I’m writing here about Russia and will touch on current events in Syria as well. To do this I’ve abandoned a piece on the EU I’ve been writing on and off for a month, but interesting how it isn’t really a thing at the moment. Instead our media has been full of the dreadful nerve agent poisonings in the UK, in Salisbury, and now this, the chemical gas attack in Syria.
The cold war is being ratcheted up into, if it goes a certain way in the next few days, a near hot war.
Now, what I’m going to say pains me, but the only way to stop this war in Syria is to allow Assad to win. Interesting, is it not, how Assad’s near to winning and then a chemical attack occurs, which alerts the entire Western world to slapping him down with missiles and bombings.
Yes, probably it was Assad, with the help of Russia, but I say probably because I want evidence please, not hysteria. And if there is to be any hard action on the part of the West, where is the strategy, what aims and intentions for life after Assad are there and, AND, will bombings done now achieve anything anyway? Does intervention ever work? Sometimes. But again it pains me to say this, we should have taken action against Assad years earlier, not now with him near to victory. Or is that near victory what this current crisis is about? Oh, and of course, only a week ago or so, Trump was thinking of ending the US occupation of Syria.
At this point, I’d like to take a step back, not to the Salisbury poisonings (and actually there’s an awful lot of murky stuff swirling around here in the UK and not helped at all by our simply appalling Foreign Secretary) but to Russia and its apparent dealings with the Trump election.
And what’s more I’d like to ask why is there such an anti-Russian mania at large? Who benefits? Yes, always ask that question. OK, there is a general acceptance that Russia probably interfered with the American election to supposedly put Trump into the White House rather than Hillary Clinton who was at that time advocating action against Assad and a no-fly zone.
I say probably but on what evidence is this based? At this point, I’m going to give you an alternative view – just because. Apparently, the evidence of Russia’s involvement came from a report from something called the Intelligence Community Assessment. However, only three of 16 intelligence US agencies participated and the report came with the rider that (and I quote)
“Judgements are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary….”
Nevertheless, this report, this pronouncement, this judgement has been taken up by the media as fact, with the result that there is a consensus that i) the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) revealing those pesky emails, so consequently ii) Russia is the enemy. However, hard evidence from the NSA, which can monitor long distance hacking, is sparse, probably, argues Jacksons Lears, because there could be several groups involved and not just the Russians, if they were there anyway. Has no-one thought that the emails were an internal leak – who benefitted, one might ask.
Another ‘leak’, this time, of John Podesta’s emails was investigated by the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike whose chief technology officer is a fellow of the Atlantic Council an anti-Russian think-tank. Again, argues Lears, there is virtually no evidence, yet Russian interference is treated as an absolute. All fine, but now the consensus is of Russia as the antagonist, the evil enemy and all contact with Russia therefore, including Trump’s relatives, is seen as collusion with said enemy, rather than, with regard to Trump’s sons, as sleaze. And more importantly any critique of the consensus is seen as off-the-wall and implausible.
A further twist to the anti-Russian and anti-Trump tale involved the DNC hiring a research firm to look at links between Trump and Putin. This resulted in a lurid report written by a former British intelligence agent (I mean, really?) that said Putin had been blackmailing Trump for many years over prostitutes and so on. The report was seen as rubbish, yet it managed to end up, apparently, as an appendix in that Intelligence Community Assessment – you couldn’t make this up if you tried.
Lears’ hypothesis is that the anti-Russian hysteria has led the Democrats away from focusing on the deficiencies of the Clinton campaign and their party’s failure to stand up for working families. Could the Democrats learn from the election result? Well, not if their defeat was all the fault of the Russians.
I am not an apologist for Russia, the thing is you should understand Russia and see it for what it is. However, the miasma of false information and downright lies around Russia goes far beyond the damage to the Democrats. It contaminates and confuses all discourse, so that any critique outside the general consensus, that this is x so, therefore y, is seen as the chorus of conspiracy theorists. Well what I want, as do many others, is clear critical thinking.
For instance, it has now been confirmed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that the nerve agent used in Salisbury was indeed, Novichock. But, note neither Porton Down or the OPCW can say who made that agent. That is not possible. However, our Foreign Secretary, Boris, immediately says that there can be no doubt what was used. Yes, it’s Novichock, that’s fine, that’s been verified. But he goes on, ‘and there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible – only Russia has the means, motive and record.’ Well, can we accept the word of Boris? Because he lied right at the beginning of this terrible situation by saying that ‘the guy’ at Porton Down had assured him the nerve agent had come from Russia – and he absolutely had not. The thing is Boris, we remember Iraq and the WMD, which were never there.
Also note that Novichok is, like all nerve agents, very fast acting – so, the highest concentration was on the door knob of the Skripal’s house? But the Skripals left the house and wandered around Salisbury for four hours before they were discovered on a bench in the centre – how very odd.
And yes, Syria. What a dreadful war this is, which has been going on too long and now a chemical gas attack in Douma, which the international community has quite rightly said should not be tolerated. But can you tell me why Syria, apparently aided and abetted by Russia, would undertake such an attack when Assad can kill the civilian population so effectively anyway? Barrel bombs anyone? And who reported the incident? Actually, it was two anti-Assad groups. So, who benefits from this terrible attack? Don’t forget Trump won his election by, amongst other bits of rhetoric, promising to bring American troops back home. Only a few days ago, Trump had mused on just that. And now he’s fully committed to continuing the military occupation plus additional action along with the UK and France. The timing, people, the timing of this atrocity. But alternative views do exist, and this consensus is that bombing will do nothing whatsoever for those civilians who have suffered so much. It will not aid them, it will not stop the war, and it may kill rather too many Russian troops.
Essentially, we have to leave Assad alone to win his war, which anyway, is all about clans and tribes. I wonder if politicians have even bothered to understand the complex arena within which this war is being fought? Leaving that aside, once Assad has won you then take him to the international court. Meanwhile the rhetoric towards war ebbs and flows, as someone seems to have applied the brakes in the White House. Here in the UK, May appears to be avoiding any debate in Parliament. If she joins in with Trump (and Macron) without a vote in Parliament that will be a disgrace as she’s a minority leader and there are voices in the Tory party advocating caution.
Ah yes, caution. Who can supply that in this time of group-think and perpetual war? Because that is the current state of things. We may never truly know what happened in the 2016 election, or what happened in Salisbury, or in Syria but we seem to be in the hands of politicians marching us to conflict, or not. It’s all very volatile and unstable and there is fog all around us. But is there a McNamara in the White House? One can only hope.
Penny Kocher 13thApril 2018
I have read many articles. Amongst others I owe a debt to the article published 4thJanuary 2018 in the London Review of Books by Jackson Lears on What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk About Russian Hacking
Also Simon Jenkins in The Guardian