Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The NY Times Plays the Blame Game

Within the last week, the NYT has published two rather contradictory articles about US foreign policy. The first was an editorial titled “Russia Puts the Blame on Everyone Else”.

Claiming that the Cold War is over, when in reality we’re fully into another one, it ascribes Vladimir Putin’s “snarling, defensive crouch” to long gone Soviet policy, citing an incident in which a Russian gold star athlete was caught shoplifting in London, and Moscow claimed the case was “politically motivated, always a provocation, never justified”. Added to one of Washington’s favorite descriptions of the current Russian president as ‘fish-eyed’, a “snarling, defensive crouch” continues the animal simile.  In fact, the Russian bear is fully justified in assuming a ready-to-strike stance, with several divisions of NATO tanks poised on its doorstep pretending to be defending the Baltics. And surely it has crossed some objective readers minds that the doctor in charge of Russian doping tests, who recently moved to the US, could have been colluding with the Olympic authorities to keep Russian athletes out of the games.

Following on the ‘blame’ editorial, on August 31, the NYT devoted a five thousand word three man article pillorying Jullian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, because, as the first caption admits: ”The agendas of WikiLeaks and the Kremlin have often dovetailed.”

One is tempted to describe this accusation as whining - unless it’s “a snarling defensive crouch”.

The NYT accuses Assange of proffering “a vision of America as super-bully: a nation that has achieved imperial power by proclaiming allegiance to principles of human rights while deploying its military-intelligence apparatus in “pincer” formation to ‘push’ countries into doing its bidding, and punishing people like him who dare to speak the truth.” Apparently the Times is convinced that it’s doing such a good job of obfuscating the wider world that most of its readers will accept that accusation. It also accuses of Assange of not criticizing Russia, but is careful not to make libelous accusations: ”Mr. Putin’s government has cracked down hard on dissent — spying on, jailing, and, critics charge, sometimes assassinating opponents while consolidating control over the news media and internet. “

Let’s take these accusations in order and see how many we can tick off as being equally practiced by the US: 1) spying on opponents, check, jailing opponents, check, assassinating opponents (lately with drones, check); consolidating control over the news media, check — as if the so-called fourth estate were not expected to parrot the government line as well as avoiding offending advertisers. As for the “Kremlin-controlled English-language propaganda channel (RT) — “(criticism from Assange) was not readily apparent.”

Finally, the Times wonders “what precisely is the relationship between Mr. Assange and Mr. Putin’s Kremlin?”. Now, I keep a list of Americans presumably in good standing with their government who have appeared on RT, often referred to in the Beltway as “Putin’s Bullhorn”. So far, given the random nature of my sightings, it contains only about twenty names, but if I pay more attention it will soon reach at least fifty. (BTW, the Moscow Times, no friend of the Kremlin, acknowledges about 40,000 Americans living and working in Moscow……)

The Assange screed linked me to a story about Donald Trump answering a question about Crimea: “Mr. Trump went on to argue that Mr. Putin might have been welcome in Crimea, sidestepping the issue of whether the Russian leader had violated the sovereignty of another state to take the territory, where Russia has a major naval base. Today he gamely repeated Putin’s argument that Russia was justified in seizing the sovereign territory of another country by force.”

How can one speak of a ‘sovereign territory’ while ignoring the ‘sovereign will’ of ‘the people’, who voted at nearly ninety percent to rejoin Russia?

Back to the anti-Assange article: “Whether by conviction, convenience or coincidence, WikiLeaks’ document releases, along with many of Mr. Assange’s statements, have often benefited Russia, at the expense of the West.”  Never mind whether these cables benefited Russia because their contents were truly shocking to average Americans - or truly laughable, for instance: 

“Recent events…have left some transparency advocates wondering if WikiLeaks has lost its way. There is a big difference between publishing materials from a whistle-blower like Chelsea Manning — the soldier who gave WikiLeaks its war log and diplomatic cable scoops — and accepting information, even indirectly, from a foreign intelligence service seeking to advance its own powerful interests, said John Wonderlich, the executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a group devoted to government transparency.

“They’re just aligning themselves with whoever gives them information to get attention or revenge against their enemies,” Mr. Wonderlich said. “They’re welcoming governments to hack into each other and disrupt each other’s democratic processes, all on a pretty weak case for the public interest.”

“The battle for transparency was supposed to be global; at least Assange claimed that at the beginning,” said Andrei A. Soldatov, a (Russian)  investigative journalist who has written extensively about Russia’s security services. ‘It is strange that this principle is not being applied to Assange himself and his dealings with one particular country, and that is Russia,’ Mr. Soldatov said. ‘He seems to think that one may compromise a lot fighting a bigger evil.’

“During his time isolated in the Ecuadorean Embassy, under constant surveillance, his instinctive mistrust of the West hardened even as he became increasingly numb to the abuses of the Kremlin, which he viewed as a “bulwark against Western imperialism,” said one supporter, who like many others asked for anonymity for fear of angering Mr. Assange. (Note that the reader who may be nodding his/her head in agreement is pulled back into line by the disparaging sentence.)

“Mr. Assange, asked during Wednesday’s interview about the new law and others like it, acknowledged that Russia had undergone ‘creeping authoritarianism.’ But he suggested that ‘that same development’ had occurred in the United States.

“Mr. Assange has also taken a decidedly pro-Russian view of hostilities in Ukraine, where the Obama administration has accused Mr. Putin of supporting the separatists. The United States, Mr. Assange told an Argentine newspaper in March of last year, has been the one meddling there, fomenting unrest by ‘trying to draw Ukraine into the Western orbit, to pluck it out of Russia’s sphere of influence.’ After the annexation of Crimea, he said Washington and its intelligence allies had ‘annexed the whole world’ through global surveillance.

This brings us to the main bone of contention between the US and Russia, globalization versus what Vladimir Putin would call ‘healthy nationalism’, which at the grass roots level is about assimilation’s implicit message: “You have to be like us because we’re better.”

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