MH17: Putin is learning the lesson George W Bush learned during Iraq invasion


The tweet above from Tom Nichols sums up the feeling about Putin’s ill-conceived mix of diplomacy and deception over the MH17 downing.

Essentially, television-era media messaging won’t work in the age of the Internet. During the rapid run-up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the White House used its considerable sway over mainstream journalists in the US to try to sell a war that had more questions about it than justifications. In the print and TV realm, the White House was largely successful.

I personally witnesses anti-war demonstrations in New York and Washington involving hundreds of thousands of protesters that, for all intents and purposes, never made it to TV. Imagine thousands of people marching into invisibility on the eve of a war. In print, the leads of the stories were overly qualified and the articles themselves buried on back pages of the newspaper. As any PR person will tell you, it’s all about working those editors and reporters.

But there was this thing called the Internet, on which you could publish an article and it could be shared via emailed by thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of people. This was before the time of social media, before DeanSpace, then MySpace. Back then a simple link on a site like BuzzFlash, Daily Kos, TruthOut, helped impede the White House warpath for Iraq.

I’m sure for Ari Fleischer and Karl Rove this Internet effect was not just disappointing – but dismaying. Didn’t the White House and its ‘senior advisers’ hold sway over the media? Is this what the elite exercise of power involves?

My favorite example of that time was a speech George H. W. Bush gave at Tufts University three weeks before the invasion of Iraq. Bush, the elder, said a peaceful resolution was possible.

“The more pressure there is, the more chance this matter will be resolved in a peaceful manner,” Bush told the 5,000 students, faculty, staff and guests.


There was a wire story on it – if I recall. But the New York Times didn’t run it online. The Guardian did. When I called the New York Times newsroom, they said they must just have missed it. The US was being marched to war, the father of the sitting president speaks up for peace only weeks before, and somehow the folks at the New York Times missed it.

I found that difficult to believe. And so did a lot of other people who compared the mainstream media with the news had access to online and which they could freely share. This is why net neutrality matters in the US, by the way.

Today the Internet is testing the propaganda machine used by Putin’s combination of international diplomacy and international deception over the MH17 crash. The idea that Putin can credibly shrug and feign innocence to the world just doesn’t jibe with what’s happening on the ground. What the Russians say at the UN will be compared immediately with what is being said and done on the ground in eastern Ukraine. This new media reality applies to everyone: Ukrainians included, for the record.

Naturally, this challenge of shaping reality is going to create even more incentive to wall off one country’s Internet from another’s. The walls are already coming up on the Internet. This Balkanized Internet also explains how authoritarian governments can spin such vastly different tales of the same events for their public.

A US-Soviet analogy for the Asia-Pacific situation

A really disappointing piece by an American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Auslin on China’s regional aggression. But before I proceed, recall that the AEI was a real hotbed of thinking behind the disastrous Iraq War – so treat thinking about war from this group with great caution.

With that warning on the table, Auslin gives some background to the Chinese military build up in Asia, and what a looming threat it’s going to be for US allies – as evidenced by China declaring its air defense identification zone and its plans to “reportedly” purchase Russian Su-35 fighters, “among the most advanced in the world.” He then goes on to lament the effect budget cuts are having with military planning. Note to Auslin, you might want to have a look around the AEI for the austerity hawks and ask them if budget cuts aren’t the solution to Obama’s America.

Auslin bemoans the cutbacks and the questions the US military’s ability to respond to China’s assertive/reckless behavior in the Pacific. It’s debatable if China’s air defense zone (already ignored by the US) is the opening move of a new Pacific War. But Auslin already has a solution for the US challenge in Asia. What’s the fix? Why spend up on the military, of course. He quotes US Air Force General ‘Hawk’ Carlisle discussing the readiness of US pilots in the region:

Perhaps Gen. Carlisle’s biggest concern is the reduction in flying hours. Regular training keeps U.S. pilots the best in the world. In 2014, however, the Air Force plans on cutting flying hours by 19%. With sequestration and budget cuts, American combat air forces currently are getting only between five and eight hours of flying per month. “That’s unacceptable,” Gen. Carlisle says, noting that the U.S. is approaching the training level of Soviet forces in the Cold War, which hampered their flying ability.

Yes, but General Carlisle and Mr Auslin, it wasn’t the Soviet pilots’ readiness that brought down that Communist country; it was the fact the Soviets spent so much on their military they failed to properly invest in and fund a livable, viable society. Today, there is a risk that China successfully leads the US toward a costly and risky arms race in which China fakes large military expenditures that the US actually makes. (links) And there is a real opportunity cost involved with these kinds of choices.

Analogies between the fortunes of the US and Soviet Union are inevitable. But one the most worrying parallels is of a country on such perpetual war footing that it can’t focus on keeping its own people clothed, fed and employed.

But don’t expect the military geniuses at the AEI to tell you this.