Reinforcing state control
There is a close link between a hegemon’s diminishing role and that of the media, argues Daniel Lazare
The US monopoly on energy and information is coming apart at the seams. But, the more it does, the more Washington struggles to stitch it back together - with a little help from its friends in the lapdog press.
This is what connects Nord Stream with the latest Pentagon leaks. Just about everyone knows who blew up the Russo-German gas pipeline on September 26 2023, yet a code of omertà binds the major players to silence. As The Washington Post reported on April 3,
At gatherings of European and Nato policymakers, officials have settled into a rhythm, said one senior European diplomat: ‘Don’t talk about Nord Stream’. Leaders see little benefit from digging too deeply and finding an uncomfortable answer, the diplomat said, echoing sentiments of several peers in other countries, who said they would rather not have to deal with the possibility that Ukraine or allies were involved.
“It’s like a corpse at a family gathering,” the Post source went on. “It’s better not to know.”1
Not to be outdone, The New York Times sent a journalist on a grand tour of the Baltic, only to come up with the same answer on April 7: “Is there any interest from the authorities to come out and say who did this? There are strategic reasons for not revealing who did it,” the reporter quoted Danish naval commander Jens Wenzel Kristoffersen as saying. “As long as they don’t come out with anything substantial, then we are left in the dark on all this - as it should be.”2
The newspaper that helped expose the Pentagon Papers evidently now believes in a policy of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’. Indeed, when Donald Trump responded to the whodunnit question by saying, “I don’t want to get our country in trouble, so I won’t answer it, but I can tell you who it wasn’t ... Russia,” the Post was indignant. “Donald Trump has given no indication that he knows anything the rest of us don’t already know about the explosions that damaged the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines,” it said. “Despite this, he and Fox News host Tucker Carlson would very much like you to believe that the Biden administration was responsible.”
Quelle horreur! It went on:
But, even if Trump knew something, this would amount to his essentially broadcasting highly sensitive information on national TV. It would be information that would stoke tensions with allies, and it would come from a former president who’s already in legal trouble for mishandling classified information. Much more likely is that this is part of Trump’s long-standing effort to suggest the Biden administration is at fault for the war in Ukraine ...3
“It’s quite possible we will never know what happened,” The Washington Post concluded - quite possible, that is, since it has no interest in finding out.
The Soviet historian, Sheila Fitzpatrick, neatly summed up the problem in the London Review of Books a few years back:
There are rules for writing about the enemy in wartime. You must never forget that your side and his are at war, and that your side is right and his is wrong. Your writing must not give aid or comfort to the enemy. It should never humanise the other side, but rather emphasise its essential, evil otherness. Overt partisanship is not just allowed in time of war, but required. Even-handedness, if you choose to write about the enemy, would amount to treason.4
If so, then Trump stands doubly condemned for refusing to do his wartime duty by exculpating America in its hour of need. If his ‘Make America Great Again’ movement is veering toward fascism - and there is no doubt that it is - the bourgeois press is providing vital assistance by turning him into a fearless seeker of truth at a time when everyone else averts their eyes. But this is the historical function of a corrupt liberal establishment during a period of mounting crisis: to clear a path for a rightwing strongman by virtue of its own dishonesty and incompetence.
Contrary to media reports, Nord Stream was never about stopping Russia from using its vast energy resources to gain political leverage over western Europe. Rather, it was about enabling the United States to use its control of energy markets to maintain political leverage over the entire globe.
As Daniel Yergin, author of the bestselling book The prize: the epic quest for oil, power and money (1991), once explained, control of international energy by 2020 had come down to a “big three” composed of Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US - which is to say America and its Middle East satrapy, plus a third country with which it was increasingly at war.5 But change was in the works. While the post-2005 ‘shale revolution’ had rendered the US more self-sufficient, it was also serving to lower its profile as an international player. Had it been allowed to go online, Nord Stream 2 would have furthered the process by shutting out America even more. Instead of the big three, the list of major players would be down to just two.
Nord Stream, moreover, was merely the start of it. With the world’s largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves and seventh largest oil reserves, Russia was already an energy powerhouse. But, with the opening of the Power of Siberia gas pipeline to China in 2019, its energy ambitions were continuing to grow. The purpose of the Carter doctrine - written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, in January 1980, in the wake of the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan - was not only to establish US control of the Persian Gulf, the world’s leading source of fossil fuels, but of global energy supplies in general. This is why Washington spent trillions building and maintaining major military bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Even though it no longer had need of Gulf oil, it needed to control access by those who still did - which is to say India and China, plus Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and so on.
But, with the risk of much of Eurasia going off the US-controlled energy grid, thanks to Russia’s growing pipeline network, all that was threatening to come undone.
The destruction of Nord Stream was thus a message to Russia to back off and quit messing with Washington’s “rules-based order”. It was a message to Berlin to cease its energy partnership with Moscow and subordinate its interests to those of the US, as a proper second-rank power should. But this is where another US monopoly kicks in. With four out of the five top global social-media companies located in the United States, America exercises immense sway over what people see, hear and read via newspapers, TV and the internet. Its goal, therefore, is to use information to control what people think about its energy monopoly and the extremes to which it has gone to protect it.
But there is a problem. Immense sway is not the same as total domination, which is why, the more the US attempts to impose conformity, the more the 64% of the globe with internet access opts to compare and contrast the official narrative with other sources.6 Those sources range from Breitbart and QAnon to the Weekly Worker. Although there is no question that the right is predominant in an era of galloping conservatism, what is important is how rapidly control is breaking down. No matter how many times Antony Blinken says the US did not blow up Nord Stream, more and more people around the world believe the opposite.
Something else is losing steam: the official narrative that the democratic world is standing shoulder to shoulder against a Russian invasion of Ukraine that was entirely unprovoked. Although a great deal of confusion and uncertainty continues to surround the Pentagon documents that were posted on the instant messaging platform, Discord, as early as last October, two things stand out. One is that the US routinely spies on allies, such as Israel, South Korea and the other ‘Five Eyes’ members: ie, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. The other is that the war is not going nearly as swimmingly as outlets like the Post and Times want us to believe.
“Ukrainian forces as of February 25 were almost operationally encircled by Russian forces in Bakhmut,” one of the leaked intelligence document states, adding that the Ukraine’s director of military intelligence views the situation in the besieged city as nothing less than “catastrophic”.7 Where previously leaked military documents - leaked by the military in order to shape public opinion, that is - had estimated Russian casualties at between 189,500 and 223,000, the new documents put the death figures at some 80% less: between 35,500 and 43,000 for Russia, versus 15,500-17,500 for Ukraine.8 The documents say that Ukraine could run out of anti-aircraft missiles as early as next month, that the US and its allies are stationing dozens of military personnel inside the country despite official statements to the contrary, and that a coming Ukrainian offensive is unlikely to be effective. They also say that Egypt is eagerly providing Russia with rockets to make up for unstated assistance in the past, that the US is pressuring Israel and South Korea to provide the Ukraine with lethal aid, and that Taiwan is highly vulnerable to Chinese attack.
Since this is not the sort of information that the Pentagon wants out, it is not what its minions in the corporate press want out either. So the Times took the unprecedented step of bringing on board a researcher from Bellingcat, the international research agency, to run the leaker to ground. The fact that Bellingcat has received funding by the National Endowment for Democracy (the US propaganda arm founded by Ronald Reagan in 1983) tells us something about its political coloration - and hence something about the Times’s political coloration as well. With such an ally in hand, the Times was able to track down the leaker at his home Massachusetts before the FBI even arrived.
The Times may be incurious about Nord Stream, but it is ultra-curious about a 21-year-old accused of undermining US imperial interests. So it jumped on the case like a modern-day Inspector Javert. The alleged leaker turns out to be Jack Teixeira - an airman serving in an intelligence unit of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, in which he reportedly had access to top-secret files. The Washington Post claims to have seen a video of him shouting “racist and anti-Semitic slurs before firing a rifle”, although that should be taken with a grain of salt.9 If convicted, he faces 15 years in prison for violating the Espionage Act - the same draconian 1917 law used against Daniel Ellsberg for the 1971 Pentagon Papers leak; against Chelsea Manning for leaking intelligence to WikiLeaks; against an ex-CIA officer named John Kiriakou for leaking information about the agency’s torture program; and against Julian Assange for exposing US war crimes.
After piggy-backing off the work of Ellsberg, Assange and others, the Times has had a change of heart. It now believes in national security über alles and sees snitching as a patriotic duty. The more US imperialism breaks down, the more the bourgeois press rushes to shore it up. But, after all, that is what a ‘free press’ is supposed to do in a time of crisis: reinforce government control.