Saturday, August 02, 2014

Reason to be cautious on pinning blame for airline shootdowns

The bipartisan consensus on increasing hostility toward Russia, in the US and largely in Europe as well, is not something I'm thrilled to see.

There have been some recent reminders that people not thrilled about increasing the prospects of war need to take into account full account over the official reaction to the shootdown of Malaysian Flight MH17.

Fred Kaplan recalls a previous American shootdown in America’s Flight 17 Slate 07/23/2014:

But before accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of war crimes or dismissing the entire episode as a tragic fluke, it’s worth looking back at another doomed passenger plane—Iran Air Flight 655—shot down on July 3, 1988, not by some scruffy rebel on contested soil but by a U.S. Navy captain in command of an Aegis-class cruiser called the Vincennes. ...

The Malaysian Boeing 777 wandered into a messy civil war in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border; the Iranian Airbus A300 wandered into a naval skirmish—one of many clashes in the ongoing "Tanker War" (another forgotten conflict)—in the Strait of Hormuz. The likely pro-Russia rebel thought that he was shooting at a Ukrainian military-transport plane; the U.S. Navy captain, Will Rogers III, mistook the Airbus for an F-14 fighter jet. The Russian SA-11 surface-to-air missile that downed the Malaysian plane killed 298 passengers, including 80 children; the American SM-2 surface-to-air missile that downed the Iranian plane killed 290 passengers, including 66 children. After last week’s incident, Russian officials told various lies to cover up their culpability and blamed the Ukrainian government; after the 1988 incident, American officials told various lies and blamed the Iranian pilot. Not until eight years later did the U.S. government compensate the victims’ families, and even then expressed "deep regret," not an apology. [my emphasis]
The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have put out a cautionary statement, Obama Should Release Ukraine Evidence Consortium News 07/29/2014:

We see an eerie resemblance to an earlier exercise in U.S. “public diplomacy” from which valuable lessons can be learned by those more interested in the truth than in exploiting tragic incidents for propaganda advantage. We refer to the behavior of the Reagan administration in the immediate aftermath of the shoot-down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 over Siberia on August 30, 1983. We sketch out below a short summary of that tragic affair, since we suspect you have not been adequately briefed on it. The parallels will be obvious to you. ...

Hours after the tragic shoot-down on August 30, 1983, the Reagan administration used its very accomplished propaganda machine to twist the available intelligence on Soviet culpability for the killing of all 269 people aboard KAL007. The airliner was shot down after it strayed hundreds of miles off course and penetrated Russia’s airspace over sensitive military facilities in Kamchatka and Sakhalin Island. The Soviet pilot tried to signal the plane to land, but the KAL pilots did not respond to the repeated warnings. Amid confusion about the plane’s identity – a U.S. spy plane had been in the vicinity hours earlier – Soviet ground control ordered the pilot to fire.

The Soviets soon realized they had made a horrendous mistake. U.S. intelligence also knew from sensitive intercepts that the tragedy had resulted from a blunder, not from a willful act of murder (much as on July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people, an act which President Ronald Reagan dismissively explained as an “understandable accident”).

To make the very blackest case against Moscow for shooting down the KAL airliner, the Reagan administration suppressed exculpatory evidence from U.S. electronic intercepts. Washington’s mantra became “Moscow’s deliberate downing of a civilian passenger plane.” Newsweek ran a cover emblazoned with the headline "Murder in the Sky." (Apparently, not much has changed; Time’s cover this week features “Cold War II” and "Putin’s dangerous game." The cover story by Simon Shuster, "In Russia, Crime Without Punishment," would merit an A-plus in William Randolph Hearst’s course “Yellow Journalism 101.”)

When KAL007 was shot down, Alvin A. Snyder, director of the U.S. Information Agency’s television and film division, was enlisted in a concerted effort to "heap as much abuse on the Soviet Union as possible," as Snyder writes in his 1995 book, "Warriors of Disinformation."

He and his colleagues also earned an A-plus for bringing the "mainstream media" along. For example, ABC's Ted Koppel noted with patriotic pride, “This has been one of those occasions when there is very little difference between what is churned out by the U.S. government propaganda organs and by the commercial broadcasting networks.”
Things like this have happenbed in the past. This month is also the 50th anniversary of the "Tonkin Gulf incident," which became one of the most notorious propaganda concoctions to justify war in history. Daniel Ellsberg and Gareth Porter talk about that event's lasting significance in these two video interviews from The Real News.

Why The Gulf of Tonkin Matters 50 Years Later (1/2) 07/31/2014:

Why The Gulf of Tonkin Matters 50 Years Later (2/2) 08/01/2014:

Michael Lind in Beware the neocon exaggerators: They were wrong on Russia and the Mideast before — and they’re wrong about the threat now Salon 08/02/2014 also sounds a note of caution, reminding us how shamelessly the neoconservative warmongers exaggerated the power and hostile intentions of the Soviet Union. He doesn't buy the present-day warmongering form the usual suspects:

The truth is that post-Soviet Russia is different in kind from the Soviet Union. The USSR was a superpower with a population and economy rivalling that of Western Europe and the U.S. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a second-tier regional power, roughly equivalent in its economic weight and military might with any one of the four other European powers: Germany, France, Britain and Italy (five great powers, if Turkey, a member of NATO and a candidate for accession to the EU, is counted as a European power).

Russia’s economy, amounting to 2.5 trillion dollars according to the purchasing power parity (PPP) standard, is significantly smaller than that of Germany at 3.27 trillion. The Russian economy is comparable to that of the UK (2.4 trillion) and France (2.3 trillion) and somewhat larger than the economy of Italy (1.8 trillion).

But the fact that Russia has an economy the same size as those of Britain or France with more than twice as many people means that the median Russian is much poorer. Russia’s per capita income is only $18,100 — higher than that of Turkey ($15,300) but much lower than the per capita income of Germany ($39,500), the UK ($37,300), France ($35,700) and Italy ($29,600).

It’s true that Russia has inherited the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal from the defunct Soviet Union. But unlike the Soviet Union, which spent 15 percent or more of its national budget on defense in its final years, Putin's Russia spends about the same share of its GDP on defense that the U.S. does — between 4 and 5 percent. Both the U.S. and Russia spend more on the military than do the other major European powers, among which Britain (2.5 percent) and France (2.3 percent) spend the most.

Because today’s Russia is so much smaller than today’s U.S., similar defense spending as a percentage of GDP buys much less military for Russians than for Americans. The Russian military budget, estimated to be about $70 billion, is dwarfed by that of the combined EU countries ($236 billion) and the U.S. (more than $600 billion).
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