The problem with fundamentalism in the world today

In the run up to the Iraq war President Bush made a lot of speeches in which he denounced the “aggression” of Saddam Hussein. It was evident that that was a serious case of ‘political projection’ – accusing the other of what you yourself are doing. (Since under Bush the US launched an illegal invasion against a sovereign country which was no threat to them, killing tens of thousands in the process: the very definition of state aggression).

The present administration is doing the same thing. For example, this is Secretary of State Tillerson:

Whether it be assassination attempts, support of weapons of mass destruction, deploying destabilizing militias, Iran spends its treasure and time disrupting peace

Substitute ‘America’ for Iran and you are right there.


Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining US interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, and continuing to support attacks against Israel

could be:

The US is the world’s leading state aggressor, and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining Iran’s interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, and continuing to support attacks against the government of Syria


But; their might is right and anyone else’s might is evil. This is ‘exceptionalism’ again. Basically; the US has no intention of negotiating with anyone. They just plan to use their superior force to get their way. It is that simple.

It is little talked about but the biggest fundamentalists in the world today – and certainly the best armed – are the children of the Pilgrim Fathers. They think that God is on their side. They think that what is good for America is good for the world. They think that anyone who doesn’t get this is dwelling in some dark age and it is fine to bomb them.

And we know that fundamentalism can lead to wars.






Who is fighting a ‘hybrid war’?

The UK press is full of lurid claims about a Russian campaign of information and propaganda against the West. This is the Times:

Russia is waging a “campaign” of propaganda and unconventional warfare against Britain, government officials have acknowledged for the first time. Moscow is behind a concerted drive to undermine the UK through espionage, misinformation, cyberattacks and fake news, senior Whitehall figures believe.

How shocking.

Let’s take a reality check.

The US funds something called ‘Radio Free Europe’. [1] Radio Free Europe broadcasts US propaganda into Russia in Russian. There is also a Russian language web site. [2]

The RFE web site carries articles intended to undermine Russians’ confidence and trust in their own government. This is one [3] about people suffering as a result of (apparent) cuts in disability payments. It was published in March 2016. The idea of the article is to link the cuts in social security payments to Russia’s military involvement (alleged or otherwise) in Ukraine and in Syria:

The change has come during a time of persistent economic troubles for Russia, which is reeling from the effects of low world oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow’s interference in Ukraine — as well as the Kremlin’s own “countersanctions,” which have restricted imports


Russia began a costly campaign of air strikes in war-ravaged Syria in September 2015 and has beefed up its military presence there. Despite growing evidence, President Vladimir Putin and his government deny Russia has sent troops and weapons to support separatists in a war that has killed more than 9,100 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

The propaganda is crude and cynical. The text flips from these ‘explanations’ presented as facts to the poignant tale of an individual Russian family affected by the cuts in social security.

The explanations offer a simple, artificial, and easy to swallow narrative about Russia’s economic problems. There is the claim that Russia’s counter-sanctions which affect European food products are hurting Russia. (The Russians claim with some likely justification that this policy is helping to stimulate their own food industry). The “growing evidence” for Russian military involvement in Ukraine is noticeable, as usual, by its absence. The Russian campaign in Syria is relatively limited. (The Russians claim, truthfully or not, that it is covered out of the existing military budget). [4] The one-sided and simplistic explanations aside; there is no doubt that the Russian economy is in recession. A combination of US sanctions and the collapse in oil prices is responsible. Possibly the apparent cuts in social security payments mentioned here are the result of budget tightening as a result of pressure on the budget resulting from the recession. And; indeed no doubt (as with any other government) the Russian government is having to balance competing demands on the available funds.

Missing from the article is any sense of US responsibility for any of this though. The US and EU sanctions were applied to Russia after Russia’s reactions to the US and EU sponsored coup in Ukraine. A coup which overthrew an elected President and which disenfranchised those in the East of Ukraine who do not want to become part of the EU and NATO. US sanctions on Russia are not a response to “bad behaviour” by Russia – but an extension of their aggressive policy of “expanding freedom” [5] by any means possible. Russia’s campaign in Syria is designed primarily to stop the spread of terrorism in the region. If the US were not supporting terrorism in Syria and was not using military means to try to bring down the current government Russia would not need to be in Syria.

The Guardian even re-printed the above piece of crude propaganda as a news article.

This is an all too familiar strategy. On the one hand the US applies actions which put the Russian economy under pressure. And then it beams propaganda into Russia to stir up the people to become agitated about their economic circumstances.

The writer of this piece undoubtedly cares only about “expanding freedom” and not for the people who feature in the article, who are being cynically exploited.

At any event. The US is unarguably engaged in waging a ‘hybrid’ war against Russia which includes propaganda. The Russians are no doubt used to this. It has been going on for years. They don’t even mention it in public statements at a political level; it seems they just take it for granted.

The West though is now in a tizz because they think that Russia is doing something like this back to them. There are cries of horror and outrage from politicians and the media. Something must be done. This is all farcical. How can rational people be up in arms about the terribleness of something which they do themselves?


1. WikiPedia – Radio Free Europe



4. Sputnik News. (Russian state media). December 2016.

5. Guardian. 2016. Obama talks about “expanding freedom”

The ‘rules of the international system’

The UK’s Foreign Secretary, Mr Hammond, speaking at a conference in Georgia has again pushed the narrative that Russia ‘breaks the rules of the international system’. These are his comments as reported by Reuters:

Russia ignores the norms of international conduct and breaks the rules of the international system. That represents a challenge and a threat to all of us [1]

There is a more critical report on the same comments on RT. [2]

It is of course the West (generally referred to as ‘the international community’) who have broken the ‘rules of the international system’. The illegal invasion of Iraq. The regime change operation in Libya (based on a distortion of UN Resolution 1973). And the ongoing attempts to support one side in a three (or more) sided civil war in Syria – with the result that said war has been prolonged long beyond what it would have been otherwise. All of these actions have created untold suffering for the people in the affected countries. Not to mention a blow-back in the form of terrorism suffered by their own citizens.

Of course, by ‘rules of the international system’ Mr Hammond means the foreign policy goals of the US State Department and everyone who goes along with them. We see this in the attitude of the US [uk] to the UN. If they can get a resolution through they will. If not, Russia and/or China are being obstructive and they find a way to justify their intervention outside of the UN. In as much then that ‘the rules if the international system’ are the rules chosen by the West then Russia has indeed broken the rules. Russia, under Putin, has shown that it has an independent foreign policy and is disinclined to accept vassal status.

And this is the rub. You cannot claim to support a rules based system with multiple members but at the same time insist that only your rules count. That is if you want to maintain intellectual credibility.

The role of the media in the West here is significant. 90% of the media 90% of the time reports on international affairs in such a way as to support the delusional idea that you can support an international system of rules and at the same time arrogate to yourself sole right to make those rules. The line is – whatever the West (the State Department et al.) does is right. Whatever narrative they tell is right – simply because they told it.

Mr Hammond almost certainly believes in what he is saying. But this is because he is sunk deep in a world where all he hears are his own thoughts coming back to him; amplified by sycophantic ‘think tanks’, a compliant press (owned by Western finance capital and naturally protecting their business interests), and NATO generals eager to conjure up an enemy to justify growth in their organisation. If he could take even a slightly detached, academic or ‘objective’ perspective he might see, for example, that chaos has attended all Western interventions in the Middle East. He might acknowledge that MI6 predicted that the invasion of Iraq would lead to more not less terrorism. [3] He might be able to see that Russia could not have acted differently over Crimea – other than by accepting a national humiliation and massive disgrace. He might notice that despite a strong commitment to maintaining their military Russia has not engaged in a series of military adventures beyond their borders. The conflicts which they have been involved in since the fall of the Soviet Union, in particular the war with Georgia in 2008 can be explained in historical terms in terms of fall-out from the collapse of the Soviet Union. All of this is available to anyone who can think from a historical or academic perspective. But these more calm perspectives are not available to those who operate as drones within the imperialist military machine of the West.

The whole point of a ‘rules based system’ is that it is a way of mediating between different actors. Everyone agrees to play by the rules and this oils the interactions in the group. In such a group the rules are arrived at by consensus. In his comments above Hammond sounds like the school Headmaster who thinks that only he can set the rules and that everyone must live by his rules. And, of course, the rules don’t apply to him.  (The Headmaster puffing on his pipe as he canes the school-boys for smoking). This is a fundamentally different conception of rules than that embodied by the idea of the United Nations.

In general it is a feature of the middle-classes that they think that the laws are made by them for the benefit of the lower classes and that the laws could not possibly be applied to themselves. Unfortunately your editor is out of time – but this attitude to the law could perhaps be traced to the relation between law and property as it developed in 18c England.

Mr Hammond, and others like him, who profess these simplistic one-sided narratives, are failing to make a simple act of mental maturity. They evaluate everything including all the actions of the other from their own perspective. They fail to evaluate the actions of the other from his perspective. For example, and in simple terms; they perceive that Russia was going against their interests when it took back Crimea (a tiny sliver of Ukraine inhabited by at least 50% ethnic Russians which was part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet State – being transferred to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine in 1954). Therefore Russia is “challenging”, a “threat” etc. They just fail to take the elementary step of trying to see where Russia is coming from. How did the events of Maidan appear in Moscow? What does Crimea mean to the Russians? What is the Russian history on Crimea? Grown-ups can ‘see the point of view of the other’. They come to the table acknowledging that everyone around it has their own and a different perspective. And they try to find common ground. The current rulers of the West cannot even acknowledge that anyone else can have a different and valid perspective.

This isn’t ‘appeasement’. You can certainly talk while making sure you can defend yourself if necessary. It is simply to point out that it would be better to talk with than to demonize the other side.





War propaganda

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is right. The West and Russia are in a state, once again, of cold war.

As in any war national news organisations churn out propaganda. The Guardian is doing its bit for the war effort.

Here is a piece in the Guardian in which Dmity Medvedev’s comments to the Munich Security Conference are (mis)-reported. There are 3 pieces of false information before we even get to paragraph two.

Russia warns of ‘new cold war’ amid Syria accusations

This is a good example of how skilled propaganda writers work. It isn’t completely false. It is just heavily spun. What Medvedev actually said was that he sees that currently relations between Russia and NATO are at cold-war levels. He does this in the context of a call to restore co-operation and to join forces to combat terrorism. He is stating what he sees as a matter of fact. ‘Warning’ of course makes it sound like he is issuing warnings; threats maybe. So; an observation of how matters stand and a call for co-operation is twisted into a picture of Russia issuing warnings / threats. In the UK the local press operates in a particular way. They have a limited stock of templates (e.g. hero rescues puppy, struggling young person makes good through hard work) into which they fit stories. The Guardian does it too when writing about international affairs. The template, in case it isn’t obvious, is that Russia is aggressive; Russia doesn’t act on the basis of reason and self-interest. They are just inexplicably aggressive. And bad.

He rejected the widely held belief that Russian planes had hit civilian targets in Syria.

Well. What he actually said was that despite all the claims no evidence had been presented. [1] It is interesting in connection with this to note that the Guardian propagandist simply refers to the ‘widely held belief’ but does not present any evidence. This is one way that propaganda is constructed in the West. A briefing by the US State Department is taken as a matter of fact and soon the claims are accepted as being established as a matter of ‘widel;y held belief’. The role of the press in questioning and validating the claims is nowhere to be seen. They just echo and amplify them. Typically, as here, the claims are referenced with a phrase like ‘it is commonly accepted’ or some such evasion of the need to check.

However, Medvedev’s French counterpart, Manuel Valls, told the same conference: To find the path to peace again, the Russian bombing of civilians has to stop.¶

This sentence appears in the article after a paragraph reporting Medvedev’s comments about how no evidence has been presented of ‘bombing civilians’ (in the Guardian’s translation). However; in fact the French Prime Minister spoke first. [1] Reversing the order of events is a common trick in propaganda writing. A small point perhaps; but it makes sure the last word goes to the Western liberal version of events.

Russian aircraft were seen in action over northern Syria again on Friday. Its intervention in the conflict since late September has significantly strengthened the hand of President Bashar al-Assad, who on Friday vowed to regain control of the entire country.

His comments dealt a swift blow to international efforts to secure a ceasefire, deliver aid and promote a negotiated solution to the war that has killed more than a quarter of a million civilians.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, warned that if the peace plan agreed on Thursday night failed, more foreign troops could enter the conflict.

This is an interesting way of reporting events. Yes. Russia’s intervention has ‘strengthened the hand of President Bashar al-Assad’. His government was under attack from ISIS and Al-Qaeda and other right-wing Islamist groups such as Jaysh-al-Islam. [2] Russia has bombed these groups (certainly the first two, quite possibly the latter as well). This is presented as Russia supporting Assad. And this action is tied in with Assad’s reported comments about retaking the whole country. This all helps create the narrative about ‘Russia propping up Assad’. However; Russia has explained and Medvedev did again in his speech in Munich – that Russia is acting to protect their national interests. Russia is concerned about terrorists returning from Syria and fomenting a third war in Chechnya. It may be true that Russia has an eye on its Mediterranean naval base and that ‘propping up Assad’ is in part motivated by a desire to keep their influence over the country. But you would have to have your head in the sand not to see that the stated reason for their intervention is very valid for them. The West is concerned about the threat of returning Jihadis. The problem is the same only much worse for Russia – where returning fighters could re-start a whole war, not just commit isolated massacres. All of this is of course air-brushed out of the tale presented by the Guardian’s propaganda writer – keen as he is to present a tale about Russia propping up Assad and destroying the peace talks. Furthermore; at the same time that Russian airstrikes and Assad’s comments are presented as undermining the nascent peace process the Guardian blithely references plans by the Saudis to commit ground troops into Syria without any suggestion that these plans might be detrimental to peace. * Nor does the Guardian’s propaganda writer report on the fact that the opposition delegation to the peace talks in Geneva included representatives from Jayash-al-Islam – a Saudi backed terror group whose dead leader had a reputation for making virulent sectarian anti-Shia statements. [3] No question is raised that the presence at the negotiations of a group whose ex-leader had wanted to expel Shias from Damascus [4] might have been an inauspicious start to negotiations.

This Guardian piece is a good example of the style of Western propaganda. None of it is technically untrue. But a selective use of facts, carefully juxtaposed into a certain order is blended into a narrative. The underlying, or root, narrative is the same as always. The West intervenes in countries like Syria out of noble, moral and humanitarian concern – almost disinterestedness. Its bombs fall like flower blossom onto a grateful population who are yearning for ‘freedom’. On the other hand the dirty Russians [insert here any country whose interests do not align with those of the West and who is bold enough to assert those interests] are savagely killing civilians, acting in an ‘aggressive’ and irrational way just because they are bad.

Honestly; the people who write this sort of propaganda in place of news and analysis must, some of them, have been to journalist school. Do they not see what they are doing? Are they really blind fools? Or is it deliberate and conscious? It seems that it is the first – albeit with a considerable degree of conscious dishonesty.

* This tactic appears to be a coordinated effort between the US and the Saudis, threatening a military intervention if the other side does not attend negotiations and agree to what is demanded of them. This tactic is reminiscent of the kinds of pressure put on then Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in the run up to the 1999 NATO terrorist operation against Yugoslavia over Kosovo. In this case Milosevic was told that the only way he could avoid his country being bombed would be to accept a de facto NATO occupation of his country. [5] The cases aren’t exactly the same. However the similarity is that, in both cases, the negotiations are pre-loaded by the West with the threat of force, in order to get the result that they want. At the same time they accuse the other side of bad faith at the negotiating table.