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Summing up the Trump-Putin meeting: good bonding; limited progress on Syria, Ukraine and cyber security

Effective Russian diplomacy meant that the first Trump-Putin summit though leading to no breakthroughs made important if limited progress on a number of topics whilst establishing a genuine connection between the two Presidents.

Alexander Mercouris

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The single most important fact about the Trump-Putin meeting is that it went on for 2 hours, four times longer than planned.  What was supposed to be a brief encounter on the sidelines of the G20 summit became a deep and animated conversation the two men didn’t want to end.

This is not wholly unexpected.  The Russians before the meeting had signalled that the meeting would cover the full range of US-Russians relation.  Since it is hardly possible that could be done in a meeting lasting no more than half an hour – especially one conducted through interpreters – they must have anticipated that it would go on for longer.

In addition Putin came to the meeting clearly looking for progress on three specific points, which I suspect the Russians communicated to the US through Secretary of State Tillerson some time before.  These were (1) for a ceasefire in southern Syria; (2) for US involvement in the diplomacy Ukrainian conflict; and (3) for the establishment of a joint cyber security working group.

I do not know for a fact that it was the Russians who instigated the discussion of these three issues, though Tillerson has confirmed that it was they who proposed US involvement in the diplomacy to end the Ukrainian conflict.  It is likely however that they were.  To see why it is necessary to discuss these three issues in detail:

(1) southern Syria ceasefire

The conditions for a ceasefire in southern Syria are now favourable at least in theory, with ISIS driven out of most of southern Syria, and the US base at Al-Tanf effectively cut off by the Syrian army from fighting ISIS and left with nothing therefore to do.

Behind the ceasefire proposal must however be Russian concern about the effect of the recent US ‘warning’ of US action against Syria in the event of a further chemical attack.

No such chemical attack has happened, undoubtedly because the Syrian military never planned one.  However, as many people have been pointing out – including myself, but most especially Russia’s redoubtable foreign ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova – the US ‘warning’ is all but a green light to Al-Qaeda in Syria to stage a ‘false flag’ chemical attack in order to get the US to attack Syria for them.

That is a risk the Russians will be anxious to reduce or head off so far as possible.  Moreover the US military – which as has become clear has no wish to be dragged into a possible shooting war with the Russians in Syria – will share this concern.

The proposed ceasefire in southern Syria appears to be at least in part intended to address this problem.

The most dangerous area of potential conflict between the Syrian army and the US’s Syrian ‘Free Syrian Army’ proxies, and therefore by definition the most likely flashpoint in any future conflict between the US and the Russian military, is southern Syria.  The dangers from a ‘false flag’ chemical attack in this area is therefore especially high.

Though a ‘false flag’ chemical attack in this area can never be ruled out, all the more so as ceasefires in Syria are never fully honoured, some degree of ‘deconfliction’ in this area might reduce this possibility.

Nothing anyway is lost by trying, and from a Russian point of view a ceasefire in this area is desirable anyway, if only because it reduces the danger of the US interfering in the Syrian military’s advance on Deir Ezzor, and allows the Syrian military to concentrate more of its troops on fighting ISIS there.

As for the US, not only is the US military probably as anxious to reduce the risk of a ‘false flag’ attack in this area as the Russians are, but the Syrian advance to the Iraqi border has effectively ended the rationale for the US military being there anyway.

So far as one can tell the US deployment to Al-Tanf was intended to provide a base for an advance by the US’s ‘Free Syrian Army’ proxies from this area into central and eastern Syria, obviously to defeat ISIS there but also to deny this large territory to the Syrian military.  With the US’s Al-Tanf base and the large Jihadi enclave around it now however surrounded by the Syrian army, the US’s ‘Free Syrian Army’ proxies cannot advance north into central and eastern Syria unless the US military is prepared to attack the Syrian military on their behalf.  Since that would certainly lead to a clash with the Russians – something the US military is anxious at all costs to avoid – this plan is no longer workable.

It therefore makes sense for the US to withdraw from this area, using a ceasefire as cover.

To be clear, that does not mean the US is quitting Syria.  It means that the US is giving up on its southern front so that it can better focus on its northern front, where the strong support the US has from its Kurdish allies means that its presence is already much greater.

Both the US and Russia therefore had good reasons to agree to a ceasefire in southern Syria.  It is likely the Russians proposed it – as they have proposed most of the ceasefires in Syria – but the US would had good reasons to agree.

The result is the agreement for a ceasefire in southern Syria that came out of the Trump-Putin meeting.  Since it frees more Syrian troops to fight ISIS and reduces the danger of a clash between the US and Russian militaries in Syria, it is an unequivocally good thing.

(2) US involvement in the Ukrainian conflict

The Russians consider the US largely responsible for the Ukrainian conflict, which they see as caused by a US strategy to separate Ukraine from Russia so as to draw it into NATO.

However from a Russian point of view it now makes sense to involve the US – or perhaps more accurately the Trump administration – in the negotiations to settle the Ukrainian conflict.

Those negotiations are supposed to be based on the Minsk Agreement of February 2015.  The negotiations have however being going nowhere because the Maidan regime in Ukraine is adamantly opposed to implementation of the terms of the Minsk Agreement, which would permanently end its attempt to create a monocultural ethnicist Ukraine distanced as far as possible from Russia and anchored in NATO and Europe.

In his comments about Ukraine made during his press conference at the end of the G20 summit Putin set it all out

The interests of Russia and Ukraine, the interests of the Russian and Ukraine people – and I am fully and profoundly confident of this – coincide. Our interests fully coincide. The only thing that does not coincide is the interests of the current Ukrainian authorities and some of Ukraine’s political circles. If we are to be objective, of course, both Ukraine and Russia are interested in cooperating with each other, joining their competitive advantages and developing their economies just because we have inherited much from the Soviet era – I am speaking about cooperation, the unified infrastructure and the energy industry, transport, and so on.

But regrettably, today our Ukrainian colleagues believe this can be neglected. They have only one ”product“ left – Russophobia, and they are selling it successfully. Another thing they are selling is the policy of dividing Russia and Ukraine and pulling the two peoples and two nations apart. Some in the West like this; they believe that Russia and Ukraine must not be allowed to get closer in any areas. That is why the current Ukrainian authorities are making active and successful efforts to sell this ”product.“

These facts are also well known by all the other parties to the Ukrainian conflict.  The difficulty is that the person who has assumed largely by default the biggest role in the West’s diplomacy to end the conflict – Chancellor Merkel of Germany – is far too publicly committed to supporting the Maidan regime to do anything about it.

The result is that the negotiations are stuck and are going nowhere.

The Obama administration, which was the US administration during whose time the Maidan coup in Ukraine took place, was also publicly committed to supporting the Maidan regime.  Since it was the Obama administration’s top officials – Biden, Nuland and Pyatt – who were responsible for the Maidan coup happening in the first place it could hardly be otherwise.

There was therefore little realistic possibility of the Obama administration ever applying sufficient pressure either on the Maidan regime or on Angela Merkel to have the Minsk Agreement implemented, even though there are some indications that some Obama administration officials lobbied for it.

The Trump administration by contrast comes to the Ukrainian conflict with an essentially clean slate.  Secretary of State Tillerson has openly expressed his skepticism about the value of committing US tax dollars to supporting the Maidan regime in Ukraine, and Donald Trump himself has shown little interest in the issue.  That at least in theory ought to make it easier for the Trump administration to change course.

From the Russian point of view it anyway always makes better sense to talk directly to the organ grinder rather than his monkey, so opening a direct channel to Washington to talk about Ukraine – sidelining Angela Merkel – makes complete sense.

Trump and Tillerson were receptive to the Russian idea, and a US special envoy – Kurt Volker, a US career diplomat brought out of retirement – has been appointed to fulfil this role.  In announcing the appointment Tillerson confirmed that the initiative for it came from the Russians

At the request of President (Vladimir) Putin, the United States has appointed … a special representative for Ukraine, Ambassador Kurt Volker

Though Ukrainian President Poroshenko has welcomed the move (what else can he do?) some ex-Obama officials have already reacted sourly to Tillerson’s admission that the US’s decision to appoint a special envoy for Ukraine was made at Putin’s suggestion

Julie Smith, a former Pentagon official who worked on European and NATO policy during the Obama administration, praised the choice of Volker as Ukraine envoy, but said she was puzzled at Tillerson’s statement that he filled the position at Putin’s request.

“So Ukraine didn’t matter enough to this administration to have them appoint a special envoy in the first place?” said Smith, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “It was a bizarre word choice.”

Whether the appointment of a US special envoy for Ukraine really will change anything, and whether it will cause Merkel to be sidelined, remains to be seen.  However it is the first instance I know of when the US has agreed to do something  in relation to the Ukrainian conflict after Russia proposed it.

(3) cybersecurity working group

The Western media has made huge play about the fact that Donald Trump ‘challenged’ Putin over the claims that Russia hacked the DNC’s and John Podesta’s computers during the US election campaign.

Given the pressure Trump is under he had no choice, a fact known to Putin, who would have taken the ‘challenge’ philosophically.

Putin and the Russians have however -and with some skill – sought to move beyond this issue and to turn it as far as they can to their advantage by getting the US to agree to the setting up of a joint working party on cybersecurity.

In his press conference at the end of the G20 summit Putin explained it this way

But what is important is that we have agreed that there should not be any uncertainty in this sphere, especially in the future. By the way, I mentioned at the latest summit session that this directly concerns cyberspace, web resources and so on.

The US President and I have agreed to establish a working group and make joint efforts to monitor security in the cyberspace, ensure full compliance with international laws in this area, and to prevent interference in countries’ internal affairs. Primarily this concerns Russia and the United States. We believe that if we succeed in organising this work – and I have no doubt that we will – there will be no more speculation over this matter.

The background to this is that at as Putin disclosed to Oliver Stone during the Putin Interviews the US has previously refused to discuss cybersecurity with the Russians.

Obviously this was because of US confidence of US superiority in this area.

What Putin and the Russians have done is used the Russiagate allegations – which they deny – to get the US to accept that this is an issue the US also needs to talk about.  As a result the Russians have persuaded the US to agree to something they had previously refused to do: talk about cybersecurity through the setting up of a joint working group to discuss the issue.

This is not the start of a negotiation on a future international cybersecurity treaty governing the use of cyber weapons, something Putin told Oliver Stone the Russians had previously proposed to the US but which the US refused to consider.  However Putin’s words show that the Russians hope it might eventually evolve into something like that.  The point is that from the Russian point of view it is real if only limited progress to have got the US at last talking about this issue.

One particular point that the Russians will undoubtedly have had in mind when they proposed the setting up of this joint working party is the recent confirmation that the Obama administration in the last weeks of its existence ordered the NSA to plant ‘cyber bombs’ in Russia’s infrastructure.

Apparently work on planting these ‘cyber bombs’ is still going on.

The Russians are certain to bring up the question of these ‘cyber bombs’ in the discussions of the joint working party.  It will be interesting to see what the reaction of the US will be.

Summary

The first Trump-Putin summit, with Trump both inexperienced and under severe pressure at home, was never going to be an easy summit.  However it is striking that Russian diplomacy still managed to use this unpromising summit to make progress – however tentative and limited – on three important issues in a way that works towards achieving Russia’s objectives.

The agreements made, though very limited in scope, are still from the Russian point of view useful, whilst the Russians seem to have taken care to pitch their proposals to be within the range of what President Trump could agree to.

As for President Trump, he is to be commended for having accepted these proposals so quickly and so readily.  Doing so was as much in the US’s interests as in Russia’s interests.

This is how diplomacy is done.  Putin and the Russians in Hamburg gave Trump a class in how to do it, and he came out well, far better in my opinion than Barack Obama ever did.  That holds promise for the future.

In all respects this was a far better summit than the US-Chinese summit at Mar-a-Lago, which the Chinese sought too early, and which the inexperienced Trump was unsure how to host.

For the rest, it seems that Trump and Putin genuinely got on with each other.

The most important fact about the summit as I said previously was that it went on for so long.  Usually when a meeting goes over time in this way it is either because there is a row or because those involved discover that they have a lot to talk about and are able to say it to each other.

This summit was clearly of the second sort.  It seems that Melania tried at one point to hurry the two men along, but they preferred to go on talking to each other even if that meant delaying later meetings.

Not surprisingly Trump has referred to the meeting as “tremendous“.  Putin as is his way was more analytical and more detailed

As regards personal relations, I believe that they have been established. This is how I see it: Mr Trump’s television image is very different from the real person; he is a very down to earth and direct person, and he has an absolutely adequate attitude towards the person he is talking with; he analyses things pretty fast and answers the questions he is asked or new ones that arise in the course of the discussion. So I think that if we build our relations in the vein of our yesterday’s meeting, there are good reasons to believe that we will be able to revive, at least partially, the level of interaction that we need.

(bold italics added)

Coming from Putin – the most experienced leader in the world today and an acknowledged master of diplomacy who is known for saying it as it is – the highlighted words are high praise.

In summary this was a genuinely successful summit, producing more of substance than most people expected, and promising well for the future.

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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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