By Alastair Crooke
We all know that the western media’s Ukraine coverage has been highly charged, playing on western feelings of sympathy for (some) underdog ‘victims’, and directing feelings towards a moral outrage that insists – even demands – retribution and punishment for the perceived perpetrators.
David Brooks in the New York Times elevates this feeling of guilt to higher planes:
“The creed of liberalism is getting a second wind [and has] reminded us not only what it looks like to believe in democracy, the liberal order and national honour; but also to act bravely on behalf of these things. They’ve reminded us how the setbacks [may] have caused us to doubt and be passive about the gospel of democracy. But despite all our failings, the gospel is still glowingly true”.
Ukraine may be many things … but a ‘gospel of democracy’?
Every serious crisis, of course, is also an opportunity for mythopoesis – especially at a time of anomie, when a dispirited less than half of a society believes that their country is not invested in them and “that the economic and political systems (and the people who run them), are stacked against [them] – no matter what you do”.
The Anglo-American Establishment has proved adept at intuiting: that owing to such anomie and erosion of our ‘sacred canopy’, a ‘noble lie’ can be used to give a rules-based order a last gasp. Its’ inherent power can be harnessed to generate the outrage as casus belli for global liberalism. After all, what better unifying force than the ‘grand American project’ of war to energise one’s desire for a reappropriated national significance.
The West has taken dominance of the ‘information space’ to new heights: consolidating the media; tightening its hold on information; marginalising the few investigative journalists that remain; and nullifying scepticism as examples of appeasement, or of “Putinism”. Freedom of online thought is disallowed; selective broadcast perspectives are removed or allowed (for example, pro neo-Nazi sympathies and politically-charged violence against Russians and Russia); and a monopoly over truth is established. So that when caught in falsehoods, any errant intrusion simply is algorithmically ‘disappeared’.
There is no doubt that the West has refined this mode of battle-scape to the highest degree, but its very success also diffuses its own pathogens throughout the western capillaries. Once set in motion, it possesses all the addictive power of online gaming. Write the script for a new scenario; direct its production; and then stage it on video. Many may disbelieve the resulting piece, but there is nothing for them to do, except to watch it in mute, frustrated silence. Game over. You have ‘won’.
Except you don’t. This game generates its own momentum. There is always another, at hand, to trump the last player’s taunt at Putin; to hail the victim’s new act of selfless bravery; to speculate about yet more foul deeds planned against him. And so the demand for retribution and punishment is invested with unstoppable momentum. The logic to its structure makes it almost impossible for any political leader to stand against the swelling tide.
That’s where we are: Three realities that are so severed from each other that they do not touch at any point. There is the reality of PsyOps that bears almost no resemblance to the reality of the military situation on the ground. Indeed, they manifest as polar inversions of each other: A heroic resistance versus a failing, demoralised and hobbled Russian army. Whereas the reality is that “Putin is NOT crazy and the Russian invasion is NOT failing”.
Then there is the clashing realities of a Europe and U.S. conjoined in ‘an economic, moral enterprise of social power and fighting morale’ (albeit at certain self-sacrifice/self-flagellation to themselves) to punish Russia. And the other reality that a ‘world at war’ – whether kinetic or financial – will be a disaster for Europe (and America).
War is inflationary. War is contractionary (and inflationary too). Everything – oil, gas, metals – the lot – are going up vertically, and the whole production chain for food is under pressure from every side. But this situation clearly is less disastrous for a super food and commodity supplier like Russia.
The third set of severed realities are, on the one hand, the contextless, exclusive focus on the Ukraine events, which effaces this moment of global political and economic inflection, and – on the other – the elephant-in-the room which is the Russia-China mega project to force a withdrawal and containment of the entire ‘rules-based’ hegemonic order.
There are other severed realities out there (such as the one about Russia isolated and shunned versus the reality that much of the planet does not support U.S. and European punitive sanctions) – but never mind that.
The point here is not just what happens when these realities collide, but what happens when one or other ‘reality’ that already holds a hyper emotional, moralising charge is forced into full consciousness as having been WRONG?
This is the pathogen inherent in taking the battle-scape of information dominance to an extreme: It begs the question: in what way will emotions turn if all the hype falls flat, and the ‘bad guy’ wins the game? Will people turn against their present leaderships, or opt to double-down, demanding more ‘war’ as instincts rebel against any the realisation of failure inflicted upon settled quasi-religious convictions? The outcome to this psychic dilemma may determine whether we are heading to escalation and extended war, or not.
U.S. intelligence officials claimed on Tuesday that Putin is ‘desperate’ to end the conflict over Ukraine, with some privately suggesting he could even set off a tactical nuclear weapon in a Ukrainian city to get the job done. Fuelled by his disappointments, Putin could resort to using a small nuke: “You know, Russian doctrine holds that you escalate to de-escalate, and so I think the risk would rise, according to the doctrine,” CIA Director, and former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, Burns said.
There it is … the next stage of escalation. This now is being attributed to Putin, but the point is that it has been put ‘out there’ very publicly by the CIA. Is this ground preparation? An escalation to this level is likely not on the cards, so long, and only so long, as the option of sticking Russia into a Ukrainian quagmire remains firmly on the cards. If the PsyOps narrative – on which so much hangs – doesn’t stand up to the ground reality, the public will demand answers. Why were they led up “the Primrose Path”? The setback to the ‘sacred canopy’ would be immense.
Biological labs have been found in Ukraine that reportedly have a U.S. connection: When asked about them, Victoria Nuland surprisingly admitted their existence, but said “she’s worried Russia might get them and that she’s 100% sure if there is a biological attack – it’s Russia”. On Thursday, the UK media led with the headline, “Putin plotting chemical weapons attack in Ukraine”. Plainly, the fear factor is being ramped to sustain a long-term insurgency/quagmire strategy for Russia in western Ukraine. It is, as David Brooks hinted, the last gasp in the defence of the liberal world order.
Can all this hype – small nukes, bio and chemical weapons – really take us to war? James Carden, in his piece says it can – and has. He quotes one instance:
“In a private letter written in 1918, the recently deposed German chancellor admitted that in the run-up to the Great War, “there were special circumstances that militated in favour of war, including those in which Germany in 1870-71 entered the circle of great powers” and became “the object of vengeful envy on the part of the other Great Powers, largely though not entirely by her own fault.”
“Yet Bethmann saw another crucial factor at work: that of public opinion. “How else,” he asked, “[to] explain the senseless and impassioned zeal which allowed countries like Italy, Rumania, and even America, not originally involved in the war, no rest until they too had immersed themselves in the bloodbath? Surely this is the immediate, tangible expression of a general disposition toward war in the world.”
Against the prospect that Putin may achieve his aims, short of general war, how might Europe and America react? They might react very differently.
Firstly, we must recall that one object of this ‘war fever’ always was to bind Europe to the U.S., and into NATO, and to prevent Russia-China co-opting Europe into the Great Asian Heartland economic integration project – thus leaving the U.S. as an isolated maritime ‘island’, strategically speaking.
The hardcore Neo-cons have had positive results: Nordstream 2 is cancelled – leaving Europe without a cheap secure source of energy. From the outset, the European project was conceived as a marriage of Russian resources to European manufacturing capacity. This option is now over. The EU has fully bound itself into the ‘fever’, and into U.S. sphere. And it has erected an ‘iron curtain’ against Russia (and by extension China). It has ‘sanctioned itself’ into a high-cost energy and commodity paradigm and made itself a captive market for the U.S. energy majors and American technology.
The EU has been fond of imagining itself as a liberal imperium. But that surely is gone now. Its’ Davos-style ‘re-set’, designed to steal a march on America, is defunct. The four key ‘transitions’ on which Brussels was depending to lift its reach from the national-level, to the global supra-national level, are defunct: Global ‘green pass’ health regulations, Climate, automation and monetary regulatory frameworks – for one reason or another – have failed and are off the agenda.
The EU was counting on these transitions as the peg to print a huge amount of money. They need it in order to liquefy an over-indebted system. Absent this peg, they are mulling a (highly inflationary) slush fund (ostensibly for defence and Russian energy substitution), financed by euro-bonds. (It will be interesting to see whether the so-called ‘frugal four’ EU states buy into this ploy for mutualised debt).
Yet inflation – already high and accelerating – is at the root of the crisis Brussels is facing. There is little to be done about this in light of the sanctions which the EU has enacted on Russia – with prices of everything going up vertically. And as for the other lacuna, there’s no way Europe can find 200 billion cubic meters of gas anywhere else to replace Russia, be it in Algeria, Qatar or Turkmenistan – not to mention the EU’s lack of necessary LNG terminals.
Europeans face a bleak future of soaring prices and economic contraction. For now, they can offer little political dissent to the controlling élites. The frameworks for genuine (as opposed to token) opposition in Europe, largely have been dismantled in the zeal of Brussels to suppress ‘populism’. EU citizens will bear the prospect in sullen anger (until the pain becomes unbearable).
‘Populism’ in the U.S. however, is not dead. Some 30 GOP Congressmen have opted to retire at the coming midterms. We may well witness an upsurge in the American populist sentiment in November. The point here, is that American populism traditionally is fiscally conservative. And it seems that Wall Street is shifting in that direction too: i.e. they may be getting ready to ditch Biden, and to support more fiscal rigour.
This potentially is huge. This week the Federal Reserve head said that whilst a part of the record U.S. inflation may be put down to Fed responsibility, Congress however was responsible too. This translates roughly as ‘stop the Big Spend, Biden!’. The Fed needs the space to raise interest rates. The head of Citibank spoke in a similar vein.
Will Wall Street swap horses (they backed Biden at the last election), and thus magnify the margin to the likely Republican majority in Congress? If so, with a big enough majority – anything may (politically) become possible. Republican conservatism traditionally (i.e. before the flirt with neo-con hawks) is highly cautious of foreign adventurism.
‘Whether it be BLM, Coronavirus, or now Ukraine, every single issue is talked about in apocalyptic terms and with gargantuan fear. But, as for all these frights:
“The deplorables are done”’. (paraphrased)
* Title borrowed from James Carden, writing in The Spectator.
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