Saturday, June 28, 2014

The New Yorker on Ukraine: Instead of Sy Hersh, Keith Gessen

As the world anxiously awaits the next chapter in the tug of war between Russia and the West over Ukraine, I deconstruct a lengthy article in the May 12th New Yorker that shows how investigative reporting has been replaced by sugar-coated bias:
The print media can be divided into roughly three categories:  corporate local dailies that cover major US cities, the so-called liberal press such as the NY Times, the Washington Post, and journals such as The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and the progressive press, that includes The Nation, Mother Jones, Yes! and many smaller titles.  Alas, the difference between the mainstream media and the liberal media appears to grow smaller by the day, while the so-called progressive media increasingly resembles what used to be the liberal media.

This alarming trend is illustrated by the fact that, after contributing regularly to The New Yorker since 1993, America’s foremost investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh no longer writes for that magazine. A lengthy article on Ukraine by Keith Gessen indirectly explains Hersh’s disappearance, and The New Yorker’s abandonment of any progressive pretense.

Keith Gessen is the brother of Masha Gessen, who recently published “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin”, a much publicized take-down of the Russian president.  Although she resides in the U.S., she is listed on Wikipedia as a member of the Russian democratic opposition, and is an ideal US talk show guest in these days of rising tensions with Russia.  Keith is her younger brother, the editor of a magazine with literary pretensions and author, at 38, of one novel. Keith went to Ukraine last winter and the style of his New Yorker piece perfectly illustrates a comment about him by Jonathan Franzen: "it's so delicious the way he writes.” Gessen’s is an ideal style for delivering a sugar-coated nasty message.

The piece begins ominously: “The Russian border is a two-hour tank drive from Kiev” - where the writer is sipping tea in a cafe.  “‘Little green men’ is how people described Russian soldiers when they first showed up, unmarked and unannounced, in Crimea.”  Aside from the fact that most people would not describe Russians as ‘little’, under a 1997 Treaty between Russia and Ukraine: Partition_Treaty_on_the_Status_and_Conditions_of_the_Black_Sea_Fleet

“The two countries established two independent national fleets, and divided armaments and bases between them.[2][3] Under the treaty Russia maintained the right to use the Port of Sevastopol in Ukraine for 20 years until 2017.[4] …The treaty also allowed Russia to maintain up to 25,000 troops, 24 artillery systems, 132 armored vehicles, and 22 military planes on the Crimean peninsula.”
President Putin has repeatedly referred to this treaty with reference to the popular vote that returned Crimea to Russia in March of this year, finally admitting that Russian troops normally confined to barracks had been sent out onto the streets, where as videos on the MSM show, they merely stood around. Hardly an invasion, and impossible to consider on the same level as the weeks of violence precipitated and orchestrated by trained fighters of the Neo-fascist organization Right Sektor in Kiev’s Maidan square, as boasted in Time magazine interview and that resulted in the flight of an elected Ukrainian president.
Gessen says Kiev’s anti-government protesters were armed with bats and sticks and Molotov cocktails.  Apparently, he has never seen pictures of Right Sektor fighters in uniforms with swastika-like insignia (known as Wolf angels) carrying long metal clubs and shields.  Describing the protesters’ tents on the Maidan he does mention ‘an exhibit of helmets, home-made cannons, shields, Molotov cocktails’. When it’s just an exhibit, it seems harmless….
Surprised to find the encampment still occupied weeks after the end of fighting, Gessen muses: “It was clear that some of the men had nowhere to go, or certainly, no place better than this. Here they were heroes, back home they were not.”  Touching human interest note about Neo-Nazi thugs. Gessen also admits that the revolution merely brought another set of standard politicians to power “Men in black suits emerged from gleaming black Mercedeses to attend sessions of parliament.”  Meanwhile, the activists were preparing for war, signing up men for the National Guard, Gessen muses, like students do for credit cards on US campuses.  “The idea of the Guard was to get aggressive young people off the Maidan, but it was also an attempt to raise some fighting forces, in the event of a Russian invasion….The Ministry of Defense was asking people to text it money.” (Another touching note about a regime backed by the most powerful nation on earth.)
Gessen obviously identified with the young people in the Maidan where “there was an openness to the political life of the country, a willingness to experiment, a desire to communicate that was rare anywhere, but especially rare in the cynical, impoverished post-Soviet space.”… Alas, he fails to mention - or perhaps doesn’t realize - that these people did not win the revolution - and those that did are not interested in ‘openness’ or ‘experiments’, but are muscular men who love violence.  Continuing: “The new Minister of the Interior wrote long updates on his Facebook page. Everyone was equal and anything was possible.”  Gessen obviously hasn’t a clue as to who this man, Arsen Arkov is. According to Voice of
“Russia’s Investigative Committee has issued a resolution to indict the governor of Ukraine’s Dnepropetrovsk Region, Igor Kolomoysky and parliament-appointed Interior Minister Arsen Avakov on charges of using prohibited means and methods of warfare,” IC spokesman Vladimir Markin told Itar-Tass.
"Under the criminal case… of first degree murder, interfering with the professional activity of journalists and kidnapping, a notice has been given of charges against Igor Kolomoyskyi and Arsen Avakov," he said in a statement.

The charges refer to the kidnapping of Zvezda television channel journalists and the preceding illegal detention of journalists from the same channel, as well as several other Russian journalists.  The release went on to say that the government sought to identity the commanders and rank-and-file of the Ukrainian Armed forces, the National Guard of Ukraine and Right Sector militants who have participated in the military operation against civilians in the southeast of Ukraine. Markin said that nearly fifteen hundred people have been recognized as victims of prohibited acts of war in Ukraine.

For example in Odessa: In the final paragraph of his article, Gessen tosses off a reference to the events of May 2 which left over a hundred dead. Major press outlets reported that pro-Russian demonstrators had erected a tent in front of the Odessa Trade Union headquarters, and that when Right Sektor thugs came and set the tent on fire, protesters took refuge in the building.  The Right Sektor then threw Molotov cocktails through the windows, setting the building on fire, and beating to death protesters who jumped from windows.  Gessen’s version of events:

“After a relatively quiet May Day, a huge brawl (a word normally used to describe a street or bar fight) in Odessa between pro-Russian protesters and pro-Ukrainian protesters led to several deaths. (several!) The pro-Ukraine protesters, who included fans of the Odessa soccer team, then set fire to the pro-Russian tent city near the train station and to the building where the pro-Russian protesters had retreated; there were dozens more deaths.”  According to the report on Wikipedia, forty-three people died and another 25 were in critical condition.  Nowhere have I seen references to ‘fans of the Odessa soccer team’, a phrase obviously intended to make what was a violent political confrontation look like just another soccer brawl.

Gessen devotes a lot of space to a Ukrainian journalist friend who told him that another journalist had been killed while filming ‘pro-Russian thugs’: “The thugs noticed, pulled him out of the car, beat him and and shot him in the chest. He died in the hospital.”  It’s strange, but this story sounds exactly like many I’ve read about the behavior of the Right Sektor, however Gessen never refers to them as thugs.

In Gessen’ version of history, after President Yanukovich fled, “the revolution was triumphant.  And then little green men - Russians - appeared in Crimea.”  This distortion of well-documented events is so blatant that it calls into question the integrity of The New Yorker editorial board.  Gessen’s friend describes the events thus:  “It was a very emotional moment. we were burying our dead…..and then Putin shows up… someone showing up at a funeral and demanding everyone’s jewelry.” (The Crimea is sometimes referred to as the crown-jewel of Ukraine…)

Channeling typical New Yorker readers who whine about not being able to keep up three vacations homes, Gessen lays it on thick:  “‘And on top of that it was spring!  We’d got through this terrible winter, we’d got through the Maidan, and after all that, we thought, finally, we’re going to live. Instead, we’re preparing to die again.’” Gessen continues: “The day before Shvet and I met up, Putin had made a speech on the annexation of Crimea.  It was a remarkably cynical speech, full of passionately uttered half-truths and lies.” ‘Cynical’ and ‘passionately’ are not usually used together, but I shall not quarrel here with poetic license.

“The thing that kills me isn’t the speech,” Gessen goes on to say. “It’s that so many Russians believe him…… people with university degrees…and they believe every word…….these new Russians - they’re imperialists - and they’re nasty.”
Not even the fact that people with degrees think Putin is a better leader than Obama gives Gessen pause. 

As for his friend, he seems extraordinarily naive for a journalist. Seeking to get across the idea that Ukrainians are fighting for democracy, he complains: “You in the West, you get your democracy just like you get your coffee and your morning paper.  It’s like water coming out of the tap.  You don’t have to think about it.  It’s going to come every day.”
It’s obvious he thinks all Americans start the day reading the New York Times with their morning coffee confident that all is well on the Beltway.

This starry-eyed picture of American democracy brings Gessen back to the subject he has been trying to avoid during the entire article: the Neo-Nazi thugs without whom Yanukovich would still be in office.  Still determined to pass the Banderites off as harmless, he sidles up to the truth, again quoting Shvets:  

“‘It’s interesting how the meaning of chants changed. For example, ‘Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!’ - that used to be the UPA chant.” He was referring to the paramilitary Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which operated in Western Ukraine during the Second World War as the military wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists.  ‘People were chanting it, and it changed its meaning.  Because when they said ‘Glory to heroes, they didn’t mean Bandera anymore, or Shukhevich - the leaders of the OUN and the UPA who cooperated with the brutal German occupation of Ukraine, they meant the people in the square.  These were the heroes.  If you said that in the forest in 1944, it was an anti-Communist chant.  Here it was different.  It had changed.’”

Changed? Really? Gessen has not read/watched/heard the anti-Russian, anti-Communist, anti-Jewish invectives proffered by Julia Timoshenko, Dimity Yarosh, Oleksandr Muzychko, (the fat guy who irrupted into elected officials’ offices fully armed, threatening them if they didn’t resign - and who was mysteriously killed, probably on orders from the men in the black Mercedeses, for whom he was just too much of an embarrassment?) 

Gessen does refer briefly to the endless videos on YouTube, yet he can’t do without his pacifier.  Again according to Shvets: “‘Some other UPA chants didn’t work - ‘Glory to the nation! Death to its enemies!’ That didn’t work, because what ‘nation’?  We’re all half Russian!’” True, however the UPA and OUN have been kept alive by whose who are not half Russian: the descendants of Ukrainians who fought with Bandera against the Soviet Union. And it is they who turned the progressive demonstrations in the Maidan into a right-wing coup, just as Dmitry Yaros explained in his Time interview.

Here Gessen goes into a long discussion of the language problem, saying that although Ukrainian and Russian are close, it takes work for Russians to learn Ukrainian: “If you are not willing to do that work, then you will think of Ukraine as a wayward cousin, or even brother, who just needs to be brought back into the fold.” (Read, reunited with Russia.)
Gessen does admit that: “Urkrainianization has involved the proliferation of Ukrainian language schools and a particular narrative of Ukrainian history. (sic) Then, like a dog worrying a bone, he comes back yet again to what he knows is the crucial issue of the Ukrainian crisis, its uncomfortably brutal history:
“Perhaps the most painful node of this Urkrainianization, for Russian-identified people in Ukraine, has been the historical argument over the activities of the Organization of Ukrainian nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the western part of the country during the Second World War.  To many Russians these were Nazi collaborators who in their eagerness to establish ‘facts on the ground’ in Ukraine engaged in ethnic cleansing of Russians, Poles and Jews. (What else could they be called, other than Nazi collaborators?)  As in Soviet times, they are referred to contemptuously as banderovtsy, after their wartime leader Stepan Bandera.  But to many Ukrainians, especially the young, the UPA is an inspiration, because in the struggle for independence it fought off two of the most dictatorial regimes in history. (The UPA turned on the Germans after realizing that they were not actually interested in an independent Ukraine.)  Arguments about the UPA become very emotional very quickly” because they are about peoples’ grandfathers, who either were with the insurgents or were killed by them. 
The worst thing about this article appearing in a publication such as The New Yorker, with its history of impeccable journalism is that the author appears not to know that many former Ukrainian Nazis were welcomed in the U.S., where they were instrumental in the birth of the Neo-Conservative movement.  (Mark Crispin Miller was interviewed this week by Abby Martin on RT’s Breaking the Set as well as by her colleague Thom Hartmann on The Big Picture about the e-book publication of five important books that have been scuttled by a paranoid publishing industry, under the title The Forbidden Bookshelf. These include Christopher Simpson’s “Blowback”, about Operation Paperclip, that brought high level Nazis to the U.S. to be used as assets in the incipient Cold War against the Soviet Union. (The only thing the public became aware of was the indignation that prevented the government from appointing John Yoo to help assess its own efforts at declassifying information about these programs.)
I am not going to dissect Gessen’s entire 10,000 word article, but will end with his condemnation of Russia’s increasing ability to stand up to the West, under Putin, whom he accuses of encouraging separatism through television newscasts and “documentaries” beamed into Ukraine.

If the documentaries Gessen is referring to are anything like the ones Americans can see on RT, Russia’s twenty-four hour English language news channel, they document the historical background of the men who enabled the coup in Kiev: although Dimitry Yaros only got 1% of the vote in the presidential election, supporting assertions that his organization does not have broad support, the fact that any government would rely on openly Neo-Nazi fighters to take - and keep power - should trouble any journalist.  At one point Gessen quotes Shvets saying ‘Our army is nothing’, and indeed it has been seen melting away.  But that does not justify calling on Hitler-worshipping militias who curse Russians, Communists and Jews - or any other group - to get and keep power.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Icing the Choclate King

As the world anxiously awaits the outcome of Ukraine’s ouvertures to its rebellious Southeastern regions, in its June 23 issue, Time magazine presents Pietro Poroshenko as  “Man in the Middle”. In order to justify that title, it is forced to go through extraordinary contortions between the facts and Washington’s versions thereof.  
It starts by asserting that when Poroshenko met Vladimir Putin at the D-Day commemoration in France he had to ‘control his temper’ because three months earlier Russia had ‘taken over’ Crimea.  In reality, Russia accepted the results of a popular referendum in Crimea and welcomed that region back where it had been except for the last sixty years of modern history. The Crimean peninsula has been home to the Russian Black Sea fleet since the late eighteenth century, and is inhabited mainly by ethnic Russians.  In a magnanimous gesture toward the land in which he grew up, Khruschev gave it to Ukraine in 1954, but once the Soviet Union was dissolved, that created a potentially awkward situation. Never mind, for Time and the rest of the MSM, the referendum papered over a ‘land grab’, which President Obama declares he will never accept. 
Anyway, according to Time, Poroshenko ‘gritted his teeth’ during the tête-a-tête and told Putin he would get Crimea back eventually. But then it becomes clear that what Time reported as fact, was actually second hand information: “Poroshenko recounted his meeting with Putin a few days later during an interview with Time in his office in Kiev.  He wouldn’t say how Putin had responded, but insisted the President’s response was of little importance to him. ‘To be honest’, he told Time, ‘I’m not interested in what citizen Putin thinks of my state.’”
Elected following the violent overthrow of his predecessor, Poroshenko refuses to recognize the regularly elected President of one of the most powerful states on earth, and Time simply reports ‘the fact’ of this bizarre behavior without comment. However, in the following paragraph, the magazine which is to the weeklies what the New York Times is to the dailies, admits lamely: “Poroshenko does not in truth have that luxury.” The leaders of the West made it clear during those three days of meetings that he can publicly call Russia an agressor but he has to accept his powerful neighbor as a negotiating partner. All he can do is grudgingly (Time’s word) complain that Ukraine does not have Canada or Sweden for a neighbor….
Now the writer moves from Poroshenko to Putin: “Putin’s Crimean conquest has won [him] adulation at home”. (Conquest? Via a locally organized referendum?)  “Signalling that he’d had his fill” (as in a Russian bear eating honey?) “for now, Putin ordered his army away from Ukraine’s border.”  Not only does Time fail for the second time to mention the referendum, it again suggests - without actually saying so - that the region was annexed by military force. At the time of the referendum, military personnel from the Sevastopol Naval Base were seen about, however international observers widely confirmed the vote’s authenticity, and only a thoroughly indoctrinated fourth estate that moves seamlessly between outright lies and innuendo could express doubt about it:
“None of this” (this what?) “means Russia will leave Ukraine or any of its other neighbors alone. Pro-Russian militants” (which presumably should not be confused with Russian military), “are still fighting Ukrainian troops in Eastern Ukraine, with new fighters pouring in from across the border.”  Notice how Time refers to ‘new fighters’, not ‘Russian troops’. And even though the phrase ‘pouring in’ more correctly suggests volunteers, it can also - and more ominously - suggest an unstoppable invasion….  Indeed: “The Crimean peninsula is still, in Russia’s eyes, a legal part of Russia.” (still?) “And Putin still has the permission of his legislature to invade Ukraine whenever he sees fit.” 
In a surprising lapse of style, the article continues without identifying the subject as Poroshenko: “It is no longer a question of Ukraine’s security”,  he says, insisting that Russia is a threat not only to Ukraine but also to the global balance of power. (Russia: a country whose president he calls mister and whose opinions leave him indifferent…..). Clashing with his usual diplomatic style, Poroshenko’s declaration: “I want you to understand that Ukrainian soldiers are fighting today for peace in the region, peace in Europe and peace in the world” - has to be straight out of Washington’s handbook.
And yet, after all that anti-Russian rhetoric, the rules of the craft oblige the article’s (anonynous, according to Times tradition) staff writer to confess: “The Ukrainian military did not wait long after Poroshenko’s election before attacking the rebels with a ferocity it had avoided during the presidential race.”  (In the misguided hope the Eastern Ukrainians would welcome back Neo-Nazi rulers.) After describing a bloody assault by helicopter gundships and planes as if it were referring to a game, or a film,Time tells us this was “a high risk ‘gamble’: the rebels’ hope and Ukraine’s fear was that the Russian military would back up the militants. That didn’t happen and Poroshenko believes the assault helped the Kremlin see reason:
Dozens of coffins are going back to the Russian Federation. What are they dying for?” (Are the Russians so stupid as to sacrifice their youth for us?) Then, in a non-sequitur that channels the West’s now consistent portrayal of Russia as a threat: “If we don’t defend ourselves, no one will.”
There follows a run-down of Poroshenko’s bio, a chocolate manufacturer whose political career was aided by the (Berlusconian) purchase of a television station.  By the time of the Orange Revolution he had already served six years as a center left member of parliament, and Channel 5 “became the mouthpiece of the Orange cause”. Poroshenko’s “knack for compromise” made him “a mainstay of Ukrainian politics”, who, as a presidential candidate was able to “straddle mainly different political constituencies”.  But Time also wants us to know that he “was not afraid to risk his neck as he campaigned”. An advisor who accompanied him described how Luhansk separatists gave them the chase, “forcing Poroshenko’s car to cut through a field to get to the airport.  Harrowing as that experience was, it showed voters that he was serious about negotiating with the eastern regions for the sake of national unity.”
The word ‘harrowing”, however exaggerated, justifies the new President’s behavior: “On Poroshenko’s orders, the Ukrainian military has assaulted rebel held towns with air-strikes and artillary fire,”….hoping to turn [the ordinary citizens who are its victims] against the rebels whom he has cast as terrorists.  In the new President’s words:  “The absolute majority of the people who live there are absolute Ukrainians (whatever that means), absolutely clean, honest and upstanding.” (Not the Russian scum described by Poroshenko’s long-time ally Yulia TImosheko….)
Admitting that “it is a tough sell for a people who feel they’re under siege”, Time recognizes that many residents could not take part in the election, yet fails to explain that the leaders they had chosen called for them to boycot it. Instead, it quotes Poroshenko: “These were the most transparent, the most free and the most democratic elections in Ukraine’s history”, and the people who renounce (denounce?) its results are most likely “besotted with Russian propaganda.”
In the final part of the article, Time moves from referring to the separatists as rebels, to describing ‘guerrilla warfare’, ending with a quote from former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (he of the leaked conversation with Victoria Nuland over who should because Ukraine’s president):   “(Poro-shenko) claims that Russia has unilaterally redrawn a European border for the first time since World War II.”  The crucial word here of course is ‘unilaterally’, since the borders of the former Yugoslavia were redrawn in the nineties by a ‘coalition of willing’ Western powers, none of whom considered the action to be illegal.  
According to Time, the Western capitals hope the truce between Russia and Ukraine  (the word ‘truce’ suggesting active military engagement between two parties, which has not occurred), “will be a kind of diplomatic bridgehead, preventing Russia from challenging any more of Europe’s borders.” (What’s a ‘diplomatic bridgehead’? I think they mean a buffer zone, similar to the one Israel wants to establish between itself and an eventual Palestinian state.) Never mind that Ukraine is not part of Europe, Time’s conclusion is obviously veiled advice from Washington: “It may pain him, but that leaves Poroshenko with no choice but to continue his presidency the same way he started it - by talking to the enemy.”

Alas, as of this writing, for what I believe is the third time, instead of negotiating with the people of Eastern Ukraine, Poroshenko continues to pound them from the air, as his infantry, loathe to kill fellow citizens, melts away. (And his proposal, by the way, does call for a buffer zone… ) The press has correctly reported that the Donbass is the industrial heartland of Ukraine. However, as miners sign up en masse to the citizens’ army, here’s something Time staff writers probably don’t know: in all areas formerly under Soviet control, the dangers faced by miners are recognized in higher pay and early retirement. Will the chocolate king know better than to mess with those guys?

Friday, June 13, 2014

How Liberal Journalists Mislead Readers

The award-winning foreign policy journalist Robin Wright published a portrait of Iranian nuclear negotiator Javad Zarif in the May 20th issue of The New Yorker that is a set piece for high-level yet misleading journalism. Wright has extensive experience covering the Middle East and has written or edited several books on the subject. However she illustrates what many progressive readers have noticed as a recent rightward tilt to both the New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, an example of the latter being Timothy Snyder's slant on events in Ukraine.
The first thing you notice about Wright's article is that it carries a negative title: "The Adversary". Then a subtitle that appears to contradict it: "Is Iran's nuclear negotiator Javad Zarif for real?" This sets the tone for the entire piece, in which the writer struggles to maintain American journalism's highest - but illusory - standard of 'objectivity' and its corollary 'equal time', never letting her own opinion transpire.
When the new Iranian negotiator, appointed by a new President, tweeted 'Happy Rosh Hashanah', Nancy Pelosi tweeted back: "The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran's Holocaust denial, sir". Zarif responded: "Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year."
Instead of giving him credit for this, Wright tells us that Kerry and Zarif, having met four times, now call each other by their first names, a breakthrough made possible by the fact that the Iranian diplomat spent his college years in the United States. (The second breakthrough was that the representatives involved in the six party negotiations to reach a deal over Iran's nuclear activity now share news of their respective families.)
And yet Wright slides from the sub-title, 'Is the negotiator for real", to "Is the process for real and can it succeed?" referring to Iranian hardliners gathered for a 'We're worried' conference at the US Embassy against concession that ends with "A woman in black chador carried a placard stating 'Our nuclear rights are not for sale.'" Did she do this in front of the Embassy', or did she sit in the conference room with her placard?

Further muddying the waters, the following paragraph states: "For many Iranians, a nuclear deal is about a lot more than nukes. It would remove the threat of regime change by securing (securing"..) the Iranian government as the legitimate representative of the iranian people." This sentence implies: 1) That after twenty-five years, the regime has not been able to establish itself as legitimate, which is patently absurd, and 2) That most citizens of this highly nationalist country are willing to 'sell their nuclear rights', which is also absurd. The paragraph ends with: "But it might also open Iran to the outside world in ways that affect the internal balance of power." This positive-sounding statement in fact portends US-inspired regime change followed by IMF shock and awe.

Diane Feinstein's appraisal of Zarif would appear to confirm Washington's hope that he could be enlisted in the effort: "He is thoughtful. He is real. He wants to help his people and lead them in a different direction." Chuck Hagel, who also met Zarif when he was Iran's UN ambassador, is less threatening: "He can play an important role in helping to resolve our significant differences with Iran peacefully." And yet, after telling us that even our former Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, told Zarif he would be missed at the UN, Wright apparently felt the need to correct any positive impression the reader might get from this:

"Yet in January Zarif met with Nasrallah in Lebanon" at the grave of a military commander who had been 'linked' to the 1983 bombing of the US militayr barracks in Lebanon. Diplomats in most parts of the world - including those of US allies - would agree with Zarif, who says: "In order to be able to practice dialogue, you need to be able to set aside your assumptions and try to listen more than you want to talk".I have disagreements with some [people] and more agreements with others. But that doesn't mean I can't listen to those I disagree with."
You're not likely to hear a remark like that coming from an American political or diplomatic figure - much less a mainstream journalist. Yet Robin Wright cannot let this statement go by without framing it: "Some American critics don't buy this. There are worse Islamic revolutionaries out there, but make no mistake, he's an Islamic Revolutionary (meaning an ally of Nasrallah)." Quoting a former CIA officer now ensconced in a think tank: "[Zarif] understands the Islamic Reovlution as being incompatible with the United States." Incompatible with the all-knowing, exceptionalist United States! And he continues: "Only in the Byzantine (used as a slur) world of Islamic politics do the differences between Zarif and what some call hard-liners gain importance."
Scope that out! This guy is declaring that if you're a revolutio-nary, you're automatically 'a hard-liner'. Were there not degrees of 'hardness' among American revolutionaries? Did the Founding Fathers all share the same degree of ferocity vis a vis the British Empire and King George, whom they had decided to no longer recognize as their ruler? History books out the window!
After noting that Zarif had accepted an interim nuclear deal, Wright feels compelled to note that Obama estimates the chances of ultimate success at only 50/50. Her off-hand way of acknow-leging that the Ford administration approved the Shah's plan to buy twenty nuclear reactors, a deal that was good for American business, adding that since that time runaway population growth has increased Iran's need for alternatives to oil, doesn't even suggest that these facts would justify Iran's insistence on having a nuclear program.
This carefully researched article constantly defeats any tendency the reader might have toward sympathy with 'the adversary'. After enumerating the suffering caused - and still vividly remembered - by the Iran-Iraq war, in which, by the way, we backed Iraq, in that wonderful balancing of pros and cons, good and bad that has been perfected by American journalists Wright declares: "Iran is the world's only constitutional theocracy, and the only place in Islam's fourteen centuries (place in centuries?) where clerics have ruled a state. For the past thirty-five years, Iranians have also felt exceptional - and exempt from international norms - because of the country's claim to sacredness."
As a Middle East expert Wright must know that Iran doesn't consider itself to be sacred; rather, like religious people everywhere, Iran's leaders consider God to be sacred. Muslims believe that humans have an obligation to treat other humans with dignity and respect because that is what God demands. Yet Wright leans on a current catchword: America is exceptional because as God's 'city on the hill', it is founded on 'democratic principles', while Iran only considers itself to be exceptional because it is ruled by religious rather than man-made laws, which in fact trump God's laws. This sleight of hand allows Wright to uncritically quote White House advisor Ben Rhodes, when he elucidates Obama's take on Iran with these words: "They've got to decide whether we are the Great Satan or whether we are their ticket into the community of nations."
Wright skillfully hews to the diktats of 'objectivity', defined as presenting 'both sides of the story' even when one side is patently absurd or inaccurate. At the time of Watergate, when the press still touted its role as watchdog, journalists had to be careful to not introduce 'opinion' into 'news' stories, which had to 'stick to the facts'. Opinion was reserved for editorials. But what about 'think pieces' like Wright's? Is Seymour Hersh the only journalist permitted to analyze - which requires a point of view, or opinion? (And how many journalists have had the guts to follow Dylan Ratigan who delivered a Hail Mary rant on MSNBC, knowing it meant the end of his career and is now he is seeking solutions to global problems with veterans?)
SOP for meeting the sacred obligation of 'objectivity' in pieces such as Wright's is to consistently mention attenuating circumstances or explanations for an adversary's motives or 'unacceptable' behavior (such as Iran's dire need for energy due to a 50% increase in population over the last few decades), in a way that ensures the reader will not be tempted to connect the dots. Once an adversary has been defined as indulging in condemnable behavior, or even possessing some characteristic that lies outside the American definition of a 'civilized society' (currentlly referred to as 'the community of nations'), nothing can transform that adversary into an acceptable 'other', although that is what the conduct of international affairs must be about.
Until journalists reclaim their watchdog function, even New Yorker readers will fail to question the policies being carried out in their name.
P.S. After this article appeared on Opednews, I received the following comment fron Dan Baron:
Maybe I'm wrong, but, all it takes for me to classify an author as being unintelligent, is the appearance of what I guess I would call, a "language meme". And here is one from the quotations of Robin Wright's article:

"but make no mistake".


Aren't The New Yorker articles always endless, bloviations, blatherings, intended for readers who want to believe they are intelligent, and who have nothing better to do than to stare at the pages of that magazine?


My impression of Wright's article, gleaned from this article:

"He's bad.

Maybe he's not that bad.

He's a little good.

But, is he really bad?

Or, is his goodness mistaken for badness?

Or, does his position mean that Iran wants to be good but can't decide?

Or is he disguising his badness for goodness?..."

(continue that way for 20 pages)


Who, in my opinion, would want to consume that "sawdust"?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When is a Rose No Longer a Rose

You may have noticed the slightly confused expression on Obama’s face when he talks about the vents in Ukraine these days: he almost seems to be apologizing for contradictions that are obvious to even the most casual observers.

Here’s a sample:

- Egypt first had a revolution, then a coup: after the revolution there was an election and the Muslim Brotherhood won. After the coup, carried out by the army, there was eventually another election and the head of the army won. Although officially we don’t support governments who come to power through a coup.  Egypt is so important (mainly to Israel) that all we did was hold back a few jets.

- The Russian speaking inhabitants of Crimea, which was formerly a part of Russia, held a referendum in which they overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia: According to Obama, the referendum was not legal: Russia is fomenting separatism.

- Scotland has scheduled a referendum for later this year, holding fast to its decision to do so in the face of Great Britain’s assertion that it would be illegal: Obama concedes it’s up to the Scots to decide their future.

What about a state’s right to hang on to territory?  

- NATO reduced parts of Serbia to rubble because it wanted to hang on to Kosovo (albeit in the name of a hundreds of years old incident): with NATO’s help, Kosovo, a majority Albanian speaking province, became independent.

- Two decades later, NATO accuses Russia of fomenting separatism, violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity by recognizing the majority Russian speaking province of Crimea’s referendum to join Russia, and Obama accuses Russia of being a big country that imposes its will on a smaller one.

- In the same vein for the successionist refenda held in Eastern Ukraine, Obama tells Russia it has an ‘obligation of influence’: that it can only prove its good faith by convincing anti-fascist Ukrainians to accept a government that was brought to power by a fascist-led coup.  Since when are leaders responsible for influencing outcomes?

Yesterday France 24’s journalists were calling for Putin to recognize Petro Poroshenko as the legitimate president of Ukraine, although they know full well that since before the election he repeatedly declared his intention work with whoever was elected.  Recently he specifically noted that Poroshenko didn’t have blood on his hands (how long it will be possible to say that is not certain) and that he was ready to work with him, emphasizing that the Ukraine crisis had to be resolved through negotiations (which is what Putin always says about every international conflict, as opposed to American leaders who invariably call for punitive measures and ‘leave no option off the table’).

- Finally, there’s the issue of ‘killing one’s own people’: Assad in Syria has been hammered relentlessly for this, although he is facing a foreign invasion; Egypt’s Al Sissi gets a pass.  As for Poroshenko, he is doing the same in Eastern Ukraine, having declared he wanted the area ‘pacified’ before his inauguration, which is imminent! (At least he didn’t yell that they had to be ‘eliminated’ as two other presidential candidates, Right Sektor boss Dmitry Yarosh and Julia Timoshenko did..)

What all this boils down to is that if democracy is to political science what roses are to flowers, whatever its original attractiveness it too can fade.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

D-Day 2014: Goings and Comings on the Eurasian Continent

President Obama's four-day European tour leading up to the D-Day celebrations in France began in Poland with the announcement of an increase in the number of American troops stationed there, as the post-coup government in Ukraine continued military action against citizens who refuse to recognize it.
The borders of Poland, Bela Rus and Kievan Rus (going back to the Middle Ages) have dissolved into one another for centuries with 'Ukraine' as an entity created during the Russian Revolution of 1917. Aside from that, Obama's commitment to defending Poland from a threat to the east twenty odd years after the collapse of the Soviet Union is no small irony: Having failed to defend Poland against Germany in World War II, it would now defend it against Russia, which has threatened no one.
American academia has finally acknowledged that the Soviet Union played the most significant role in the defeat of Nazi Germany, the allied D-Day landing having signaled the opening of a second front to the one the Soviets had been fighting on since June, 1941. However, from the end of WW II until 1991, the Soviet Union was condemned by the West for creating friendly governments in its buffer zone of Eastern Europe, including Poland, and accused of being an imminent threat to the 'free' nations of Western Europe. And by declaring in 2005 that the demise of the Soviet Union had been a geo-political catastrophe, Vladimir Putin provided the United States with a handy excuse to condemn Russia's every policy.
Russia is labelled as aggressor for respecting the referendum organized by Crimea's largely Russian population that desperately wants to become part of Russia, as it had been for centuries before the Soviet regime made it part of Ukraine. It is also suspected of evil designs on the Baltic countries as well as in Moldova in the south. And yet, while Washington has made it illegitimate for Russia to resist encirclement, NATO's presence in Eastern Europe implies that the Soviet Union's concerns over its buffer zone were legitimate.
The 70th D-day anniversary will serve as backdrop for the first meeting between Obama and Putin since the Ukraine coup, which the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (an interesting, and probably post-Soviet title) Victoria Nuland boasted publicly that Washington spent five billion dollars preparing. It is more than likely that a good part of those funds went to Right Sektor, an ultra-right para-military group that trained in Western Ukraine for months before turning the peaceful Maidan protests into all-out war and installing a government in which it holds four ministerial positions while continuing to worship its predecessors who, as German allies, committed atrocities against Jews, Communists, Gypsies and Poles.
Notwithstanding this uncomfortable truth, the Polish government can no more refrain from meddling in Ukraine today than it has historically. However, Europe's uncomfortable position between a rock and a hard place is evident in the arrangements France's President made for receiving both Obama and Putin in Paris in the run-up to tomorrow's ceremony in Normandy: He had dinner with Obama, then a late supper with Putin. (Putin also responded to journalists’ questions in a TV show, which you can see on RT or France 24.) The reality behind these diplomatic acrobatics is that as Western Ukrainians reach for a European dream that is fast vanishing for its citizens, the United States and its allies are faced with a nightmare: Russia's spearheading of an economic zone stretching from the Black Sea to the Pacific, in tandem with China.[tag]
Washington would like to believe that by fomenting trouble on Russia's Eastern frontier it will prevent it from building a Eurasian community which, unlike the European Union, has what it takes in determination and resources to end American world hegemony. In reality, Obama's hop-scotching across his European fiefdom to a French location known by its American name is a going to that future's coming.
P.S. Anticipating reader reminders of the June 5th Tiananmen ‘massacre’ of 1989, I recommend you read the following account of a press post-mortem and that you then look for the report on China’s youth that the BBC aired in the U.S. on Tuesday, in which they emphatically state that what matters to them are getting a good job, buying an apartment and a car and getting married.