Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Has Russia Embarrassed the US or did the US Embarrass Itself?

By Richard Edmondson
The L.A. Times has published a piece complaining about alleged Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential election and asserting, through unnamed officials, that such efforts are motivated by “personal animus” against Hillary Clinton. The Times also imputes on Russia’s part a desire to “raise doubts about the validity of U.S. democracy and leadership around the globe.”
The article, by Brian Bennett, is headlined, “Russian Hackers Seek to Embarrass the U.S. This Election Season.”
One’s initial, off-the-cuff response to such an allegation might be something like, “Well, if it’s true the Russians sought to embarrass the US, then looks like they’ve succeeded.”
But of course on the other hand, the US certainly hasn’t needed any help on that score, as it has done a thoroughly adequate job of embarrassing itself. Our support for terrorists, our endless wars, and our constant efforts at regime change in other countries–these alone have brought shame and disrepute upon our nation. But then you must add to that the ease with which our leaders publicly accuse others of war crimes and human rights violations–while they themselves bomb wedding parties and operate torture facilities–along with their seeming obliviousness as to how hypocritical they surely must sound to the vast majority of the world’s population while pompously making such accusations. So when you calculate in the “hypocrisy factor,” the stain upon our honor grows even worse.
Russia, after all, did not force the Obama administration to kill some 2,500 people in drone attacks just in its first six years in office; it did not demand that America leave the Guantanamo torture facility open; nor did it insist that we support Israel, to the tune of billions of dollars a year, while that country carries out  policies which meet the legal definition of genocide.
It also did not insist that we support terrorist groups in Syria while claiming to be fighting terrorism.
No. Russia wasn’t the responsible party. Our leaders did all these things, every one of them, on their own.
And they did even more.
It should be noted as well that US officials initiated a regime change in Ukraine, right on Russia’s doorstep, that threw the country into chaos and sparked a civil war. In fact, the infamous leaked phone conversation in which the State Department’s Victoria Nuland can be heard making an obscene reference to the EU is cited by Bennett as evidence of Russia’s aspirations at mortifying the US.
In February 2014, the Obama administration was embarrassed when a secretly recorded phone conversation between the U.S. ambassador in Ukraine and Victoria Nuland, a senior State Department official, was posted on YouTube.
The two officials could be heard privately picking who should be in the new government in Kiev, and at one point, Nuland used a four-letter word to dismiss slow-moving diplomats at the European Union.
Bennett goes on to assert that the intercepted call was “traced to Russian intelligence.” My own personal guess–and it’s just a guess, mind you–is that Russia probably didwiretap that conversation. Out of all the possibilities, they would seem to be the most likely candidate. But the fact that Russia monitored and released the communication–ifit in fact did–is not so-much the embarrassing part. The embarrassing part is that two high-ranking US officials were plotting to overthrow a democratically elected government; the embarrassing part is that Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine, were not fired when the recording was made public; the embarrassing part is that the US continued with its regime change operation until Viktor Yanukovych, the legitimate president of Ukraine, was finally overthrown nearly two and a half weeks later.
And yes, that’s the part of the story that Bennett left out–the Nuland-Pyatt conversation was uploaded to YouTube on February 4, 2014. Yanukovych wasn’t overthrown and forced to flee the capital until February 21. So the fact that Nuland and Pyatt were having a discussion on who was going to replace him at least two and a half weeks before he was actually overthrown proves the US had a hand in the coup. And if that’s not enough, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Nuland’s preferred candidate, did in fact end up becoming the new prime minister–sworn in on February 27, just six days after the change of government.
And this is what’s embarrassing to the US–not the recorded phone conversation–this and the fact that the regime change in Ukraine wasn’t the first time the US has overthrown a democratically elected leader. Not by a long shot sadly.
So now we have thousands of leaked emails containing embarrassing revelations about the Hillary Clinton campaign. Whether Russia is the source of these is totally beside the point. The embarrassing part is that people like the Clintons hold political power in America in the first place. Even before the emails were released, it was clear that Clinton had some ethics issues and that she had lied on a number of occasions. Yet America’s ruling elites worked to ensure that she got the nomination, and many still evidently want to see her in the White House despite the contentious accusations surrounding her. And obviously among these same elites there is a great deal of anger against Russia, whether justified or not.
Failing at something through the making of honest mistakes is generally not a cause for shame or embarrassment. What shames us–if we are capable of feeling shame–is when we engage in deceit or duplicity and our duplicitous behavior is found out and made known. Human beings of a certain temperament have a tendency to lash out in anger when caught up in situations like this, and that I think is what we are seeing now from America’s political establishment. The danger here, of course, is that if those in power in America succumb to the temptation to lash out, it could lead to a major world war.
Bennett gives a hint as to courses of action now being considered:
Possible responses include slapping new sanctions on Russia’s government or officials involved in the hacking, targeting a U.S. cyber attack on Russian networks, or expelling Russian diplomats and suspected intelligence operatives from the U.S.
He also quotes, rather ominously, a former Bush administration official as complaining that “right now there is no cyber deterrence…There is no payback.”
But perhaps the “payback” is already being synthesized and made ready for execution. On November 4, the very same day Bennett’s article appeared in the L.A. Times, NBC News reported on a US cyber attack being readied against Russia. Headlined “U.S. Govt. Hackers Ready to Hit Back If Russia Tries to Disrupt Election,” the article asserts that “U.S. military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin’s command systems, making them vulnerable to attack by secret American cyber weapons should the U.S. deem it necessary.”
The writers cite “top-secret documents” and an unnamed “senior intelligence official” as the source of the information.
The article has raised concerns in Russia, and according to RT, the Russian government has demanded an explanation.
Where all this may be headed is hard to say. It would be nice to think that US officials might be capable of grasping the fact that nations whose policies are virtuous and law-abiding have no reason to fear public embarrassment, and that these officials might seriously contemplate changing course accordingly. But that’s probably too much to hope for.

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