The propaganda war being waged by the well-fed mainstream Western media has received a boost since it became clear that President Trump’s chief counsellors and associates are almost without exception relentlessly anti-Russian. His newly-appointed National Security Adviser, General HR McMaster, was noted by Reuters as believing Moscow to be “an adversary rather than a potential partner.”
In the run-up to the presidential election it had been hoped by supporters of international trade, solid borders and mutual trust that Mr Trump would continue his policy of guarded amicability towards Russia. Nobody expected that on his entry to the White House a magic wand would be waved that would cancel out the Obama Administration’s insulting and entirely counter-productive attitude to President Putin and set relations on an even keel; but it was certainly hoped that common sense and realism would overcome blind malice.
This has not happened, and Trump has packed his team with military men whose antipathy to Russia is encapsulated by General McMaster’s allegation that Russia’s aim is to “collapse the post-Cold War security, economic, and political order in Europe and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.”
As with most claims made by sabre-rattlers in Washington, London and Brussels, the McMaster contention was much publicised in the Western media which fails to give anything like the same cover to statements conveying the fact that war would be madness and that Russia has no intention of taking any action that could provide an excuse for the Pentagon and its Brussels sub-office to justify conflict.
On February 19 CNBC reported Craig Caffrey of IHS Jane’s, the world-respected defence analysis group, as saying that “we expect the Russian defence budget to fall again next year and it will sit below France in seventh position by 2020, based on current plans, with a total defence budget of $41.4 billion,” while US military spending is forecast to rise to $622 billion, which according to IHS Jane’s is about 40 percent of the world’s total defence expenditure.
Apart from practical considerations of a desire for trouble-free borders, expanded trade and social improvement for its citizens it is absurd to imagine that Russia, with a defence budget of a twelfth of that of the United States, would contemplate giving Washington a chance to go to war. Not even the most committed propagandists could claim that a reduction in defence spending is a signal that a country is gearing up to initiate major conflict.
The US magazine Newsweek has never been a reliable source of news, but has a fairly wide audience which it attempts to persuade that Russia is a major threat to America, the country with a military budget a dozen times that of Russia’s.
One recent Newsweek piece involved allegations that “Russian, so called, patrol flights, involving unannounced forays around and towards European airspace with transponders off, have increased since 2014.” This was an intriguing piece of amateur propaganda aimed at convincing readers that the Red Menace has grown in capability and intention, while ignoring the simple fact that every country has the right to move its aircraft in international airspace. The magazine’s description of a recent incident, when it breathlessly headlined that “NATO jets intercepted a skein of Russian combat aircraft, flying alongside Russian bomber planes above the Baltic Sea”, would be amusing were it not distorted and malicious. (The word ‘skein’ takes us back to the old days of Time and Newsweek, when they experimented amusingly with words and phrases. It means ‘a flock of wild geese or swans in flight’ but in this case, the less dramatic figure ‘2’.)
Newsweek reported that “According to Lithuania’s Ministry of Defence, [emphasis added] that assist in preventing incursions into the country’s airspace, Russian jets approached allied airspace February 14 and 16. NATO jets scrambled to escort a similar formation both times—an Il-22 bomber, tailed by two Su-27 fighters. The flights appeared to be a round trip from mainland Russia to its enclave of Kaliningrad and back. In both cases only the Il-22 had its transponder on. Only one of the flights, the second one, followed a submitted flight plan, which only detailed the movement of one of the three planes.”
At first glance this report might appear reasonable, but unfortunately for the dignity of journalism it is a jumble of tiny half-truths. The headline states there were “bomber planes”— in plural. But the text makes it clear there was a single Il-22. The statement that Russian aircraft ‘approached allied airspace’ is intended to convey that the aircraft deliberately flew towards airspace controlled by the US-NATO alliance and that this was in some way a threat. The rest of the text, however, records that the flight was simply a round trip over the Baltic from one part of Russia to another.
The aim of the piece was to persuade its readers that the Moscow Menace is constantly deploying “Russian combat aircraft, flying alongside Russian bomber planes” to intimidate innocent Lithuanians and citizens of other Baltic States, although it is never recorded that no Russian aircraft has violated foreign airspace around the Baltic or anywhere else.
The 2013-14 effort at Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking was doomed to fail because of the unrealistic goals set by the United States at its inception, according to a new Israeli insider account. And the inevitable collapse was expedited by grave mistakes made during the negotiations by their American sponsors, and especially by secretary of state John Kerry, veteran Israeli peace negotiator Michael Herzog writes.
In a lengthy article published this week, Herzog says Jerusalem, Ramallah and Washington all contributed to the breakdown of negotiations in April 2014. “All parties made mistakes, each exacerbating the others’ and contributing to a negative dynamic.”
But he apportions devastating blame to Kerry, who initiated and headed the talks. He writes that Kerry “definitely does not deserve the slander directed at him by some Israelis,” but nonetheless highlights Kerry’s over-confidence and lack of sensitivity, says Kerry caused confusion from the start, cites instances where Kerry misrepresented Israel’s positions to the Palestinians, and suggests the US team led by the former secretary might have deliberately misled the parties.
After insistently launching negotiations with the unattainable goal of reaching a final-status agreement in less than a year, Kerry then mismanaged the talks as they proceeded, charges Herzog, who was a member of the Israeli negotiating team headed by then-justice minister Tzipi Livni. (Herzog, brother of Labor leader Isaac and son of former president Chaim, is a retired brigadier-general who formerly headed the IDF’s strategic planning division and served as chief of staff to the defense minister; he stresses that he has never been politically affiliated.)
Kerry failed to fully understand “the psychology of the parties or the delicate nuances of their relations,” writes Herzog, who has participated in most of Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians, and Jordanians since 1993.
“At times he appeared more eager than they were, pushed them beyond their limits, set unrealistic goals and timeframes, and shouldered some burdens better left alone or to the parties — in the belief that his own powers of personal persuasion could overcome any obstacle.”
Kerry stuck to the “titanic goal” of reaching agreement on all core issues within this framework. “The result was a waste of precious time and energy in the first phase of talks.” Rather, the parties should have first tried to agree on guidelines for negotiating and resolving the core issues, according to Herzog.
Kerry set ground rules for the talks with both parties separately, which became a source of serious confusion and misunderstanding, eventually causing the process to collapse, Herzog charges.
In March 2014, as the nine months allotted for the talks neared their conclusion, the Israeli negotiators sought to directly engage with their Palestinian counterparts to salvage the faltering process. They were shocked to discover that the Americans had apparently given false information to the Palestinians about an upcoming vote in Israel’s cabinet.
“While comparing notes, we were told by the Palestinians how on nine separate occasions in recent days the US side had given them specific hours at which Israel’s cabinet would meet to vote on the prisoner release,” Herzog recalled. “Our jaws dropped. Nobody on our side ever determined a specific hour for the cabinet meeting… To this day, I am bewildered by this episode.”
The issue of Jerusalem remained entirely unresolved, Herzog writes, in part because Ramallah insisted, with American approval, to have Israel explicitly recognize a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.