Category Archives: Uncategorized

vanessa beeley

Back from Iran – the hybrid war hub
Vanessa Beeley, Feb 4 2023

I am back from Iran. Apologies for no posts for the last two weeks. The internet situation in Iran is difficult to work with. VPNs are banned and the majority of social media platforms. Over the next week or ten days I will be doing various interviews to talk about my experiences in Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz conducting multiple interviews of people for and against the government and leadership. Here is UK Column News from Feb 3 where I go into some detail about the media complex running the propaganda show in Iran just as they did in Syria, Ukraine, Iraq etc previously.

south front

Kiev Regime Looking For New Soldiers Among Ukrainian Refugees Abroad
South Front, Feb 4 2023

The South Front Team received a letter from one of our readers from England. He takes part in the UK Government Homes For Ukraine initiative and hosts a young couple of refugees from Ukraine. On Jan 30, he received an official letter from the Department of Equalization, Housing and Communities. The host was demanded to provide the following personal data of his guests:

  1. Whether the sponsor hosts or hosted a Ukrainian refugee(s)
  2. Whether there is (are) a male person(s) among the refugees aged 18 plus
  3. In case a male person(s) left the residence, report this(their) posible location and other available informmation
  4. A male Ukrainian(s) aged 18 plus personal info: name, surname, middle name, age, current location of residence
  5. In their turn, the refugees have to visit the Ukrainian embassy to “specify their personal data individually.”

Our reader wondered what was the reason for collecting such data about his guests:

Distinguished Editor, I’m James. I reside in Ipswich, East England. I’ve been part of the UK Government Homes For Ukraine initiative for 5 months now. I am hosting a sweet couple from the city of Lviv or something like that, a young lady and her husband, both in their late 20s. They have already found a job and we get on well together. They are simply nice people but that’s not the point of the story. Just a couple of days ago I received a letter from the Department for Leveling Up, Housing & Communities that told me to report certain data on my guests to the authority. I will obviously do that, but I just don’t really get the reason why I should. Moreover it looks like the lady’s husband, the refugee, must now visit his country’s embassy in London for God only knows what reason. The letter reads ‘Inquiry of the Embassy of Ukraine.’ What does that ‘inquiry’ mean? Why would the Ukrainian embassy gather such data? Does anybody know what is it all about? I hope this email finds you and you would be kind enough to post it on your platform! Best wishes, James

Obviously, this is not just a survey on Ukrainian refugees. The fact that the embassy is interested exclusively in Ukrainian men over the age of 18 indicates that this measures are taken amid some mobilization procedures. It is likely that the Kiev regime is starting to look for new soldiers among refugees abroad amid the ongoing preparations for the spring offensive on the fronts which was recently announced by Biden. Earlier, the National Bank of Ukraine predicted that at the beginning of 2023 the total number of refugees from the country will increase to nine million people. Which is probably a fairly modest forecast.

The general mobilization of Ukrainians continues amid fierce fighting along the entire front line of Donbass, heavy losses of the Ukrainian Army and the outflow of foreign mercenaries. For example, on Jan 1, the founder of the private military company “Mozart” Andrew Milburn recognized the victory of the PMC “Wagner” and announced that his mercenaries are leaving Ukraine. The mobilization resource in the country is sharply decreasing. The AFU mobilizes people of older age groups, with chronic diseases, who have not served in the army, that is, those categories of the population who are unlikely to be good soldiers. Ukrainian men are captured by the military right on the streets throughout the country.

The search for soldiers abroad may be an attempt to facilitate military supply chains to Ukraine and training of Ukrainian soldiers abroad. Ukrainians who are currently being hunted by the embassy can be mobilized to undergo training in the UK and join the crews of Challenger 2 tanks and participate in other exercises. So the refugees will soon return to their country, but already as part of combat units. On Jan 14, the UK was the first among NATO countries to announce the transfer of 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Kiev. The other day, the UK’s Defense Minister declared that the AFU would receive tanks before the beginning of summer. On Feb 5, Sunak called Zelensky to tell him that British instructors had begun to train Ukrainians to operate Challenger 2 tanks. Sunak promised to make every effort to ensure that “British military equipment arrived at the front as soon as possible.”

In addition to the UK, the training of Ukrainian tankers was organized in Germany, where they are taught to operate German-made Leopard tanks. Despite the claims of the military officials that Ukrainians are quickly mastering the operation of foreign tanks, some Western experts doubted that Ukrainian tankers would be able to master the management of complex Western military equipment within a few weeks, even if they already have experience in managing Soviet tanks. If the Kiev regime begins mobilizing new servicemen among the refugees in the NATO countries, their training would take even more time.

colonel cassad

The situation in Artemovsk
Colonel Cassad, Feb 5 2023 11:24

The main focus of the battle shifts to the northern and north-eastern outskirts of the city. PMC Wagner increases pressure on enemy positions, trying to advance through the northern quarters, as well as Paraskovievka and Krasnaya Gora to the last serious road along which there can be a relatively safe supply of the Artemov group (the rest, to varying degrees, are under fire from Russian artillery). The enemy is well aware of these intentions and tries to hold onto Paraskovievka and Krasnaya Gora as firmly as possible in order to maintain the ability to supply the group at the current level for as long as possible. It is obvious that as soon as this road is under fire, the AFU in Artemovsk will begin very black days, as it was already in Soledar. Therefore, there is no retreat. The command of the AFU rushes all possible support to hold Wagner off, which today was once again confirmed by Prigozhin, pointing out that the enemy does not retreat, that’s exactly what is being pushed. To the south of the city there are battles of fire support rockets and helicopters (бои за РОПы и ВОПы) near Krasnoye. The road through the village is under the fire of Russian artillery. Yesterday, our assault groups also advanced to Stupochka, as part of a bypass movement from the south to Chasov Yar. In fact, there is progress in the direction of Konstantinovka. In the city itself, during street fighting, there is a slow progress with street fighting in the south-eastern and north-eastern regions of the city. The enemy here is still acting within the expected framework – deterrence and slow retreat with subsequent defense attempts in the western part of the city. In case of loss of communications, this plan is unlikely to work and the AFU are likely to leave the city to avoid encirclement.

consortium news

Twitter Files & the Death of Russiagate
Joe Lauria, Consortium News, Feb 1 2023

In the latest installment of the blockbuster Twitter Files, reporter Matt Taibbi has revealed that probably the most important source behind the maniacal media output on the Russiagate story was a lie. Hundreds of articles and television segments in the major US Media, which kept the Russiagate fiasco front and center in American political life for several years, was fueled by a website called Hamilton 68. The name comes from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers No. 68, in which he writes about the danger of foreign interference in US elections. Hamilton 68 was launched in Aug 2017, less than a year after Hillary Clinton’s defeat to Donald Trump and just as Democrats increasingly blamed alleged Russian interference for Clinton’s defeat. As the hysteria over unproven allegations of Russia’s role gathered steam, Hamilton 68 appeared. It became a go-to source for corporate media by saying it had a list, which it refused to make public, of Twitter accounts it was monitoring. There are conflicting statements from Hamilton about whether these were bots or real people, and whether they were direct agents of Russia or unwitting dupes. Taibbi writes:

The two founders of Hamilton 68, the blue-and-red team of former counselor to Marco Rubio Jamie Fly and Hillary for America Foreign Policy Advisor Laura Rosenberger, told Politico they couldn’t reveal the names of the accounts because “the Russians will simply shut them down.

Twitter, the files Taibbi discovered say, did not buy Hamilton’s story and privately pushed back. Yoel Roth, Twitter’s trust and safety chief at the time, said in one internal email:

I think we need to just call this out on the bullshit it is.

He also threatened to give Hamilton an ultimatum, either they release the list, or Twitter would. Twitter only obtained the list by reverse engineering data requests made by Hamilton back in 2017. Taibbi’s reporting indicated these were real people indeed. Only about 30 Twitter accounts on the list were Russian, the rest real Americans, Britons and Canadians. Most were Trump supporters, with Twitter handles like @TrumpDyke. But some were not, such as myself before I became editor-in-chief of Consortium News, when I was only a writer for the site, publishing several articles debunking Russiagate in 2017. On Hamilton’s advisory council sits former senior US officials, several with intelligence backgrounds, such as Michael Chertoff, former Homeland Security chief; former acting CIA director Michael Morell; Rick Ledgett, a former NSA deputy director; Clint Watts, a former FBI counter-intelligence officer; Mike Rogers, a former FBI Agent and member of the US House intelligence committee; former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul; former Estonian President Toomas Ilves and thrown in for good measure: John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign and arch-neoconservative Bill Kristol. Hamilton 68 has blamed the media for misinterpreting its data and ignoring its appeals to correct their stories. Hamilton 68 was rebranded Hamilton 2.0 in December and its secret list has now been replaced by a public list that only names government officials and media from Russia, China and Iran. We asked someone from the Alliance for Securing Democracy to appear on this show and received no reply.

This troubling story underscores the gross failure of corporate media, like CNN, MSNBC, the NYT and the WaPo, and even fact-checking sites like PolitFact and Snopes, to be skeptical of intelligence sources, whether active or retired. It also exposes the failure of members of Congress to not let the facts get in the way of a story that serves their political interests, as Senators Diane Feinstein and Mark Warner became reliant on Hamilton 68. Academia was also taken in. Taibbi’s revelations add to a litany of facts that have repeatedly debunked the Russiagate tale: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that found no connection between Russia and the Trump campaign; the president of CrowdStrike’s admission under oath to Congress of finding no evidence of any hack of the DNC servers; an NYU study showing minimal impact of Russian Facebook posts and the Clinton campaign paying for both CrowdStrike, and former MI6 agent’ Christopher Steele’s fabulous opposition research on Trump. The Hamilton Twitter File may at last be the final nail in the Russiagate coffin. Our special guest tonight is independent journalist Matt Taibbi, a former reporter for Rolling Stone Magazine and author. His latest book is Hate, Inc. Matt also runs Racket, a Substack publication where his Hamilton 68 story was published. We are also joined by former New York Times correspondent and author Chris Hedges, whose latest book is The Greatest Evil is War. And by John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, author of The Reluctant Spy, and the man who blew the whistle on the agency’s torture program.

caitlin johnstone

They’re Not Worried About “Russian Influence,” They’re Worried About Dissent
Caitlin Johnstone, Feb 5 2023

Being labeled a Russian propagandist all day every day for criticizing US foreign policy is really weird, but one advantage it comes with is a useful perspective on what people have really been talking about all these years when they warn of the dangers of “Russian propaganda.” I know I’m not a Russian propagandist. I’m not paid by Russia, I have no connections to Russia, and until I started this political commentary gig in 2016 I thought very little about Russia. My opinions about the western empire sometimes turn up on Russian media because I let anyone use my work who wants to, but that was always something they did on their own without my submitting it to them and without any payment or solicitation of any kind. I’m literally just some random westerner sharing political opinions on the internet; those opinions just happen to disagree with the US empire and its stories about itself and its behavior. Yet for years I’ve watched people pointing at me as an example of what “Russian propaganda” looks like. This has helped inform my understanding of all the panic about “Russian influence” that’s been circulating these last six years, and given me some insight into how seriously it should be taken.

That’s one reason why I wasn’t surprised by Matt Taibbi’s reporting on the Twitter Files revelations about Hamilton 68, an information op run by DC swamp monsters and backed by imperialist think tanks which generated hundreds if not thousands of completely bogus mainstream news reports about online Russian influence over the years. Hamilton 68 purported to track Russian attempts to influence western thought on social media, but Twitter eventually figured out that the “Russians” the operation has been tracking were actually mostly real, mostly American accounts who just happened to say things that didn’t perfectly align with the official Beltway consensus. These accounts were often right-leaning, but also included people like Consortium News editor Joe Lauria, who’s about as far from a rightist as you can get. They played a massive role in fanning the flames of public hysteria about online Russian influence, but while they did this by pretending to track the behavior of Russian influence ops, in reality they were tracking dissent.

One of the craziest things happening in the world today is the way westerners are being brainwashed by western propaganda into panicking about Russian propaganda, something that has no meaningful existence in the west. Before RT was shut down it was drawing a whopping 0.04% of the UK’s total TV audience. The much-touted Russian election interference campaign on Facebook was mostly unrelated to the election and affected “approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content” according to Facebook. Research by New York University into Russian trolling behavior on Twitter in the lead-up to the 2016 election has found “no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior.” A study by the University of Adelaide found that despite all the warnings of Russian bots and trolls following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the overwhelming majority of inauthentic behavior on Twitter during that time was anti-Russian in nature.

Russia exerts essentially zero influence over what westerners think, yet we’re all meant to freak out about “Russian propaganda” while western oligarchs and government agencies continually hammer our minds with propagandadesigned to manufacture our consent for the status quo which benefits them.

All this and we’re still seeing calls for more narrative management from the western empire, like the recent American Purpose article “The Long War of Ideas” being promoted by people like Bill Kristol which calls for a resurrection of CIA culture war tactics like those used during the last cold war. Every day there’s some new liberal politician sermonizing about the need to do more to fight Russian influence and protect American minds from “disinformation,” even as we are shown over and over again that what they really want is to shut down dissident voices. That’s what we’re seeing in the continual efforts to increase online censorship, in the bogus new “fact-checking” industry, in calls to increase the output of formal US government propaganda operations like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia, in the way all dissent about Russia has been forcefully purged from the western media in recent years, in the way empire-amplified trolling operations have been shouting down and drowning out critics of US foreign policy online, in the way censorship via algorithm has emerged as one of the major methods of restricting dissident speech. They claim there needs to be a massive escalation in propaganda, censorship and online psyops in order to fight “Russian influence”, while the only influence operations we’re being subjected to in any meaningful way are only ever of the western variety. They just want to do more of that.

Our rulers aren’t actually worried about “Russian influence,” they’re worried about dissent. They’re worried the public won’t consent to the “great power competition” they plan to subject us to for the foreseeable future unless they can exert massive influence over our minds, because they know that otherwise we will recognize that our interests are directly harmed by the economic warfare, exploding military spending and nuclear brinkmanship which necessarily accompanies that campaign to reign in Russia and stop the rise of China. They’re propagandizing us about the threat of foreign propaganda in order to justify propagandizing us more. We’re being manipulated into consenting to agendas that no healthy person would ever consent to without copious amounts of manipulation.

military summary

Military Summary And Analysis
Military Summary, Feb 4 2023

This video describes the military situation in Ukraine on Feb 4.

moon of alabama

Blinken’s Travel Canceling Adds To China Hate
Moon of Alabama, Feb 4 2023

In 1964 Richard Hofstadter wrote about The Paranoid Style in American Politics:

Events since 1939 have given the contemporary right-wing paranoid a vast theatre for his imagination, full of rich and proliferating detail, replete with realistic cues and undeniable proofs of the validity of his suspicions. The theatre of action is now the entire world, and he can draw not only on the events of WW2, but also on those of the Korean War and the Cold War. Any historian of warfare knows it is in good part a comedy of errors and a museum of incompetence; but if for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination. In the end, the real mystery, for one who reads the primary works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the US has been brought to its present dangerous position but how it has managed to survive at all.

The paranoid style is not only used on the right-wing side of policies. Adam Schiff’s action during ‘Russiagate’ applied plenty of it. The paranoid style applies to internal US politics as well as to foreign policies against this or that favorite enemy of that time. It makes the story below, which otherwise just laughable, somewhat dangerous.

Furor Over Chinese Spy Balloon Leads to a Diplomatic Crisis
NYT, Feb 3 2023

The Pentagon called the object, which has flown from Montana to Kansas, an “intelligence gathering” balloon. Beijing said it was used mainly for weather research and had strayed off course.

As some 80+% of all Pentagon intelligence comes from open sources the ‘intelligence gathering’ statement may well include a weather research system. Weather research and weather prediction are important for all kinds of military operations. But they are also important for many civil operations from agriculture, food availability prediction to drainage planning in cities. The story’s opener:

WASHINGTON — Sec State Blinken on Friday canceled a weekend trip to Beijing after a Chinese spy balloon was sighted above the Rocky Mountain state of Montana, igniting a frenzy of media coverage and political commentary over a machine that the Pentagon said posed no threat to the US. Blinken called the Chinese surveillance an “irresponsible act” and a “clear violation of US sovereignty and international law.” China’s “decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have,” he said at a news conference on Friday afternoon.

Blinken is of course wrong. Balloon drift planning is difficult if not impossible. There was likely no Chinese intent behind this. The NYT also writes that this is not the first time that such a balloon is passing over the US. The difference now the addition of paranoid panic. Balloon similar to those one sighted over the US have been seen over Japan and India in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Both flew in directions from China that are different than the current balloon drifting from China over to the US. That is because the direction of the wind decides where a balloon flies to. These balloon have cross like arms hanging below them with the two horizontal arms carrying solar panels. There are three gondolas at the ends of the horizontal and vertical structure. The gondolas could carry instruments, motors or both.

An estimate said that the diameter of the balloon is equivalent to the length of three school buses. It means that the air resistance and wind sensitivity of the balloon is huge. Winds in the upper atmosphere, like the Atlantic jet stream, are strong:

For instance, flying from London to New York takes just over eight hours, while the reverse journey is often under seven.

A few electrical motors depending on solar power are unlikely to be for propulsion propellers that would make this balloon steerable. But a Google company once used a machine learning system that found out how to tack a balloon like a sail ship which enabled it to follow its planned course faster than previously predicted. But it did not make it steerable. The Goggle balloon were ‘steering’ by changing their flight levels just like low-flying hot air balloons do:

A solar-powered pump adds or subtracts air from the balloon. That air makes the balloon heavier or lighter, allowing it to ascend or descend in altitude. Rather than fight against the wind at one altitude, the balloon moves up or down until it finds a favorable wind current. By repeating this thousands of times over the lifespan of a balloon, we can drift on the winds to get to locations around the world.

It is likely that the Chinese balloon can use similar technics. But it will inevitable still depend on the ever changing and often unpredictable prevalent direction of the wind. Blinken is also wrong with regards to international law. The space between the highest level jet fighters can fly (18 km or 60k feet) and outer space were satellites fly is legally somewhat undefined. There are no treaties, international laws or even rules for that mostly unused space. In the 1950s the US flew ‘weather balloons’ over the Soviet Union for surveillance. But satellites has since replaced balloon surveillance as they can get more data with way more precision. China has satellites. It does not need balloon to check US air fields or missile sites. To use the balloon as an excuse for canceling the China visit shows that US claims of wanting to lower tensions with China are not serious.

Some republicans have used the balloon and the paranoid style to attack the Biden administration. The Biden administration should have stayed the course by calling the overflight a non-event. Blinken’s reaction only adds to the anti-China hate.

wsws

US sends long-range missiles to Ukraine
Andre Damon, WSWS, Feb 4 2023

Airmen with the 3rd Munitions Squadron assemble a rack of inert small diameter bombs during readiness training at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson,
Alaska, Feb 9 2018. The small diameter bomb is a precise and accurate weapon that allows the F-22 Raptor to deliver decisive air power.

The White House announced Friday that it would send long-range missiles capable of striking nearly 100 miles into Russian territory to Ukraine, in one of the most significant escalations of US involvement in the war with Russia to date. Following Washington’s tradition of the “Friday afternoon news dump,” the announcement was timed so as to garner as little public attention as possible. The pliant American media supported the Biden administration’s goal of keeping the American public from understanding the consequences of this action. This massive escalation of the war against Russia received effectively no media coverage. It was not featured on the front pages of the NYT, WSJ or WaPo, and was not reported on the evening cable news shows. The weapons system, known as the ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb, is a rocket-launched maneuverable glide bomb with double the range of the HIMARS missiles Washington has already provided. The announcement marks a repudiation of Biden’s pledges in May:

We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We’re not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that strike into Russia.

The announcement is the latest in a whirlwind escalation of US involvement in the war over the past week. On Jan 26, the White House declared that it would send 31 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine, as part of a coalition of NATO countries sending over 120 main battle tanks in the first “wave.” No sooner was this announcement made than the White House revealed that it was in discussions to send F-16 fighters to Ukraine, against the backdrop of demands by Democratic and Republican politicians and dominant sections of the US media to send the aircraft. The expected announcement of the new long-range weapons comes as press reports indicate that the Biden administration is discussing openly endorsing a Ukrainian assault on the predominantly Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea, which Russia has claimed as its territory since 2014. While the Biden administration endorsed the Zelensky government’s Crimean Platform back in 2021, which entails the “retaking of Crimea,” since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Washington had toned down its explicit endorsement for the official war aim of the Zelensky government in order to hide the massively escalatory character of its involvement in the war. Now, however, the NYT reports:

The Biden administration is finally starting to concede that Kyiv may need the power to strike the Russian sanctuary, even if such a move increases the risk of escalation. The Biden administration is considering what would be one of its boldest moves yet, helping Ukraine to attack the peninsula.

In an article for Foreign Affairs.com entitled “What Ukraine Needs to Liberate Crimea,” US Army Lt-Col Alexander Vindman, former Director for European Affairs for the US NSC explained how a NATO-backed Ukrainian offensive against Crimea would proceed:

Washington should give Ukraine the weapons and assistance it needs to win quickly and decisively. The first step would be to pin down Russia’s forces in the Kherson and Luhansk regions and in the northern part of Donetsk. Next, Ukraine would free the remainder of Zaporizhzhia Province and push through southern Donetsk to reach the Sea of Azov, severing Russia’s land bridge to Ukraine. Ukrainian forces would also need to destroy the Kerch Strait Bridge, which connects Russia to the Crimean Peninsula and allows Moscow to resupply its troops by road and rail.

What none of the planners of this offensive admit, however, is that its implementation will require a massive expansion of NATO involvement in the war, including not only the deployment of advanced weapons systems, but the direct deployment of NATO troops. Last week, explaining the deployment of the M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the WSWS outlined how such a scenario could unfold:

The significance of Biden’s announcement lies less in the battlefield impact of the tanks than in the consequences of deploying them. The turbine-driven Abrams tanks will require a massive logistical network inside Ukraine, involving large numbers of specialist American contractors. Attacks on these supply networks and American personnel servicing the tanks will then be used to press for implementation of a “no-fly zone” and the deployment of US and NATO troops to Ukraine.

Just one week after these words were written, the initial stages of this scenario are already being put into place. On Friday, Politico reported:

A group of former military officers and private donors is raising money to send Western mechanics close to the Ukrainian frontlines, where they will repair battle-damaged donated weapons and vehicles that have been flooding into the country. The plan is to find 100 to 200 experienced contractors who would travel to Ukraine and embed themselves with small units near the front lines. Under the project, called Trident Support, those contractors would in turn teach the Ukrainian troops how to fix their equipment on the fly.

The claim that this initiative is being led by “retired” officers is merely a fraudulent pretense distancing the Biden administration from this deployment. While the deployment of the contractors may be “voluntary,” threats to the safety of the hundreds of American personnel on the front lines maintaining American vehicles could serve just as well as a pretense for US escalation of the war.

Washington announces basing of US troops in the Philippines
John Malvar, WSWS, Feb 4 2023

Austin at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Feb 2 2023.

On Feb 1-2, US Sec Def Lloyd Austin visited the Philippines, where he met with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and announced that Washington would be expanding its military presence in the country under the terms of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and resuming joint military exercises in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. While Washington is waging a war with Russia in Ukraine, most recently announcing the deployment of M1 Abrams battle tanks, it is at the same time preparing for and provoking war with China. Austin’s Asian tour of the past week demonstrated how far advanced these preparations have developed. Prior to his arrival in the Philippines, Austin met with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who recently publicly spoke of the possible deployment of US nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula. In Manila, Austin declared that China’s “threat to international order” was “unprecedented.” This claim stands reality on its head. It is Washington, not Beijing, that is rapidly ramping up preparations for war in the Pacific. The Biden administration is deploying more fighter jets and bombers to South Korea, shifting US troop deployments in Japan to a more immediate war footing, and restoring military bases in the Philippines, all the while openly targeting China. In the process the White House is deliberately resurrecting Japanese militarism, pushing Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to scrap the country’s constitutional limits on armed forces and expand its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. In Dec 2022, Japan became the third largest military spender in the world. Washington’s preparations for war with China, are focused above all on Taiwan. The Philippines, immediately to Taiwan’s south, is critical to these plans.

The US suffered a serious blow to its military presence in the region in 2016, when then Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, looking to improve economic ties with China, announced shortly after taking office that he was ending joint military patrols in the disputed South China Sea and putting all implementation of basing arrangements for US forces on hold. Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who took office last year, had campaigned claiming that he would continue Duterte’s orientation to China. Within months it was clear that a reorientation back toward Washington was underway. There is profound concern throughout the region that the tensions over Taiwan, stoked by the Biden administration, will erupt into war. The Philippines would inevitably be directly caught up in this conflict. Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Romualdez expressed Manila’s dilemma when he recently told the AP:

We’re in a Catch-22 situation. If China makes a move on Taiwan militarily, we’ll be affected, and all ASEAN region, but mostly us, Japan and South Korea.

As he had in South Korea, Austin declared to the Philippine press that the US had an “ironclad commitment” to the country. Washington’s expanded military presence, he asserted, “makes both of our democracies more secure.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Washington’s only ironclad commitment is to protect its own imperialist interests. Its military presence destabilizes the region and undermines democracy. The basing of US troops in the country is a direct violation of the Philippine constitution. The stationing of US forces in the Philippines is already underway. Austin visited Camp Navarro on the southern island of Mindanao, where a US Joint Special Operations Task Force is currently deployed. Austin announced that the Marcos government was adding four new locations for the forward deployment of US troops and military supplies in addition to an existing five. While the precise locations have not yet been specified, then Philippine Military Chief of Staff, Lt-Gen Bartolome Bacarro, told the press in Nov 2022 that Washington had requested two locations on the Luzon strait, the portion of the country closest to Taiwan. Austin also stated that the US and Philippine militaries would be resuming the joint military exercises in the disputed South China Sea, which Duterte had ended in 2016. These war games directly target China in waters claimed by Beijing and are very provocative.

While Austin presented the war preparations of Washington as serving some commitment to the defense of “democracy,” he said not a word on human rights or the bloody legacy of the Marcos dictatorship, which is being rehabilitated by Marcos Jr. With the full backing of Washington, Ferdinand Marcos Sr imposed martial law on the country in 1972 and used its draconian powers to oversee the brutal apparatus of military repression. Thousands were killed and tens of thousands tortured by the Marcos dictatorship, while the US increased its military aid to his regime and Bush 41 declared his support for his “adherence to democratic principles.” The paramount concern for Washington was the preservation of its vast military complexes at Clark Airbase and Subic Naval Base. Marcos Jr has declared that the martial law rule of his father was a “golden age” in Philippine history. Under the current presidency, activists and political dissidents are routinely arrested as “terrorists.” The day before Austin’s arrival in the country, the government’s Anti-Terrorism Council issued a public declaration that a community doctor working with a deeply impoverished indigenous community was a “communist” and a “terrorist,” charges which could likely result in her death in a state-backed extrajudicial assassination. Washington had nothing to say about any of this. Prior to his election, Marcos Jr faced subpoena and arrest in the US for contempt of court in a case involving his family’s gross violations of human rights. The Biden White House arranged for Marcos Jr’s safe travel to the US, where the US president held a friendly meeting with him in New York. Washington sheds tears for human rights only when it serves its war aims and imperialist ambitions.

As under the Marcos dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s, Washington’s concern in the Philippines is not democracy or human rights but establishing and maintaining a military presence to advance its war plans. The US bases in the country were a flagrant violation of Philippine sovereignty, a military extension of its neo-colonial rule. The US exercised direct rule over these bases and the millions of US troops stationed on or cycled through them were not subject to Philippine jurisdiction. Scores of Filipinos were killed by US serviceman, thousands raised accusations of rape, but not a single American was prosecuted under Philippine law. A vast network of prostitution and vice grew up around the bases, with the direct support of the US military brass. Washington staged the carpet-bombing of North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from its bases in the Philippines. In 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to end the lease of the US military bases, and the future establishment of foreign military bases in the country was barred by the constitution without the approval of a two-thirds majority of the Senate. It is for this reason that the NYT wrote:

Austin’s announcement will mark the first time in 30 years that the US will have such a large military presence in the country.

For 30 years, the basing of US troops in the country has been banned. The Biden and Marcos Jr administrations are poised to reverse that. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which Austin and Marcos now invoke is an executive agreement signed by the defense secretary of the Aquino administration and the ambassador of the Obama administration in 2014. It was an end-run around the constitution, presenting the basing of US troops as a “rotational presence” which did not require legislative ratification. In early 2016, the pliant Philippine Supreme Court, duly chastened by corruption charges, ruled that EDCA was constitutional. Washington rapidly moved to deploy troops, but Duterte was elected four months later and relations soured. After six long years, with the newly-elected Marcos, the US is moving again to establish bases. Austin told the press:

The EDCA arrangement is not about permanent basing, but it is a big deal. It’s a really big deal.

The denial that this is permanent basing is a necessary subterfuge to enable the “big deal,” the US is re-establishing its military bases, critical to its war aims in the Asia-Pacific region, in its former colony, the Philippines. The ten pages of EDCA authorize the deployment of unlimited numbers of US troops and supplies to a set of “agreed locations.” These locations will be governed by the US. Filipinos will not be allowed to enter any US-controlled location. Only one Filipino military representative will be allowed access, and only with permission secured in advance from the US commander. US forces are also guaranteed access to all “public land and facilities (including roads, ports, and airfields), including those owned or controlled by local government” as needed. US troops and civilian contractors are subject to the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the US government. Should they be accused of a crime, the Philippine legal system will have no jurisdiction over them. The US will pay no rent for the use of these facilities and if they choose to vacate a facility, the Philippine government is obligated to reimburse the US military for any “improvements.” These are military bases. No euphemism about “indefinite rotational presence” can disguise this reality. The terms of EDCA smack of a restored colonial presence. Washington is reenacting historic crimes and dredging up the reactionary filth of the past in pursuit of its war ambitions against China.

European Union urges intensification of Ukraine war
Peter Schwarz, WSWS, Feb 4 2023

Zelensky and von der Leyen address media after the EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv, Feb 3 2023.

The entire European Union leadership traveled Thursday to Kiev, where it met with the Ukrainian government for two days. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who was visiting the country for the fourth time, was accompanied by Council President Charles Michel, High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell and 15 commissioners, whose function is comparable to that of ministers. The journey of such a high-ranking delegation to a war zone is very unusual and raises serious security questions. The fact that it nevertheless took place shows the determination with which the EU is pursuing the continuation of the war in Ukraine. Almost a year after the war began, the EU has tied its prestige to the military defeat of Russia, even if it costs the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and threatens to lead to nuclear war. The main purpose of the trip was to shore up the Zelensky regime, which is under massive military and domestic pressure. Von der Leyen wrote on Twitter:

We are here together to show that the EU stands as firmly as ever with Ukraine.

The number of Ukrainian soldiers killed at the front now amounts to between 100k and 160k, depending on the source, and will continue to rise in view of the imminent Russian offensive. The willingness to die in a war that primarily serves the interests of NATO is apparently declining. This is shown by a law signed by Zelensky against considerable public resistance punishing desertion and criticism of superiors with long prison sentences. The unexplained death of Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky on Jan 18 and the dismissal of several high-ranking government members for corruption indicate that fierce power struggles are raging within the regime. Meanwhile, authorities have searched the home of Monastyrsky’s predecessor Arsen Avakov. He is accused of corruption in the purchase of the helicopter type involved in the crash that killed Monastyrsky, which is considered unsafe. Since the Ukrainian press is subject to strict censorship and opposition media and parties are banned, it is difficult to obtain more precise information.

Zelensky’s government has long depended on the EU. This year alone, €18b of direct aid will be provided to keep the state institutions going. This corresponds to about one-tenth of the total EU budget. Military support, which is mainly provided by the individual member states and the US, is not included in this sum. The visit of the entire EU Commission is aimed at strengthening fighting morale. As the country sinks into ruin and poverty, the assembled commissioners gush over the utopia of a thriving Ukraine within the European Union. Von der Leyen said:

We are now preparing the future of Ukraine.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Schmyhal said Ukraine would meet the EU’s accession conditions “in two years.” Reporting on the meeting of the Ukrainian government and the Commission, Germany’s flagship television news show Tagesschau said:

The ministers of the Ukrainian government heard about the benefits of good macroeconomic planning, the opportunities of the switch to renewable energies, and focusing on hydrogen.

The delivery of 35 million LED lights to facilitate everyday life under wartime conditions was also promised. The summit said in a joint statement:

We reaffirm that the future of Ukraine and its citizens lies in the European Union. The EU will support Ukraine as long as is necessary.

Everyone involved knows that these are pipedreams. The admission process to the EU, which requires all 27 member states to agree, takes years, if not decades. Candidates must commit to strict budgetary discipline and cut social spending accordingly. And even if they meet the admission requirements, this does not mean an improvement for the broad mass of the population. Even after 15 years of EU membership, workers in Romania and Bulgaria earn only a fraction of what their Western European colleagues receive. Many work under slave-like conditions in European slaughterhouses as truck drivers and in similar professions. The EU has no interest in a prosperous Ukraine. Nor is it interested in fighting corruption or securing democracy. It wants access to the cheap labour, fertile soil and raw materials of the country, which in addition to coal and gas include such critical items as lithium, cobalt, titanium, beryllium and rare earth elements, with an estimated value of €6.7t. Above all, Ukraine serves as a battering ram against Russia, with its vast land mass and raw material reserves. In order to militarily defeat and divide Russia and install a puppet government, the EU has rejected any negotiated solution to the war, even if it means turning Ukraine into a wasteland. This is also Zelensky’s view. he said during a joint press conference with von der Leyen:

Now it is obvious that the dream of a peaceful Europe can only be realized together with Ukraine and only by defeating Russia.

While the EU is boosting the Zelensky regime morally and keeping it alive with billions of dollars, NATO, which includes most EU members, is escalating the war with ever-increasing arms deliveries, effectively making itself a party to the conflict. Since Germany and the US gave the green light for the delivery of state-of-the-art battle tanks, the pledges are increasing. More and more countries are declaring their willingness to give up battle tanks, so that in the end several hundred are likely to be delivered. The German government has also approved the export of 29 older Leopard I models. At the same time, preparations are underway for the delivery of F-16 fighter jets that can penetrate deep into Russian territory and carry nuclear bombs. While Biden still officially rejects this move, Ukrainian pilots are already being trained on these fighter jets. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the F-16s would be delivered soon. The supply of tanks was initially also highly controversial, he said before the summit in Kiev. But they agreed to cross that “red line.” There have been warnings of escalation risks with each round of arms deliveries so far, he noted.

In Kiev, Borrell promised to increase the number of Ukrainian soldiers trained by the European Training Mission from 15k to 30k. The EU mission will also provide training for the crews of Leopard 2 tanks deployed by Germany, Poland and other countries. Commission President von der Leyen, who was formerly Germany’s defence minister, promised that the EU would complete a “tenth sanctions package” against Russia by Feb 24, the anniversary of the Russian invasion. The sanctions imposed so far have already caused considerable damage to the Russian economy. On Sunday, a price cap for Russian petroleum products will come into effect. Von der Leyen announced three months ago that she wanted to confiscate frozen Russian assets and make them available to Ukraine, a plan supported by several EU representatives. In the EU alone, around €300b of the Russian Central Bank’s foreign exchange reserves have been frozen. However, the operation is encountering difficulties under international law. According to international law expert Marc Bungenberg:

If the principle of state immunity is violated and property protection is called into question, the US could also be prosecuted for the Iraq war. Then other countries might be encouraged to seize the assets of Western companies and, if available, central banks as well.

The Russian regime of Vladimir Putin has done nothing to oppose the offensive of NATO and the EU except escalating its military intervention and promoting Great Russian chauvinism. The representatives of the Russian oligarchs, who plundered the social property of the Soviet Union, are organically incapable of appealing to the opposition to war in the international working class. But this is the only way to stop the war and the threat of a nuclear inferno. The Socialist Equality Party and its sister parties in the International Committee of the Fourth International are building an international movement against war based on the growing opposition of the working class to exploitation and capitalism, and fighting for a socialist transformation of society. This goal is the focus of the antiwar rally being held by the SGP today at 11:00 a.m. at Potsdamer Platz, as part of its Berlin election campaign.

US issues ludicrous “spy balloon” charge against China
Mike Head, WSWS, Feb 4 2023

Ryder discussing Chinese weather balloon at media briefing in Washington, Feb 3 2023.

The past several days have seen feverish accusations by US authorities and media outlets of an alleged Chinese spy balloon “hovering” over ballistic missile launch sites in Montana. From China’s response and expert accounts, however, it appears that a clumsy, hard-to-manoeuvre, high-altitude weather test balloon was blown by winds across North America. On its current course, the balloon was expected to drift off the US east coast on Saturday. The claim that China would use such outmoded and difficult-to-control means to conduct surveillance over sensitive nuclear war sites, rather than sophisticated low-orbit satellites, is patently ridiculous. But the hysteria points to the increasingly strident war propaganda emanating from Washington against China, as well as the potential for such an incident to be inflated to trigger a military conflict. The Pentagon said it had readied fighter jets, including F-22s, to shoot down the craft if ordered to do so by President Joe Biden. On Friday, the White House abruptly used the incident to postpone a major two-day visit to Beijing by Sec State Anthony Blinken.

Prominent figures in the US ruling establishment including Donald Trump and Nikki Haley demanded that the US military immediately shoot down the balloon. Biden apparently took Pentagon advice not to blow up the errant balloon, citing the danger of falling debris from the craft, which was said to be the size of three buses. Yet the administration took the confrontational step of calling off Blinken’s trip, just before he was due to embark. The top-level visit had been agreed between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit last November in Indonesia. Blinken was due to meet Xi to discuss the worsening US-China relations. In what appeared to be a conciliatory statement, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Friday that the balloon was a civilian airship used mainly for meteorological research. It said the airship had limited “self-steering” capabilities and “deviated far from its planned course” because of winds, adsding:

The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon effectively dismissed the statement. Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said:

We are aware of the PRC statement. However, the fact is we know that it’s a surveillance balloon. And I’m not going to be able to be more specific than that. We do know that the balloon has violated US airspace and international law, which is unacceptable.

Seeming to contradict the hype about surveillance over missile silos, Ryder said the balloon was currently over the centre of the continental US and did not “present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.” A Pentagon official confirmed that the US had assessed that the balloon had only “limited” value in terms of providing intelligence China could not obtain by other technologies, such as spy satellites. Despite playing down the threat, Ryder left open the option of military action. He said NORAD was closely monitoring the balloon, which was roughly 60k feet above ground level, while the Biden administration weighed its options.

All the circumstances surrounding the balloon affair are dubious. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden had been briefed about the balloon on Tuesday. But nothing was said publicly until Thursday evening, when the Pentagon announced it was tracking “an intelligence-gathering balloon most certainly launched by the PRC.” The Pentagon said one of the places the balloon was spotted was over the northwestern state of Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile fields at Malmstrom AFB. That base reportedly has 150 ICBM silos. US media quoted anonymous Pentagon officials as saying that the balloon had travelled from China to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and through northwest Canada for a few days before arriving somewhere over Montana, where it was supposedly hovering on Wednesday. Just after WW2, the US military started exploring the use of high-altitude spy balloons, which led to a large-scale series of missions called Project Genetrix. But this technology has been superseded by satellites, which can be accurately steered and equipped with advanced photographic and telecommunications-interception technology. Singapore-based security analyst Alexander Neill, an adjunct fellow at Hawaii’s Pacific Forum think tank, told Reuters:

China has its own constellation of spy and military satellites that are far more important and effective in terms of watching the US.

An editorial in China Daily was scathing. It commented:

There is no way to know who fabricated the lie, but we can be sure about the ignorance of the fabricator. Surveillance balloons being used as military technology dates back to the early 20th century, the technology is outdated one can hardly imagine any nation like China still resorting to it today; at the same time, the shortest route between Beijing and Montana is over 9k km, which makes it impossible to precisely control the flight of this or any balloon.

The extraordinary outburst of anti-China propaganda is entirely hypocritical to say the least. The US military undoubtedly uses is network of satellites to spy on Chinese military bases and activities. These are supplemented by ongoing intelligence gathering by US aircraft and spy ships operating close to the Chinese mainland. Moreover, the Pentagon has orchestrated one military provocation after another in the South China Sea by sending warplanes and warships through airspace and waters claimed by China in the name of “freedom of navigation.”

Whatever the exact political and geostrategic calculations by the White House in delaying or scrapping Blinken’s visit, the decision came amid a mounting series of aggressive and provocative moves by the US against China. These steps have included trips by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, an ex-general, to South Korea and the Philippines this past week to intensify military alliances directed against China, including gaining access to five further military bases in the Philippines. At the same time, the US has ramped up efforts to sabotage China on hi-tech industries, including by ceasing approval licenses for American firms to export most items to Chinese technology giant Huawei and coercing the Netherlands and Japan to agree to join the US in limiting exports of advanced chipmaking equipment to China. US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy is also reportedly planning to visit Taiwan, recognised internationally as part of China, that is calculated to lead to a flare-up of tensions as did a similar trip last August by his Democrat predecessor Nancy Pelosi.

As reports about the balloon were splashed in the media, CIA Director William Burns was speaking at an event at Washington’s Georgetown University, at which he called China the “biggest geopolitical challenge” currently facing the US. That declaration reiterated the Biden administration’s public naming of China as an existential threat to US global power. Burns also claimed that the US knew “as a matter of intelligence” that Xi had ordered his military to be ready to conduct an “invasion” of the island of Taiwan by 2027. Burns’ assertion followed this week’s leaking to the media of a blunt internal memo by Air Force General Michael Minihan predicting that the US would be at war with China over Taiwan by 2025 and ordering his commanders to implement detailed preparations. Thus, far from China seeking to intimidate or trigger a conflict with the US via a “spy balloon,” as shouted by the US and allied ruling elites and media, it is Washington that is escalating its confrontation with China.

strategic culture

Washington’s Reich Syndrome… War Plans Accumulate Beyond Russia to China 
Editorial, Strategic Culture, Feb 3 2023

The reckless warmongering ambitions of the Western powers know no bounds. Just as Washington and its imperial minions in the NATO axis are escalating the war in Ukraine against Russia with the utmost deranged folly, the Western rulers are also pushing ahead to bait China with provocations and threats. The psychopathic behavior of the collective Western so-called leaders shows beyond doubt that the Ukraine conflict is but one battlefield in a bigger global confrontation.

This week saw the US Sec Def Lloyd Austin on a tour of East Asia where he boasted about coordinating nuclear forces with South Korea and Japan in a provocative and wanton show of strength towards China (under the guise of standing up to North Korea). Austin repeated baseless propaganda claims accusing China of threatening security in the Asia-Pacific hemisphere. The audacious inversion of reality distorts the fact that it is the US and its allies who are militarizing the region with warships and missiles. Just this week, the US announced the opening of four new military bases in the Philippines for the explicit purpose of launching a future war on China.

In tandem with the Pentagon chief, the NATO alliance’s civilian head Jens Stoltenberg was also touring East Asia where he warned that Russia and China posed a threat to international peace and security. Stoltenberg claimed that if Russia was not defeated in Ukraine then China would be the next problem. He urged South Korea and Japan to work with NATO to confront Russia and China. In an address in Tokyo, Stoltenberg held forth:

What is happening in Europe today could happen in East Asia tomorrow. China is not NATO’s adversary, but its growing assertiveness and its coercive policies have consequences, for your security in the Indo-Pacific and ours in the Euro-Atlantic. We must work together to address them. Beijing is substantially building up its military forces, including nuclear weapons, without any transparency. It is attempting to assert control over the South China Sea, and threatening Taiwan.

The same message was delivered this week to the Atlantic Council in Washington by former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson who is a notorious liar and waffler who claimed preposterously in a BBC documentary aired this week that President Putin threatened him personally with assassination, called for more weapons supply to Ukraine in order to decisively defeat Russia because otherwise, China will be an additional threat. According to Johnson, who was forced to step down last summer as prime minister owing to his incorrigible lying and intrigues in Downing Street, President Xi Jinping is watching Ukraine closely with a view to invading Taiwan.

This week thus saw an extraordinary public bracketing of Russia and China as a common enemy that, Western powers assert, needs to be confronted militarily by the US and its NATO minions. Defeating Russia is a prelude to defeating China, according to the Western powers. The madcap drive for war among Western imperialists has taken on a global dimension. US military commanders are publicly warning that a war with China may be only two years away, and this is while the NATO powers are currently waging a dangerously explosive war against Russia in Ukraine.

This incredible outbreak of psychopathy among American and European elites is directly related to at least two historic developments. Firstly, there is a systemic collapse in the Western capitalist economies. Widespread endemic poverty and mounting public unrest are severely challenging the conventional authority of Western governments which are locked in failed dead-end policies. This empirical desperation for the ruling elite to avoid social meltdown and revolution, “peering down the abyss” as our columnist Alistair Crooke elaborates this week, is manifesting in the age-old recourse to militarism and war as a way to resolve deep-seated and insoluble contradictions in the capitalist system.

Secondly, the Western powers are hellbent on preventing the emergence of a multipolar international order that supplants their erstwhile global dominance. In an interview for Strategic Culture Foundation this week Pepe Escobar presented a big-picture analysis of why the US and its associated cabal of Western rulers are pushing the war in Ukraine against Russia. It is all about trying to shore up a failing US-led unipolar world order, one that is bankrupt and corrupted from decades of criminal imperialist warmongering. Russia, China and other nations of the Global South subscribing to an emerging multipolar order based on international law, equality, cooperation and common security is anathema to the US supremacist view of the world.

This is what’s really at stake in the year-old military conflict in Ukraine. This is not merely an isolated war to do with “defending democracy and freedom” of Ukraine, as the Western media absurdly confabulate. The Nazi regime in Kiev was built up deliberately since the CIA-backed coup in 2014 with the strategic objective of eventually confronting Russia after eight years of low-intensity aggression against the Donbass and Crimea. However, after Russia, if it were to be defeated, China is the next target in a geo-strategic move by the Western powers to gain hegemonic control over the Eurasian hemisphere. The US imperial and NATO mouthpieces are making the stakes clearer than ever with their own self-indicting arrogant words. The bankrupt capitalist West can only but drool at the prospects of conquering Russia’s vast natural wealth and gaining neocolonial control of China in another would-be century of shame. Eurasia is the key to global dominance, as Western imperial planners have long noted.

It seems appropriate too that this week saw the 80th anniversary of the historic Soviet victory at Stalingrad over the Nazi Third Reich. That turning-point victory in Feb 1943 led to the defeat of Nazi Germany and its criminal imperialist ambitions. If that heroic battle had not been won, the history of the world would have followed a very different path. Likewise today in Ukraine there is another historic battle going on, one whose outcome threatens the world with expanded global war and perhaps even nuclear catastrophe if the warmongering NATO imperialist machine is not defeated. Washington’s Reich Syndrome (also known as “exceptional narcissism”) which has reigned since the end of WW2 and which has subjected the world to endless wars and relentless financial looting must be finally extirpated. This year is promising to be a most consequential watershed in world history.

caitlin johnstone

US Surrounds China With War Machinery While Freaking Out About Balloons
Caitlin Johnstone, Feb 4 2023

In what Austin journalist Christopher Hooks has called “one of the stupidest news cycles in living memory,” the entire American political/media class is having an existential meltdown over what the Pentagon claims is a Chinese spy balloon detected in US airspace on Thursday. Sec State Antony Blinken cancelled his scheduled diplomatic visit to China after the detection of the balloon. The mass media have been covering the story with breathless excitement. China hawk pundits have been pounding the war drums all day on any platform they can get to and accusing the Biden administration of not responding aggressively enough to the incident. House China Select Committee Chairman Mike Gallagher told Fox News on Friday:

The important thing that the American people need to understand, and what we are going to try to expose in a bipartisan fashion on this committee, is that the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party is not just a distant threat in East Asia, or a threat to Taiwan. It is a threat right here at home. It is a threat to American sovereignty, and it is a threat to the Midwest, in places like those that I live in.

Senator Mitt Romney tweeted:

A big Chinese balloon in the sky and millions of Chinese TikTok balloons on our phones. Let’s shut them all down.

China’s foreign ministry says the balloon is indeed from China but is “civilian in nature, used for meteorological and other scientific research,” and was simply blown far off course. This could of course be untrue, all major governments spy on each other constantly and China is no exception, but the Pentagon’s own assessment is that the balloon “does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC is likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit.” So everyone’s losing their minds over a balloon that in all probability would be mostly worthless for spying, even while everyone knows the US spies on China at every possible opportunity. US officials have complained to the press that American spies are having a much harder time conducting operations and recruiting assets in China than they used to because of measures the Chinese government has taken to thwart them, and in 2001 a US spy plane caused a major international incident when it collided with a Chinese military jet on China’s coastline, killing the pilot. The US considers it its sovereign right to spy on any nation it chooses, and the average American tends more or less to see it the same way. This is highlighted in controversies around domestic versus foreign surveillance, for example; Americans were outraged over the Edward Snowden revelations not because spy agencies were conducting surveillance, but because they were conducting surveillance on American citizens. It’s just taken as a given that spying on foreigners is fine, so it’s a bit silly to react melodramatically when foreigners return the favor. As Jake Werner explains for Responsible Statecraft:

Foreign surveillance of sensitive US sites is not a new phenomenon. “It’s been a fact of life since the dawn of the nuclear age, and with the advent of satellite surveillance systems, it long ago became an everyday occurrence,” as my colleague and former CIA analyst George Beebe puts it. US surveillance of foreign countries is likewise quite common. Indeed, great powers gathering intelligence on each other is one of the more banal and universal facts of international relations. Major countries even spy on their own allies, as when US intelligence bugged the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Typically, even when such surveillance is directed against the United States by a rival power, it does not threaten the safety of Americans and it poses manageable risks to sites where secrecy is of the utmost importance. However, in the context of rapidly increasing US–China tensions, foreseeable incidents like these can quickly balloon into dangerous confrontations.

Now let’s contrast all this with another news story that’s getting a lot less attention. In an article titled “US secures deal on Philippines bases to complete arc around China,” the BBC reports that the empire will be adding even more installations to the already impressive military noose it has been constructing around the PRC. The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes writes:

The US has secured access to four additional military bases in the Philippines, a key bit of real estate which would offer a front seat to monitor the Chinese in the South China Sea and around Taiwan. With the deal, Washington has stitched the gap in the arc of US alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south. The missing link had been the Philippines, which borders two of the biggest potential flashpoints, Taiwan and the South China Sea. The US hasn’t said where the new bases are but three of them could be on Luzon, an island on the northern edge of the Philippines, the only large piece of land close to Taiwan, if you don’t count China.

The BBC provides a helpful illustration to show how the US is completing its military encirclement, courtesy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines:

The US empire has been surrounding China with military bases and war machinery for many years, in ways Washington would never tolerate China doing in the nations and waters surrounding the US. There is no question that the US is the aggressor in this increasingly hostile standoff between major powers. Yet we’re all meant to be freaking out about a balloon. Ask me to show you how the US has been aggressing against China I can show you all the well-documented ways in which the US is encircling China with weapons of war. Ask an empire apologist to show you how China is aggressing against the US and they’ll start babbling about TikTok and balloons. These things are not equal. Maybe Americans should stop watching out for hostile foreign threats and start looking a little closer to home.

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