Western media scripting yet another 'Russian invasion,' this time in Libya
Since Russophobic stories are a dime a dozen across much of NATO-occupied territory, you would be forgiven for missing the latest bit of pseudo-news masquerading as legitimate journalism. According to this latest lapse into fantasy land, Russia, the Sasquatch beast from the East, deeply feared yet rarely photographed in the wild, has turned its attention to Libya. You know, because Russia doesn't have enough problems already.
According to a combined report from the Guardian and Reuters, “US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Washington (sic) had observed what appeared to be Russian special operations forces and drones at Sidi Barrani, about 60 miles (100km) from the Egypt-Libya border.” The report went on to quote yet more publicity-shy officials, this time “Egyptian security sources,” who described a “22-member Russian special forces unit, but declined to discuss its mission.”
Here we have, once again, lots of very serious assumptions but not a single satellite image, not a single cell-phone picture, not a single verifiable source with a name badge. This sort of reporting may have been acceptable in the early 19th century before the advent of electricity, but certainly not in the high-powered 21st.
Russia, understandably exasperated with such lame, scurrilous reporting, responded harshly to the charges. In fact, the Defense Ministry’s official spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, took the rather unprecedented step of calling out Reuters by name.
“Some Western media have been disturbing the public with such reports, citing anonymous sources for several years now,” Konashenkov said. “And ever more foolish and indecent with regard to American intelligence are the words of the ‘source’ quoted by Reuters, who said that ‘intelligence activity of the United States into the [actions] of the Russian military are complicated because of the involvement of contractors and agents in civilian clothes.’”
Egypt, which might know something about what's happening on its territory, also rejected the report.
“There is no foreign soldier from any foreign country on Egyptian soil," Egyptian army spokesman Tamer al-Rifai said, as cited by Reuters, no less. "This is a matter of sovereignty.”
Now before we blow a gasket, let’s calmly recall exactly how we got to this disastrous point in US-Russia relations.
Last year, during the most politically divisive US presidential contest in decades, America lost its collective mind as WikiLeaks dumped thousands of explosive emails from the Democratic camp that revealed some less-than-glorious things about the Clinton campaign here and here. Although the emails could easily have been the result of an internal leak, the US media took the conspiracy-theorist highway, accusing Russian hackers of “undermining US democracy,” charges that have less grounding than the swampland Washington was built upon.
An avalanche of other bogus charges quickly followed in the wake of Trump’s 'unexpected' victory (I'd argue instead that it was very expected, and that's why so much commotion is being made about Russia). From attacks on America’s electrical grid, to peddling fake news, to threatening Eastern Europe and the Baltics, the media message was clear: Russia was now America’s arch-nemesis, and woe to those who fail to toe the dangerous narrative.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that at the same time Washington is forced to admit that Russian intervention in Syria played a significant part in rolling back Islamic State, and that President Bashar Assad’s rule will likely continue as a result, Russia is being accused of attempting to “exert its influence” with the ultimate goal of “undermining US and NATO.”
In other words, the US does not like the idea of Russia interfering any further in their regime change operations.
“The Kremlin's ambitions in the Middle East reach far beyond Syria, according to US officials,” CNN deadpanned, with the rumble of thunder practically audible in the background. “From Afghanistan to Libya, US Pentagon officials are increasingly concerned by mounting Russian military and diplomatic activity they believed is aimed at undermining the US and NATO.”
CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr was then summoned to warn wide-eyed viewers back home that, “Russia is already moving beyond Syria, launching a new effort in Libya to exert its influence and change the security landscape in a country where there is still no central government five years after Muammar Gaddafi was ousted.”
At this point, astute armchair generals should have sat up fast and furious in their LazyBoy recliners, dauntless about spilling beer and corn chips in the process, to challenge the Starr report by asking, “Would changing the security landscape in Libya really be such a bad thing?” Judging by the battered “security landscape” in places like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, probably not. However, that does not mean Russia has any intention of tackling the job. But just try and convince the hawks in Washington of that.
This month, US Senator Lindsey Graham, whose political career is heavily indebted to defense sector donations, posed the following yes or no question to US General Thomas Waldhauser during a Senate Armed Service Committee meeting: “Is Russia attempting to do in Libya what they’ve been doing in Syria?”
Waldhauser told Graham exactly what he wanted to hear and, of course, without a shred of documented evidence to seal the deal: “Yes, that’s a good way to characterize it,” he said.
So what’s really going on here? Why has the Western media suddenly taken the promulgation of fact-free accusations against Russia to a dangerous new level? Why are the perennially hostile hawks in Washington attempting to portray Russia as hell-bent on “restoring empire” and “expanding its influence” when facts on the ground suggest otherwise? Well, because they are hawks, and that's precisely what hawks, hell-bent on military conflict, usually do?
Could the answer be nothing more mysterious than Russia’s old-fashioned willingness to resort to painstaking diplomacy - as opposed to easy drone missile strikes - in order to cultivate the international landscape? It seems others are beginning to reach similar conclusions...
Back to the basics
In fact, I almost fell out of my chair when I read the following passage, in the Economist of all places, which would never be confused as a Russia-friendly publication: “Serving as a power-broker in Syria has helped Russia to cultivate relationships. It strives to maintain contacts across the Sunni-Shia and Israeli-Arab divides. While fighting alongside Iran in Syria, Mr Putin helped broker an oil-supply pact with Saudi Arabia. He has also developed a rapport with Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, repaired ties with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the downing of a Russian jet over Syria, and maintained friendly links with Israel’s Mr Netanyahu, even angling for a more active role in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
That passage was followed up with this astute observation by Mark Katz of George Mason University: “They go out of their way to talk with everyone in a way that the Americans don’t.”
(Dear Economist, keep reporting like that and I may just have to renew my subscription).
So clearly, what is really at issue here, at least for the hawkish half of the American establishment, is not some shady Russian attempt at a military assault of Libya or anywhere else, but rather Russia's willingness to employ the full-court diplomatic press.
Lest we forget, following NATO’s murderous military intervention in Libya, which led to the brutal killing of Muammar Gaddafi at the hands of a street mob, the country - once Africa's brightest - cracked in half. Russia, playing the perfect diplomat, has patiently played the long game, courting both sides accordingly.
Just this month, the US-backed leader based in West Libya, Prime Minister Fayez Seraj, was in Moscow for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Seraj said during a press conference: “Our relations with Russia are strong and deep-rooted. We plan to intensify relations at all levels, including in the economy, politics, security and military affairs."
So as not to appear to be playing favorites with the feuding Libyan leaders, Moscow has also been reaching out to General Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who exercises control over East Libya, the location of much of the country's oil wealth.
Meanwhile, Russian company Rosneft has signed a memorandum of co-operation with Libya’s National Oil Corporation.
This display of Russian statesmanship alongside economic investment, which exists in stark contrast to the US preference for militaristic strong-arming enemies and allies alike, has thrown Western foreign policy completely off balance. Now, Western policymakers, with their backs against the wall, have no other choice but to portray Putin’s diplomatic blitzkrieg, if you like, as some sort of military offensive. But for anybody with an unbiased sense of history, Putin is much more of a wise Bismarck than a wily Napoleon.
But the dogs will bark, as the caravan moves on.
"What all these Kremlin actions show is that Putin cares more about dividing and undermining the West than anything else," Anna Borshchevskaya of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told CNN.
Bill Roggio of the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies called Borshchevskaya's bluff and raised it: "Russia is certainly expanding its influence and trying to reestablish itself as a superpower."
Putin's moves demonstrate a new form of "growing Russian imperialism," said Roggio told CNN, apparently more interested in paying homage to the hand that feeds than speaking truth.
Those assessments are embarrassingly wide of the mark, and all the more so considering we are talking about 'experts' who should know better. The plain fact, which seems to be known to everyone except those employed by Western think-tanks, is that Putin has simply been using the myriad faults of Western foreign policy to his advantage, diplomatically knocking on doors instead of kicking them down, both guns blazing. And when the Russian leader did resort to military power in Syria it was only when 1. the enemy, Islamic State, appeared to be getting the upper hand in a battle the world could not afford to lose, and 2. he was invited into the battle by the sovereign leader of that nation, Bashar Assad, something not a single NATO power can claim.
So where exactly is the problem here? Is not the united fight against the scourge of terrorism the ultimate concern here? If the answer is yes, then the West has little grounds for criticizing Russia's moves in Syria.
The problem, it seems, is that Western leaders are no longer used to employing the art of diplomacy when attempting to resolve international conflicts, which is odd considering how armed and dangerous the world has become. They continue to behave as though the planet is not overflowing with the deadliest weapons of mass destruction ever conceived in the overactive minds of men.
Thus, Putin's willingness to use diplomacy is viewed by many as pure genius, which is certainly required in some degree for that political tool to be effective.
“If we were to use traditional measures for understanding leaders, which involve the defense of borders and national flourishing, Putin would count as the preeminent statesman of our time," Chris Caldwell of The Weekly Standard wrote in an essay in Hillsdale College’s March issue of its magazine, Imprimis, as cited by Patrick Buchanan.
“On the world stage, who could vie with him?”
Hopefully, before it's too late, the West will wake up to the reality of diplomacy, understanding that it is far better to negotiate problems with foreign states than to strike first and talk later.
In the meantime, Western analysts should put away their ridiculous ideas about Russia's "imperial ambitions," which, quite frankly, makes them look as fake as the media reporting them.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.