Gordon Campbell on losing the Ukraine war

0c9ef56f6d8ec612128bObviously, no-one defends the RNZ digital journalist who distorted the content and meaning of so many articles on the Ukraine war, some of them bylined by journalists who had no idea their work had been twisted to serve the needs of Kremlin propaganda.

Yet here’s the thing. The unfortunate reality is that the outcome of the Ukraine war may well end up on the side of the digital journalist. Meaning: While we are all talking about the ethics of RNZ’ war coverage, the tide of the war itself seems to be moving in favour of the Russians. What implications does that have for our foreign policy?

Basically, the current counter-offensive is one that Kyev (a) didn’t really want (b) is ill-prepared to fight but (c) has felt required to launch. Last year, its early victories in stalling/reversing the Russian advance were largely defensive in nature. The subsequent lightning advances were an exception, as the war bogged down in killing fields like the WWI-like war of attrition around Bakhmut, a town now nominally in Russian hands but still fiercely contested. The early reports about the counter-offensive indicate that the limited Ukrainian advances are coming only at heavy costs in casualties, and with related losses of expensive Western-supplied weaponry. Here’s that BBC report linked to above:

It’s clear this is a different kind of liberation to what we saw last year… The situation here is far more fluid than the triumphant claims of liberation which had come from Kyiv this week. Russian forces have been pushing back as recently as last night, which Ukrainian officials have now acknowledged. Ukraine’s counteroffensive is in its early stages with modest gains.

Kyev has been trapped in this dilemma for months. To keep its allies in the US and Western Europe onside (and continuing to supply financial aid, modern weapons and ammunition) the Ukrainian government has had to demonstrate that its forces really can succeed in taking back territory from the Russians.

That’s why Kyev has had to mount a counter-offensive even while it knows that superior air power and artillery will give the Russian forces a distinct battlefield advantage. Ukraine may win a few encounters and may even re-capture some lost ground. Yet these are likely to prove to be Pyrrhic victories that will ultimately weaken Ukraine’s ability to fight the long war that Russia is far better placed to sustain.

Besides the human cost, this reality has political implications beyond Ukraine. Flash forward a year and consider the likely state of the Ukraine war by mid 2024, and in the context of the next US presidential election. As many observers have noted, the Biden administration has long talked up the prospect of a Russian defeat via which Ukraine would recover all of its lost territory.

That has always been an unrealistically high criterion of success. Just as he did in Afghanistan, US President Joe Biden could find himself hitched up to a losing team. By mid 2024, Biden may be facing a mega-version in Ukraine of the US loss of Kabul to the Taliban. The Republicans could win the White House on the “Biden lost Ukraine” issue alone.

Even a costly stalemate – the best outcome that the Americans can hope for – will be wide open to criticism. So much treasure, the Republicans will say, for a cause not crucial to US national security. Let the Europeans bankroll it.

All of which takes us back to the worldview of the RNZ digital journalist. No doubt, this guy was peddling the Russian perspective on the war. Unfair as this may seem, the perspective of Russia being the victim in this war is one that’s not limited to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and to a wildly mis-informed Russian public.

Only a few days ago, the influential US political scientist John Mearsheimer pointed out that Russia is seen to be the victim of NATO aggression by countries across the Middle East, and by the leaders of India, China, almost all of South America etc etc

As Mearsheimer says,the global audience is deeply divided when it comes to the perspective on the Ukraine war that we take for granted. We tend to treat the opposite view as being simply a function of Kremlin propaganda. In reality, roughly half the world sees this conflict very differently than we do. That doesn’t make them right. But when perceptions are so widely held, this has to have diplomatic implications.

At this point, it is unlikely that Russia can win a victory in Ukraine that will be as decisive as the one achieved by the Taliban. Armed Ukrainian resistance to occupation will continue, and the choice then for New Zeaand will be whether we choose to support a valiant guerrilla resistance.

In the meantime… Our relative ignorance about where this war is headed seems a lot more disturbing than RNZ’s ignorance of what a maverick member of its digital news team has been up to.

Trump Indicted

So Donald Trump is being indicted under the Espionage Act for illegally having boxes and boxes of thousands of secret documents vital to US secrecy littered around his Florida property. So….. How has federal law treated ordinary US citizens prosecuted for the same crime, and under the same statute?

Harshly. Harold Martin, 54, an ex-NSA employee who stole boxes of secret documents got nine years in prison in 2019 after pleading guilty to” wilful retention of national defense information.” In 2018, a female Air Force veteran called Reality Winner was convicted of copying a secret document – one that confirmed that Russian cyber snoops had got access to US voter registration rolls – and of sending it to the Intercept website. For a crime committed with respect to a single document and regarding a matter clearly in the public interest, Winner got sentenced to 5 years and three months in prison.

Trump faces 37 counts of unlawful document retention, with 31 of them involving unlawful possession of national defense information. Failure to prosecute Trump would be to concede that he is above the law.

Trump was not the only President to prosecute/persecute those who released secret documents. So did Barack Obama. But beyond the Reality Winner case, there was also this bizarre example of just how zealously the Justice Department used to prosecute secret document cases while Trump was in the White House:

Nghia Pho, who worked for the National Security Agency’s hacking unit, was also sent to prison while Mr. Trump was president for violating the Espionage Act. Mr. Pho faced charges for taking classified documents to his Maryland home in order to get extra work done at night and on weekends in hopes of improving his performance evaluations. This came to light after the information was believed to have been stolen by Russian hackers using the antivirus software on his computer. He pleaded guilty to a single count of willful retention of national defense information and, like Ms. Winner, was sentenced to more than five years in prison.

Lastly and famously, there is Julian Assange. For over a decade, the Wikileaks founder has been persecuted by the US authorities (with the active help of its UK ally) for his alleged violations of the Espionage Act. Currently, Assange remains in Belmarsh prison in the Uk awaiting deportation to the US to face charges – all because of the Wikileaks hosting of secret information, including the evidence of US war crimes.

Belatedly, the Albanerse government has begun to express its “frustration” with the US ongoing efforts to extradite Assange – an Australian citizen – to face charges in a US courtroom.

If Trump gets treated by the US courts with anything like the same zeal that his own administration pursued cases involving secret documents, Trump would be spending the rest of his life behind bars.

But we all know that won’t happen, right? A Trump friendly, Trump-appointed Florida judge called Aileen Cannon will get to rule on how quickly the Justice department case against Trump goes to trial. Cannon will also get to decide what evidence can be presented to the jury. Beyond that, the inevitable appeals by Trump’s lawyers and the presidential campaign time clock will also work in his favour:

If he becomes the G.O.P. nominee and then wins the presidency, it is likely that the case will be put on hold while he serves, as executive branch precedent holds that a sitting president cannot be criminally prosecuted.

In these security document charges against Trump, US law is being held hostage to wealth and power. That’s not a new concept.

Footnote. Trump’s blithe willingness to stack and store vital US security secrets is weird. But so was his willingness to consult the strangest people – like musician Kid Rock, and golfer John Daly – about policy matters facing the United States:

In a 2022 interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, the country rock star claims the former president asked his advice and showed him what he believed to be secret information during a visit to the White House in 2017. “We’re looking at maps and shit, and I’m like, ‘Am I supposed to be in on this shit?’” Rock says.

And here’s the clip of Trump talking about handling Putin and Xi, with John Daly. The golfer looks pretty bored by the whole thing.

Werewolf music playlist

In case you missed Monday’s music playlist, here it is again: