Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Russia talk from threat-inflating politicians

The rhetoric against Russia from the Obama Administration and our presumptive next President Hillary Clinton has gotten pretty hair-raising lately.

Russia has been a bogeyman for the Western nations many times before
I'm including this long excerpt from yesterday's debate here to convey the Cold-War-like flavor of her comments on Russia, much of it in connection with her plan to escalate US participation in the Syrian civil war:

RADDATZ: And, Secretary Clinton, let me ask you about that, because you have asked for an increase from 10,000 to 65,000 Syrian refugees. We know you want tougher vetting. That's not a perfect system. So why take the risk of having those refugees come into the country?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, I will not let anyone into our country that I think poses a risk to us. But there are a lot of refugees, women and children -- think of that picture we all saw of that 4-year-old boy with the blood on his forehead because he'd been bombed by the Russian and Syrian air forces.

There are children suffering in this catastrophic war, largely, I believe, because of Russian aggression. And we need to do our part. We by no means are carrying anywhere near the load that Europe and others are. But we will have vetting that is as tough as it needs to be from our professionals, our intelligence experts and others. ...

... But, you know, let's talk about what's really going on here, Martha, because our intelligence community just came out and said in the last few days that the Kremlin, meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election. And WikiLeaks is part of that, as are other sites where the Russians hack information, we don't even know if it's accurate information, and then they put it out.

We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election. And believe me, they're not doing it to get me elected. They're doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump.

CLINTON: Now, maybe because he has praised Putin, maybe because he says he agrees with a lot of what Putin wants to do, maybe because he wants to do business in Moscow, I don't know the reasons. But we deserve answers. And we should demand that Donald release all of his tax returns so that people can see what are the entanglements and the financial relationships that he has...

RADDATZ: We're going to get to that later. Secretary Clinton, you're out of time.

CLINTON: ... with the Russians and other foreign powers. ...

RADDATZ: Mr. Trump, we're going to move on. The heart-breaking video of a 5-year-old Syrian boy named Omran sitting in an ambulance after being pulled from the rubble after an air strike in Aleppo focused the world's attention on the horrors of the war in Syria, with 136 million views on Facebook alone.

But there are much worse images coming out of Aleppo every day now, where in the past few weeks alone, 400 people have been killed, at least 100 of them children. Just days ago, the State Department called for a war crimes investigation of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and its ally, Russia, for their bombardment of Aleppo.

So this next question comes through social media through Facebook. Diane from Pennsylvania asks, if you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn't it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped? Secretary Clinton, we will begin with your two minutes.

CLINTON: Well, the situation in Syria is catastrophic. And every day that goes by, we see the results of the regime by Assad in partnership with the Iranians on the ground, the Russians in the air, bombarding places, in particular Aleppo, where there are hundreds of thousands of people, probably about 250,000 still left. And there is a determined effort by the Russian air force to destroy Aleppo in order to eliminate the last of the Syrian rebels who are really holding out against the Assad regime.

Russia hasn't paid any attention to ISIS. They're interested in keeping Assad in power. So I, when I was secretary of state, advocated and I advocate today a no-fly zone and safe zones. We need some leverage with the Russians, because they are not going to come to the negotiating table for a diplomatic resolution, unless there is some leverage over them. And we have to work more closely with our partners and allies on the ground.

But I want to emphasize that what is at stake here is the ambitions and the aggressiveness of Russia. Russia has decided that it's all in, in Syria. And they've also decided who they want to see become president of the United States, too, and it's not me. I've stood up to Russia. I've taken on Putin and others, and I would do that as president.

I think wherever we can cooperate with Russia, that's fine. And I did as secretary of state. That's how we got a treaty reducing nuclear weapons. It's how we got the sanctions on Iran that put a lid on the Iranian nuclear program without firing a single shot. So I would go to the negotiating table with more leverage than we have now. But I do support the effort to investigate for crimes, war crimes committed by the Syrians and the Russians and try to hold them accountable. ...

CLINTON: I would not use American ground forces in Syria. I think that would be a very serious mistake. I don't think American troops should be holding territory, which is what they would have to do as an occupying force. I don't think that is a smart strategy.

I do think the use of special forces, which we're using, the use of enablers and trainers in Iraq, which has had some positive effects, are very much in our interests, and so I do support what is happening, but let me just ...

The Obama Administration and the Clinton campaign have laid a lot of stress on the claimed Russian interference in the election campaign. As I've said before, Trump's ties to Russia and to Putin's regime are legitimate issues. And when we look at Nixon's secret dealings with the South Vietnamese government to delay the Vietnam War peace talks in 1968, or the Reagan campaign's 1980 "October Surprise" maneuvers with Iran (for which the evidence is circumstantial but nevertheless substantial), we could argue that the Democrats have been too timid in calling out the Republicans for dubious dealings with foreign powers over national elections.

Still, as justified as the outrage over Trump's thuggish threat Sunday night to toss Hillary in jail is, Hillary also walked up to the edge of accusing Trump of conspiring with a foreign power to illegally influence the outcome of the American Presidential election. Which would be a felony in itself.

And while the Democrats are wrong to give the Republicans the kind of passes they've gotten on incidents like those of the 1968 and 1980, this is also the kind of accusation that shouldn't be made lightly.

And so I'm glad to see some healthy skepticism about these charges from people like Marcy Wheeller, who looks at the Russian hacking charge in Argument: The DNC Hadck Attribution Was a Response to Brick and Mortar Events Emptywheel 10/10/2016. She notes that when the Administration's brief October 7 statement on the DNC computer hack is not worded in nearly as definitive a manner as the political and press discussion of it might imply. (The statement is on the Homeland Security website, Joint Statement from the Department Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security.) Marcy argues that "the most obvious explanation for why Putin would do all this so blatantly is because in his view the US carried out a coup in Ukraine and is attempting regime change in Syria to choke Russia strategically."

And she cites this article by Jack Goldsmith, The DNC Hack and (the Lack of) Deterrence Lawfare 10/09/2016, in which he also suggests, "For all we know the Russian DNC hack is a response to sanctions for Ukraine and an attempt to win leverage in Syria."

I notice that Goldsmith in that article uses "cyber" as a noun like Donald Trump does.

Marcy also raises a related but different factor that may be influencing the Administration's timing on making the DNC hack accusation:

But Goldsmith doesn’t consider the possibility that things may also work in the reverse way.

The US released this statement at a time when it was also making a big diplomatic push against Russia — proposing a ceasefire at the UN it knew Russia would veto, after having failed to negotiate a ceasefire with Russia directly because it asked for things (a no fly zone, basically) that Russia has neither the interest nor the legal necessity to agree to, because Russia is in Syria at the behest of the still-recognized government of the state, we’re not. As it happens, the US is ratcheting up this effort at a time when our Saudi allies’ activities in Yemen make it hard to make a principled stance against Russia, because we’re implicated in Yemen in the same way Russia is in Syria.

More importantly, things are getting very very hot, with Russia moving missiles to Kaliningrad and threatening retaliation for any strikes on Syrian controlled territory.

So I would suggest the timing of this announcement — basically confirming the same certainty and uncertainty the IC has had for months, then using it to accuse Putin of trying to intervene directly in our country — is actually our response to more concrete events elsewhere, not the reverse (though there admittedly may be some chicken-and-egg stuff here, in that we may have held off on attribution in hope we could negotiate directly with Russia).

That is, both sides seem intent on ratcheting up the conflict between Russia and the US, and blaming Putin for interfering in our elections is one tool to do that.

If I’m right, the statement may have nothing to do with deterrence. Rather, it may have everything to do with escalation of other conflicts, providing a reason to pitch Russia’s strategic moves elsewhere as a direct threat to the US. I’m not saying Russia isn’t a dangerous adversary. I’m saying that the release of this statement will do nothing to prevent more hacks, but it will provide cause to claim the increasingly hot conflict with Russia directly threatens the US. [my emphasis]
In other words, even true claims can be used in defense of questionable policy. And we should all be paying attention, including our vigilant Fourth Estate. Of course, we see in the quote above it was moderator Martha Raddaz, not Clinton or Trump, who introduced the Holocaust analogy for the Syrian civil war. Because the enemies of the United States are always Hitler.

Former British diplomat Craig Murray argues that the Homeland Security statement's claim that the Russian govenrment is behind the hack is flatly false (A Blatant Neo-Con Lie Craig Murray 10/08/2016

It is a plain lie that Russia was responsible for the leak of the Democratic National Committee emails to WikiLeaks. It is quite extraordinary that the Obama administration formally adopted the accusation yesterday.

The US motivation is apparently to attempt to discredit in advance the further Hillary material that WikiLeaks plans to release in the coming month. The official statement that the leak was “consistent with the methods and motivation of Russian directed efforts” is carefully written by the NSA and, when you analyse it, extremely weak. What it says is “there is no evidence whatsoever but this is the sort of thing we think the Russians do”. [The latter statement in quotes is Murrahy's paraphrase.] ...

That the Obama administration has made a formal accusation of Russia based on no evidence is, on one level, astonishing. But it is motivated by desperation. WikiLeaks have already announced that they have a huge cache of other material relating to Hillary’s shenanigans. The White House is simply seeking to discredit it in advance by a completely false association with Russian intelligence.

It fascinates me that the media reports the story widely with no reference anywhere to what the DNC leak actually revealed – that the body organising the Democratic election had a consistent and active bias, doing everything possible to tilt the plating field and ensure that Hillary “won” against Bernie Sanders.

The US government cares so little about its relationship with Russia that it is prepared to launch completely false allegations at the Kremlin in order to influence a domestic election. The implications of that are chilling.
The sentence I elided there reads, "As it happens, I have direct knowledge that there could not have been any evidence as it was not the Russians." But he doesn't elaborate that comment any further to indicate the nature of his source.

Going back to Hillary comment, "We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election."

But of course, Trump and the Republicans aren't going to leave fearmongering and threat inflation over Russia to the Democrats and Martha Raddaz. Trump in Sunday's debate in a typically marginally-coherent rant warned about a supposedly surging nuclear threat from Russia. Jonathan Marshall does a reality-check in Trump’s Lies About a Nuke ‘Gap’ Consortium News 10/11/2016:

The United States currently has more deployed nuclear missiles and heavy bombers than Russia: 741 versus 521. The United States also has almost as large an inventory of nuclear weapons as Russia: 7,000 versus an estimated 7,300. The difference is meaningless: detonation of even a fraction of that total would annihilate not only both countries, but kill a large portion of the world’s population.

Washington can potentially also count on the United Kingdom and France for another 400 deployed nuclear warheads to make the rubble in Russia bounce higher in case of an all-out war.

The two countries’ nuclear arsenals are nearly matched by design — the result of many rounds of nuclear arms negotiations and treaties. By contrast, the U.S. military far outpaces Russia’s in most conventional categories.