they would have been treated to more accusations of an intelligence operation that used the internet and Bernie Sanders supporters to defeat Hillary Clinton.
“Russian forces were operating inside something very high-profile,” Maddow said (3/31/17). “They were operating inside the U.S. presidential election.”
“This is not part of American politics,” she said earlier in the month (3/21/17). “This is not, you know, partisan warfare between Republicans and Democrats. This is international warfare against our country and it did not end on election day. We are still in it.”
Trump’s finances came in for scrutiny as well—understandable, given that the president has refused to release his tax returns. But even a major scoop in mid-March fell prey to a rambling monologue that tried to hit all the marks of the Russian conspiracy theory before landing on a rather deflated two-page nothingburger.
“Has [Trump] received money from foreign sources? Has he received loans from foreign sources?” Maddow asked, before revealing two pages of a 2005 tax return that indicated nothing of the sort.
She added the next day that there were questions on why Trump would make public statements on the benefits of investing in Russia in 2006, trying to tie in the widely panned exposé from the night before:
Why did he think so? Were there financial ties with Russia that would give him such confidence about that pronouncement which he made very shortly after he signed this tax return?
There are no negative consequences for the liberal commentator for trafficking in these sorts of conspiracy theories, as long as they’re aimed at the “right” target—look no further than Fairness and Accuracy’s recent reporting on Louise Mensch to see how the most discredited, illogical ideas can gain credence on the centrist liberal media circuit as long as they are aimed at Russia. And in Maddow’s case, these theories have an added bonus: higher ratings and corresponding higher ad revenue.
Maddow presents herself as a fair but tough liberal commentator. Her show is based on her presentation of the news that her audience wants and needs to hear. For her to spend so much time on a Cold War enemy at the expense of real domestic policies, and for her to do so with such speculative reasoning and logical leaps and bounds makes it clear that it’s ratings, not truth, that she’s really after.
Maddow on Russia: March, 2017
Findings on the pundit’s preoccupation
— March 2, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 24 times. Show leads with Attorney Jeff Sessions’ conversations with Kislyak.
— March 3, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 68 times. Show leads with profile of Russian opposition to Putin.
— March 6, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 8 times. Show leads with Trump family ties to central Asian nation Azerbijain.
— March 7, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 71 times. Maddow acknowledges news about ACA and immigration but chooses to lead instead with a study of the Russian embassy, promising to cover the domestic breaking news later.
— March 8, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 103 times. Show leads with the GOP platform on Russia and Ukraine.
— March 9, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 105 times. Show leads with sanctions and mentions the unsubstantiated dossier on Trump written by retired British intelligence officer Christopher Steele Buzzfeed published, acknowledges its content has not been verified, and then quotes from it at length.
— March 10, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 47 times. Show leads with Mike Flynn’s ties to the country and his dinner with RT.
— March 13, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 50 times. Show leads with Russian money laundering after Maddow lets the audience know the GOP healthcare bill has problems, but she’ll get to them later.
— March 14, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 19 times. Show leads with the infamous tax return document that Maddow introduced with a winding 20-minute monologue touching on a number of conspiracy theories for which she had zero proof.
— March 15, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 31 times. Show leads with Geert Wilders and the Russian investigation in Congress; Maddow tries to tie an FSB agent’s prosecution in Russia to Trump.
— March 16, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 65 times. Show leads with the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
— March 17, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 51 times. Show leads with Tom Price, then moves to the Gorsuch hearings as a pretext for a long discussion on hypothetical discoveries about Russia in House hearings.
— March 20, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 86 times. Show leads with Russian nuclear capabilities.
— March 22, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 54 times. Show leads with Paul Manafort’s connections to an unnamed Russian billionaire.
— March 23, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 57 times. Show leads with health care repeal (Russia and Ukraine are a segment later on).
— March 24, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 33 times. Show leads with the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian involvement in the election.
— March 27, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 50 times. Show leads with the FSB and Russian banks conspiring to get Trump elected.
— March 28, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 39 times. Show leads with Maddow declaring that Russia and China’s displays of military power during national holidays are unique to those countries.
— March 29, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 50 times. Show leads with alleged Russian involvement in the upcoming French elections.
— March 30, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 33 times. Show leads with Mike Flynn’s request for immunity, which Maddow ties to Russia.
— March 31, 2017: “Russia” or “Russians” mentioned 80 times. Show leads with the House investigation.
Democrats, liberals and some progressives might be feeling a little perplexed over what has happened to Russia-gate, the story that pounded Donald Trump every day since his election last November – until April 4, that is.
On April 4, Trump fully capitulated to the neoconservative bash-Russia narrative amid dubious claims about a chemical attack in Syria. On April 6, Trump fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase; he also restored the neocon demand for “regime change” in Syria; and he alleged that Russia was possibly complicit in the supposed chemical attack.
Since Trump took those actions – in accordance with the neocon desires for more “regime change” in the Middle East and a costly New Cold War with Russia – Russia-gate has almost vanished from the news.
I did find a little story in the lower right-hand corner of page A12 of Saturday’s New York Times about a still-eager Democratic congressman, Mike Quigley of Illinois, who spent a couple of days in Cyprus which attracted his interest because it is a known site for Russian money-laundering, but he seemed to leave more baffled than when he arrived.
“The more I learn, the more complex, layered and textured I see the Russia issue is – and that reinforces the need for professional full-time investigators,” Quigley said, suggesting that the investigation’s failure to strike oil is not that the holes are dry but that he needs better drill bits.
Yet, given all the hype and hullabaloo over Russia-gate, the folks who were led to believe that the vague and amorphous allegations were “bigger than Watergate” might now be feeling a little used. It appears they may have been sucked into a conspiracy frenzy in which the Establishment exploited their enthusiasm over the “scandal” in a clever maneuver to bludgeon an out-of-step new President back into line.
If that’s indeed the case, perhaps the most significant success of the Russia-gate ploy was the ouster of Trump’s original National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was seen as a key proponent of a New Détente with Russia, and his replacement by General H.R. McMaster, a protégé of neocon favorite, retired Gen. David Petraeus.
McMaster was viewed as the key player in arranging the April 6 missile strike on Syria and in preparing a questionable “intelligence assessment” on April 11 to justify the rush to judgment. Although McMaster’s four-page white paper has been accepted as gospel by the mainstream U.S. news media, its many weaknesses have been noted by actual experts, such as MIT national security and technology professor Theodore Postol.
How Washington Works
But the way Official Washington works is that Trump was made to look weak when he argued for a more cooperative and peaceful relationship with Russia. Hillary Clinton dubbed him Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” and “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Trump as in thrall to a bare-chested Putin. More significantly, front-page stories every morning and cable news segments every night created the impression of a compromised U.S. President in Putin’s pocket.
Conversely, Trump was made to look strong when he fired off missiles against a Syrian airbase and talked tough about Russian guilt. Neocon commentator Charles Krauthammer praised Trump’s shift as demonstrating that “America is back.”
Trump further enhanced his image for toughness when his military dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” on some caves in Afghanistan. While the number of casualties inflicted by the blast was unclear, Trump benefited from the admiring TV and op-ed commentaries about him finally acting “presidential.”
But the real test of political courage is to go against the grain on a policy that may be unpopular in the short term but is in the best interests of the United States and the world community in the longer term.
In that sense, Trump seeking peaceful cooperation with Russia – amid the intense anti-Russian propaganda of the past several years – required actual courage, while launching missiles and dropping bombs might win praise but actually make the U.S. position in the world weaker.
Trump, however, saw his fledgling presidency crumbling under the daily barrage of Russia-gate, even though there was no evidence that his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election and there wasn’t even clear evidence that Russia was behind the disclosure of Democratic emails, via WikiLeaks, during the campaign.
Still, the combined assault from the Democrats, the neocons and the mainstream media forced Trump to surrender his campaign goal of achieving a more positive relationship with Russia and greater big-power collaboration in the fight against terrorism.
For Trump, the incessant chatter about Russia-gate was like a dripping water torture. The thin-skinned Trump fumed at his staff and twittered messages aimed at changing the narrative, such as accusing President Obama of “wiretapping” Trump Tower. But nothing worked.
However, once Trump waved the white flag by placing his foreign policy under the preferred banner of the neoconservatives, the Russia-gate pressure stopped. The op-ed pages suddenly were hailing his “decisiveness.” If you were a neocon, you might say about Russia-gate: Mission accomplished!
Besides whipping Trump into becoming a more compliant politician, Russia-gate could claim some other notable achievements: it spared the national Democrats from having to confront their own failures in Campaign 2016 by diverting responsibility for the calamity of Trump’s election.
Instead of Democratic leaders taking responsibility for picking a dreadful candidate, ignoring the nation’s anti-establishment mood, and failing to offer any kind of inspiring message, the national Democrats could palm off the blame on “Russia! Russia! Russia!”
Thus, rather than looking in the mirror and trying to figure out how to correct their deep-seated problems, the national Democrats could instead focus on a quixotic tilting at Trump’s impeachment.
Many on the Left joined in this fantasy because they have been so long without a Movement that the huge post-inaugural “pussy hat” marches were a temptation that they couldn’t resist. Russia-gate became the fuel to keep the “Movement” bandwagon rolling. #Resistance!
It didn’t matter that the “scandal” – the belief that Russia somehow conspired with Trump to rig the U.S. presidential election – amounted to a bunch of informational dots that didn’t connect.
Russia-gate also taught the American “left” to learn to love McCarthyism since “proof” of guilt pretty much amounted to having had contact with a Russian — and anyone who questioned the dubious factual basis of the “scandal” was dismissed as a “Russian propagandist” or a “Moscow stooge” or a purveyor of “fake news.”
Another Russia-gate winner was the mainstream news media which got a lot of mileage – and loads of new subscription money – by pushing the convoluted conspiracy. The New York Times positioned itself as the great protector of “truth” and The Washington Post adopted a melodramatic new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
On Thanksgiving Day, the Post ran a front-page article touting an anonymous Internet group called PropOrNot that identified some 200 Internet news sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other major sources of independent journalism, as guilty of “Russian propaganda.” Facts weren’t needed; no chance for rebuttal; the accusers even got to hide in the shadows; the smear was the thing.
The Post and the Times also conflated complaints against news outlets that dared to express skepticism toward claims from the U.S. State Department and some entrepreneurial sites that trafficked in intentionally made-up stories or “fake news” to make money.
To the Post and Times, there appeared to be no difference between questioning the official U.S. narrative on, say, the Ukraine crisis and knowingly fabricating pretend news articles to get lots of clicks. Behind the smokescreen of Russia-gate, the mainstream U.S. news media took the position that there was only one side to a story, what Official Washington chose to believe.
While it’s likely that there will be some revival of Russia-gate to avoid the appearance of a completely manufactured scandal, the conspiracy theory’s more significant near-term consequence could be that it has taught Donald Trump a dangerous lesson.
If he finds himself in a tight spot, the way out is to start bombing some “enemy” halfway around the world. The next time, however, the target might not be so willing to turn the other cheek. If, say, Trump launches a preemptive strike against North Korea, the result could be a retaliatory nuclear attack against South Korea or Japan.
Or, if the neocons push ahead with their ultimate “regime change” strategy of staging a “color revolution” in Moscow to overthrow Putin, the outcome might be – not the pliable new leader that the neocons would want – but an unstable Russian nationalist who might see a nuclear attack on the U.S. as the only way to protect the honor of Mother Russia.
For all his faults, Trump did offer a more temperate approach toward U.S.-Russian relations, which also could have tamped down spending for nuclear and other strategic weapons and freed up some of that money for infrastructure and other needs at home. But that was before Russia-gate.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
The US has no convincing evidence that the Syrian government was behind the alleged chemical weapons attack in Idlib, the Russian Ministry of Defense said, denying a CNN report claiming the US had intercepted Syrian military communications proving this.
“If the US intelligence services choose to keep their alleged evidence of crimes against humanity secret, there can only be one possible explanation – they simply have no irrefutable evidence,” the spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said on Friday, according to TASS.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said the CNN report was based on “pseudo-evidence” that the US media often uses to support Washington’s objectives.
“In line with a long-standing tradition, the Pentagon always mentions some ‘irrefutable’ evidence of atrocities in an attempt to justify every US violation of international law and, particularly, US military aggression against sovereign states. And the more contrived this pseudo-evidence is, the more secretive it is,” the spokesman added.
Last Friday, the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Mediterranean Sea targeting the Syrian military’s Shayrat Airbase. The strike was ordered by US President Donald Trump in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun on April 4.
Russia has demanded that the US produce the evidence with which it allegedly established that chemical weapons were, indeed, flown out of an airfield in Homs province and used by the Syrian military.
Though the Pentagon has yet to offer any tangible proof, on Wednesday, CNN ran a report based on an ‘anonymous source’ claiming that the US military had intercepted communications between the Syrian military and chemical experts in which preparations for last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack were discussed.
Mexican journalist and columnist for the El Financiero newspaper Fernando Garcia Ramirez has accused Russia of meddling in Mexican politics. According to him, “the dark hand” of Russian President Vladimir Putin has already reached Mexico, with Moscow trying to influence the presidential election in the country that is to take place next year.
In his article titled “The Russian Threat to Mexico” (“La amenaza rusa en México”), the journalist accused the Kremlin of allegedly attempting “to appoint its man” as the head of the country, referring to the opposition leader Andres Manuel López Obrador whom he called “an authoritarian populist.”
According to the journalist, Moscow’s ability to “influence” politics in any corner of the planet has been demonstrated many times. The examples, according to Ramirez, are the victory of Donald Trump in the United States, Brexit in Britain, and the recent defeat of former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in a referendum on constitutional reform.
Explaining the reasons why it might be beneficial for Russia to influence the election in Mexico, the newspaper columnist wrote that it would be “convenient” for Moscow to have an “anti-American” politician on this post.
The journalist also believes that the Kremlin will use the RT TV channel as “its favorite weapon” as well as “a key instrument of Russian propaganda.” According to him, the media source already has its agent in Mexico, referring to Mexican analyst John Ackerman, who published several critical articles about the Mexican authorities on the RT website.
Meanwhile, the article caused a wave of ridicule in social networks.”I have not seen such a frightening title and such an empty content for long time,” a man named Hugo Ortega Romero wrote.
“Ha-ha-ha, of course, Russia is to blame for absolutely everything,” Leonardo Guzmán Vázquez continued.
Mexican journalist Gabriel Infante Carrillo confessed in an interview with Sputnik Mundo that he also “almost died of laughter” when he read the article.
According to him, the article is part of a slander campaign against Lopez Obrador, leader of the left opposition, whose support in the country is growing. However, this has nothing to do with “external factors” and Russian media, Carillo argued.
“The article in the El Financiero is directed not so much against Russia but rather against the opposition leader Lopez Obrador, a leftist candidate in the upcoming presidential election. The fact is that his popularity has been growing, which is why the probability that he will win is quite high. That is why the media supporting the authorities do everything to discredit him. And thus, they decided to follow the example of their American colleagues, who never stop talking about the alleged Russian contribution to the victory of Donald Trump. Thus, we see another example of how artificial anti-Russian hysteria has been used for political purposes,” the journalist stated.
An anonymous senior US official told CNN that, while the US allegedly has proof that Damascus is responsible for the chemical incident in Idlib, Syria, it has uncovered no such evidence implicating Moscow, because Russia is wilier in scrambling its communications.
The anonymous official reportedly told the American news channel that the US intelligence community had intercepted communications “featuring Syrian military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin attack in Idlib last week.” While the source failed to provide any concrete details about the alleged communication – such as when it was intercepted or what names or other information it contained – they did note that the US “did not know prior to the attack it was going to happen.”
CNN speculated that the communication had been sent prior to the incident, but was not processed until the US began investigating it.
The source added that “there are no intelligence intercepts that have been found directly confirming that Russian military or intelligence officials communicated about the attack,” but noted “the likelihood is the Russians are more careful in their communications to avoid being intercepted.”
The most specific proof the source could come up with was his observation that Russia has a surveillance drone, which he claimed “flew over the hospital that was treating people injured in the attack.”
CNN suggested that even if the US had evidence of Russia’s involvement, it might not go public with it, as “the US feels right now that it has made the case that Russian support for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad must end.”
The report is the latest in a long series based on anonymous sources – with undisclosed agendas citing vague evidence which is never submitted to public scrutiny – that the mainstream media has deployed to level accusations against Russia. The story that Russia allegedly meddled in the US election has become a dominant narrative for opponents of Donald Trump, who are still trying to explain his surprise victory.
The major media outlets’ eagerness to blame Russia for everything occasionally leads to embarrassment, however. A fairly spectacular example came in January, when the Washington Post was forced to backtrack on a story that falsely claimed Russia had hacked into Vermont’s power grid. The newspaper also sparked outrage in December by touting a list of “Russian propaganda” websites, which turned out to include many respected independent media sources.
The alarming trend is not limited to the US media, however. Last year, the Guardian failed to accurately report on an Italian newspaper’s interview with Julian Assange. The British newspaper falsely painted WikiLeaks’ founder as a Trump supporter who would not criticize Moscow because he was presumably in league with the Russian government.
Some examples go back years. In 2014, the New York Times published photos of armed men, claiming that they were Russian troops on a clandestine mission in Ukraine. The newspaper had taken the images from the US State Department, and both had failed to properly verify them.
After several months of pushing the “Russiagate” conspiracy theory – a wild-eyed, all-encompassing but somewhat nebulous narrative involving U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, WikiLeaks, the Russian mob, assassinations and certain indiscretions with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel – the U.S. mainstream media is now reverting to its traditional role of downplaying conspiracy theories, particularly those raising questions about the intelligence surrounding the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria last week.
On Monday, the New York Times published an article titled “Syria Conspiracy Theories Flourish, at Both Ends of the Spectrum,” which lamented the fact that websites on the left and the right have raised doubts about the casus belli for U.S. military action against Syria.
Noting that some alternative news sites have called the chemical attack a “false flag” operation and others have raised the question of whether Trump’s military action was a “wag the dog” diversion tactic, the Times pointedly attempts to “debunk” the internet memes that have been raising doubts about the chemical attack or calling into question the justification for the U.S. military action.
With an aggressiveness not seen at all when it comes to the unsubstantiated “Russian election-hacking” allegations, the Times fires back forcefully on matters such as whether President Bashar al-Assad had reason to use chemical weapons in the first place or whether anti-Assad forces may have had advance knowledge of the sarin attack. The Times article uses curt, all-caps responses to rebut these claims, such as flatly stating, “FALSE,” “NO EVIDENCE,” or “MISLEADING.”
The Times, for example, points out that Information Clearing House has argued that Assad lacked an obvious tactical or strategic reason to use chemical weapons, and therefore the attack may have actually been carried out by one of the terrorist groups operating in Syria such as Al-Nusra Front. As the Times responds, however, “THIS IS MISLEADING.”
Floating a few reasons that Assad’s forces might have conceivably been motivated to conduct a chemical attack, the Times argues that the attack was “consistent with Mr. Assad’s calculated strategy of attempting to drive out the civilian population in rebel strongholds through bombing neighborhoods and civilian targets.” The Syrian leader may have also “felt emboldened” by perceived shifts in U.S. foreign policies and priorities under Trump, the Times speculates.
Of course, this is simply guesswork on the part of the Times, which is not presenting any facts to counter doubts over the official story, but just responding to the doubts with more conjecture. The Times also seems to be cherry-picking some of the more easily “debunked” stories surrounding the Syria case, failing to address legitimate concerns over the lack of proof of Assad’s culpability. These include doubts raised by the former British ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, who told BBC Radio last week that there is “no proof that the cause of the explosion was what they said it was.”
It would not make sense for Assad to launch such an attack, Ford said, claiming that it would be “totally self-defeating.” He also objected to the veracity of claims made by eyewitnesses who claimed that they saw chemical bombs dropping from the air. “Well, you cannot see chemical weapons dropping from the air,” he said. “Such testimony is worthless.”
There are also serious doubts as to whether Syria even possesses the chemical weapons in question, with the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons noting that since 2013, “all of the chemical weapons declared by Syria were removed and destroyed outside of Syrian territory.”
While some governments have claimed that Syria’s declaration about its chemical weapons program may have been incomplete, the OPCW stresses that it has adapted itself “in unprecedented ways” in efforts “to remove, transport and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile in the midst of an active conflict zone.”
With this in mind, Sacha Llorenti, the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, last Friday blasted the United States for unilaterally attacking Syria, saying that it recalls the decision 14 years earlier to attack Iraq based on equally questionable intelligence. It is “vital to remember what history teaches us,” Llorenti said, citing the 2003 invasion of Iraq and holding up a photo of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell delivering false testimony to the UN Security Council on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
“Whereas an investigation would have allowed us to establish in an objective manner who is responsible for the [chemical] attacks [in Syria], this is an extreme, extreme violation of international law,” he said.
In addition to the doubts that have been raised at the United Nations, a number of the U.S.’s closest G7 allies have refused to implement additional sanctions against Syria without proof of Assad’s guilt.
As the BBC reported on Tuesday, “Sanctions against Russian and Syria will not be put in place until after an investigation into last week’s apparent chemical attack, British government sources said. Members of the G7 group of leading industrialised nations agreed to delay implementing sanctions until there was ‘hard and irrefutable evidence’ over the alleged chemical attack.”
Yet the New York Times and other mainstream U.S. outlets continue to report as undisputed fact that Assad’s government intentionally carried out this attack, and furthermore, that Moscow knew about it in advance.
The sorts of unequivocal retorts that the NYT uses against journalists and bloggers for raising doubts about the official stories could, of course, just as easily be applied to the official stories themselves. When the Associated Press, for example, reported on Tuesday that “The United States has made a preliminary conclusion that Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week,” the Times could have responded with an emphatic all-caps retort such as “NO EVIDENCE.”
These retorts could also be used against the accusations of the Russian government engaging in a convoluted conspiracy to undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances by hacking John Podesta’s and the DNC’s emails in order to expose the Democratic establishment’s undermining of Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign while simultaneously “elevating” Trump’s candidacy in the media through the so-called “pied piper” strategy, with the evil geniuses of the Kremlin somehow knowing beyond a doubt that this information would sway voters in favor of voting for the least popular major-party nominee in a generation.
Just as the NYT has denounced theories surrounding the Syria chemical attack as lacking evidence, so too could the entire Russiagate narrative be picked apart as lacking any foundation in fact. All that one needs to do is actually read the U.S. intelligence assessment that dubiously concluded that Russia “interfered” in the election without offering anything approaching hard proof of this claim – spending seven full pages instead bashing the Russian network RT for its perceived biases.
Going through the Director of National Intelligence report from last January, the reader is left with few details as to how the extraordinary conclusion was reached that Russia “hacked” the election, which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others have called an “act of war.”
The closest thing to evidence that could be found in the DNI report was regarding so-called Russian fingerprints on the hacking attacks of Podesta’s and the DNC’s emails, including malware associated with Russian hackers, as well as some Cyrillic letters and the phrase “Felix Edmundovich,” a reference to the founder of the Soviet Union’s secret police.
However, as revealed in subsequent WikiLeaks’ disclosures of the so-called Vault 7 documents, the CIA has developed numerous tools, including a library of foreign malware, that can be used to falsely implicate a foreign intelligence service in a cyber-attack. These revelations called into question the entire basis for Washington’s case against Moscow for allegedly interfering in the U.S. election, but besides a few articles in the alternative press, including at Consortium News, the revelations received scant attention.
Apparently, the disclosures of CIA hacking activities – including new revelations of the CIA deploying malware in Samsung televisions as covert listening devices to spy on unwitting Americans – were not the sort of conspiracy theory considered worthy of sustained media coverage in the United States. In contrast to the months of wall-to-wall coverage of Russiagate, the Vault 7 leaks were largely treated as a one-day story by the mainstream press.
The disparity in coverage speaks to a longstanding aversion of the mainstream media to what it considers illegitimate “new media” encroaching on its territory and peddling conspiracy theories and what is today called “fake news.” This hostility can be traced to the earliest days of the internet.
Twenty years ago, responding to a proliferation of alternative news sites on the World Wide Web – or what was called back then the “information superhighway” – Newsweek magazine ran a 1,800-word article entitled “Conspiracy Mania Feeds Our Growing National Paranoia.” In the piece, Newsweek denounced what it called “conspiracy freaks.”
Explaining a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories as evidence of “mass psychosis,” the article warned that the “ranks of the darkly deluded may be growing” as “conspiracism has become a kind of para-religion.” It took particular aim at the African-American community, which it described as “a hotbed of this kind of suspicion and mistrust,” for believing that “the CIA had spread the crack epidemic by backing Nicaraguan drug dealers whose profits went to the contras.”
Newsweek also criticized Oliver Stone, director of “Platoon” and “JFK,” and Chris Carter, the creator of the popular “X-Files” television series, for promoting dangerous ideas that had the effect of eroding trust in the government. “On ‘The X-Files,’ everything from who killed JFK to why the Buffalo Bills lose so many Super Bowls is traceable to a single master plan,” Newsweek sneered.
Of course, Newsweek wasn’t alone in scoffing at popular conspiracy theories in the ‘90s. In fact, it was conventional wisdom among “respectable” media that government leaders simply do not cross certain lines, and that certain stories, for example, regarding CIA involvement in the cocaine trade – no matter how much evidence backed them up – were off-limits. Those who failed to get on board with this groupthink, for example Gary Webb who wrote a widely disseminated series for the San Jose Mercury News about the CIA-crack cocaine connection, had their careers destroyed.
This trend continued into the 2000s, with millions of angry Americans still seething over the stolen election in 2000 told to “get over it,” and then called crazy for doubting the basis for George W. Bush’s case for invading Iraq in 2003.
A couple years later, those who raised questions about the government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina were accused by the Washington Post of “racial paranoia” and hawking “conspiracy theories,” such as the widespread belief that New Orleans’ levees may have been intentionally blown up to protect rich neighborhoods at the expense of poorer ones, or to drive low-income African Americans out of town.
But skip ahead a decade, and oddly, this same media that historically has been so hostile to conspiracy theories was seen eagerly pushing conspiracy theories surrounding Clinton’s loss to Trump. Headlines of “Russian election hacking” were freely used by the Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times, despite the fact that there is zero evidence that Russia manipulated any voting machines in any state to alter the outcome of the election, or even any substantial proof offered to support the claims that the Kremlin attempted to influence voters’ decisions by exposing private emails between DNC officials.
Nevertheless, the Democrats and the media have coalesced around the conventional wisdom that the election was lost due to a Russian plot, which conveniently absolves the national Democratic Party of any responsibility for losing the election – for example by writing off the white working class vote or nominating a deeply flawed establishment candidate during a decidedly anti-establishment year – while simultaneously calling into question the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency.
It also feeds into the rallying cry that the Democrats have embraced since losing the election, which has been variations of the theme “This is not normal,” expressed by the hashtag #NotNormal on social media. This theme laments the loss of a more “normal” time, presumably personified by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Typically, the slogan refers to Trump’s controversial dealings with Russia, his unconventional communication style and his extensively documented conflicts of interests, as well as perceived misogyny, nepotism, racism and incompetence in his administration.
Clearly, there is very little that can be considered “normal” about this administration, including the strange role of Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who has moved into the White House while the First Lady, Melania Trump, lives in New York. The First Daughter reportedly was instrumental in convincing the President to carry out the unilateral attack on Syria. “Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I’m sure she said: ‘Listen, this is horrible stuff,’” Ivanka’s brother Eric Trump told the Telegraph.
While that is certainly not normal, what the Democrats and the media are revealing through their #NotNormal campaign and the official conspiracy theories that they are promoting – while downplaying other theories or doubts about government claims – is how much they actually consider “normal.”
In today’s America, what is normal, according to the bipartisan consensus, are unilateral strikes against countries without evidence and in violation of international law. It is also apparently normal for televisions to spy on law-abiding citizens, and with drone strikes shooting up 432% under the Trump presidency so far, it is apparently quite normal to use flying robots to bomb suspected terrorists (and their eight-year old daughters) half-way around the world. Indefinite detention at the legal black hole of Guantanamo is also rather normal.
After all, these are all policies that have been in place for a decade and a half under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and hope seems to be dwindling for returning to a period of actual normalcy.
By Eric Walberg | American Herald Tribune | April 9, 2017
Claims that Assad is using chemical weapons are like a barometer: when the Syrian army is doing well, they surface, notably in 2013, 2015 and now, just as the Syria government looks close to some kind of ‘victory’. Both times in the past the intelligence came from Mossad and the claims fizzled out, though the propaganda that it was ‘likely’ by the Syrian Army stuck in western perception. The current chemical ‘attack’, instantly hailed by Israel, occurred just as peace talks were beginning in Geneva. The source of the claim is, again, most likely Israel, though that’s not part of the media fireworks. Tillerson might have checked with the Russians, as Russian military were stationed at the airport.
That is the background to the bombing of the air base April 6, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians in rebel-held Idlib province two days before. National security adviser General Herbert McMaster solemnly declared, “We could trace this murderous attack back to that facility.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused Russia of being either complicit or incompetent in failing to keep its 2013 promise of completely destroying Syria’s chemical weapons supply.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “an act of aggression against a sovereign country violating the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that. Washington’s move substantially impairs Russian-US relations, which are in a deplorable state as it is.” Russia said it had suspended deconfliction channels with Washington, set up to avoid air collisions over Syria, though the Pentagon said it continued to use the channel.
Why would Assad launch chemical weapons when he was winning? The most plausible explanation was that the Syria air force hit a supply depot in rebel-held territory. That Assad would have ordered the use of chemical weapons was dismissed by Russian deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, who vetoed the usual US-sponsored Security Council resolution condemning Assad, suggesting it was altnews. “We have not yet any official or reliable confirmation” of what took place or who was responsible, said the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, at a press conference after the incident. The EU echoed this, though European countries either supported the US strike or kept mum.
Safronkov warned the US, “If military action occurred, it will be on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise. Look at Iraq, look at Libya.” Olof Skoog, Sweden’s ambassador to the United Nations, sounded a similar note. “I remember Hans Blix. Of course I’m concerned” about the possibility of a US attack in Syria.” Bolivia, a current member of the Security Council, requested an emergency session to address, and perhaps condemn, the US missile attack in Syria.
What makes the accusation doubly doubtful is the fact that Syria joined the international chemical weapons treaty in 2013, agreeing to renounce all use of chemical weapons, and through the mediation of Russia, to dispose of all that were in their hands. The deadline for destruction was 2014. Syria gave the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons an inventory of its chemical weapons arsenal and started its destruction in October 2013, two weeks before its formal entry into force. Idlib, the site of the current ‘attack’, has moved back and forth, and has been in rebel hands since 2015, and all the weapons were not yet removed.
As if scripted, ISIS stormed the Syrian army checkpoints in the nearby strategic town of Al-Furqalas.
Fate worse than death?
More civilians caught up in the Syrian conflict were killed by US-led coalitions than by ISIS or Russian-led forces in the last month, according to figures released by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. ISIS killed 119 civilians in Syria in March, with Russian forces believed to have killed 224 civilians in the same month. The SNHR found the international coalition forces, led by the US, killed 260 civilians.
At the same time as the US was loudly denouncing Syria’s supposed chemical attack, which killed 80, the US was responsible for killing 85 (an airstrike on a school west of Raqqa killed at least 33 people, just after a separate US strike on a mosque complex in the north-west of the country killed 52). But it is the chemical attack claim–hotly disputed by the Russians, who are the most privvy to Syrian affairs–that gets the headlines, though unless I’m mistaken, a wartime death is a wartime death. Each one a tragedy.
The upsurge in civilian deaths has been so sharp that it’s overwhelmed Airwars.org. The site had to scale back its monitoring of Russian airstrikes in Syria and focus instead on bombings carried out by the US and its allies. At its peak, ISIS controlled about 40% of Iraqi territory; now it controls about 10%. In both Iraq and Syria, the battles are now in cities, making bombing raids lethal to civilians. The easier part of the war, which involved targeted airstrikes in less densely populated areas, is over, and deaths are bound to increase with ‘boots on the ground’.
It is difficult to understand just what Trump has in mind to end the violence in Syria and Iraq. He promised not to increase US intervention abroad, but at the same time, vowed that as president he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS.” US-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have already killed 1,500 civilians in just Iraq and Syria this month alone, more than three times the number killed in President Barack Obama’s final full month in office, according to Airwars.
Trump and his top aides had accepted in recent days the “reality” of Assad being in power, saying his ouster was no longer a priority, but the chemical weapons attack seemed to spur a rethink. When asked if this signalled a change in US policy, McMaster demurred. “I think what it does communicate is a big shift … in Assad’s calculus … because this is … the first time that the United States has taken direct military action against that regime or the regime of his father.”
Trump insists that the mainstream media lies, but then buys into the mainstream version of the war against Syria. He is being manipulated by the very forces he claims to oppose. What should be a sign of decisiveness looks more like another Trump gaffe. While the mainstream political world and media approved of the sabre-rattling, Trump’s own followers are against his bombing.
According to vox.com, among them were:
*Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars/ @PrisonPlanet. “I guess Trump wasn’t ‘Putin’s puppet’ after all, he was just another deep state/Neo-Con puppet. I’m officially OFF the Trump train. I’ll be focusing my efforts on Le Pen, who tried to warn Trump against this disaster.”
*Mike Cernovich, #NoMoreWars. ” Today over 500,000 people have watched my videos and streams. 90% are @realDonaldTrump supporters, none want war with Syria.”
*Radio host Laura Ingraham, @IngrahamAngle. “Missiles flying. Rubio’s happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary’s on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs.”
*Author Ann Coulter, @AnnCoulter. “The beloved rebels [sic] we’ll help by intervening in Syria: women forced into veils & posters of Osama hung on the walls.”
*Max Blumenthal. “US intervention would be the last hope for Syrian rebels, and a shot in the arm to al-Qaeda, which has grown to record size thanks to America’s military meddling across the Middle East. ”
*Even the readers at Breitbart, which is known as the home on the internet for pro-Trump coverage, rebelled against the attack.
Pacts made in hell
The parallel between the Russia-Syria anti-Trump campaigns by the establishment is obvious. The Russian spying hysteria (Obama expelled 35 diplomats in December 2016) and the support for lame-duck Ukraine was to prevent a new detente with Russia, and so far has worked. Trump doesn’t dare proceed with this key foreign policy objective. Originally, he tied relations with Russia with solving the crisis in Syria. “Let Russia do it.”
But in office, Trump instead strengthened ties with Saudi Arabia, signing a pact to work together in both Syria (Clinton’s “safe zones”) and Yemen. After a friendly White House meeting with Trump and Steve Bannon (the architect of Trump’s Muslim ban), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman hailed Trump as “his Excellency,” describing him as a “true friend of Muslims who will serve the Muslim world in an unimaginable manner, opposite to the negative portrait of his Excellency that some have tried to promote.” The only real agreement with the Saudis is the obsession to attack Iran, a pact made in hell.
Historical parallels abound here. Just as Putin was understandably supportive of Trump’s campaign for the presidency, Soviet Russia in its time very much wanted to be friends with Hitler, the ultimate ‘pact made in hell’. Israel Shamir argues it was a good idea given the times; the problem was that Hitler had other priorities, and the Russian desire for peace and friendship did not fit in. Things today have reached a head, not quite Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa against Russia, although the economic sanctions against Russia are warfare by another name.
The current airstrike, which could have killed Russians, is more like the Cuban missile crisis. But there is no JFK (who was, in any case, assassinated for his desire for peace with the Soviet Union). What should have been a diplomatic triumph–the unfolding of peace with Russia and an end to the Syrian tragedy–has turned into renewed US support for ISIS and confrontation with Russia, both of which could spin out of control. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria’s, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him. And then there’s Ukraine.