Archive for April, 2018

American Meddling


Ever since November 2016 a fair portion of the chattering classes in the US have been chattering about “Russian meddling” in the presidential election. The details keep changing, but the story stays the same: big bad Russia has somehow corrupted American democracy… as if American democracy wasn’t corrupted to begin with. Did the DNC not rig the primaries in favor of Clinton? Was the FBI not ordered by Obama to stop investigating Clinton for mishandling state secrets? Was Clinton not handed debate questions prior to a debate? Did she not receive campaign contributions from shady foreign oligarchs? And did she not, technically speaking, win the election, sclerotic electoral college weirdness aside? It seems that “Russian meddling,” if real, would be pretty far down the list of things that are wrong with American democracy; on the scale of emergencies, “house on fire” generally rates higher than “squirrels in the attic,” wouldn’t you say?

Perhaps you disagree with this assessment. In that case, there is another consideration for you to take on board.

End of the Era of Naval Empires


[Since last Thursday, this article has gone viral on Russia Insider and beyond (1, 2). Apparently, many people think that my spelling out the end of US global military superiority is significant. Based on this robust response, I decided to release it from behind the firewall.]

For the past 500 years European nations—Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, France and, briefly, Germany—were able to plunder much of the planet by projecting their naval power overseas. Since much of the world’s population lives along the coasts, and much of it trades over water, armed ships that arrived suddenly out of nowhere were able to put local populations at their mercy. The armadas could plunder, impose tribute, punish the disobedient, and then use that plunder and tribute to build more ships, enlarging the scope of their naval empires. This allowed a small region with few natural resources and few native advantages beyond extreme belligerence and bloodlust and a wealth of communicable diseases to dominate the globe for half a millennium.

The ultimate inheritor of this naval imperial project is the United States, which, with the new addition of air power, and with its large aircraft carrier fleet and huge network of military bases throughout the planet, is supposedly able to impose Pax Americana on the entire world. Or, rather, was able to do so—during the brief period between the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of Russia and China as new global powers and their development of new anti-ship and antiaircraft technologies. But now this imperial project is at an end.

Prior to the Soviet collapse, the US military generally did not dare to directly threaten those countries to which the USSR had extended its protection. Nevertheless, by using its naval power to dominate the sea lanes that carried crude oil, and by insisting that oil be traded in US dollars, it was able to live beyond its means by issuing dollar-denominated debt instruments and forcing countries around the world to invest in them. It imported whatever it wanted using borrowed money while exporting inflation, expropriating the savings of people across the world. In the process, the US has accumulated absolutely stunning levels of national debt—beyond anything seen before in either absolute or relative terms. When this debt bomb finally explodes, it will spread economic devastation far beyond US borders. And it will explode, once the petrodollar wealth pump, imposed on the world through American naval and air superiority, stops working.

New missile technology has made a naval empire cheap to defeat. Previously, to fight a naval battle, one had to have ships that outmatched those of the enemy in their speed and artillery power. The Spanish Armada was sunk by the British armada. More recently, this meant that only those countries whose industrial might matched that of the United States could ever dream of opposing it militarily. But this has now changed: Russia’s new missiles can be launched from thousands of kilometers away, are unstoppable, and it takes just one to sink a destroyer and just two to sink an aircraft carrier. The American armada can now be sunk without having an armada of one’s own. The relative sizes of American and Russian economies or defense budgets are irrelevant: the Russians can build more hypersonic missiles much more quickly and cheaply than the Americans would be able to build more aircraft carriers.

Equally significant is the development of new Russian air defense capabilities: the S-300 and S-400 systems, which can essentially seal off a country’s airspace. Wherever these systems are deployed, such as in Syria, US forces are now forced to stay out of their range. With its naval and air superiority rapidly evaporating, all that the US can fall back on militarily is the use of large expeditionary forces—an option that is politically unpalatable and has proven to be ineffective in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is also the nuclear option, and while the US nuclear arsenal is not likely to be neutralized any time soon, nuclear weapons are only useful as deterrents. Their special value is in preventing wars from escalating beyond a certain point, but that point lies beyond the elimination of US global naval and air dominance. Nuclear weapons are much worse than useless in augmenting one’s aggressive behavior against a nuclear-armed opponent; invariably, it would be a suicidal move. What the US now faces is essentially a financial problem of unrepayable debt and a failing wealth pump, and it should be a stunningly obvious point that setting off nuclear explosions anywhere in the world would not fix the problems of an empire going broke.

Events that signal vast, epochal changes in the world often appear minor when viewed in isolation. Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon was just one river crossing; Soviet and American troops meeting and fraternizing at the Elbe was, relatively speaking, a minor event—nowhere near the scale of the siege of Leningrad, the battle of Stalingrad or the fall of Berlin. Yet they signaled a tectonic shift in the historical landscape. And perhaps we have just witnessed something similar with the recent pathetically tiny Battle of East Gouta in Syria, where the US used a make-believe chemical weapons incident as a pretense to launch an equally make-believe attack on some airfields and buildings in Syria. The US foreign policy establishment wanted to show that it still matters and has a role to play, but what really happened was that US naval and air power were demonstrated to be almost entirely beside the point.

Of course, all of this is terrible news to the US military and foreign policy establishments, as well as to the many US Congressmen in whose districts military contractors operate or military bases are situated. Obviously, this is also bad news for the defense contractors, for personnel at the military bases, and for many others as well. It is also simply awful news economically, since defense spending is about the only effective means of economic stimulus of which the US government is politically capable. Obama’s “shovel-ready jobs,” if you recall, did nothing to forestall the dramatic slide in the labor participation rate, which is a euphemism for the inverse of the real unemployment rate. There is also the wonderful plan to throw lots of money at Elon Musk’s SpaceX (while continuing to buy vitally important rocket engines from the Russians—who are currently discussing blocking their export to the US in retaliation for more US sanctions). In short, take away the defense stimulus, and the US economy will make a loud popping sound followed by a gradually diminishing hissing noise.

Needless to say, all those involved will do their best to deny or hide for as long as possible the fact that the US foreign policy and defense establishments have now been neutralized. My prediction is that America’s naval and air empire will not fail because it will be defeated militarily, nor will it be dismantled once the news sinks in that it is useless; instead, it will be forced to curtail its operations due to lack of funds. There may still be a few loud bangs before it gives up, but mostly what we will hear is a whole lot of whimpering. That’s how the USSR went; that’s how the USA will go too.

A Fake News Triumph


On April 14, 2018 the US fired a barrage of 103 cruise missiles at targets in Syria; 71 were intercepted; only 32 reached their targets but caused inconsequential damage. The cost of just the missiles was around $185 million. The US claimed that it was punishing the Syrian government for attacking civilians with chemical weapons, based on some obviously faked videos and zero actual forensic evidence of chemical weapons use and ignoring the fact that Syria has been internationally certified as free of chemical weapons.

On April 7, 2017 the US fired a barrage of 59 cruise missiles at targets in Syria; 36 were intercepted; only 23 reached their targets but caused inconsequential damage. The cost of just the missiles was around $100 million. The US claimed that it was punishing the Syrian government for attacking civilians with chemical weapons, based on some obviously faked videos and zero actual forensic evidence of chemical weapons use and ignoring the fact that Syria has been internationally certified as free of chemical weapons.

Taking these two strikes to mean that this is going to be an annual event, these two data points allow us to make the following projections based on the annual increase in the number of missiles launched at Syria and the annual improvement in the Syrian air defense systems to shoot them down.

In April of 2019 the US will fire a barrage of 180 missiles at targets in Syria; 140 will be shot down; 40 will get through but cause inconsequential damage. The cost: $324 million.

In April of 2020 the US will fire a barrage of 314 missiles at targets in Syria; 276 will be shot down; 38 will get through but cause inconsequential damage. The cost: $565 million.

In April of 2021 (provided President Trump is still in office or his successor chooses to continue with the annual event) the US will fire a barrage of 548 missiles at targets in Syria; all 548 will be shot down; none of them will get through. The cost: $986 million.

This is a rather naïve, straight line projection; I assume incremental improvement, whereas the sale of Russia’s new S-300 systems to Syria, which was stopped due to Western objections but is now once again being actively considered, would effectively seal off Syrian airspace against any US incursion.

“What exactly might be the point of this futile exercise?” you might ask. Well, there are many reasons why this exercise might be useful:

• It’s a morale booster for the Syrians, whose air defense systems have turned out to be able to successfully thwart the US military. They’ve done extremely well with the old Soviet-made systems; they will do even better if they upgrade to the more modern Russian hardware. At this point Syria, still led by Bashar Assad, is making good progress toward complete victory over the jihadis. ISIS has been vanquished. There are a few thousand US troops stranded at bases in the desert, but they are of no consequence. What is of consequence is that the Syrian civil war is ending, thanks in no small part to diplomatic efforts by Russia, Iran and Turkey. The US is irrelevant to this process, and the rocket attacks—both last year’s and this year’s—have made no difference to the final result.

• It’s a morale booster for the US President and for all Americans. Tump’s approval rating among the US electorate has shot up by a whopping 1%: another 6000 Tomahawks, and he’ll be at 100% approval! US Presidents attack other countries for all sorts of personal reasons. For instance Bill Clinton bombed an aspirin factory in Sudan, then bombed Serbia, because of troubles with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. And now Donald Trump is bombing Syria because of troubles with the porn star Stormy Daniels. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cruise missile is just a cruise missile; but sometimes it isn’t. But the reason to bomb is unimportant; in general, when US Presidents bomb other countries, Americans cheer and wave their gaudy little flags.

• It gives NATO countries—in this case, France and Britain—an opportunity to pretend that the Western alliance still means something and still has some unity of purpose. Of course, in this case the British just flew some laps over the Mediterranean but, according to the Russian defense ministry, were not seen to deploy any ordnance, while the French jets didn’t even get anywhere near Syria, but still, it’s the thought that counts, and that thought seems to be, “When the Americans tell the Europeans to jump, they do jump”—not very high, mind you, or their knees would snap. As an added bonus, Theresa May’s government got a welcome distraction from the Skripal poisoning case, which is falling apart most awkwardly.

• Using up lots of cruise missiles makes it necessary to order more, and this creates jobs and helps the economy. Yes, it also adds to federal debt, which is already over $20 trillion, but what’s another few billion in cruise missiles on top of that? And if profligate defense spending drives the US into national bankruptcy, wouldn’t that be a net positive for world peace, given this country’s proclivity to bomb other countries for no adequate reason?

• Seeing the excellent performance of Russian air defense systems, lots of countries around the world will place orders for them, helping Russian defense industry make even more money. In turn, the more countries acquire Russian air defense systems, the more countries will become invincible to US attack, also doing a good turn for world peace. And it is not just Russian weapons sales that are sure to get a boost: Bashar Assad, meeting with visiting Russian parliamentarians after the attack, was in excellent spirits, very happy with Russian support, and said, for the first time, that contracts for Syrian reconstruction will go to Russian companies.

• Those who are in favor of displacing the one “indispensable nation” in favor of a multipolar world of sovereign nations have a reason to rejoice: in Syria, a Rubicon of sorts has been crossed in that there, for the first time, the US was forced to deal with Russian Federation as an equal on an actual battlefield. This fact is being obfuscated using a virtual barrage of propaganda and disinformation, but underneath all that, the real barrage of physical cruise missiles was organized largely to Russian specifications, giving Russia nothing to complain about other than the fact that the attack took place at all.

But perhaps most significantly, this event was a major triumph for one of the key industries in the US that is showing very significant growth: the fake news industry. Thanks to new mass information technology, the US is now capable of creating its own reality, completely divorced from facts on the ground, especially in countries which most Americans can’t even find on a map anyway. Chemical weapons attacks take place if US officials say so—regardless of what those pesky international chemical weapons experts have to say. All that’s important is that the staged videos of fake chemical weapons attacks look realistic enough to the untrained eye. In the fake news world, all US cruise missiles always hit their targets, no matter how much evidence exists that they did not—video footage of intercepts, radar data and eyewitness testimony to half a ton of TNT blowing up in the middle of the air, generating a much louder bang than a missile exploding on the ground.

You might think that hiding behind a wall of unreality is a sign of weakness, and you would be right. But if you are a former superpower that’s hurtling toward national bankruptcy, international irrelevance and full-blown collapse, then indulging in make-believe can be most helpful in alleviating the pain—especially if you follow it up with a dose of fentanyl. And then, as you overdose, for a brief shining moment you would bask in the warm glow of perfect knowledge that America has indeed become great again just as the President promised.

It is also significant that the fake nature of the event did not get in the way of real, and very careful military planning which made it the non-event that it was. The Pentagon was careful to pick their targets so that the damage would be completely inconsequential. In fact, it appears that in this year’s barrage only one building was destroyed—a research institute next to a hospital and a kindergarten quite bereft of chemical weapons. (Last year’s barrage blew up some elderly jet aircraft stored at the unused end of an airfield.) US officials were also very careful not to harry or jostle the Russians, for fear of swift and deadly retaliation, which the Russians explicitly promised. This shows that US war planners are rational, careful and non-suicidal. They know that they have to bomb something now and again, for Presidential libido reasons or whatever else, but they are not about to blow up the world by accident. And this, I hope you agree, is a very hopeful sign.

Last Born In The Wilderness Interview #113: America Faded: Syria, Russia, & The Decline Of The American Empire


This interview was recorded Sunday April 15, less than two days after the events discussed in this episode. In it we discuss the recent missile strikes by the US military in Syria, the Trump Administration, as well as the broader US military establishment\’s true intentions and objectives behind the strike, as well as what other major world powers (Russia in particular) are doing in response to this attack.

Dmitry presents this whole event within a broader geopolitical trend: the American Empire is fading. America\’s influence in the Middle East, in particular, has begun to dissipate, with Russia and other regional players aligning themselves outside of American control and influence. These nations have begun to nudge the United States out of its once dominant role on the international stage, and the response to this missile strike in Syria fits neatly within this trend.

Please listen to the interview.

Groundhog Day in Syria, Take 2


Originally published on Apr 11, 2017

I\’ll publish a fuller update on this the 2nd annual Groundhog Day in Syria once all the results are in. The way it looks now is as follows:

• US/UK lobbed twice as many missiles as last year.
• Just as last year, most of the missiles fell in the sea or got shot down by Syrian air defenses (using Soviet-era weapons).
• One of the more significant targets was, once again, a military airfield; however, this time all of the missiles that targeted it were intercepted.
• Russian facilities and air defense sectors in Syria were not targeted.
• The US had apparently begged and pleaded with the Russians not to retaliate, and had received some assurances, allowing them to leave their sitting ducks precious naval assets in eastern Mediterranean, within easy reach of Russian missiles.
• The pretext was another certifiably fake chemical weapons provocation in Gouta, which was about to be inspected and certified as fake by experts from Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; hence the rush to shoot first (and refuse to ask questions later).
• This year\’s attack, being a virtual repeat of last years, is even more pathetic and idiotic, and more evidence that the US and the UK are being run by mental defectives. Plus it has a distinct whiff of desperation and sour grapes: the US has lost Syria.

Meanwhile, here\’s last year\’s appraisal. It really seems close enough as is; just some figures will need minor adjustment.

When listening to people you shouldn’t necessarily trust (because, for instance, they are known to be liars) it is very important to try to assess whether or not they are lying. And so it is with the representatives of the US government and their counterparts in the EU: they have lied about a great many things in the past; are they lying about Syria now? They lied about the Gulf of Tonkin and used these lies to start the Vietnam war. They lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and used that to justify the invasion of Iraq. They lied about humanitarian disasters in Kosovo and in Libya, and used these to dismember Serbia and to destroy Libya. And so a good, conservative starting point is to assume that the Americans are lying, then search for evidence that would indicate that this time they might be telling the truth. Let’s take a close look.

At a meta level, lying is often a question of demeanor. Those who are telling the truth tend to weigh the evidence, attempting to reconcile contradictory facts, because there always are a few such facts. The truth about any incident is almost always a bit messy, especially in the early days, before all the facts are in. On the other hand, those who are lying generally make a big effort to keep their stories straight.

Then there is the question of timing: if the story becomes “known” almost immediately after an event, and never changes no matter how much contradictory evidence comes to light, there is a very good chance that it is a lie. If, on the other hand, it emerges gradually, in the course of a painstaking investigation and careful sifting and weighing of the evidence, there is a good chance that it’s the truth. It is particularly awkward if the story leaks out prior to the event itself, or so soon after that the various mouthpieces, who start telling the exact same story using the exact same words and phrases, had no time to consult each other. In this latest supposed chemical weapons attack in Syria, EU’s foreign policy figurehead Federica Mogherini went public with her condemnation of it rather soon after it transpired—perhaps too soon to give her time to verify the facts. Did she simply get a memo from the US State Department containing her talking points? How many decades will we have to wait before this information is declassified? Let’s hope that a nice Russian hacker will oblige and liberate it beforehand, and that Wikileaks will publish it.

It is also a bit awkward if the supposedly spontaneous response to an event required preparations that had to have started prior to the event itself. For instance, preparations for the US invasion of Afghanistan started before 9/11. Another example: after the Malaysian flight MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, a group of hackers called CyberBerkut published information that showed several henchmen of the Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky conspiring to fix media coverage of the event before it transpired. In this latest incident, several military experts have chimed in to say that the operation involving firing Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase had to have been planned beforehand; there was simply no way to make it happen on a moment’s notice. There was another strange coincidence: ISIS went on attack immediately after the incident in Idlib, and massed attacks are never impromptu. Who gave ISIS advance warning?

Lastly, it is rather awkward when a new lie bears an uncanny resemblance to an old lie. This supposed chemical weapons event did have a certain Groundhog Day quality to it: it was almost an exact replica of the supposed chemical weapons attack that had led Syria to voluntarily give up its chemical weapons stockpile. Exactly how many times is it possible to make a country give up its chemical weapons and certify it as free of them? Twice? Three times? At what point does the entire process turn into a farce?

But back to the story: the current story being told and retold about Syria is that the Syrian air force used chemical weapons against women and children in the Idlib province. It was first told immediately after the event, based on no investigation whatsoever. No evidence was collected, no lab tests, nothing. There are, however, certain facts that do not fit this story. First, Syria had surrendered all of its chemical weapons to international inspectors, and the US paid to have them destroyed. The people in charge of that operation were even awarded a Nobel peace prize for their efforts; will this prize now be recalled, seeing as they appear to have failed? Second, it is known that the so-called “Syrian rebels” (or “moderate terrorists,” if you like) do have chemical weapons and the ability to make them. Although Western media was careful not to report on this, they have used chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq. It is interesting to ask where they got them; according to Seymour Hersh, they got them from Libya, along with other weapons, with Hillary Clinton’s help.

Third, there is no evidence that chemical weapons were indeed used. What has been shown so far, as far as “evidence” goes, was White Helmets (an organization known for staging fake atrocities) rushing to the scene and fussing over some dead children who, we are expected to believe, died from Sarin gas poisoning. The actors wearing the white helmets were not wearing proper masks or gloves while handling supposed chemical attack victims. We are therefore within our rights to inquire as to these actors’ time of death, and when and where burial services will take place, in case we wish to pay our respects, because by now they would all be dead of Sarin poisoning.

Finally, if we look carefully at the photographs of the children who were the supposed victims of a Sarin gas attack, in several of them we can observe evidence of blunt trauma to head or neck. We are therefore within our rights to inquire as to the time and manner in which that trauma occurred. Did the White Helmets knock them off with blows from a rifle butt, then posed them as chemical attack victims for a photo op? Sarin gas does not cause contusions.

Since there is no actual evidence that a chemical attack took place, or that the Syrian government is complicit in it if it did take place, we need to fall back on the standard technique used to assess circumstantial evidence of a crime: establishing means, motive and opportunity. We must certainly grant that opportunity did exist: Syrian jets did bomb the area at the time, specifically targeting a munitions dump, which could have contained chemical weapons, and the Syrian government did not deny any of this. But we can’t say that the Syrians had the means without contradicting a great many people who stated unequivocally and on the record that Syria no longer possesses any chemical weapons.

Most convincing of all is the absolute, complete lack of motive. To the contrary, the Syrians were very much motivated to not do anything to disrupt the process of settling their civil war through diplomacy just as it was showing signs of starting to work. The Syrian government had largely won the war and had no reason to resort to such desperate measures. On the other hand, the “moderate terrorists,” who are at this point very close to being wiped out, had every reason to try such a desperate stunt, hoping that it would somehow turn the tide in their favor, or at least delay the inevitable.

Based on all of the above, I believe that we are justified in accepting as a working hypothesis the following: the supposed Syrian chemical weapons attack in Idlib is a false flag, quite possibly a fake false flag. Perhaps chemical agents were released into the air; perhaps not. Only lab test results on soil samples can tell us that. Perhaps children died of poisoning, or perhaps they died from being bludgeoned so that they could be posed as victims of a chemical attack; only an autopsy can tell.

Now, whereas the truth can be helpful or damaging, and can be put to various purposes, it is rarely purposeful in and of itself, a lie is often concocted to achieve a specific result. As I mentioned, this particular lie was clearly not designed to help the Syrian government. On the other hand, it could be said to have helped the “moderate terrorists,” who are currently in dire straits. But they are bit players in this drama. It seems strange to assume that a few foreign mercenaries can dictate the direction of US foreign policy or military strategy; it takes a bigger tail than that to wag such a big dog.

But is this a matter of US foreign policy or military strategy, we need to ask, or is it something else entirely? So far, the military action was as follows. The US fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from two ships in the Mediterranean off Syria’s coast. These cruise missiles cost $1.8 million apiece, for a total price tag just over $100 million. But that’s just the cost of the ordnance; the operation as a whole, including the planning, probably cost closer to $300 million, and if you include the cost of the planning and all of the other associated activities, it is likely to have exceeded half a billion.

Only 23 of the 59 Tomahawks reached the target area, meaning that $60 million of ordnance was in effect simply tossed overboard. The fact that over 60% of these very expensive missiles are basically duds is not exactly celebratory for the mighty US military. We can be quite sure that none of them were shot down by either Syrian or Russian air defense systems. The Syrians currently lack the capability to shoot down these cruise missiles. The Russians do have the capability, but the air defense systems they currently have in place in Syria cover just the area around their airbase in Khmeimim and their naval base at Tartus. These two locations are hundreds of kilometers away from the target area and the curvature of the earth would have prevented them from tracking or targeting missiles flying at an altitude of 50 meters. Thus, it is safe to assume that more than half of the Tomahawks simply fell out of the sky.

The intent of the attack was to thwart the Syrian government in using their air force to bomb civilians using chemical weapons which, according to US officials, don’t exist. To this end, the target was a Syrian military airfield. Interestingly, the attack targeted the wrong end of a rather long airfield, which wasn’t being used. It appears that most of the missiles exploded quite harmlessly. A few of them hit things that could be considered targets: a mess hall, a radar installation, and six elderly Mig-23 jets. These jets are over 30 years old and were quite unlikely to have been in active use. Their value is barely $100,000 each, for a grand total of $600,000. The Syrian airbase was back in business less than 24 hours later, resuming flying sorties against ISIS.

Thus, in military terms, the US squandered half a billion to inflict perhaps a million dollars’ worth of damage on the Syrians. That is 0.2% efficiency—more of a self-inflicted defeat than a victory, and definitely not something to brag about. In tesponse the Russians have announced that the deconfliction protocol they agreed with the US, which allowed US planes to fly safely over Syrian territory, is no longer in effect. Now the Americans will either have to be cleared through Damascus ATC, or they are targets to be shot down. The Russians also said that they will beef up Syrian air defenses. They do have the technical ability to completely seal off Syrian airspace, fulfilling Hillary Clinton’s promise to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, except now it will be the Americans that won’t be flying there. It also bears noting that Russian military doctrine avoids exclusive reliance on air defense systems. In the normal course of events, if a US vessel started firing Tomahawks at a Russian target, that vessel would be taken out of commission some time between firing the first and the second Tomahawk by a Russian supercavitating torpedo. Thus, it is generally inadvisable to put Russian air defenses to the test.

Damaging as that is, the political damage is perhaps even more significant. There was resounding international condemnation of the US attack, which the self-important Americans are likely to regard as just noise, but there was also ridicule: Bolivia’s UN ambassador, speaking at the UN Security Council, held up a picture of Colin Powell holding up a vial of white powder as a poignant reminder that the Americans have a rich history of setting their pants on fire. Having demonstrated that they can no longer bully countries into submission, the Americans have no cards left to play either militarily or diplomatically. Since the attack on Syria took place without the appropriate UN Security Council resolution, the US is now a rogue state—and an impotent one at that. Who in the world would want to negotiate with such an unreliable, untrustworthy partner?

And so we have to conclude that this lie was not fashioned to help the US internationally. Was it useful to the US domestically, then? Politically, the attack on Syria took place without the authorization from Congress required by the US constitution, but that’s not particularly interesting, since the US constitution is by now about as effective as an old copy of Pravda in an abandoned Siberian outhouse. Militarily, demonstrating that 60% of Tomahawk missiles are duds is not exactly on strategy for the military-industrial complex. Trying to shut down an airbase by targeting the wrong end of a runway and blowing up some old junk is not exactly on strategy for the US “intelligence community” either.

In fact, it appears that there is exactly one person this lie was designed to benefit, and that person is Donald Trump. There are five distinct ways in which he has benefited from this entire fiasco—the dead children, the relentless lying in public, the Tomahawk duds and the international fallout.

First, he has shaken off the allegation that he has colluded with the Russians by demonstrating his extreme belligerence against a Russian ally. The entire Russian “election meddling” charge is preposterous but is damaging to him nevertheless. The US has a pay-to-play political system where the voters are used as pawns in a delicately gerrymandered scheme. It uses a fine-tuned divide-and-conquer algorithm to determine which set of Washington/Wall Street insiders gets into office. But in case of Trump’s election victory this system misfired badly. It appears that the voters have finally decided that they aren’t going to vote for any more Washington/Wall Street insiders no matter what. The establishment’s face-saving solution was to blame Russia.

Now, this may seem strange at first. It is not as if foreign powers aren’t allowed to meddle in US politics. Israel practically owns most of Congress through AIPAC—but don’t say that too loudly or you’ll be called an Antisemite. The Saudis financed a huge chunk of Hillary Clinton’s election campaign. Even some shady Ukrainian oligarchs got to throw a few million dollars at the Clintons. Lots of other foreign powers apply leverage to the US political establishment in a wide variety of ways. The Russians are actually the exception. Where are the Russian lobbyists? Where are the bags of Russian cash being thrown at American politicians? There are just the allegations of “hacking” and “trolling,” all entirely unsubstantiated. The reason “blame Russia” actually works is, strangely enough, that Russia is blameless—and is therefore safe to blame without running the danger of uncovering some nest of corruption within the US political establishment. Since this tactic works on the level of words and gestures, Trump’s grand gesture of blowing up a handful of elderly Migs in Syria is enough to “prove” that he is not “Putin’s poodle.”

Second, Trump has succeeded in dramatically lowering the expectations as far as any negotiations with Russia are concerned. During his election campaign he promised that he would normalize relations with Russia. But it is difficult to deliver on this promise because the Russians have developed a distinctly anti-American stance, given such recent developments as the US-led government overthrow in Kiev, NATO warmongering in Eastern Europe, US and EU sanctions against Russia, the constant demonization of Russia and of Putin personally in Western media and numerous other slights and insults, such as the banning of Russian Special Olympics contestants from international competition. Improving relations with Russia would require the US to take a long list of actions to which the US establishment would not consent, and even then Americans need to understand that Russia is just not that into them any more. With US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heading over to Moscow, it would have been awkward for him to come back empty-handed. But now that the US has bombed a Syrian airbase and has publicly accused Russia of “colluding” with the “Assad regime,” Tillerson is just going to have some nice dinner at a Moscow restaurant with Maria Zakharova, the bright and personable Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, perhaps exchange some pleasantries with Sergei Lavrov, and hop right back on the plane. Problem solved!

Third, the fiasco with the Tomahawks took place while Trump was meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping and completely overshadowed Xi’s visit, thus saving Trump from the embarrassing lack of anything tangible that Xi’s visit achieved. Having trumpeted loudly about being a great dealmaker, it would have been rather awkward for him to admit that all he can do is waste important people’s time by making smalltalk at a golf course. Can someone please do something about North Korea? Not unless you don\’t mind turning Seoul into a cratered wasteland! Also, there is a good chance that Xi told Trump to his face that the US is no longer the most powerful and influential country in the world—China is—and nothing like that could be allowed to leak into the public consciousness in the US.

Fourth, Trump has managed to herd the warmongers within the US establishment, who have been pushing for a full-scale war in Syria for some time now, into a cul de sac of their own creation. Now their war planning has to account for the fact that they can’t operate in Syria without triggering a wider international conflict. Simple questions, such as “How much damage will there be?”, “How much will this cost?” and “How long will it take?” will be enough to keep them bogged down in the planning stage. As they struggle in vain to find plausible answers to these questions, Trump can preen and posture, declaring loudly that “something must be done,” then adding sotto voice that the costs have to be reasonable, the potential damage contained, and it better be over by the next election.

Fifth, this event seems to have given this rather unlikely—and unlucky—White House occupant a new lease on political life. Trump’s presidency, only a few months old, is circling the drain. Repeal of Obamacare has failed, his tax reform plan appears to be dead on arrival, there is deafening silence on the subject of raising the debt limit, which is what is required to avoid a government shutdown this summer, and his infrastructure development plans are nowhere near being realized. Even his notorious wall along the Mexican border remains purely conceptual. His approval rating, already abysmal, was falling further and further as he battled forlornly against a rabidly hostile Washington establishment. But now, thanks to this Syrian incident, his standing with the atrocious miscreants who populate this establishment seems to have improved somewhat while his former supporters among the general population recoil in disgust. Of course, no one knows how long this bounce will last, or whether his supporters will ever forgive him.

In all, this event, though minor, casts an unflattering light on the current state of the erstwhile American global hegemon: militarily impotent, diplomatically an object of derision and ridicule, politically dysfunctional and internally conflicted, economically and financially precarious and led by a ridiculous buffoon who can’t stop himself from blowing up everything and everyone around him, including himself. Mind you, the US is still quite dangerous, but at this point it is dangerous mainly to itself.

Where is Russian Counterpropaganda?


\”…If you were to go and see for yourself… you would reach the inevitable conclusion that Russia is a normal country. Your experiences there would allow you to judge that it is quite rich, rather prosperous, and socially and politically stable. And yet when you travel back to Europe, the US, Canada, or any of the other countries dominated by Western media companies and consortia, you will be told that Russia is strange, evil, ruled by a ruthless dictator and hell-bent on expanding its territory and threatening its neighbors. Why is there this disconnect, and what is the major impetus to demonize Russia? And why isn’t there a parallel effort by Russia to demonize the West?\”

Read the article…

The Importance of Looking Dangerous


It’s a hard job being a global hegemon and the world’s sole superpower. You have to keep the entire planet in line. Every country needs to be taught its place, and kept there, by force if need be. Now and again a country or two has to be conquered or destroyed, just to teach others a lesson. Plus you have to relentlessly meddle in other countries’ politics, rigging elections so that only US-friendly candidates can win, run regime change operations and organize colored revolutions. Stop doing this, and some countries will start ignoring you. And then the rest will quickly realize that you are losing control and go their separate ways while ignoring you.

Is the United States still the world’s greatest power, in control of the entire planet, or has that moment in history already come and gone? We are constantly hearing how the situation is becoming dire: relations between the US and NATO countries and Russia are going from bad to worse; there is a trade war going on with China; North Korea remains an intractable problem and an embarrassment. Many people maintain that we are very close to a world war. But does “very close” actually mean anything? It is quite possible to stand for hours with your toes hanging over the edge of a cliff and never jump. Suicide is a big decision: big even for a person, much bigger for a large country.

On March 1, 2018 president Putin unveiled Russia’s new weapons systems against which the United States is defenseless and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Previously, the plan was to surround Russia with military bases and missile batteries, then launch a preemptive first strike, destroying its ability to retaliate and forcing it to capitulate. This plan has now conclusively failed, and a US/NATO attack on Russia is once again assured to be an act of suicide. Worse than that, even limited military confrontations are now mostly unthinkable, because Russia can now inflict unacceptable damage on US/NATO forces from a safe distance and without putting any of its own assets at risk. If Russia won’t attack and the US/NATO can’t attack, then how likely is a war?

The new weapons systems have made it possible to start ignoring the US. It is still important to maintain a credible military posture, but politically the US is no longer in control, and neither are the global institutions on which it has relied. Instead, what we are seeing is the reemergence of nation states, and even of empires. The political future of Syria is being decided by Russia, Turkey and Iran, with no useful input from the United States at all. Significantly, whereas Russia and Iran are in categories of their own as far as the US is concerned, Turkey has been a US ally and the second-largest armed force in NATO. The fact that Turkey is no longer eager to please the Americans is quite telling.

Except during the strange and tumultuous twentieth century during which the US briefly flashed across the world stage, these three countries went by different names, which all ended in “empire”: the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire. Of these three, the Russian and the Ottoman empires were heirs to the Holy Roman Empire, whose eastern half, with its capital Constantinople, went on for centuries after Rome had turned into a depopulated ruin and a dark age had descended on Europe. After Constantinople fell to the Turks and Islam took over the region, the center of Orthodox Christianity migrated north to Moscow. Now add China, or the Chinese Empire if you like, which is now aligned with Russia, and complete the picture: all of the greatest and most ancient Eurasian empires have come back and are talking and cooperating, while the has-been upstart on the other side of the planet isn’t even invited.

Given this situation, what is the US to do? It has three choices. The first is to start a major war, thus committing national suicide (while taking other countries with it). It lacks the political will to make this decision, although it could blunder into a major war by accident. The second choice is to basically just fold: give up trying to project power around the world, retreat into its own borders and lick its wounds. It lacks the political will to do this as well; all that remains in the realm of possibility is to pretend that everything is still fine for as long as possible.

But how is it possible to pretend that everything is still fine even as everything is falling apart? The answer is to start faking it. If the US manages to convince enough people, at home and around the world, that it is still dangerous, then it will be able to hide its increasing enfeeblement for a while longer. It may no longer be capable of achieving any of its aims, but it is still very much capable of mass murder, as was recently demonstrated by the US “coalition” bombings of Mosul and Raqqa, which now lay in ruins. Similar wanton acts of mass murder have been committed by America’s Saudi-Arabian proxy in Yemen, and by their Ukrainian proxies in the Donbass.

But even the opportunities to commit mindless mass murder with impunity are now becoming fewer and farther between, forcing the US to resort to more boutique acts of violence. To justify these acts, the US (and much of Europe) curtains itself off from the rest of the world using an elaborately constructed wall of complete nonsense. A favorite trope has to do with dreamed-up chemical weapons as the main frightener. Take a look at the recent Israeli rocket attack on Syria. It was justified using obviously fake video footage produced by the White Helmets—a group known for staging fake terror events. At this point, they don’t even care how fake their product looks: this time around, they didn’t bother editing out the clapper (used to sync up video with sound). The setting was obviously a movie set, but production values were rather missing. Instead, we had actors, some wearing white helmets, but no protective gear whatsoever, dumping buckets of water over shivering children. How is that even supposed to make any sense?

And then note that the rockets (five of which got shot down by the Syrians, with only three making it through) came from Israel. Why Israel? Because the Russians had warned the US that they knew the fake chemical weapons provocation was being organized as a pretext to launch a rocket attack, and that they were going to shoot not just at the rockets but also at those who launch them. Therefore, Americans decided that it would be too risky to launch the attack from navy ships, and instead asked the Israelis to do the honor of lobbing a few missiles at a remote airbase in Syria, correctly thinking that the Russians wouldn’t immediately retaliate against Israel if no Russians would be hurt, and knowing that there would be no Russians at that airbase during their attack. This is, on the one hand, quite pathetic, but on the other it shows that the Americans are still capable of a modicum of rational thought.

This, then, is the strange period of history we are going through. The US is lying nonstop (since truth is not on its side) while pretending to still be dangerous by committing wanton acts of mass murder (small-scale ones, which it can be sure to carry out with impunity). Meanwhile, both national suicide (via large-scale war) and the decision to shut down the whole imperial project both remain politically impossible. How long this strange, unstable period of murderous nonsense can persist isn’t known—your guess is as good as mine—but it obviously can’t go on for ages. Give it a few years, or less.

Provocations and Creative Imagination


Those charged with staging provocations often seem to lack creative imagination. As a result, terrorist incidents tend to have a certain groundhog day quality. For example, there is a big explosion (or lots of gunfire), or a fireball, a scene either torched or soaked with blood… and then we find… a passport or a driver’s license belonging to the alleged perpetrator, in mint condition! And the perpetrator turns out ot be extremely well known to the authorities!

Obviously, the provocateurs are loathe to admit that their expensively designed provocations have become hackneyed and banal, and toss around for new ideas. Thus, the latest attack on the former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was apparently cribbed from the US/British TV show “Strike Back” (because the provocateurs have no ideas of their own and don’t read books, but they do watch TV). Both featured a certain made-up weapon of mass destruction called “Novichok” (Russian for “newbie”). Apparently, it is not very effective; if Novichok were a flea powder, the instructions would read: “Catch a flea, flip it over on its back, tickle it until it laughs, sprinkle some powder in its mouth and then watch it to make sure it doesn’t spit it out.” A proper chemical WMD should be able to wipe out a whole city; this one just sickens a couple of people (one of whom—Yulia—is apparently on the mend). What will those terrible Russians (and Putin personally) come up with next? A WMD that makes enemy forces sneeze uncontrollably?

Provocations cribbed from TV shows are, obviously, prime targets for ridicule, but ridicule is really as far as it can go. It is not possible to extract something creative from something that is so essentially threadbare, trite, boilerplate and played out. But it is theoretically possible to use a provocation as inspiration for a truly exciting mystery novel or adventure film. For that, we have to look for a superior sort of provocation—a product of inspired, out-of-the-box thinking—of the sort that gets the provocateur fired, or at least not promoted, because in such circles any show of originality is the kiss of death. Such creative provocations are, as you might imagine, few and far between, but they do happen.

Here is one. It combines all the needed elements: international intrigue, high crimes and comedy/farce. And here is how I propose repurposing this provocation into a work of art. First, I will present just the facts. Next, I will indicate some huge, gaping holes in the plot which we must, perforce, fill using our imaginations (for lack of detailed factual information), but relying on real world knowledge as much as possible to build a plausible scenario (or two). In the end, the most plausible scenario wins.

On February 22, 2018, the Argentine newspaper El Clarin has reported that a major shipment of drugs from Buenos Aires to Moscow—389 kg of pure cocaine, valued at over 60 million USD, and bearing the markings of the Sinaloa drug cartel of Northern Mexico—was prevented from taking place thanks to the efforts of Russia’s FSB and the Argentine authorities. Several people, including a member of the Argentine police and someone involved in charity work, have been detained. Victor Coronelli, Russia’s ambassador to Argentina, related how all the way back in 2016 the embassy received information that possessions belonging to some third party had been found in a storage space at a children’s school operated by the embassy and located several blocks away from it. Suspicions arose and a thorough examination had uncovered 12 colorful suitcases filled with 389 “keys” (1-kilo blocks) of cocaine bearing the little star that is the symbol of the Sinaloa cartel of Northern Mexico.

Shortly after the cocaine was discovered, Russia’s FSB, working together with the Argentine police, hatched an ingenious plan for a sting operation, to find out who is behind this shipment. To this end, they carefully replaced the cocaine with flour and placed the 12 colorful suitcases back in storage. And there they sat for over a year. What has been done with the cocaine that was extracted isn’t known.

Apparently, it took a great deal of effort to get anyone to take possession of these suitcases. Eventually, two people were found who agreed to take delivery of them in Moscow: Vladimir Kalmykov and Ishtimir Hudzhamov. They are currently in pretrial detention in Russia. A third suspect, Andrei Kovalchuk, is under arrest in Germany, awaiting extradition to Russia, but his extradition is conditional on whether the Russian side can offer evidence of his complicity or guilt in organizing the shipment.

Kovalchuk used to work for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, but most recently he has used his old ministerial connections to arrange for some small-scale contraband to be shipped to Russia via diplomatic mail: cigars, coffee, cognac, etc. Such trade had been common during the 1990s, when Russian diplomats had fallen on hard times and did whatever they could to make ends meet, but it has become unnecessary in recent years, now that they are very well provided for once again. Still, cigars, coffee and cognac is what Kovalchuk—an apparent throwback to this earlier, meager era—maintains was in the suitcases he had stashed at the school in Buenos Aires: he has kept all of the receipts. He plans to travel to Russia of his own free will once he has gathered all the evidence he needs to exonerate himself.

The other two detainees—Kalmykov and Hudzhamov—seem entirely unconcerned about their fate. They maintain that they had cooperated with the investigation in trying to flush out the real perpetrators. Kalmykov said that he has always been a law-abiding citizen, that he has only seen cocaine in the movies, and that he had been hired to move some boxes. For his part, Hudzhamov said that he has no idea how he got involved in this case, that this is all part of some large-scale provocation, and that he is sure that he will be released soon. As the sharper legal minds among you may have spontaneously surmised, there may be a slight technical issue with charging these two with trafficking cocaine when what they “trafficked” was in fact flour.

Beyond the obvious legal conundrum of charging somebody with trafficking flour, there are some definite comedic possibilities here. Cue Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, asking probing questions: “What kind of fleueur was it?… Ah, white fleueur. I see… Zis is very interesting!”

Or imagine Kalmykov (or Hudzhamov) in jail, having a late night conversation with a cellmate:

“So, what did they get you on?”
“Importing 389 keys of cocaine.”
“Wow! Did you do it?”
“No, it wasn’t cocaine, it was flour.”
“Well, they said that they thought that I thought that it was cocaine, so they locked me up for that…”

Laughable though it is, this line of reasoning—that “we think that you thought that it was cocaine”—does seem to be the crux of the investigators’ argument. Another one of the accused, one Ali Abyanov (who claimed that Kovalchuk let on that he was a Russian government official working undercover) is being accused on the basis of recorded telephone conversations. But according to Abyanov’s lawyer the topics of conversation between Kovalchuk and his client ranged “from jeans to sausage, coffee, candy, and the fact that mom didn’t come.”

Still, the cocaine did exist at one point—all 389 kilos of it—as attested by the FSB and the Argentine police, although we don’t know what happened to it after it was replaced with flour. And so it is incumbent on us to build a business case: How was a profit to be made from diverting this shipment from its rightful destination—the eager, quivering nostrils of coke fiends of Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami—to snowy Moscow? You see, those 389 keys didn’t start as keys, packaged in plastic and stamped with the brand of the Sinaloa cartel of Northern Mexico. That was just a final bit of branding applied prior to the final leap across the US border. In essence, the little star says: “If found, please return immediately to official representatives of the Sinaloa cartel, or prepare to die.” So, why would someone try to interfere with that shipment?

Keep in mind, Russia doesn’t have much of a cocaine market. The stuff is expensive and, except with some Moscow rich kids who might try snorting a little, just to be fashionable, when they go clubbing, it’s just not that popular. Unloading 389 kg of it in a hurry would be quite a trick. Once it’s been cut with baby laxative (standard procedure) that would make half a million one-gram doses, which, at around 100 USD each (price has been stable for years) comes to 50 million USD. Trying to unload it quickly would flood the market, crash the price, and draw lots of attention from law enforcement, while unloading it slowly would mean making old Guzman’s two sons, who now run Sinaloa, wait for their money—a poor choice if your longevity is important. But perhaps Kovalchuk got so wealthy from shipping contraband cigars, cognac and coffee that he had a few tens of mil just sitting around. Maybe he bought those keys from Sinaloa wholesale, and somehow thought that this was a good business plan. The combination of very wealthy and successful and very foolish is rare but not impossible.

Why would the Guzman boys who run Sinaloa sell 389 keys to Kovalchuk? After all, they run a very successful operation, shipping in hundreds of tons of drugs into the US, fentanyl especially, and operating a very large retail chain. Sure, there may be some wholesale transactions with trusted counterparties, but mostly they succeed by managing every aspect of the supply chain from the Colombian cocoa farmer to the user’s nostril. The Guzman boys must have really been charmed by Kovalchuk—I can think of no other explanation for it. Such gumption! Such pluck! Sure, Ivan and Alfredo are best known for leaving a trail of dead bodies behind them wherever they go, but really deep down they are just a couple of swell guys, hearts of gold, you know, and would only nail your head to a coffee table if they absolutely had to. They and Kovalchuk must have simply hit it off, and decided—Why the hell not?—to flood Moscow with cocaine.

But how did Kovalchuk get his 389 keys from Northern Mexico to Buenos Aires? Perhaps he chartered a small plane and had it flown all the way down the Americas, greasing palms at airports along the way to avoid detection, but that would have been very risky and rather expensive because everyone along the way would have asked for a cut of the total. And so perhaps he got himself a small sailboat, ferried aboard the 12 colorful suitcases he bought at a market in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, and set off into the Pacific. Small sailboats are virtually undetectable provided they keep the engine off, take down the radar reflectors and stay out of sight of land and away from sea lanes.

Our hero could have shaved off some sea miles by going through the Panama Canal, but that involves inviting a pilot and line handlers aboard, who might have inquired about all the colorful suitcases, and he would have decided against it. And so, some months later, having beat through steady headwinds and the opposing Humboldt current all the way down the coast of Chile, through the Straits of Magellan or around Cape Horn, up the Atlantic coast of Argentina and into Rio de la Plata, he anchored off Buenos Aires, ferried his 12 colorful suitcases ashore and smuggled them into the Russian embassy school. This would have been an adventure of a lifetime for Kovalchuk the cigar, coffee, cognac and candy smuggler. But then, rather uncharacteristically for such an adventurous character, for over a year he did absolutely nothing to claim his prize. Perhaps he was just really worn out after his epic sea adventure and decided to lay low for a while.

This concludes our little detour through the comedic, the fanciful and the outlandish implications of what passes for the official story. As far as what really happened, we can only conjecture. But I hope you will agree that at this point this conjecture has much more of a ring of truth to it than everything I have laid out above. I will present it as a series of questions and answers:

Q: Who put the cocaine there?
A: The CIA.

Q: What was their motive for this provocation?
A: To implicate Russian officials in drug trafficking, inflicting reputational damage.

Q: Did they succeed in this?
A: No.

Q: Where did they get the cocaine?
A: It had been confiscated by the DEA, either in transit from Mexico or within the US, and requisitioned by the CIA.

Q: How did the CIA get the cocaine from the US to Argentina?
A: Aboard a US government plane.

Q: How did the CIA get the cocaine into the school?
A: Now that’s what’s really worth investigating!

Q: Why were there exactly 389 kilos of it?
A: That’s what it took to fill the suitcases once they were emptied of cigars, coffee and cognac.

Q: What happened to the cigars, coffee and cognac?
A: The CIA operatives smoked the cigars and drank the coffee and the cognac.

Q: Where did the cocaine go once it was replaced with flour?
A: Back to the DEA, so that it could be signed back into evidence, and to close out the CIA requisition.

Q: What made the CIA pick the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires as the target for this provocation?
A: Maxim Mironov, a Russian blogger living in Buenos Aires and a known malcontent, could be relied upon to serve as a “useful idiot” and make false accusations against Russian officials on social media (which he did).

Q: Why is Russia’s FSB pursuing this ridiculous investigation?
A: There was a large quantity of cocaine found on official Russian property, so somebody has to go to jail for that…