Anti-Russia hysteria from Western liberals

by on December 16, 2016 in International affairs, Media Comment

This is an article in the Guardian about the CIA claims that Russia was probably behind the DNC and Podesta hacks. Subsequent anonymous briefings to the media have suggested that President Putin personally led the operation and that he did it out of personal spite against Hillary Clinton. Now Clinton has latched onto this and is claiming, it seems, that this is a water-tight case “Putin did it and he did it to spite me”. Quite possibly she is trying to get the election result overturned. The lust for power knows no bounds.

In reality Russia may have been responsible.  The CIA case was however based on circumstantial evidence.  The claims that Putin was personally involved are even less reliable being based on apparently ad hoc anonymous briefings to the press. This could just as well be politically motivated misinformation as genuine “leaks”. These latter claims about Putin and his supposed personal spite are implausible. Putin, as any observer of the Russian scene who is not intoxicated with hate and delusion can see, is a cautious actor who acts in conjunction with a group in the Kremlin to take Russia in a certain direction. It is just unlikely that he would subsume Russia policy to personal spite (even if he does indeed feel this alleged personal spite). More likely is the explanation that this was about destabilizing the elections and conceivably helping Trump. If, indeed, Russia did do it. (If they did – something of a triumph of intelligence work; and, arguably, a significant contribution to transparent democracy in America).

Since we often like to pick up on Guardian propaganda here is a little example from the Guardian article:

He [Donald Trump] earlier tweeted: “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”

In fact, the intelligence community had issued its statement on 7 October, a full month before polling day.

Note that Trump is talking about the White House. And, indeed, it is only in recent days that the White House (Obama) has started to make a lot of noise about this matter. And, as Trump points out, this is surprising since the claims from the intelligence community have been around for some time, as the Guardian acknowledges. This is the point Trump is making. But by conflating the two separate events; the claims made by the intelligence community and political statements made by the White House the Guardian has, on a completely false basis, tried to create a picture of Trump being in the wrong – and, at the same time, obscure the point he is making. It is either a crass error or, more likely, a deliberate distortion. People who tell straight lies are difficult to deal with…

 

The Guardian gives the last word to President Obama:

This [Putin] is somebody, the former head of the KGB, who is responsible for crushing democracy in Russia, muzzling the press, throwing political dissidents in jail, countering American efforts to expand freedom at every turn; is currently making decisions that’s leading to a slaughter in Syria,” the outgoing president said.

This, of course, is a neat summary of the liberal narrative on Russia. The image of “former head of the KGB” always helps to propel the story along a bit. In a theatrical kind of a way.

“Crushing democracy”? This is a report by the OSCE into the 2012 Presidential Elections in Russia – which saw Putin elected. The US is a paid up member of the OSCE. The report is freely available online. Anyone can read it. Including Guardian journalists. It is true that the OSCE point to a small number of specific incidents of likely vote rigging. Many of their criticisms though are simply about administrative inefficiencies which could enable voting fraud but are not specific cases of such. Overall the report on the probity of these elections is positive. Candidates were able to campaign freely. Demonstrations were permitted. People were able to vote freely. President Putin is not “muzzling democracy”. He got elected in an election which, while not perfect, is not bad for a county which has only been a democracy (in the sense of multi-party elections) for 25 years.

“Muzzling the press”. Again don’t miss the theatrical language. Muzzle is supposed to conjure up images of barbarism. In Russia the state owns or influences the major TV stations. However; there is much more latitude in the print media. [1] Russian journalists are able to print articles which are highly critical of the Kremlin. The Guardian sometimes reprints these articles. The real complaint is that the state directly supports a major part of the media industry and ensures that it is broadly speaking supportive of the state. (In this regard we can note that both France and the UK have strong state supported media organisations).

“Throwing political dissidents in jail”. This could be a reference to Russia’s anti-extremism laws. Russia has a set of laws dealing with matters such as financing terrorism, hate speech and attempts to sow division in society. [2] Just like the UK for example. [3] Russia and the UK face the same problem; multi-cultural societies with a small but tangible danger of radicalisation and extremism in the name of religion. Both states have implemented laws to deal with these problems. But for the liberal the laws in Russia are always understood as being aimed at the liberal opposition. They just don’t see the real problems that Russia faces. Presumably because they don’t care if Russia were to be consumed by terrorism.

“Countering American efforts to expand freedom”. Oh gosh. These naive American fundamentalists. Is Iraq ‘free’? Libya? How long are we expected to believe this naivety? They try to push their version of free-market capitalism and multi-party ‘democracy’ all over the world. They do this because this is in their business interests. They need more markets, access to more resources, and more opportunities for US businesses to win contracts. They don’t seek to “expand freedom” out of some kind of higher moral purpose as Obama claims (and has claimed before). It is a business imperative.

If they cared about “expanding freedom” as some kind of higher principle, with nothing to do with oil contracts and weapons sales, then surely they would have a word to say about some of their allies the Gulf monarchies which really do “muzzle democracy” and “throw political dissidents in jail” [4]?

Russia is responsible for the “slaughter in Syria”. The “Russia is responsible for the slaughter in Syria” line only works if you accept that a) the West is “right” in deciding that “Assad must go”, b) is right in providing arms and money and political support to groups who are trying to overthrow Assad  and c) that in obstructing these groups Russia is responsible for the continuation of the civil war. I.e. the argument only works if we accept that the US should have been able to conduct another regime change operation without being blocked. But Russia can point to previous US regime change operations. Based on wholly naive dreams about grateful “liberated” populations all yearning to be mini-Americans the US has already plunged two countries into visible chaos – Iraq and Libya. Recent history would appear to support the Russian analysis on Syria; a stable state is the main bulwark against terrorism. But, like all fundamentalists, when reality collides with their dreams these dreamers prioritise their dreams over reality. Even with the disastrous examples of their workmanship right there and visible in front of them they still insist on “expanding freedom”.

And given that they are “expanding freedom” in Syria by working with Saudi Arabia, a monarchy which, according to Amnesty International “severely restricts freedoms of expression, association and assembly and … prosecuted and imprisoned human rights defenders and government critics” in 2015/16 [5] and which has supported groups in Syria who have allied themselves with Al Qaeda [6] the US claim to be about “expanding freedom” takes on a somewhat surreal flavour.

Update – a further taste of the bottom of the journalistic barrel over at the Guardian

This is the sort of writing which passes for journalism at the Guardian:

A source with knowledge of the negotiations said Moscow was the main reason the deal did not fall apart over the weekend despite the objections of Iranian and jihadi interlocutors. It is likely Moscow saw the survival of the deal as necessary to shore up its claims to great power status.

It is in a piece about the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey in an art gallery in Ankara. The deal referred to is the deal between rebels and the Syrian army to evacuate the remaining fighters and their families from Eastern Aleppo. The Guardian has been struggling with this because a ceasefire, humanitarian aid and safety for civilians in Eastern Aleppo is what they’ve being going on about for the last few months. Now that Russia is visibly delivering on this how is the Guardian going to report it? The answer is to admit that the evacuation is taking place. The Guardian, after all, needs to position itself as a paper which survives basic fact-checking – and they can hardly deny the reality. But to find some caveat which enables the over-arching narrative (Russia is a very bad country which only ever acts out of evil motives) to be maintained. How to do this? Explain away the Russian facilitating of the evacuation (which must be an extraordinarily difficult operation) as being something they are only doing “to shore up its claims to great power status”. Not only is there no evidence for this – but it is simply unlikely that Moscow would be thinking in every act it takes – will the Western press write us up as a great power if we do this? In reality Moscow is clearly trying to bring stability to Syria – based around the current government if you like – and this is a strategic decision in that context. They are unlikely to be doing this out of vanity. This is a nice example of the technique of narrative overlay which we find so often in the Western press. Facts are reported but the real message of the article is given in a narrative overlay or editorial gloss – which itself has no argumentation or analysis to support it. It isn’t the role of this web site to promote Russia Today (there is plenty to find in Russia Today which is disappointing, for example the endless negative stories about the West) but anyone can see that their articles are simply free of these kinds of gloss.

Notes

1. WikiPedia

2. Russian State media explaining the anti-extremism laws:

RT on background to anti-extremism laws

RT on second wave of anti-extremisms law in Russia

RT on internet controls in Russia

3. RT

4. Amnesty International on Bahrain

5. Amnesty International on Saudi Arabia

6. New Obs. October 2016. See Note 4.

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