From bad to worse

A lof of what has happened these past two years has not surprised me. What has, however, astounded and shocked me has been 1) the silencing in the press of all criticism of the US and NATO’s handling of the war in Ukraine and 2) the US and UK crackdown on criticism of Israel post October 7.

An important factor in the near total suppression of dissent regarding US foreign policy, not only in the USA but also in US satellite states – has finally been made clear to me thanks to a book:

The Think Tank Racket by Glenn Diesen, Clarity Press, 2023.

According to Wikipedia as at 01.12.2023:

A think tank is a research institute that performs research and advocacy on topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture.

That sounds promising enough: Politicians are, after all, initially just people like you and me who have been asked to represent us. They are not experts on “social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture”, etc. They rely on experts who can tell them all about it. Think tanks supposedly serve just that purpose: to inform politicians. Yes, and also to inform the media.

Now, as you will of course immediately point out: All these researchers will have to be paid. Who pays them?

Just so. And please notice the two warning words in Wikipedia’s definition: “and advocacy

Unsurprisingly, they are paid by those who can afford to pay them and who stand to gain by doing so.

While most of us know a lot about all sorts of things, the matter of “national security” in a big and dangerous world full of threats – cyber threats, WMDs, long distance missiles, AI threats – is not for novices and could easily fill a telephone directory. So yes, I do understand the need for experts. Not only to advise politicians, but also to advise the press.

But there is, again, the issue of funding. The relationship between 1) those who provide the funding, 2) the experts and 3) the government – i.e. the decision makers. Diesen has taken a closer look at some of the think tanks, their funders, to the extent they are known, and the vested interests of some of the “experts”. I would be understating matters by saying that much of what comes to light in his book is extremely disturbing.

I shall not divulge his dramatic revelations though I will quote him a couple of times.

The first quote:

From the start, let’s be clear, the term “think tank” essentially amounts to a more polite way of saying “lobby group.” They exist to serve—and promote—the agendas of their funders. However, particularly in the United States, the field has become increasingly shady and disingenuous, with lobbyists being given faux academic titles like “Senior Non-Resident Fellow” and “Junior Adjunct Fellow” to distinguish them from honest registered lobbyists.

We have all heard the expression “military-industrial complex”, apparently coined by Eisenhower who, in his farewell address warned:

[W]e must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

There are those who claim that US warmongering not only benefits the likes of Lockhead Martin, Raytheon and Boing, but is driven by them. Since I do not have the skills to asses the weight of US defence contractors in the national economy, I leave you with a link so you can judge for yourself.

Surely the defence contractors would not advocate involving their own country in a war for pecuniary reasons? True enough, none of the very numerous wars engaged in by the USA since WWII – not one – was fought on US soil. (Not WWII either.) Admittedly many of “our boys” lost their lives in Vietnam and some, mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds, died in Iraq, just as quite a few disadvantaged US women famously lose their lives every year “while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, ….” (maternal mortality) largely due to inadequate health care. It is tempting to deduce that from the point of view of US policy makers, these disadvantaged young men and women are dispensable.

Jenny Erpenbeck wrote in Gehen, ging, gegangen: “there’s no better way to make history disappear than to unleash money. Money on the loose is fiercer than a fighting dog.” [My translation]. And the evidence presented in Glenn Diesen’s book seems to indicate that profit might well be a driving force for continuous US warmongering. I give you none of his examples because I think you should read the book.

One of the think tanks discussed by Diesen is the Atlantic Council, basically a NATO propaganda wing.

Here is my second quotation from Diesen, about the Atlantic Council:

[I]n the decade 2006–2016, its annual revenue grew from $2 million to $21 million, a more than a ten-fold increase.”

Not bad for a team of “experts”, I’d say. Most scientific researchers here in OSLO can not even afford a simple 2-room flat. From my perspective, in Norway, the Atlantic Council is definitely a target of study, since NATO-criticism has been totally silenced here on Torvald Stoltenberg’s watch. In view of the war crimes recently committed in LIBYA by NATO, including not least Norway, the silence suggests suppression.

Here is what we find on the Atlantic Council “About” page.

Can you read the text? This is it:

Driven by our mission of “shaping the global future together,” the Atlantic Council is a nonpartisan organization that galvanizes US leadership and engagement in the world, in partnership with allies and partners, to shape solutions to global challenges.

Global future”? NATO countries make up roughly 11.87 % of the global population!
But this “nonpartisan” instrument nevertheless intends to shape the global future, having “galvanized” US leadership? Good luck with that.
And as for the “engagement“, a common collocation of the word is “military”, i.e. miiitary engagement, so that word, at least, is apt.

A report referred to by Diesen was produced by the think tank RAND in April 2019. The report, Overextending and unbalancing Russia can be downloaded in its entirety, but you will find a summary of it here. The preface tells us that the report is “sponsored by the Army Quadrennial Defense Review Office, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff G-8, Headquarters, Department of the Army”.

Please note that the preface does not exclude other sponsors.

The goal in this report is to weaken (“overextend and unbalance”) “Russia’s economy and armed forces and the regime’s political standing at home and abroad” notwithstanding the fact that

unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is not overextended geographically. Other than in Syria, its foreign commitments in Ukraine and the Caucasus are relatively compact, contiguous to Russia, and in locales where at least some of the local population is friendly and geography provides Russia with military advantages.

The report mentions a number of Russian vulnerabilities, and sees its economy as relatively weak compared to that of the USA. More importantly: not once in the report do I find any suggestion that Russia poses a military threat to a NATO country.

I cannot quite put my finger on just what it is that gets up the US nose until I come to Chapter 5, Ideological and Informational Measures: “Russia has orchestrated a series of efforts … to undermine Western political institutions and increase Russia’s standing and influence …” Ah!

At any rate, you can see for yourself what measures to weaken Russia were assessed by RAND in 2019 and how they were rated. You will see that among the measures that were highly rated were several “Air and Space Cost-Imposing Measures” e.g. “Invest more in long-range strike aircraft and missiles” – all presumably lucrative for the defence contractors.

What I found most interesting, however, were the following paragraphs:

Expanding U.S. assistance to Ukraine, including lethal military assistance, would likely increase the costs to Russia, in both blood and treasure, of holding the Donbass region. More Russian aid to the separatists and an additional Russian troop presence would likely be required, leading to larger expenditures, equipment losses, and Russian casualties.

Alternatively, Russia might counter-escalate, committing more troops and pushing them deeper into Ukraine. Russia might even pre-empt U.S. action, escalating before any additional U.S. aid arrives. Such escalation might extend Russia; Eastern Ukraine is already a drain. Taking more of Ukraine might only increase the burden, albeit at the expense of the Ukrainian people. However, such a move might also come at a significant cost to Ukraine and to U.S. prestige and credibility. This could produce disproportionately large Ukrainian casualties, territorial losses, and refugee flows. It might even lead Ukraine into a disadvantageous peace.

Some analysts maintain that Russia lacks the resources to escalate the conflict. Ivan Medynskyi of the Kyiv-based Institute for WorldPolicy argued, “War is expensive. Falling oil prices, economic decline, sanctions, and a campaign in Syria (all of which are likely to continue in 2016) leave little room for another large-scale military maneuver by Russia.” According to this view, Russia simply cannot afford to maintain a proxy war in Ukraine, although, given Russia’s size and the importance it places on Ukraine, this might be an overly optimistic assumption.

There is also some risk of weapons supplied to the Ukrainians winding up in the wrong hands. A RAND study conducted for the President of Ukraine found reasons for concern about the potential misuse of Western military aid.

bold highlights are mine

RAND seems to have been more prescient than most other policy advisers pushing for war “to the last Ukrainian” and “what it takes” etc. Those of us who have been accused of being Putin acolytes – i.e. all who have warned about the consequences of the “proxy war” – find support in, of all things, a RAND document from 2019. Would you believe it?

Meanwhile the disgraceful Wikipedia article vilifying Glenn Diesen is an example of just how “lethal” the stand-off between the USA and everybody who does not vocally support “our” foreign policy has become. Glenn Diesen is a political science professor at a Norwegian university. As a Norwegian, I resent the innuendo that university professors here are employed by virtue of anything but outstanding academic qualifications. I may disagree with our professors and frequently do, but academic debate has until recently been allowed, even welcomed. Controversial views are no exception! The information Glenn Diesen brings to the table is based on research – an example of which is the book I so warmly recommend, a result of assiduous and time-consuming work. It is, moreover, written in an easy, often ironical, conversational tone.