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Angry China warns US on North Korea: back off and talk or risk disaster

Commentaries in China’s official media show growing Chinese anger at US grandstanding and intransigence on the North Korean issue.

Alexander Mercouris

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If the Chinese or anyone else imagined that the sanctions resolution recently passed by the UN Security Council would calm tensions in the Korean Peninsula, they must by now be disabused of that illusion.

Though there have been no tests by North Korea since the UN Security Council vote – whether of ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons – the rhetoric instead of calming down has become heated.  Moreover for once it is Washington rather than Pyongyang that has taken the initiative in the war of words.

Thus after days of unwise bragging by President Trump about the UN Security Council resolution – which he claims (wrongly) to have sponsored, and which – to their intense irritation – he has “thanked” the Chinese and Russians for – we have had first President Trump’s “fire and fury” comment – which by the way looks to me calculated rather than spontaneous – and an almost equally belligerent statement from the US’s Defense Secretary General Mattis.

By now it should be obvious that there is nothing that delights the North Korean leadership more than calling the US’s bluff, so their response – wild and reckless threats of a missile demonstration around the US’s base in Guam – was exactly as might have been expected.

The US in turn is now responding by leaking plans of its “best of bad options” – attacking North Korea with its B1 bombers – even as everyone acknowledges that such a step is more likely to provoke North Korea than deter it.

It is difficult to discern much method in these actions, but on the assumption that the US has not entirely taken leave of its senses and that there is some thinking behind what it is saying and doing, it is possible to explain them in one of two ways

(1) President Trump and his administration have convinced themselves that it really was their threats and bluster which got the Chinese to agree to the sanctions resolution – even though that is certainly wrong – and that this has emboldened them to raise the temperature further in the belief that by doing so this will increase pressure the Chinese to give them more;

(2) President Trump and his administration have been spooked by the report from the Defense Intelligence Agency – uncorroborated though that is, and based on sources we can only guess – that North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme has advanced much faster than expected, so that North Korea really does now have the capability to strike the US, and are overreacting to this news.

Of course these two explanations are not mutually exclusive, but on balance my opinion is that the more likely of the two – or the more important of the two – is (2).

Regardless, what is clear is that the Chinese are becoming increasingly exasperated and angry about this escalation of the rhetoric coming from Washington.  That this is so is confirmed by commentaries which have in China’s official media, notably the People’s Daily and Global Times.

Turning first to Global Times, an editorial there makes the obvious point that the US can never win a shouting match with North Korea for the simple reason that whilst every threat North Korea makes is immediately transmitted to the people of the US, the North Korean government’s total control of information means that the North Korean people will only hear of US threats against their country if the North Korean governments wants them to

The US can’t usually gain the upper hand in this war of words, as Pyongyang chooses whatever wording it likes, and what Washington says may not be heard by North Korean society. But US opinion has paid great attention to everything North Korea says.

The People’s Daily then made crystal clear China’s total opposition to US military action against North Korea

However, the bottom line on the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula is that there must not be any armed conflict there. There is no room for any related party to play with fire on the issue.

Exercising restraint is needed for making responsible choices to ensure peace, particularly at a moment approaching crisis

In truth it is little short of incredible that the military option against North Korea – a country which is now a nuclear power – is even being discussed.   Even some of Washington’s staunchest media allies understand its utter folly.  Here for example is what the London Times has to say about it in an editorial published today

If it really came to a pre-emptive US strike against Pyongyang, it is South Korea that would feel most of the fire and fury. North Korea has heavy artillery within shooting distance of Seoul, home to 25 million people. Despite the general anxiety about Kim’s intentions, it would be difficult indeed for the White House to sustain regional support for a US-led war…..

……An all-out attack on North Korea would certainly bring the country to its knees, given the overwhelming firepower of the US. The costs in civilian lives and the squandering of trust in the US in the region and across the world would make it a pyrrhic victory and an extraordinary tragedy. The other military option of limited punitive non-nuclear strikes every time Kim tests a missile would merely escalate the conflict without stopping the dictator. Attempting to topple the regime from within is, given Kim’s tight grip on the security machine, unlikely to succeed.

The People’s Daily then goes on to point out that it is US intransigence – specifically the US’s failure to abide by the agreements it reached with Pyongyang in the 1990s, and its refusal to negotiate with North Korea since then – which have brought the present situation about

It is fact that the DPRK missile and nuclear programs stalled during bilateral and multilateral talks, but multiplied over the past nine years since the six-party talks came to grinding halt, during which the United States sought to pressure and sanction Pyongyang.

Global Times for its part makes the point that all the threats and sanctions the US has thrown at North Korea have failed to prevent or even slow down its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme

Since 2006 when North Korea conducted the first nuclear test, the US and North Korea have been engaged in a longstanding battle of wills. As North Korea’s nuclear and missile technologies develop, it is more difficult for the US to win the battle over North Korea. Washington has underestimated Pyongyang’s disregard for all the prices it has to pay in its pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles.

Yet despite the dismal failure of this approach, the US still persists with it, still expecting in the face of all experience that will time succeed

However, Washington only wants to heighten the sanctions and military threats against Pyongyang, which is adding fuel to the flames. The North Korean nuclear issue is heading toward confrontation.

More and more analysts tend to believe that no matter what warnings the US sends or however tough the UN Security Council sanctions are, there is little possibility of Pyongyang stopping its missile launches.

Both Global Times and the People’s Daily then point to the only feasible solution to the crisis: the resumption of direct talks between North Korea and the US.  Both however make the point that in order for these talks to succeed the US must bring itself to acknowledge North Korea’s security concerns.

Here is how Global Times puts it

North Korea has almost been completely isolated by the outside world. Under such extreme circumstances, Pyongyang will weigh all its possible options. Washington should stimulate Pyongyang’s desire to engage with the outside world and return to the international community…..

Now it is time the US seriously responds to North Korea’s concerns for national security.

Whilst the more authoritative People’s Daily goes further and expresses itself in more detail, setting out clearly the nature of North Korea’s security concerns and the North Korean realities the US must accept

….. the Untied States, it should commit itself to realizing the fundamentals it has recently reiterated on the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, including seeking no regime change in the DPRK nor a speedy Korean reunification.

It is advised that Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang take into serious consideration China’s proposal that they start from addressing their pressing security concerns to build up mutual trust, effectively paving the way for restoring talks.

The People’s Daily also restates what China sees as the essential precondition for the success of any talk

Pyongyang should suspend its ballistic missile and nuclear programs while Washington and Seoul suspend their joint military drills.

The alternative is a drift towards armed confrontation in which North Korea is outmatched by the US but arguably has far less to lose.  Here is how Global Times explains it

Despite overwhelming strength of the US, Pyongyang can risk everything if there is a showdown between it and Washington. The US should avoid such a scenario and it needn’t feel disgraced because of it.

(bold italics added)

To the Chinese all this must seem so obvious that they are probably baffled by the US leaders’ inability to understand it even when it is so patiently spelt out for them.

Like the Russians the Chinese – highly realistic and rational people that they are – probability find it difficult to understand how the constant need to appear “strong” and “tough” drives the actions of US politicians, even when those actions lead to results which are totally – and predictably – disastrous for the US.

The simple fact is that no-one loses an election in the US because they are perceived to be “strong” and “tough”, or wins an election when they are perceived to be “weak” and “soft”, and that fact is enough to precondition the US to seek confrontation rather than compromise.

One however senses in these commentaries that Chinese patience with the US is now wearing extremely thin.  With the Chinese perhaps sensing that opinion in East Asia is turning against Washington on the Korean issue, Chinese willingness t0 go on working with Washington on the Korean issue may be near its end point.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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ABC’s Ted Koppel admits mainstream media bias against Trump [Video]

The mainstream news media has traded informing the public for indoctrinating them, but the change got called out by an “old-school” journo.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News reported on March 19th that one of America’s most well-known TV news anchors, Ted Koppel, noted that the once-great media outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post, have indeed traded journalistic excellence for hit pieces for political purposes. While political opinions in the mainstream press are certainly within the purview of any publication, this sort of writing can hardly be classified as “news” but as “Opinion” or more widely known, “Op-Ed.”

We have two videos on this. The first is the original clip showing the full statement that Mr. Koppel gave. It is illuminating, to say the least:

Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume, a former colleague of Mr. Koppel, added their comments on this admission in this second short video piece, shown here.

There are probably a number of people who have watched this two-year onslaught of slander and wondered why there cannot be a law preventing this sort of misleading reporting. Well, Russia passed a law to stop it, hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook. It is a smart law because it does not advocate imprisonment for bad actors in the media, but it does fine them.

Going to prison for reporting “the truth” looks very noble. Having to pay out of pocket for it is not so exciting.

Newsmax and Louder with Crowder both reported on this as well.

This situation of dishonest media has led to an astonishing 77% distrust rating among Americans of their news media, this statistic being reported by Politico in 2018. This represents a nearly diametric reversal in trust from the 72% trust rating the country’s news viewers gave their news outlets in 1972. These statistics come from Gallup polls taken through the years.

 

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Empire Of Absurdity: Recycled Neocons, Recycled Enemies

Despite America’s military threats, bellicose speechifying, brutal sanctions, and Cold War-style conflict-framing, the incumbent Maduro seems firmly in control. 

Antiwar

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Authored by Major Danny Sjursen (ret.) via AntiWar.com:


There are times when I wish that the United States would just drop the charade and declare itself a global empire.

As a veteran of two imperial wars, a witness to the dark underside of America’s empire-denial, I’ve grown tired of the equivocation and denials from senior policymakers. The U.S. can’t be an empire, we’re told, because – unlike the Brits and Romans – America doesn’t annex territories outright, and our school children don’t color its colonies in red-white-and-blue on cute educational maps.

But this distinction, at root, is rather superficial. Conquest, colonization, and annexation are so 19th century – Washington has moved beyond the overt and engages in the (not-so) subtle modern form of imperialism. America’s empire over the last two decades – under Democrats and Republicans – has used a range of tools: economic, military, political, to topple regimes, instigate coups, and starve “enemy” civilians. Heck, it didn’t even start with 9/11 – bullying foreigners and overturning uncooperative regimes is as American as apple pie.

Still, observing post-9/11, post-Iraq/Afghanistan defeat, Washington play imperialism these days is tragicomically absurd. The emperor has no clothes, folks. Sure, America (for a few more fleeting years) boasts the world’s dominant economy, sure its dotted the globe with a few hundred military bases, and sure it’s military still outspends the next seven competitors combined. Nonetheless, what’s remarkable, what constitutes the real story of 2019, is this: the US empire can’t seem to accomplish anything anymore, can’t seem to bend anybody to its will. It’s almost sad to watch. America, the big-hulking has-been on the block, still struts its stuff, but most of the world simply ignores it.

Make no mistake, Washington isn’t done trying; it’s happy to keep throwing good money (and blood) at bad: to the tune of a cool $6 trillion, 7,000 troop deaths, and 500,000 foreign deaths – including maybe 240,000 civilians. But what’s it all been for? The world is no safer, global terror attacks have only increased, and Uncle Sam just can’t seem to achieve any of its preferred policy goals.

Think on it for a second: Russia and Iran “won” in Syria; the Taliban and Pakistan are about ready to “win” in Afghanistan; Iran is more influential than ever in Iraq; the Houthis won’t quit in Yemen; Moscow is keeping Crimea; Libya remains unstable; North Korea ain’t giving up its nukes; and China’s power continues to grow in its version of the Caribbean – the South China Sea. No amount of American cash, no volume of our soldiers’ blood, no escalation in drone strikes or the conventional bombing of brown folks, has favorably changed the calculus in any of these regional conflicts.

What does this tell us? Quite a lot, I’d argue – but not what the neoliberal/neoconservative alliance of pundits and policymakers are selling. See for these unrepentant militarists the problem is always the same: Washington didn’t use enough force, didn’t spend enough blood and treasure. So is the solution: more defense spending, more CIA operations, more saber-rattling, and more global military interventions.

No, the inconvenient truth is as simple as it is disturbing to red-blooded patriots. To wit, the United States – or any wannabe hegemon – simply doesn’t possess the capability to shape the world in its own image. See those pesky locals – Arabs, Asians, Muslims, Slavs – don’t know what’s good for them, don’t understand that (obviously) there is a secret American zipped inside each of their very bodies, ready to burst out if given a little push!

It turns out that low-tech, cheap insurgent tactics, when combined with impassioned nationalism, can bog down the “world’s best military” indefinitely. It seems, too, that other regional heavyweights – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea – stand ready to call America’s nuclear bluff. That they know the US all-volunteer military and consumerist economy can’t ultimately absorb the potential losses a conventional war would demand. Even scarier for the military-industrial-congressional-media establishment is the logical extension of all this accumulated failure: the questionable efficacy of military force in the 21st century.

Rather than recognize the limits of American military, economic, and political power, Bush II, Obama, and now Trump, have simply dusted off the old playbook. It’s reached the level of absurdity under the unhinged regime of Mr. Trump. Proverbially blasting Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” as its foreign policy soundtrack, the Donald and company have doubled down. Heck, if Washington can’t get its way in Africa, Europe, Asia, or the Mideast, well why not clamp down in our own hemisphere, our traditional sphere of influence – South and Central America.

Enter the lunacy of the current Venezuela controversy. Trump’s team saw a golden opportunity in this socialist, backwater petrostate. Surely here, in nearby Monroe Doctrine country, Uncle Sam could get his way, topple the Maduro regime, and coronate the insurgent (though questionably legitimate) Juan Guaido. It’s early 20th century Yankee imperialism reborn. Everything seemed perfect. Trump could recall the specter of America’s tried and true enemy – “evil” socialism – cynically (and absurdly) equating Venezuelan populism with some absurd Cold-War-era existential threat to the nation. The idea that Venezuela presents a challenge on the scale of Soviet Russia is actually farcical. What’s more, and this is my favorite bit of irrationality, we were all recently treated to a game of “I know you are but what am I?” from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who (with a straight face) claimed Cuba, tiny island Cuba, was the real “imperialist” in Venezuela.

Next, in a move reminiscent of some sort of macabre 1980’s theme party, Trump resuscitated Elliot Abrams – you know, the convicted felon of Iran-Contra infamy, to serve as Washington’s special envoy to embattled Venezuela. Who better to act as “fair arbiter” in that country than a war-criminal with the blood of a few hundred thousand Central Americans (remember the Contras?!?) on his hands back in the the good old (Reagan) days.

Despite all this: America’s military threats, bellicose speechifying, brutal sanctions, and Cold War-style conflict-framing, the incumbent Maduro seems firmly in control. This isn’t to say that Venezuelans don’t have genuine grievances with the Maduro government (they do), but for now at least, it appears the military is staying loyal to the president, Russia/China are filling in the humanitarian aid gaps, and Uncle Sam is about to chalk up another loss on the world scene. Ultimately, whatever the outcome, the crisis will only end with a Venezuelan solution.

America’s impotence would almost be sad to watch, if, and only if, it wasn’t all so tragic for the Venezuelan people.

So Trump and his recycled neocons will continue to rant and rave and threaten Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, and so on and so forth. America will still flex its aging, sagging muscles – a reflexive habit at this point.

Only now it’ll seem sad. Because no one is paying attention anymore.

The opposite of love is isn’t hate – it’s indifference.

*  *  *

Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.comHe served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

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