Immediately following this horrible tragedy, Obama and his Washington establishment jumped at the opportunity to exploit the loss of life by further demonizing Putin and escalating confrontation with Russia.
There is a term for deliberately misleading someone in order to cause him harm. In common law, it is called fraud. In international relations, it is called American foreign policy. The latest example concerns the Malaysia Airways plane that was shot down while flying above disputed territory in Ukraine on last week, killing all 298 people aboard. Immediately following this horrible tragedy, Obama and his Washington establishment jumped at the opportunity to exploit the loss of life by further demonizing Putin and escalating confrontation with Russia.
The day before the plane crash, President Obama announced further economic measures meant to isolate Russia.
“Given its continued provocations in Ukraine, today I have approved a new set of sanctions on some of Russia’s largest companies and financial institutions,” Obama said. “What we are expecting that the Russian leadership will see, once again, that its actions in Ukraine have consequences, including a weakening Russian economy and increasing diplomatic isolation.”
Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian studies and politics, told Democracy Now that the Obama administration’s actions are reviving Cold War mentality and increasing the possibility of war between Russia and the United States. He noted that the Kiev government has been “bombing, shelling, mortaring” East Ukranian cities, but you don’t hear this from the administration or the mainstream media.
“This shootdown, took place in that context,” Cohen said. “The American media says it must have been the bad guys – that is, the rebels – because they’ve shot down other airplanes. This is true, but the airplanes they’ve been shooting down are Ukraine’s military warplanes that have come to bomb the women and children of these cities.”
The Ukranian Army has been engaged in fierce fighting in the Eastern part of that country with rebels – many of whom are of Russian ethnicity and in opposition to the government of the oligarch Petro Poroshenko, the Chocolate King, who came to power after a U.S. and E.U backed coup that saw democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovich flee to Russia.
Cohen interprets the Obama administration’s response to the MH17 attack as an extension their stance in the Ukrainian conflict.
“The anti-Putin attitude is driving American policy,” Cohen said.
Within hours of the crash, Kiev’s pretend government had seemingly gotten to the bottom of the incident, declaring either rebels or Russia were responsible for the downing of the plane.
Shortly after, the Chocolate King’s allies in Washington would be quick to come to the same conclusion – without quite saying so.
“We cannot rule out Russian technical assistance,” US Ambassador to the United NationsSamantha Power told that body. Power’s comments made the clear implication while maintaining plausible deniability that they were jumping to conclusions. Obama declared Putin had a “directresponsiblity” to force the rebels to cooperate in a probe – again making a clear implication about who was to blame for the incident without actually saying so. John Kerry went as far as claiming evidence of Russian complicity in the downing of the jet.
Obama also claimed that the pro-Russian separatists were stealing evidence and improperly removing bodies. “Russia – and President Putin in particular – has a direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation,” Obama said.
Given the lack of a motive on either side, and nothing but circumstantial evidence discovered, it would be wildly premature to conclude this was a deliberate, intentional attack. It is entirely inconsistent with- and in fact detrimental to – the political goals of the current conflict.
It is logical to suspect that whichever side was responsible for firing the anti-aircraft missile that struck Flight MH17 did so either by mistake or by gross negligence. Both would be serious violations of course, and would deserve appropriate punishment. But they should not be conflated to accusations of murder unless there is demonstrable proof this is the case.
Gross negligence would not be unique for the Ukrainian military. In 2001, the military shot down Siberian Airlines Flight 1812, killing 78 people. It was later determined the Ukrainian forces did not have the proper training to operate the antiaircraft missiles.
If this was in fact a terrible accident, what would be the responsibility of whoever pulled the trigger? Judging by the public statements of the Obama administration, the motive doesn’t seem to matter. The villains who brought down flight MH17, as well as whoever helped provide them with the capacity to do so, are presumably guilty of mass murder. As usual, when you can blame an official enemy, the chain of culpability goes all the way to the top.
If not, why the belligerent accusations from Obama and his administration? Why not make clear that while the damage was horrific and a terrible human loss, it was likely a case of negligence or mistaken identity? If the roles were reversed, and it was Americans who had shot down a plane, would the same standard be enforced?
The answer is no. This is not a hypothetical question. It actually happened on July 4, 1988 in a very similar tragedy to MH17. The US Navy warship U.S.S. Vincennes – operating inside Iranian territorial waters – blew Iran Air Flight 655 out of the air, killing all 290 people on board. The U.S. claimed the ship had mistaken the Iranian airplane for a F-14 fighter jet.
The difference, of course, is that the U.S. warship was inside Iranian waters and blew apart the Iranian plane inside Iranian airspace. The U.S. was not defending itself against Iran, because Iran never attacked the United States or bombed civilians inside the country. As opposed to the Ukrainian rebels, who could have legitimately mistaken the Malaysia Airways plane for a Ukrainian military plane like those that have carried out massacres through aerial assault on their people.
After the attack on the Iran Air flight, actor-in-chief Ronald Reagan proclaimed to “deeply regret any loss of life.” However, he went on to say it was not actually the fault of the Americans because “the course of the Iranian civilian airliner was such that it was headed directly for the U.S.S. Vincennes.” This turned out not to be true. “”When the aircraft failed to heed repeated warnings, the Vincennes followed standard orders and … procedures … firing to protect itself against possible attack.”
Of course, many skeptics such as Noam Chomsky have pointed out that “the circumstances were suspicious, to say the least.” David Carlson, the commander of a second ship nearby at the time, has said that the downing of Iran Air Flight 655 was the “horrifying climax to Captain [William C.] Rogers aggressiveness.”
But, as long as the U.S. government declares it was an accident, this is to be accepted without question. And further, it absolves them of any responsibility. If any proof was needed of this, the entire crew was later awarded combat action ribbons, with Rogers receiving a special Commendation Medal from Reagan.
So, it is through this lens that we should view the belligerent rhetoric now aimed at Russia and faithfully propagated unquestioningly by mainstream Western media. Can anyone imagine what the U.S. reaction would be if the evidence – which there is none of now – turned out to be that rebels backed by Russian forces had been responsible, and Putin then awarded those involved medals, as Reagan did?
The Obama administration does not actually care about holding people responsible for the deaths of the MH17 passengers accountable for that crime. It cares about using a convenient pretext to further the isolation and sanctions it has already imposed on Russia unilaterally because it has deemed Russia a strategic threat to American hegemony.
As of this writing, more than five times the amount of people who perished on MH17 have been killed in Gaza by Israeli bombings and naval and tank shelling. About 80% of the dead in Gaza are civilians, and all have been under a brutal siege for 7 years inside Gaza. On top of that, the illegal occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem has lasted now for 47 years. These criminal actions have been fully endorsed by American governments, who provide $3 billion annually for the fighter jets, tanks, ships, and weapons used to slaughter Palestinians and carry out the illegal military occupation.
Obama’s objectives are clear in his combative accusations and implications about Russian responsibility for the Malaysia Airways tragedy. He wants to exploit the opportunity to score a public relations victory and isolate the Russian government while building support by for the coup government in Ukraine that his administration helped to seize power. This Kiev government has received at least tacit approval of the U.S. government to engage in military operations against citizens who do not recognize the legitimacy of the new government and resorted to armed resistance.
What Obama is doing is a fraud. He is deliberately misrepresenting the nature of the East Ukranian resistance, the Ukranian army’s actions in the area, and the involvement of Russia to cause further harm to the Russian government and the cause of those who oppose the U.S.-backed coup.
Obama’s case to the public is built on the premise that Russia is guilty – if not of directly downing the plane then at least being complicit, as Kerry said. A key element of fraud is scienter, or the knowledge and mindful intention that what you say or do is wrong. The Obama administration is clearly aware that it’s circumstantial case against Russia is the product of a double standard.
That is to say, if the roles were reversed – as they have been in the past – the U.S. would not tolerate similar Russian accusations. They would expect Russia and the rest of the world to unquestioningly accept their explanation and move on.
The U.S. government has a long history of using such pretexts to justify foreign military interventions. Most recently, of course, is the claim of WMDs that provided public cover for the disastrous and illegal aggression against Iraq in 2003.
Further back, there was the Gulf of Tonkin incident which was used as a pretext for the merciless bombing and aggression against Vietnam. Of course, this too turned out to by hyped up by President Johnson and the military as a convenient public relations sham to mislead the American public.
Going all the way back to 1898 you could find possibly the closest comparison. When the USS Maine exploded in Havana Bay, the government quickly went to work claiming Spanish culpability. The press predictably did the government’s bidding and immediately proclaimed Spain guilty, setting the country on the war path – the intention all along. Thus the American empire was born.
American imperialism demanded this type of fraud to justify other horrific interventions and meddling all over the globe. Obama is proving that American imperialism is still alive and well, at the expense of true democracy.
The core necessity of democracy is an informed public that can make decisions on the best information available. It is the government’s responsibility in a democracy to present the facts in the proper context to allow the democratic process to function. Misrepresenting facts and events as a way to deliberately mislead the public for political gain is an assault on democracy itself.
When you consider the potential damage to the American public of reigniting the Cold War and escalating a potential military conflict with Russia, all in an expedient attempt to improve his Ukraine policy, Obama could make Bernie Madoff seem like a pickpocket by comparison.
Matt Peppe writes about U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. His work has appeared in MintPress News, Counterpunch, Latino Rebels, Countercurrents and other outlets. You can follow him on twitter.