Peter Pomerantsev on his book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia.
Peter Pomerantsev on his book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia.
Julian Assange barely even knows the far-right, Holocaust-denying Russian kook with six different names, the latest being “Israel Shamir.” That was the line in March 2011, per a statement from WikiLeaks, released amid what the head of the former transparency organization reportedly claimed was a Jewish-orchestrated campaign to smear him.
Israel Shamir has never worked or volunteered for WikiLeaks, in any manner, whatsoever. He has never written for WikiLeaks or any associated organization, under any name and we have no plan that he do so. He is not an ‘agent’ of WikiLeaks. He has never been an employee of WikiLeaks and has never received monies from WikiLeaks or given monies to WikiLeaks or any related organization or individual. However, he has worked for the BBC, Haaretz, and many other reputable organizations.
It is false that Shamir is ‘an Assange intimate’.
Months before, Julian Assange himself disputed this. In a letter from November 2010, just obtained by the Associated Press, the WikiLeaks founder wrote:
I, Julian Assange, hereby grant full authority to my friend, Israel Shamir, to both drop off and collect my passport, in order to get a visa, at the Russian Consulate, London.
A month later, Shamir would travel to Belarus, handing the pro-Russian dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, U.S. diplomatic cables, obtained by WikiLeaks detailing America, interactions with Belarusian opposition figures, some of whom would end up arrested, or dead.
But we already knew Assange was intimately familiar with the odious Shamir; all one needed to do was read what those slandered as MSM smear-artists were reporting, credibly, at the time. For example, as former WikiLeaks staffer James Ball noted in a piece for The Guardian back in November 2011:
Shamir has a years-long friendship with Assange, and was privy to the contents of tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables months before WikiLeaks made public the full cache. Such was Shamir’s controversial nature that Assange introduced him to WikiLeaks staffers under a false name. Known for views held by many to be antisemitic, Shamir aroused the suspicion of several WikiLeaks staffers – myself included – when he asked for access to all cable material concerning “the Jews”, a request which was refused.
When questions were asked about Shamir’s involvement with WikiLeaks, given his controversial background and unorthodox requests, we were told in no uncertain terms that Assange would not condone criticism of his friend.
Assange would subsequently accuse his former colleague of making “libelous” accusations about him. But, despite electing to reside in Britain, rather than defend himself in Sweden from allegations of sexual assault, Assange did not take advantage of the country’s liberal defamation laws.
Thanks to a leak, we have a better idea why — and further evidence that one should not blindly trust the public statements of political celebrities. The question now is not whether Assange is a serial liar prone to bouts of defamatory projection, but whether his friend, Israel Shamir, had an ulterior motive for providing U.S. cables to an ally of the Kremlin just weeks after the WikiLeaks founder had used him to request assistance from Russian officials.
This article was first published at the New Arab.
In 2011, people in the eastern Ghouta (and throughout Syria) protested for freedom, dignity and social justice. The Assad regime replied with gunfire, mass arrests, torture and rape. The people formed self-defence militias in response. Then the regime escalated harder, deploying artillery and warplanes against densely-packed neighbourhoods. In August 2013 it choked over a thousand people to death with sarin gas. Since then the area has been besieged so tightly that infants and the elderly die of malnutrition.
Seven years into this process – first counter-revolutionary and now exterminatory – the Ghouta has tumbled to the lowest pit of hell. This didn’t have to happen. Nor was it an accident. Local, regional and global powers created the tragedy, by their acts and their failures to act. And Arab and international public opinion has contributed, by its apathy and relative silence.
Blame must be apportioned first to the regime, and next to its imperialist sponsors. Russia shares the skies with Assad’s bombers, and is an equal partner in war crime after war crime, targeting schools, hospitals, first responders and residential blocks.
Then Iran, which kept Assad afloat by providing both a financial lifeline and a killing machine. Iran’s transnational militias provided 80% of Assad’s troops around Aleppo, and some surround the Ghouta today. Their participation in the strategic cleansing of rebellious (and overwhelmingly Sunni) populations helped boost a Sunni jihadist backlash and will continue to provoke sectarian conflict in the future.
But the blame stretches further. American condemnations of the current slaughter, for instance, ring very hollow in Syrian ears. The Obama administration, focused on achieving a nuclear deal with Iran, ignored Iran’s build-up in Syria. It also ensured the Free Syrian Army was starved of the weapons needed to defend liberated zones. And by signalling his disengagement after the 2013 sarin atrocity, Obama indirectly but clearly invited greater Russian intervention. Since the rise of ISIS, the United States has focused myopically on its ‘war on terror’, bombing terrorists – demolishing cities and killing civilians in the process – but never deploying its vast military might in a concerted manner to protect civilians. Objectively, despite the rhetoric, the US has collaborated with Russia and Iran.
French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, called for a humanitarian truce to allow civilians to evacuate. This sounds humane, and if the fall of Aleppo is any guide, it’s probably the best scenario Ghouta residents can expect. But the proposal’s lack of ambition illustrates the current dysfunction of the global system. Instead of acting to stop the slaughter and siege, European statesmen support mass population expulsion, requesting only that it be done as gently as possible.
The Trump administration has a new plan for the war in Syria, Spencer Ackerman reports for The Daily Beast, and it’s the same as the old one: bomb the hell out of the Islamic State and other extremists while not just leaving the greatest purveyor of violence there alone, but treating it as a de facto partner.
This is, for those following along, broadly the same plan that the previous U.S. administration pursued. Despite the Assad regime crossing President Barack Obama’s self-imposed “red line” in 2013, it wasn’t until a year later that the U.S. bombs began falling — on the Islamic State and other extremists. The hereditary dictator and his forces were spared, and not for a lack of humanitarian justification, but because U.S. foreign policy elites had long before decided that a change in regime posed the greatest threat to perceived U.S. interests.
Leftists who embraced realists’ perverted version of anti-imperialism — support for dictators in the name of stability, not just when threatened by Western invasions but in the face of popular uprisings — overlooked this thematically inconvenient war on terror and the new president’s repeated desire to escalate it. As late as last fall left-liberal pundits were continuing to gravely warn of a coming war, portraying better informed critics of the regime-change storyline as the warmongers even as they ignored the thousands of U.S. airstrikes those purported warmongers decried. The latter’s crime was decrying Syrian and Russian airstrikes, too, which is well established as the road to World War III.
When it was a race between a middling neoliberal and a neofascist buffoon, the way a certain sort of leftist with a social media presence chose to demonstrate their enviable, contrarian wisdom was to deride the former — while not endorsing the latter, mind you, but — for engaging in McCarthyist “red-baiting” against a right-wing authoritarian. It was accepted as self-evidently false, and laughably so, that the right-wing authoritarian in Moscow would seek to swing the U.S. election to an ally. Those positing that there was, in fact, something to the claim that the Russian state hacked the DNC (and selectively leaked what it found on behalf of the new Republican president) were either naively or cynically falling for a line put forward by shadowy and unelected Deep State operatives; leave it to liberals, the savvy leftist blogged, to find a way to side with the establishment against a billionaire.
Donald J. Trump defeating Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College, if not the popular vote, presented a new challenge: How to continue shitting on liberals as the most problematic threat, post November 8, at a time when an unhinged billionaire is about to get the nuclear launch codes? Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept’s approach: Keep acting like the (U.S.) Deep State that couldn’t stop Trump’s win is — I’m no supporter, but — seeking to undermine the legitimacy of a democratically elected leader, as (don’t you know) it’s done many times before, abroad. In this telling, news of Russian intervention continues to be self-evidently #FakeNews pushed by a media elite with known ties to The Agency, and the take serves a dual function: validating the absurd nonsense pushed during the election by Greenwald and his quasi-left fellow travelers, from Rania Khalek to Michael Tracey, that Trump was, relative to Killary, the candidate of peace — the man who, say what you will, didn’t want to start World War III on behalf of Jabhat al-Nusra.
Key to the argument that Trump is Salvador Allende and liberals (eyeroll) are being liberals (spit) by noting the CIA’s assessment Russia intervened in the U.S. election on the new president’s behalf is: ignoring the fact that 16 other U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI believe it did too, disagreement coming only on the question of whether the obviously selective leaks that had an obviously partisan impact were explicitly designed to help the man that, as one Russian communist told me, the entire Russian state media was promoting as the globe’s salvation. Greenwald, for instance, along with the boys of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, have long posited that there’s nothing to this hacking stuff; “neither the FBI nor the CIA is on board, at least publicly” blogger Ben Norton wrote last summer, lamenting coverage of the “Russia Hack Conspiracy.”
Leading experts on Syria discuss strategies for combating ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria
With right-wing authoritarians ruling in Moscow and Washington, leftists should find it easy to oppose these evil empires — but some, poisoned by pre-election contrarianism, are too busy what-abouting their evils and conflating legitimate fears of demonstrable collusion with bigoted, liberal hysteria.
“If you look, for example, at the agency that has led the way in pushing these allegations about Russia, which is the CIA…. The CIA was very aggressively in favor of Hillary Clinton’s victory. And there’s a lot of different reasons for that, but I think the primary one is that the CIA proxy war in Syria is something that Hillary Clinton had promised not just to support, but to escalate.”
— Glenn Greenwald on Democracy Now!
One thing we really ought to sneak up on with a cloth soaked in ether, nudge into a ditch on the side of the trading route and leave behind for dead in 2016 is the notion, pushed by a social media left and libertarian fellow travelers poisoned by brand-conscious contrarianism, that Donald J. Trump — reminder: right-wing authoritarian scumbag — is a victim of liberal McCarthyist red-baiting over his fondness for a kleptocrat in Russia whose intelligence agencies worked as an arm of the Republican billionaire’s opposition research team. And buried with this notion, in a lead-lined coffin incapable of penetration by a WiFi signal, we ought to lay the accompanying dogma that to express concern about this budding geopolitical realignment (and the clear and present evidence that of course the Russian state had an interest in aiding the election of an avowed ally, and indeed did) is the product of a decidedly normie faith in the CIA that — betcha didn’t know — was wrong about Iraq.
One might have thought the alarming spectacle of an actually-going-to-be-president Trump, and his continued, open embrace of a foreign war criminal, would wake the sophists of the left from their intellectual slumber, but paradigms, like Russia as a universally loathed official enemy and Hillary as the next U.S. president, are awful hard to kick. And so the trite response to the unsurprising revelations of the Russian state’s perfectly sensible partisan hacking operations is itself lacking in shock value. This was to be expected from a left that’s only frame of reference appears to the be the 2003 invasion of Iraq, supported by the likes of Glenn Greenwald, and which long ago decided to serve penance for the crimes of the U.S. empire by reflexively countering indictments of others’ crimes with something moderately less rank than outright apologism: increasingly stale reminders that the U.S., also, meddles and bombs.
What’s lacking in the response to Russian intelligence operations — different from the U.S. variety only in that the hacked information was selectively made public — is any attempt at a counter narrative: If not them, then who? No, bumper-sticker leftism requires the centering of the U.S. for the purposes of battle-tested talking points, like: If not us, then who cares? We’ve got plenty for which to atone, mister. It’s a leftism divorced from the trials of reality and the difficulties of grappling with multiple poles of power as they actually exist in a world from which a certain brand of “left” (“pseudo-” if one prefers that to mocking quote marks) has retreated, preferring the smugness of a contrarian subculture and a reactionary (and boring) anti-liberalism with its self-satisfied truisms to truly independent socialist critique.
Another Iran, Not Iraq
The truth is Russia is not Iraq, nor is evidence that Moscow hacked and disseminated information that helped a friend akin to saying Baghdad had WMDs — and neither claim, true or not, could possibly justify U.S. militarism. The claims are dissimilar in another respect: The intelligence in the lead-up to Iraq was manufactured from the top down by political appointees that accused the CIA of housing liberals who just didn’t get that the intelligence its agents had discarded as unreliable or fake could, in fact, be useful to its boss, Dick Cheney. Today, we witness the spectacle of the CIA and the FBI and the NSA all concurring on a matter that President Barack Obama reportedly sought to delay addressing until after Trump’s election, and which (badump) doesn’t ingratiate the intelligence community to the next man that community will call “dad,” and who will have the power to dismantle it.
If there’s a historic parallel, it’s not Iraq, but Iran: As with Russia’s hacking, it was also the U.S. intelligence community’s consensus that Iran was not building nuclear weapons, a finding that didn’t please the “real men” in the Bush administration who wanted to follow up the bombing of Baghdad with airstrikes on Tehran.
But that said, did you know (I bet you didn’t) that there were, in fact, no WMDs in Iraq? It’s a reference that is damning, on the surface, for those unfamiliar with how the U.S. came to invade that country, and so those who prefer their politics superficial will return to it time and again, just as they do a narrative on Syria, the next Iraq that wasn’t.
Appearing on Democracy Now!, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald helpfully united both Russia and Syria in the “next Iraq” take we didn’t know we wanted but which we, as inhabitants of an evil empire, totally deserve. Asked why revelations of Russian responsibility were coming out now, Greenwald suggested we were on the road to Damascus. “There’s a lot of different reasons,” Greenwald said, “but I think the primary one is that the CIA proxy war in Syria is something that Hillary Clinton had promised not just to support, but to escalate.” The CIA, Greenwald maintained, “is attempting to undermine and subvert Trump because they never wanted him to be president in the first place, and now they’re trying to weaken and subvert his agenda, that they oppose.”
Trump, in other words, poses a challenge to the deep state because he threatened to pursue the same policy as his predecessor: regime preservation, not change, with Obama even pursuing a deal with Russia to jointly bomb Syria together. Greenwald, who failed to recognize the latter’s joint bombing plans until it was useful to deploy against liberal “Russophobic” hysterics, is here seeking to salvage his pre-election take that Trump has a “non-interventionist mindset” by portraying his non-interventionism as under assault by the deep state; when the bombs do inevitably fall, then, they can then be spun as the spoils of that deep state’s victory against a president “they never wanted.” And so, even post-November, harping on liberals and their intelligence allies as the greater evil can continue to be the woke call despite a proto-fascist’s assumption of power. Hillary, after all, would have started World War III for Jabhat al-Nusra, and it doesn’t take supporting Trump to oppose that!
End this, please. A new year and a new U.S. head of state requires more from the ironically detached left than the cock-sure scumbaggery of vapid owns of liberals and asinine comparisons to earlier , more easily understood times that only demonstrate one’s inability to accept that times change and alliances shift.
Whatever This Is, I’m Against It
Whatever the reasons — likes and shares or an intellectual laziness that prevents them from abandoning old paradigms — it is disappointing and sad that many old comrades cannot abide their analysis, proven woke and true in the mid-2000s, being affected by new developments, like Russia no longer being red and non-U.S. imperialisms having eclipsed the American empire’s body count in the 21st century. We sneer at Democratic elites’ unwillingness to own their failures, and that perhaps explains the unwillingness to concede the reality of Russian hacking lest we excuse those failings, but the left’s most confident pundits have, like the liberals they deride, fallen into the comfortable habit of preaching to their own social media cluster, where possessing superior politics, in the abstract, is a license for not having to grapple with the world through anything but the comfortably distorting prism of ahistorical slogans.
The world, as it exists, is defined by a resurgent threat of fascism that a swathe of the left is content to challenge by blaming everyone and everything but itself, a self-defeating and self-satisfied impotence — literally nothing a leftist says or does matters because the left doesn’t hold power which is totally not its own fault in any fashion — absolving the savviest from having to wake up and notice that the Russian state is objectively bad, even if liberals say it too, and that the right-wing authoritarian who rules from Moscow is about to have an ally in Washington that his intelligence services helped elect. Instead of retreating to the comfort of takes we knew to be true in an earlier, more innocent time, when the laughter of children wasn’t at plausible risk of being extinguished by an unhinged megalomaniac with a greater-than-zero chance of firing off some nukes because he finds that laughter annoying, the left should consider that rejecting Moscow and Washington alike was leftists’ proudest moment, and that we live in a time when both empires are set to work in concert, with Syria likely to be the first testing grounds for this alliance — making it all the more easy and refreshingly unproblematic to oppose them both.
Let’s do that, not whatever it is Greenwald and his imitators think they’re doing.
Charles Davis is a journalist based in Los Angeles.