Tag Archives: Turkey

A World of BS: Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Denial

So by now we’re all aware that the Saudi government almost certainly killed and dismembered a famous Saudi journalist in their consulate in Istanbul. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has provoked an outrage among U.S. politicians, typically deferential to Riyadh, that is almost unprecedented. Naturally, instead of using this as a potential last straw to finally start shifting the American public’s attention to our country’s morally reprehensible relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Western left is fumbling the ball by saying things like “Saudi Arabia did 9/11!” and “What about Yemen?!” The latter is of course referring to the bloody, criminal war carried out in that country by Saudi Arabia and the UAE with military support the US and UK, a war that no major Western media outlet reports on, except for Washington PostNY TimesGuardianCNN, NBC, ABC, Vox, Voice of America, and BBC.

Of course since I’m taking a break from US left politics at the moment, I wanted to highlight another interesting phenomenon that we’ve seen in the wake of the Khashoggi case. Looking at the response from both the Kingdom’s Foreign Ministry as well as its media, one cannot help but notice eerie parallels with Russia’s response to scandals such as the Skripal poisoning, interference in the 2016 election, and the downing of MH17. To be fair, Russia has a bit more experience in this field, and as laughable as their denials can be at times, they have at least developed a certain style that is less awkward than that of the Saudis.

Compare:

demise

“Demise is the outcome of these weak endeavors” needs to be the next “Your industry can burn!

 

As you can see, there are some stylistic differences. What is curious, however, is the similarities. For example, note the expression of concern for the victim.

Remember how much the Russian government complained about not being granted access to Sergei and Yulia Skripal (after her recovery Yulia said she was aware of the Russian consulate’s offers, but declined to meet with them)?

Also, note the Saudi use of the classic Russian tactic- “Let’s not point fingers and wait for the investigation to be finished!”

To be fair, advising everyone to hold their judgment until an investigation is finished is not in itself a terrible thing, except in cases where all the evidence almost immediately points to one particular culprit and there are no other suspects to logically consider. More importantly, it is pointless to demand people wait until the investigation is complete if you’re just going to claim the results were biased after the fact, as Russia has done in the case of MH17, several chemical attacks by the Assad regime in Syria, and the Skripal poisoning case. If an objective investigation is carried out, and all its findings point directly to Saudi Arabian government officials, it seems almost inevitable that they will declare the investigation to be politically motivated and thus void.

Saudi-owned media like Al Arabiya is also running interference. Here we can see editorializing right in the first paragraph of this article, which also shares a similarity with Russian state media by starting its headline with “US media expert.” The article’s lede refers to “rumors” about Khashoggi’s disappearance, and contains the term “doubtful information” and “wrongful accusations.” This is even more egregious than some recent RT articles which do things like refer to “staged chemical attacks” in Syria, as though they’ve ever managed to show any evidence of a staged chemical attack there.

There are even closer parallels in some cases. After a Turkish newspaper released photos of 15 men believed to be Saudi government operatives suspected of being involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Al Arabiya claimed they were just tourists, prompting one Twitter user to say they were “pulling a Putin.” Also, much like with the Russian playbook, the Saudis have already started to suggest alternative explanations, one of which is that the killing might have been carried out by rogue agents in its intelligence service either intentionally or during an interrogation gone wrong. This half-admission resembles Putin’s talk about “patriotic hackers” amid flat denials about interfering in the US election in 2016. And just like with Putin’s denials about interfering in the U.S. election, Donald Trump seems totally ready to buy the Saudi King’s story.

This is the world we’re living in today. The Kremlin, Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Bashar al-Assad, Brexit, China, TPUSA- all of these regimes, politicians, movements, etc. have all come to power, survived, or advanced their interests by propagating unreality. Unreality is beyond lies or propaganda; it’s dependent on a receptive audience. Unreality is the idea that you no longer have to live in material reality at all, and instead can just make up your own narrative to explain everything. Living in unreality is like a being an adult who still believes in Santa Claus. Nothing you were taught in school about physics or anything you observed for at least a quarter of a century can convince you that Santa Claus doesn’t fly around the entire globe on 25 December and deliver presents to good Christian children- that he in fact does not exist at all. You know he exists. You want him to exist. So he exists, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise or even bring up any facts which might contradict your belief is a dupe, a shill, or a paid agent of the anti-Christmas lobby (Bet George Soros doesn’t celebrate Christmas, does he?).

In similar fashion, many people want to believe that Assad doesn’t gas people or that Russia didn’t shoot down MH17, so they will go through the most Olympic Gold Medal-winning mental gymnastics to explain why they’re dismissing all manner of concrete evidence while never applying the same skepticism to other claims that they either agree with or just don’t care about. Either that, or they just dismiss something offhand based on claims about the funding of its source, be it a media outlet, think tank, or NGO. And because it’s unreality, that same outlet, think tank, or NGO can be presented as totally legitimate any time it releases a information that supports or seems to support the unreality-dweller’s worldview.

When pondering on this topic I’m reminded of the words of one of my personal role models, James Randi, who described a particular type of person he often encountered in his lifelong struggle against con artists and quacks.

“There exists in society a very special class of persons that I have always referred to as the Believers. These are folks who have chosen to accept a certain religion, philosophy, theory, idea or notion and cling to that belief regardless of any evidence that might, for anyone else, bring it into doubt. They are the ones who encourage and support the fanatics and the frauds of any given age. No amount of evidence, no matter how strong, will bring them any enlightenment. They are the sheep who beg to be fleeced and butchered, and who will battle fiercely to preserve their right to be victimized… the U.S. Patent Office handles an endless succession of inventors who still produce perpetual-motion machines that don’t work, but no number of idle flywheels will convince these zealots of their folly; dozens of these patent applications flow in every year. In ashrams all over the world, hopping devotees of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi will never abandon their goal of blissful levitation of their bodies by mind power, despite bruises and sprains aplenty suffered as they bounce about on gym mats like demented (though smiling) frogs, trying to get airborne. Absolutely nothing will discourage them.”

Of course as the above quote shows, Randi was referring to believers in various spiritual doctrines, pseudo-scientific claims, and the paranormal. But in our age, unreality has become…dare I say it…weaponized by governments and politicians, and now we have perpetual believers in these secular cults.

No doubt the Saudi Kingdom will have its own share of believers around the world, although in the West I suspect most of them will simply be lobbyists on the payroll. Apart from Donald Trump and his entourage, most Westerners find Saudi Arabia too alienating and its soft power too awkward to be attracted to it the way they have been attracted to propaganda from, say, Russia.

Whatever the case, we are as a species stumbling further into unreality- perhaps because we can no longer face reality. Basically, we’re living in a world of bullshit.

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Russia To-D’OH!

Welcome to part two of our saga on Russia’s whiplash 180 degree turn toward Turkey! Apart from suddenly “discovering” that the Turkish government deals with ISIS or that Turkish chicken imports had listeria, the Russian media also “uncovered” other unsavory facts about Turkey. For example, RT chief Margarita Simonyan started railing on Twitter about Turkey’s denialist position on the Armenian genocide. Apparently she just happened to discover this after Turkey shot down that jet. What is more, Russian “discovered” facts about the Turkish governments oppression of Kurds. This is a new thing, folks!

I’m only bringing this up because RT’s UK channel, dutifully fulfilling its role of constantly regurgitating the foreign policy of its Kremlin masters, managed to get dinged by the UK media regulator Ofcom yet again. Apparently this is the 15th time so far, and once again the complaint is similar to those in the past- a lack of objectivity.

Ordinarily I’d ignore this, particularly because I think RT has done far worse than not give the Turkish government enough time to present its position, but as is typically the case they just had to make a statement about it and it was predictably hilarious.

“A spokeswoman for RT said: “We note Ofcom’s decision and want to make clear that the premise of our programme and the factual accuracy of our content have never been called into question.”

Well, that would probably be a first then, because I know for a fact it has, at least implicitly, in other Ofcom rulings.

“It is Going Underground’s mission to unearth the stories ignored by governments and mainstream media. This programme was raising an exceptionally serious issue related to possible atrocities committed by the Turkish military on the civilian Kurds in the town of Cizre. This shouldn’t be ignored.”

Ah yes, the familiar RT mantra: “Why doesn’t the mainstream media cover X?” The best way to answer this challenge is to take “X” and put it into Google. Typically within seconds you’ll be inundated with stories from “mainstream media” outlets, many of which were published before RT got onto the story. Take the incident in Cizre that the spokeswoman referred to. Last time I checked, the New York Times is rightfully considered “mainstream media.”  According to RT, Vice is “mainstream media,” and it looks like they reported on the massacre claims earlier than RTThe Telegraph certainly didn’t ignore the story. And that outlet RT apologists love comparing their network to, namely the BBC, didn’t ignore the story either.

But here’s the real kicker. While one can quibble over how much attention these news outlets devoted to that particular issue in a region torn apart by a war which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and killed nearly half a million, one thing is almost certain- RT wouldn’t have been harping on this issue so much had it not been for the spat with Turkey that started last November. While the Kremlin is by no means the only government to play such petty political games, it has not only refined this behavior into an art form, but it also does so with no subtlety as its entire media machine touts the party line. Just imagine a Bush administration for life, where Fox News has gobbled up all the other major news outlets.

That’s about all I had to say on the topic, but I’ve been saving the spokeswoman’s last line for now.

“We will continue to campaign for international attention and support in preventing further bloodshed.”

Yeah. You guys are all about preventing bloodshed.

How Kremlin propaganda (doesn’t) work

Many readers no doubt remember the massive volcano of buttrage that erupted in Russia after Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian Su24 that had allegedly violated Turkey’s airspace (this turned out to be highly specious). Almost immediately thereafter, Russia’s consumer watchdogs suddenly “discovered” contamination in Turkish chicken imports. Russia’s media made even more shocking “discoveries.” For example, they suddenly found out that the Turkish government had been collaborating with ISIS, something that had been well-known in many circles for at least a year, including December of 2014 when Putin visited Turkey and announced the construction of a new gas pipeline (which promptly fell flat). Barely a month after the shoot-down Sputnik News “discovered” that there were at least 100 Turkish mercenaries fighting on the Ukrainian side in the Donbas. Their source? The ever trustworthy “Donetsk People’s Republic” press secretary Basurin, whose word is apparently good enough for Sputnik.

Among the many passive-aggressive means used to get revenge on Turkey was a ban on package tours to the country. For those who don’t know, along with Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, Turkey has long been one of the most popular tourist destinations for Russians, so much so that one resort in Antalya actually as a mock-up of St. Basil’s Cathedral next to its swimming pool. In better times, such package tours were widely accessible. After a recent reconciliation of sorts between Russian fun-size dictator Putin and Turkish litigious dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the ban on package tours to Turkey was lifted.

Of course the Russian public wasn’t going to buy into this. They would not soon forget Turkey’s “stab in the back,” the latest in a series of slights and crimes dating back centuries. No, Russia’s public doesn’t trade national pride and patriotism for a cheap package tour. That’s why the bulk of Russia’s tourists chose to visit the Crimea instead…

Just kidding! Three days after the ban on Turkish package tours was been lifted, Russians made Turkey the number one Russian tourist destination.  Sales are reported to have started immediately after Putin approved the lifting of the ban. I’m sure the Turkish tourism industry is happy to take Russian money, but on the flip side it means they’ll once again have to deal with more of this:

If you don’t speak Russian, well, let’s just say the general tone of the conversation was not good.

Back to the topic at hand, I noticed some fellow writers on Twitter seemed a bit perplexed by the 180 on Turkey. One of them considered it a tribute to the Russian state media that it can apparently make people who previously loved Turkey hate it, then forgive it and fork over their money to the Turks by the wheelbarrow. While acknowledging that there is indeed a lesson about Russian media efficacy here, I must respectfully disagree. It’s not that the media manipulated Russians into thinking one way and then another, but rather Russians never fully bought into the anti-Turkish hate to begin with, or at least not enough to actually modify their behavior accordingly. That is to say that had there been no ban on Turkish package tours this whole time, Russian tourists would probably have continued to visit the country without any noticeable changes. This, in spite of what many of them might say about Turkey when asked about politics.

Supposedly a holdover from the Soviet era, many Russians have mastered the art of saying one thing and doing another. For example, you say you are a patriot and then use your state position to skim off wealth for yourself, which you then turn around and hand over to Western corporations or real estate agents. Or if you’re an ordinary person, it might mean cursing Turkey in public while taking your entire family there on a package tour. Personally I don’t buy into this being an exclusively Russian trait, but it’s just that some folks here seem to have refined it into an art form.

Another thing to consider is that when you see public outpourings of rage against a certain country or group, the participants are often paid and the event is organized by someone with ties to the state. If you’re reading Russian-language commentary on social media, there’s a chance you could be reading the words of a troll farm worker. You can certainly hear many of the media’s talking points regurgitated by people on the street, but it’s typically not as widespread as you might think it is if you were looking at the internet. The fact is that most Russians actually don’t care about politics at all. I doubt any were totally unfazed by the destruction of a Russian jet and the killing of one of its pilots, but few get upset enough to deny themselves one of the few pleasures left to many Russians today.

So when considering the role of the media in Russian society, while it certainly is true that propaganda shapes politics and public opinion, if the regime wants action from anybody it needs to pay. More importantly, one shouldn’t assume that Russians actually believe the kind of nonsense their TV puts out. If anything it’s the opposite- they don’t believe any media at all. Sometimes you’ll hear Russian media figures tacitly admit to making propaganda, but then they’ll say the “Western media” does it too. Only those Russians who can access that foreign media are able to dispute that. Overall, “you can’t really know what’s true” isn’t a great slogan to mobilize people to action, but it certainly works when you want to keep people confused, cynical, and generally non-trusting towards each other.

 

 

Clash of the Dickheads

Given what’s happened recently I thought I’d try to lighten the mood a bit with a little joke about the Crimea, but then I decided against it because it’s a little too dark.

As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough having Russia’s crown jewel blacked out all because a couple of towers were knocked down, in turn revealing the fact that the peninsula was still dependent on the hated “Ukropy,” Turkey went and pissed all over Putin’s latest attempt to portray Russia as a world military power. And while panic-mongering predictions of WWII were totally unrealistic, believe me, the buttrage is big this time. After all, this is a NATO country shooting down a Russian aircraft with an American-made F16. So while the Russian government, including prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, issued tough statements about consequences for Turkey, the only results we have seen so far are the typical passive-aggressive, more or less impotent economic measures we’ve seen with the EU, Ukraine, and other Russian neighbors who refuse to put up with the Kremlin’s bullshit and treat Russia like some kind of great power.

So Turkish-Russian relations have fallen apart, again. No big deal. They weren’t really that great before. Sure, there’s tourism, but I’ve had Turks tell me about various protectionist measures against their country by the Russian government years ago. When Putin made a big deal about the new “Turkish Stream” pipeline during his state visit to Turkey on 1 December 2014, the Russia press predictably made a big fanfare about it. Putin’s done it again! Another country is turning its back on the West and turning toward Russia! Then, as with their deal with China, the pipeline project immediately ran into serious trouble.

removekebab

Obviously Turkey and Russia have a great deal of cooperation, and this isn’t limited to the tourism business. Turkish firms are all over Russia, particularly in construction. Cancelling their projects would hurt Russia just as much, if not more so. But as the “counter-sanctions” of 2014 taught us, this is not a government run by rational, well-informed men. The vatniks are furious and will get even angrier if they don’t see blood. While they won’t be satisfied, Putin is more than capable of making more economic blunders that will dick the country up even more.

The funny thing about Russia and Turkey is that for all their inability to get on well with each other, they have so much in common. I became interested in Turkey and Turkic peoples after moving to Russia, and for me one of the most glaring commonalities is that Turkey occupies a similar role in my heart to that of Russia. I love the countries and the people, but I hate their governments. The resemblance goes deeper, however. What we’re looking at here is a conflict which could arguably be called “Clash of the Dickheads.”

Both countries are run by conservative dictators who make up the rules as they go along to remain in power. Both dictators are extremely corrupt and believed to possess large fortunes of ill-gotten wealth. In terms of electoral fraud and corruption, Turkey often gives Russia a run for its money. Turkey is also much harder on journalists and much more quick to resort to censorship. Turkey famously banned Twitter in an attempt to stop the dissemination of information about a corruption scandal between then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Youtube has been banned numerous times in Turkey, the most recent being in April of this year.

Whereas Russia sees itself as a global superpower, it is only able to act in a very limited way within a very limited area that it sees as its natural sphere of influence. Turkey does not have the same pretensions, but it definitely sees itself as a regional power. Russia intervened in Ukraine because doing so was assumed to be their right. Ditto with Turkey in Syria. Both have justified their interventions by claiming a need to protect ethnic brethren on the other side of their borders.

Erdogan and the AK Party have been notorious for deepening the influence of religion in what used to be a highly secular state. Putin has also been breaking down Russia’s secular legacy, in violation of the constitution’s very clear establishment of separation between church and state. The AK Party in Turkey is associated with the glorification and idealization of the Ottoman Empire. While naive or ignorant pundits constantly characterize Putin as trying to rehabilitate and glorify the Soviet Union, there has been a steady undercurrent of rehabilitating and promoting the Russian Empire. Annexing the Crimea, denying the existence of Ukrainians as a nation, and attempting to partition the country are all the actions of a revived Russian Empire and not a Soviet Union.

In this latest scandal, Turkmen rebel forces essentially executed an unarmed Russian pilot who was unable to defend himself. While these particular rebels are not jihadists like the thugs of Al Nusra and certainly not ISIS, what they did to the pilot was a genuine war crime, and Turkey has been backing them. Likewise, in Ukraine Russia armed and supported thugs like Givi and Motorola, the former being caught on camera abusing and torturing prisoners and the latter claiming in an interview that he executed prisoners. And speaking of illegal invasions and annexations, Turkey has been backing a pseudo-state on Cyprus since 1974, but to Turkey’s credit, unlike Russia they’ve managed to keep their colony supplied with both electricity and water.

Both countries got into this mess because of the dishonest way they have elected to wage war beyond their borders. Turkey had warned Russia about violating its airspace before, but the best evidence outside of Russia suggests that if the SU-24 did indeed violate said airspace, they did so only for a matter of seconds. Turkey would not have been in any danger had they taken a more cautious approach. The rapid decision to engage and fire on the Russian plane has been labeled an “overreaction.” Meanwhile, had Russia’s air force actually been engaged in bombing ISIS positions instead of anybody ISIS, that plane shouldn’t have been anywhere near the Turkish border. I shudder to think what those pilots would have encountered had they been shot down over ISIS territory. Ideally, they’d have been shot down over Ukraine and eject there. Then they’d definitely be alive.

When all’s said and done, I have to say I’m a little surprised by all this. First of all I didn’t think Russia was going to get deeply involved in Syria, given the amount of personnel and equipment they put in the country and the fact that Russia’s own goal in Ukraine is already too much of a burden to start a really decisive campaign. As such, I tended to disregard those predictions that Syria would become another Afghanistan. I could see that eventually happening, but I thought that was a long way off. Hell, I expected that any Russian planes falling out of the skies over Syria would be due to more technical failures rather than enemy action. Now it’s happening a bit more quickly. A Russian helicopter sent to rescue the remaining pilot was destroyed, killing a Russian marine. Grisly videos of the rebels shooting at the ejected pilot surfaced, along with video of rebels gloating over his dead body in an image reminiscent of the Chechen Wars or the US debacle in Mogadishu back in 1993. The Syrian campaign might have begun as just another slick reality show for the cameras, but now it’s definitely gone off script.

Once again, you’re not going to see an outpouring of rage directed at the authorities any time soon, at least not while people can still chuck rocks at the Turkish embassy as they did in Moscow today, but trouble is on the horizon. The vatniks want blood that their master Putin cannot deliver to them. What is worse, Russia has no good exit strategy from this new war. Virtually every possible outcome will look like failure, and indeed whatever the details, it will end in failure because there was never any hope for victory. Russia’s not going to get rid of ISIS, and the rest of the anti-ISIS coalition is likely to stamp them out in the near future. As long as they are there, something is wrong. The best they can hope for is some political decision that leaves Assad in charge of some kind of rump state which will keep the Russian bases already there, but that agreement can easily fall apart very quickly.

Russia’s unlikely to lose a lot of men and material in this conflict, but they stand to lose face. Inability to bring victory or significantly change the situation on the ground may look like impotence. And why not? Russia just got slapped in the face by at best, a second-rate NATO member, and there’s really nothing they can do about it but shake their fists and make threats than Turkey need not fear. Cancel the Turkish Stream? Obviously if the Turks valued that project so much they wouldn’t have been throwing up all kinds of obstacles to its construction.

In the end, the lesson is that if you want to act like a superpower, you’d better be able to back it up with action. Far from opposing what they see as American imperialism, the Kremlin and its supporters admire and envy it. What they don’t understand is that imperialism is fundamentally bad, and even if we ignore that, being an empire has certain prerequisites which Russia simply lacks. The blame can be laid squarely at the feet of Putin and his cronies, because however much they value the idea of a Russian superpower making history all over the globe, they valued stealing and material wealth more.

UPDATE!!!

You know when I wrote this, I was being a bit closed minded and remembered that we need to “question more,” as RT says. And that’s when it hit me. I remembered the totally believable evidence Russia put forth in its many investigations of the MH17 disaster, and I realized that there’s good reason to question the “official story” and conclude that the Russian air force shot its own plane down.

What is my basis for this belief? Well as the long time reader is no doubt aware, Russia’s alternative explanation for the downing of MH17 was that a Ukrainian air force Su-25 was responsible for the crime…except when it was a Ukrainian Buk SAM…but then it was a Su-25 again…but then it was a bomb on the plane…then a Su-25…then a Buk. Well you get the idea. The thing is that the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed there was a Su-25 in the sky in the vicinity of MH17. Nobody else can confirm this, but we can trust a government ministry which has been caught in plenty of lies in the past because this is Russia, not the Pentagon.

As it turns out, there are at least 12 Russian Su-25s operating in Syria, some of them no doubt covering the same territory in which the Su-24 was shot down. So can we rule out that the Russians shot down their own plane as a false flag? If not, why not? I’m just asking questions, folks.

Question more.