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The Pearl Harbor Hack and Other Media Fables

Photograph Source: Blogtrepreneur – CC BY 2.0

Journalistic fatuity soared into the stratosphere last month with tales of Chinese bounties on U.S. soldiers (the Russians, I guess, got tired of doing that and delegated to the Chinese), and breathless reports that the U.S. supposedly experienced its third or fourth Pearl Harbor. This one was in cyberspace, when Russia allegedly hacked into some U.S. government computer systems and stole data. I say “allegedly,” because despite all the media hyperventilation, no proof was offered for its screams that “Russia did it!” Russia may well have done it, but so could any number of other countries that, like Russia, the U.S. routinely hacks.

As a former CIA bigwig recently wrote in the New York Times, “the United States, is of course, engaged in the same type of [hacking] operations at an even grander scale…the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency exist to break into foreign information systems and steal secrets and they are damn good at it.” But Russia does it to us, and the media bellows “Pearl Harbor!” Meanwhile the U.S. regularly perpetrates such Pearl Harbors, but they don’t merit headlines, or even a media mention, and lately the U.S. has been too busy throwing stones from its glass house to remember who started it all.

The timing of this hack story suggests government intent to ensure Biden stays on the well-trod path of hostility to Russia. But there was never any danger he’d stray from it. True, he plans to renegotiate the START nuclear treaty, something Trump, to the delight of the Pentagon, proposed to trash. But that doesn’t mean Biden rejects the fanatical Russia-phobia that has poisoned the media and the body politic for the past four years. On the contrary, the president-elect has uttered many pieties about securing our government and troops from malign Russian plots and has made numerous hostile noises directed at the Slavic menace, signaling to the military industrial complex that when it comes to Great Power Competition with Russia and China, he can be relied on. In fact, there was never any doubt of that.

Speaking of China and the U.S., the latest media line on that deteriorating relationship is that Trump Got Everything Wrong Except China. Suddenly we’re expected to appreciate the wisdom of a president on whose watch over 350,000 Americans died of a plague which he actively helped spread. We’re told Trump is wrong to withdraw troops from the 20-year Afghan quagmire, and wrong about everything else, but right about gearing up for war with China, the country that for years has been the U.S.’s largest trading partner. The president who supposedly was a tool of Moscow, allegedly has good instincts on China. Go figure.

For those who concluded from the Covid-19 debacle that Trump simply wasn’t up to the job, it looks unlikely, to say the least, that his China legacy will be anything other than catastrophic. U.S. and Chinese economies are intertwined and, as we’ve already seen, decoupling hurts lots of Americans, starting with farmers. Trump’s executive order on December 28, prohibiting investments in firms reportedly controlled by the Chinese military does little besides ratchet up tensions. Hostilities between the two navies in the South China Sea could explode into regional war at any time. And how that war would be prevented from becoming nuclear is a very well-kept secret. But the geniuses in the Pentagon aren’t concerned. They believe in their new generation of small, “smart” nuclear weapons and “winnable” nuclear wars, as does Trump, the president who arguably has done more to promote nuclear war than perhaps any predecessor since mankind first split the atom.

And what do the intellectual heavyweights in the western intelligence services and media have to say about all this? They’ve been busy with an epic of truly classical proportions about how the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, an organization which, back in 2002, assassinated Chechen Terrorist leader Ibn al-Khattab in a matter of seconds with a poisoned letter, how that FSB is now so oafish it couldn’t kill a minor opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, despite its best efforts to poison him with a fantastically lethal nerve agent through his underpants. If the Russians are such expert poisoners, how come so many of their victims survive? If Putin wanted Navalny dead and his poisoning kept secret, why did he allow him to be flown to Germany after Russian doctors saved his life? If this nerve agent, Novichok, was used, why didn’t it kill Navalny instantly and lots of other people around him, as it most certainly would have done? Also, why has the German government refused to reveal its evidence of poison? Clearly either western intelligence services are populated by dunces or they think we are very, very stupid. The latter is likely the case and may in fact be accurate about much of the American public.

It’s certainly an accurate assessment of the media, in an uproar when Trump first reportedly wanted $2000 stimulus checks for Americans. This was before relief negotiations reached their final state. Newspaper accounts told how Trump had to be “walked down from the ledge” of giving too much money to broke, hungry Americans. Getting him to back off was supposedly a victory for reason. Well, it didn’t last. He did ultimately return to the $2000 check idea and he did so so late, that it nearly sank the covid relief bill. One can’t help wondering, if he had not been dissuaded the first time around and that had been the starting point for negotiations, wouldn’t desperate Americans have got their aid, bigger stimulus checks and generally been better off?

What we have here is the spectacle of an incompetent and periodically insane president with occasional good instincts and many bad ones. Common sense would enable the average person to distinguish them. For instance, it doesn’t take a post-doctoral luminary to see that Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from the 20-year Afghan calamity is a sound one. But the media and congress freaked out when he proposed it. Similarly, bigger checks for people with no income is clearly a good idea. But the press and everyone in government squelched it the first time around and then, because Trump is stubborn, disorganized and loony, it came back and bit them.

It also does not take a mental prodigy to see that if Trump was some kind of Russian Manchurian candidate, the Kremlin got a very raw deal: sanctions, two busted nuclear treaties and the possible loss of a very lucrative, Nord Stream2 natural gas pipeline to Germany. So that hypothesis doesn’t hold water. Lastly, Trump’s coup de grace – that China is our true enemy, is spreading communism and we should prepare for war with it – is simply abysmal, no matter what mealy-mouthed anti-communist mush Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo vomit into the airwaves. The idea of war on China stinks. Firstly, China retains few vestiges of its communist past. China is not communist. In fact, it’s capitalist and the leading party members are mostly billionaires like Trump. It has no interest in spreading a doctrine of a communism it’s devoted its best efforts to dismantle. Secondly and far more glaringly, there would be no containing war with China. It would become nuclear. But the military industrial complex loved Trump’s brainstorm. War with China? Go for it. What could go wrong?

So we have a president whose covid health policies killed far more people than any other leader of any country in the world, who’s supposedly a Russian agent, whose plan to remove troops languishing in Afghanistan for two decades will allegedly wreck the U.S., who incidentally does not believe in democracy or elections, whose lavish $2000 checks for hungry Americans had to be nipped in the bud and who came up with the inspired notion that what we really need is war with nuclear-armed China. This, folks, is a mess. Anyone with an IQ can see that it just won’t add up. The pieces of this puzzle don’t fit. But that doesn’t stop our media and our government from screaming this is the true picture. No wonder the U.S. is in decline. The people in charge are practically deranged. Who knows what their crazed imaginations will seize on at any given moment? Most recently it’s Chinese bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as CNN reported on December 30. Or maybe our media mandarins will just fall back on the already tried and true fabrications about Russia and such bounties. As for what they’ll cook up after that – God help us.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Birdbrain. She can be reached at her website.

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