(48) NATO and the Two Central Conflicts of the Ukraine Crisis (13 March 2015)

Where I live (the Netherlands), if you were to call NATO the world’s most dangerous institution, a consensus would quickly form to conclude that you must have lost your marbles. Yet, without NATO we would not have a Ukraine crisis, and no speculations about the possibility of war with Russia. Taking nuclear war seriously as a policy option should be listed in psychology handbooks as indicative of complete insanity or lethal ignorance. This has not stopped newspaper editors from speculating about it in their headlines, as they fill in the blanks of what a number top officials on both sides of the Atlantic have recently been half-saying or implying. With no NATO they would not have had occasion or reason to do so. Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko recently said: “Everybody is afraid of fighting with a nuclear state. We are not anymore”. Political insanity can exist independently of NATO, but the least one can say is that it has become a facilitator of that insanity.
     It would therefore be a momentous development for what is still called ‘the West’ if last week’s Der Spiegel signals a relevant German awakening. The weekly magazine published a hard hitting article in which the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Breedlove, is accused of undermining Chancellor Merkel’s attempts to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis through diplomacy. The military head of NATO, with his exaggerations and untruths about Russian troop movements, spouts “dangerous propaganda” according to officials in Merkel’s Chancellery, as quoted by the magazine. In other words, he can no longer be trusted.
     Lies coming out of Washington that portray Putin as the grand aggressor are nothing new; for about a year they have formed a constant stream, from the lips of the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and in a milder form from the President himself. As a result the idea of Russian aggression has become close to an article of faith in Northern Europe’s mainstream media. But by singling out Breedlove, the German fingerpointing is directed at NATO, and Obama and Co may draw their own conclusions from it.
     An assortment of conflicts have gone into the Ukraine crisis, but the two that now appear to have become fundamental to it play themselves out far away from that tragic country. One is centered in Washington where an out-of-his-depth president must decide whether to become realistic or give in further to right-wing forces that want to give the Kiev regime the weapons needed to continue its war in Eastern Ukraine. The second conflict is an incipient one about NATO – meaning European subservience to the United States – begun by Angela Merkel’s and Francois Hollande’s recently formed Peace Party, of which their mission to the Kremlin, Merkel’s joint press conference with Obama and the abovementioned German reporting are early signs.
     Until now Obama has given as good as free rein to the liberal hawks and neocons in his own government. The War Party. A prominent member of that group, Victoria Nuland, who played a central role in helping to organize the coup d’état in Kiev last year, is eager to give Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko the means to survive the onslaughts of supernationalists in his own environment and to subdue, finally, the anti-regime troops in South East Ukraine. Nuland works closely with Breedlove, and both have expressed themselves in denigrating terms about European recalcitrance in the face of what they want to accomplish.
Should Obama choose to become realistic, it would require measures to show the world

(47) Europe’s Accidental Autocrat And Her Two Accidental Missions (6 March 2015)

The European Union is not a state or a federation of states, it is something not seen before, but is assumed to grow state-like characteristics like a center of political accountability. It does not have a head of state or head of government. But political entities of any kind will at some point, when under pressure, cry out for leadership. Europe’s crises are demanding this, and have thrown up an autocrat.
     Angela Merkel is an accidental autocrat. She was not chosen to be leader of Europe through any democratic method. She was not appointed or anointed. She could hardly be a more unlikely leader of the continent, having received her political education in the sheltered system of the DDR, far removed from plans and beginnings of Europe’s unification. She does not give the impression of having wanted the position, and if she relishes it she does not let on. She has demonstrated to possess great political savvy, with tactical skills first honed when she was leader of a youth division of East Germany’s "Propaganda und Agitation". Her acumen has lifted her to an apparently invulnerable position above Germany’s political parties. The big question for all of us interested in the world’s future is whether she is becoming the inspired politician for whom many Europeans have been waiting. Can she rise to the occasion?
     Early signs do not prompt a jubilant ‘yes!’. Yes, she did make a late move, eleven months into the Ukraine crisis, to try stop American ‘lethal’ weapon deliveries (with the inevitable ‘advisers’ and in the end well-nigh inevitable tactical nukes) to the Kiev regime. And, yes, she let the Greek Minister of Finance have a tiny slice of a compromise to allow him a Herculean attempt to save his country from total economic ruin. Both moves, though, were the absolute minimum of what the crises required.
     The Ukraine and Greek crises have become existential crises for the European Union, caused by what is most wrong with that political entity. There are two great hindrances that keep the Union from fulfilling its unrealized promise.

(46) The Havoc and Fantasy of ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ (26 Sept 2014)

     The American-triggered regime change in Ukraine at the Western end of the Eurasian continent has been widely discussed. Less noticed, if at all, has been the American-triggered change of government in Japan four years ago as part of the so-called ‘pivot’ aimed at holding back China on the Eastern end. The two ought to be considered together, since they share a purpose known as ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’.
     A military ambition and agenda, this provides much activist energy among America’s neoconservatives and their fellow travelers, which include sundry financial and commercial interests. Made up of many parts, like the recently established “Africom” (U.S. Africa Command), the comparable effort to contain-isolate-denigrate the two former communist enemy giants, China and Russia, may be considered a central aim.
     It does not add up to a feasible strategy for long-term American interests, but few American initiatives have done in the recent past. Since neoconcervatives, ‘liberal hawks’ and neoliberals appear to have captured the State Department and White House, and their activism has already produced significant geopolitical instability, it would be no luxury to dig deeper in developments on the rather neglected Asian side of the globe.
     The protracted overthrow in the course of 2010 of the first cabinet formed by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) does not at first glance resemble what happened in Kiev on January 22nd 2014 – when Victoria Nuland & Co triggered, aided, and abetted an anti–Russian coup d’état. No snipers were involved. No deaths. No civil war against Japanese citizens who had supported a reformist program. It was a gentle overthrow. But an overthrow it was even so. And, importantly, while the Ukraine case served the elevation by consensus of Russia to being the new number one enemy of ‘the West’, the abrupt end to a new Japanese policy of rapprochement was the start of a fairly successful drive to create common imagery of China as a threat to its neighbors.

(45) — The Insidious Power of Propaganda (02 Sept 2014)

     To study the effects of political propaganda in what used to be called the ‘free world’ there could hardly be a better time than now. We are living through an instance of insidious propaganda that has clean contours. It fills a common need. In a period of large-scale slaughter and other man-made disaster the morally conscious person can do with some clear categories of good and bad, desirable and despicable. Political certainty, in other words. You can even sell wars using ‘moral clarity’ as a sales pitch, as happened with Iraq and Afghanistan. 
     Good-evil classification is easy enough when we have imprisoned journalists decapitated by jihadis. Those who “will do something about that” are automatically placed in the ‘good guys’ category. But there is a problem of murkiness in this sample. Syria’s Assad has been listed for years at the top of the bad guy list, and yet he appears to be changing into something of an ally of those who are intent now on setting things straight. On top of which, the fact that the radical islamists out of which ISIS emerged were funded and encouraged by the United States and its Arab allies is not a deep secret, and the fact that none of this mayhem would now exist were it not for the sorcerer’s apprentice effect of the decapitation of the Iraqi state in 2003 has been pretty much agreed on. 
     The Ukraine sample is more clear-cut. Here we have fighters for democracy and other Western values in Kiev vs a character who is throwing a spanner in the works, who does not respect the sovereignty of neighbors, and whose intransigence does not lessen, no matter what sanctions you throw at him. 
     The story of the downed plane with 298 dead people is no longer news, and the investigation as to who shot it down? Don’t hold your breath. Last week Dutch viewers of a TV news program were informed about something that had been doing the rounds on internet samizdat: the countries participating in the MH17 investigation have signed a nondisclosure agreement. Any of the participants (which include Kiev) has the right to veto publication of the results without explanation. The truth about the cause of the horrifying fate of the 298 appears to have been already settled by propaganda. That means that although there has been no shred of evidence that the official story of the ‘rebels’ shooting down the plane with Russian involvement, it remains a justification for sanctions against Russia. 

(44) The Ukraine, Corrupted Journalism, and the Atlanticist Faith (9Aug 2014)

The European Union is not (anymore) guided by politicians with a grasp of history, a sober assesment of global reality, or simple common sense connected with the longterm interests of what they are guiding. If any more evidence was needed, it has certainly been supplied by the sanctions they have agreed on last week aimed at punishing Russia.
     One way to fathom their foolishness is to start with the media, since whatever understanding or concern these politicians may have personally they must be seen to be doing the right thing, which is taken care of by TV and newspapers.
     In much of the European Union the general understanding of global reality since the horrible fate of the people on board the Malaysian Airliner comes from mainstream newspapers and TV which have copied the approach of Anglo-American mainstream media, and have presented ‘news’ in which insinuation and villification substitute for proper reporting. Respected publications, like the Financial Times or the once respected NRC Handelsblad of The Netherlands for which I worked sixteen years as East Asia Correspondent, not only joined in with this corrupted journalism but helped guide it to mad conclusions. The punditry and editorials that have grown out of this have gone further than anything among earlier examples of sustained media hysteria stoked for political purposes that I can remember. The most flagrant example I have come across, an anti-Putin leader in the (July 26) Economist Magazine, had the tone of Shakespeare’s Henry V exhorting his troops before the battle of Agincourt as he invaded France.

 

 

(43) – Europe’s Subservience to the United States and Neoliberalism (25 Oct 2013)

     The Montesquieu Institute in The Hague gave me an opportunity, last Friday October 25th, to draw attention in The Netherlands to the dreadful European subservience to the United States. In this perhaps most Atlanticist country of Europe, remarks of the kind I make in this context are normally labelled in Dutch as “swearing in church”. But as it happened, in fact in a real church packed with over 600 listeners, the reception was surprisingly welcoming. 
     Former South African president Frederik Willem de Klerk, who was the other speaker for the “Europe Lecture”, is an engaging person whose demonstrated great political courage is matched with a political intelligence of the kind that allows him quickly to diagnose the state of health of political institutions and their relationships. It was an honour to share the stage with him.

* * *

     What does the world think of Europe? It does not much dwell on it, I am afraid. 
     Our continent is not doing much that makes it an entity about which one should have an opinion at all, except for its undeniable significance as an enormous market. Diplomatically it is virtually invisible; it is not a powerbroker, and it does not offer ideas about good international living that reverberate in other continents. 
     When Japanese, Chinese, Americans, and I suppose people from Africa and South America think about it at all, they do so as an area they may want to visit because of its sublime concentration of tourist attractions; in that respect there is no place quite like it.
When serious observers of international affairs think of Europe they most likely regard it as a realm of unrealized promise. 
     In the earlier stages of European unification, the unifiers and their supporters conceived of their union as something that could and would become nothing less than a good example, something to look up to and for the rest of the world to emulate. There was talk of a “new European century”; of Europe as a paragon of international virtues. One of Europe’s foremost philosophers, Jürgen Habermas, wrote that after solving the problems of welfare systems and government beyond the nation-state, Europe was in a position to defend and promote a cosmopolitan order on the basis of international law.

     This kind of optimism used to be fairly widespread, and some of the assumptions that went into it are still taken for granted, as I discovered at the University of Amsterdam. The claim to superior political virtue and other self-congratulation have, in fact, produced rather supercilious attitudes even now, which understandably irritate non-Europeans.

     The thinking of outsiders contrasting reality with earlier expectations is not much different, then, to what a vast number of people inside the Union think. With Europeans themselves the reality comes across as consisting more sharply of broken promises with respect to everyday matters, when they see welfare provisions dwindle, job security eroded, and proliferating nonsensical rules coming out of Brussels. The central technocracy, moreover, has helped create a smoke-screen behind which national governments may hide, and escape accountability. 
     In the Southen nations and Ireland, things are of course much worse. 
     Which brings us right away to what the euro crisis demonstrates: a basic failure at the root of most of Europe’s other failures.