The New York Times should really be called “The New Cold War Times.” It has consistently focused on reporting the most intimate thoughts (i.e., prejudice and propaganda) of an intelligence community that owes its historical existence to the golden age of post-World War II Soviet communism. This was a time when the world was on the brink of a nuclear disaster caused by competing economic theories. That competition officially disappeared 30 years ago, but its effects for the intelligence community linger and The NY Times stands firm in supporting that community’s survival and continued development.
In an article designed to reassure its readers that they are the victims of Russian deviousness, The Times quotes Peter Zwack, a retired military intelligence officer and former defense attaché at the US Embassy in Moscow. “I think we had forgotten how organically ruthless the Russians could be,” he said.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
An essential quality for anyone in politics or military intelligence, which serves the dual purpose of structuring one’s own activities and criticizing those of the adversary
Zwack’s choice of the adverb “organically” merits our attention. Anyone in the intelligence business understands that to be a true professional one must be ruthless, ready to bend if not break the rules. Merriam-Webster gives the definition of ruthless as “having no pity” and then lists as synonyms: “affectless, callous, case-hardened, cold-blooded, compassionless, desensitized, hard, hard-boiled, hard-hearted, heartless,” followed by many others and terminating with “unsympathetic.”
These are the qualities required by anyone in the spy business, including Zwack. His point seems to be that to achieve the professional goal of ruthlessness, he and his American colleagues had to undergo serious training and possibly put in the 10,000 hours of painful preparation and practice that Malcolm Gladwell considers essential to achieve the level of mastery that intelligence agencies require. Russians, on the other hand, according to Zwack, have it in their DNA.
Zwack is either making a genetic claim that obviously has no scientific basis or, far more likely, using a metaphor to make a cultural distinction. This would be worse, especially for someone trained in “intelligence.” It is just as racist as the biological claim — derogatorily categorizing an entire population — but with an added touch of intolerance. Culture is the result of human choices and social evolution. Categorizing a culture negatively calls into question the moral responsibility of an entire population. Politicians may routinely do that to stir up mobs to vote for them, but intelligence officers should have learned to do better.
Zwack’s remark — highlighted by The New York Times as if it summarized the point of the article — may even help to explain the consistent failures of the US intelligence community, whose mastery of the art of being hard-boiled and unsympathetic has made it culturally blind in the regions where it operates.
Whether it’s Vietnam, the Middle East, Russia, China or Latin America, US foreign policy and the action of its covert services have consistently demonstrated their incapacity or simple unwillingness to appreciate and leverage cultural differences. It reflects a deep trend in US culture that combines xenophobia and the exceptionalist illusion. In their 10,000 hours or more of preparation to become “intelligent,” US intelligence operatives working with other nations should have found the means to discover the nature of cultural difference and the value of nuance. Given the genetic diversity of the US, their blindness can’t come from their DNA.
The Times cites Zwack to establish the principle but doesn’t stop there. It cites British MI6 chief Alex Younger who “spoke out against the growing Russian threat and hinted at coordination” before making the critically unexamined statement: “The Kremlin sees Russia as being at war with a Western liberal order that it views as an existential threat.”
The statement is not false, but it suggests something far more extreme than the words “war” and “existential threat” imply. The war mentality, which seems to be massively present in the US and constantly amplified by the media such as The NY Times, may well exist somewhere within the Kremlin, but apparently not so much in Russian media.
Ofri Ilany, writing for Haaretz, summed up what is going on with American media and the liberal establishment, even after the damp squib of the Mueller report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election: “Like pious conspiracy theorists, they believe that a lack of proof of a conspiracy only proves that an even bigger conspiracy exists and is preventing the exposure of the truth.” The NY Times is on to it and is intent on exposing its “truth.”
Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 has had the enormous merit of forcing several carefully hidden historical truths out into the open. Political observers in recent decades have consistently noticed how the US empire that emerged following World War II evolved thanks to the development of a militarized economy that could be spread across the entire globe. The dollar and then, in the 1970s, the petrodollar enabled a level of dominance that permitted the extension of elaborate financial networks controlled indirectly but very efficiently by economic, political and military decision-makers in the US.
The general trend came to be known as globalization. To make it sound like the advance of democracy, NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman gleefully pronounced that now the world was flat, suggesting that for once everyone was competing on a level playing field. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
The cost of maintaining this pseudo-democratic empire was high. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ideological battle of the Cold War — fear of the “Russkis” — was used to justify all the investments. Those investments focused on structuring the military-industrial economy well beyond the capacity of any opposing force — military, economic or ideological — to call it into question, despite US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s solemn warning expressed days before leaving office.
According to this logic, even losing wars could be considered as an investment, which is why once the US had engaged in the quagmire of Vietnam, there was no looking back. Active war meant continuing the research and development of weaponry and surveillance technology that could then be farmed out to monopolistic private companies, locking entire sectors of the economy into a system too big to challenge and too vital for the well-being of the masses who depended on it.
Initially, the Cold War relied militarily on largely covert operations until Vietnam turned into a culturally traumatizing and unmanageable hot war. The confusion of the Richard Nixon years gave way to a new Cold War impetus thanks to the rhetoric of a trained actor and president, Ronald Reagan. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the hint of an “end of history” (Francis Fukuyama), the Cold War disappeared from view until it was replaced by George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” But the kind of logic the Cold War represented — powerful nations investing in military resources and competing for geographic domination — didn’t fit with the everyday reality of anarchic terrorism.
That is where President Trump’s victory turned everything on its head and forced some of the hidden truths into the light. Trump’s tenuous and casually expressed respect for Russian President Vladimir Putin allowed disappointed Democrats to explain away their ignominious defeat in 2016 and revive the good old Russian version of a cold war with “existential” implications, even if the essential ideological ingredient was now missing.
This had the singular merit of showing that the “liberal establishment” at the core of the Democratic Party was totally committed to and dependent on the economic and ideological framework of the increasingly powerful military-industrial-intelligence complex. It showed the rest of the world what should have been obvious: that whether it’s a globalist Democrat called Clinton or Obama or an “America First” Republican Trump at the helm, US foreign policy is based on the principles of control, economic manipulation and permanent aggression. It may vary along a scale of hard to soft, but its constant characteristic will always be aggressive intent.
This is new, both for Americans, who are polarized on the personality of Trump and confused about the identity of their two dominant parties, and for the rest of the world who no longer accept the fiction that the US presence abroad is “a force for good.”
These conflicts are reflected in the media, and nowhere more than in The New York Times, a newspaper that clings to its image of the bearer of objective truth. But in an article like this one, the ideological bias comes out clearly for those with the perspicuity to notice it.
The Times militated for President Bush’s very unliberal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now, it militates for the suspicion and hatred of Russia and Russians. That responds to two parallel needs: encouraging and comforting the military-industrial complex and the intelligence network that ensures its integrity, and defending the “innocent” Democratic Party so shamefully victimized by those organically ruthless Russians.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.