Thanks to BuzzFeed’s journalistic purity, which dictates that they “err on the side of publishing”—obliging them, for instance, to dump all thirty-five pages of a sham “dossier” prepared by a mercenary ex-spy—the media had an easier time than usual obscuring a rather major piece of world news, namely the deployment of 1,000 US troops in Poland, perilously close to Russia’s border. Per the Guardian:
The troops from the Third Armor Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, based in Fort Carson, Colorado, along with hundreds of armored vehicles and tanks, were moved from the US to Germany last week for transit by rail and road to Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The US is sending 87 tanks, and 144 armored vehicles.
US and NATO officials justified this serious escalation of the new Cold War by citing Russian “aggression” in Eastern Europe, specifically Ukraine, where a Western-backed coup, led by fascists, touched off a civil war in 2014. According to the official Western narrative, Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea (of which some ninety-six percent of Crimeans voted in favor) reveals Putin’s imperial ambitions; next, if we’re not vigilant, will be Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
In other words, we’re expected by our dear leaders to believe that Vladimir Putin is not only belligerent but also insane, and perhaps suicidal to boot. He would have to be suicidal indeed to invade the Baltic States, all of whom belong to NATO and are thus guaranteed protection from the titanic military alliance. A war with Estonia is a war with the United States, France, Germany, England and twenty-three other countries. A world war, in other words—the third and last. I think even the most doctrinaire Russophobes would find it hard to argue—with a straight face, anyway—that Putin is determined to bring on the apocalypse. (Then again I’m not on Twitter, so I don’t know how deep that particular rabbit hole goes.)
Of course, that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are card-carrying members of NATO is precisely the problem to begin with. This is, as Thomas Paine might say, common sense, which explains why the West goes to such lengths to distort the narrative. We’re supposed to forget, for example, that the end of the Cold War marked the beginning of NATO’s eastward expansion, which, as Noam Chomsky writes in his latest book, Who Rules the World?, was done “in violation of verbal promises made to Mikhail Gorbachev when the USSR was collapsing and he agreed to allow unified Germany to become part of NATO—quite a remarkable concession when one thinks about the history of the century.”
Your brain would have to be extremely damaged by Western propaganda in order to construe said expansion as anything other than reckless provocation—and, indeed, a form of aggression. And since Russia must be entirely (not just mostly) hemmed in, NATO is not prepared to quit until Georgia and Ukraine are duly absorbed. This takes the recklessness to new heights. “One can imagine,” Chomsky writes, “how the United States would react if the Warsaw Pact were still alive, most of Latin America had joined, and now Mexico and Canada were applying for membership.”
Rocket science it is not. And yet, Russia’s largely reactive interventions in Georgia and Ukraine are portrayed by our media—and thus understood by the American public—to be acts of raw military aggression and, ultimately, conclusive evidence of Putin’s lust for territorial expansion. So dyed-in-the-wool is this version that anyone wishing to contest it had better not mind being derided as a “useful idiot”—another term that no longer has any meaning.
At its best (or worst, depending on perspective), propaganda is simply impervious to demonstrable fact. For most people, once the seed has been planted, no amount of contrary evidence is likely to dislodge the resulting misperception. For example, ask an average American what the Cuban Missile Crisis was all about and you’ll most likely be told that the Soviets threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the United States from Cuba, which is false. Here again we have a reactive, defensive maneuver recast by the West, and perceived by millions of people to this day, as an act of Russian diabolism.
The truth of the matter happens to be very straightforward. In October 1962, the Soviet Union deployed missiles in Cuba for two reasons: (1) Kennedy’s refusal to pull back US Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy, and (2) credible threats from the Kennedy administration to invade Cuba—again—with the goal of deep-sixing Fidel Castro, who had committed the unspeakable crime of resisting US domination. Far from an act of aggression, the Soviet missiles were a deterrent. Of course, the United States will not brook deterrents, and so there was almost a nuclear exchange, World War Three, the end of life on Earth. The crisis was defused on the condition that removal of the US rockets from Turkey and Italy would not be made public, lest Kennedy be accused of having caved to Soviet demands. Were Khrushchev a less rational actor, the nuclear nightmare may very well have become reality.
The recent deployment of US troops and tanks to Poland comes amid rising tensions over NATO’s so-called missile defense shield, presently being installed across Eastern Europe. According to Reuters, “the missile defense umbrella relies on radars to detect a ballistic missile launch into space. Sensors then measure the rocket’s trajectory and destroy it in space before it re-enters the earth’s atmosphere. The interceptors can be fired from ships or ground sites.” Such a system is essential, we’re told, because of the growing threat to Europe from … Iran. Yes, the “Iranian threat,” as it’s officially known, necessitates an expansive missile defense shield that, oddly enough, appears to encircle Russia.
Needless to say, the Russians are skeptical. So too are many objective observers, among them Russ Wellen of Foreign Policy in Focus, who writes in The Wikileaks Files that “the range of most of Iran’s ballistic missiles, not very accurate to begin with, is 500 kilometers. Reaching Europe would require them to be fired from Iran’s Persian Gulf coastline, and leave them vulnerable to attack.” Furthermore, given the level of surveillance to which we continuously subject Tehran, no sooner would the Mullahs attempt to prepare the rocket than the first US precision-guided-missile would smash into its target. So once again we’re expected to believe that the leaders of an enemy nation are suicidal.
Regarding the general foolishness of missile defense, Wellen observes that:
counterintuitive as it may seem, missile defense is provocative. To begin with, it prompts the state with negligible or no missile defense to think that it needs to mount a nuclear attack before the other state’s more advanced missile defense becomes operational…. Perhaps most frighteningly of all, the state with the more advanced … missile defense system is prompted to engage in a first strike against the nuclear weapons of the state with the less advanced system in order to keep that state’s attack from overwhelming the missile defense of the first state. Finally, the state with the less advanced system feels compelled to build more nuclear weapons, both to make up for those it might lose in a first strike and also to overwhelm missile defense.
The “missile defense shield,” then, is something of an Orwellian misnomer. It’s first and foremost a strategic weapon, the principal (perverse) effect of which is to engender nuclear anxiety and quite possibly another arms race. Writing for the Christian Science Monitor in 2001, Timothy Snyder and Philip Snyder warn that, confronted with NATO’s latest innovation, “the Russians would protect their own interests by having enough missiles to be sure to overwhelm the system,” signaling a collapse of “the treaty system developed by Washington and Moscow over the past thirty years to prevent nuclear war.” The authors are frank about where the responsibility for such a critical breakdown in international relations would lie: “The fault would be ours. The foundation of nuclear arms control is the ABM Treaty, which bans missile defense. If we build missile defense, we must either violate or withdraw from that treaty, and we issue Russia carte blanche to do its worst.”
The same logic applies to the buildup of NATO troops in Poland, the first in a series of significant “rotational” deployments along Russia’s western front. Interestingly, the move appears to have been expedited by Obama so as to present Trump with a sort of fait accompli. Indeed, as the Guardian notes, “Deployment was originally scheduled for later in the month but a decision was made last month to bring it forward, possibly a move by Barack Obama before he leaves office to try to lock the president-elect into the strategy.” Thus, any effort on Trump’s part to reverse the provocation will undoubtedly be brandished as further “evidence” of the kompromat being employed by Moscow to dictate his policies. The real question, then, is not whether Trump is being blackmailed by the Russians, but whether he will allow himself to be blackmailed by the neo-McCarthyists.