Biden: As long as it’s a “small incursion…”

There has been a flurry of establishment corrections, obfuscations, explanations, and justifications since Biden’s “small incursion” statement on Wednesday.  It is difficult to analyze the different statements largely because they don’t make sense.

On the one hand, commentators have maintained that Biden was “just telling the truth.”  But, what truth was Biden telling?  The commentary largely focuses on the fact that the U.S. and all the NATO allies don’t completely agree on the appropriate response to Russian aggression.  So, the commentary goes, Biden was just saying out loud what everybody knows anyway.

But, that’s not what Biden said.  He didn’t only say that the allies don’t all agree on an appropriate response to Russian aggression.  And, this was not the important thing that he said.  What he said was that a “small incursion” would be considered less serious and therefore prompt less response from the allies.  What Biden was in fact saying was not that there was no agreement, but that there was agreement.  A “small incursion” would trigger a lesser response, perhaps no response at all.  This is a statement of fact, not a statement of disagreement. 

CNN reported Wednesday night that the Ukrainians were “shocked” by Biden’s statement.  I do not think the Ukrainians would have been shocked had Biden just said that there was some disagreement among the members of NATO about an appropriate response.

And, if in fact Biden was telling the truth about NATO disagreement, why has his administration been promising unprecedented sanctions, sanctions like nothing the Russians have ever seen?  If the allies are in that much disagreement, how was he able to repeatedly promise such a response?

What the commentary has largely involved is an attempt to deny the meaning of Biden’s words, to convince us that he didn’t say what he said.  I, for one, have had enough of that kind of behavior from the Republicans.  It’s yet again a “do you believe me or your lying ears” attempt.

As the CNN reporter on the ground in Ukraine said on Wednesday night, the United States had never, ever said that a “small incursion” would be met with diminished sanctions, or that there was even a consideration of a sliding scale on which aggression would be judged.  The Ukrainians had certainly not heard this before.  And, as president Zelensky tweeted, there are no “small incursions” against another country. 

William Cohen, commenting on CNN this morning, continued the effort to downplay Biden’s “small incursion” statement by saying that it was just an “error.”  Cohen, like most of the other establishment commentators, said that Biden was only telling the truth.  Cohen also said that Putin could not use Biden’s statement as a green light for an invasion. 

The question is why not.  What Biden was telling Putin was that as long as he confined his outrageous aggression to something they could all call a “small incursion” everything was fine.

Even when the White House Communications Director tried to “clear up” Biden’s statement, she did not. 

Wednesday’s statement from White House

“If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.”

But, cyber warfare is not “Russian military forces mov(ing) across the Ukrainian border.”  Missiles are not “Russian military forces mov(ing) across the Ukrainian border.”  Pro-Russian separatists taking over parts of the country with Russian assistance is not “Russian military forces mov(ing) across the Ukrainian border.  So, rather than return to the “aggression will provoke unprecedented sanctions” approach that seemed to be in effect before the press conference, we are still in a position where the Biden administration laid out the fact that “Russian military forces mov(ing) across the Ukrainian border” was the only thing that would trigger these (supposedly) unprecedented sanctions.

Had the White House really wanted to completely walk back what was called an “error” they would have said: Even a “small incursion” would trigger unprecedented sanctions.  They did not.

So, Biden has taken off the table a U.S. military defense of Ukraine.  He has taken off the table exclusion of Russia from the SWIFT program, and now he has put on the table the probability that anything short of “Russian military forces mov(ing) across the Ukrainian border” would be met with less opposition.

This is unconscionable.

Biden, Ukraine and the Corporate Media

Thursday 20 January 2022

I have very few illusions about the corporate media. 

I wrote a book in the early 90s about the media coverage of the invasion of Panama, an invasion which the military manipulatively named “Operation Just Cause.”  Within hours of what was clearly an invasion, NBC reporters were no longer calling it an invasion.  They were instead using the military propaganda term Operation Just Cause.  News anchors might as well have donned cheerleader outfits and jumped up and down with pompoms.  It was appalling.

In 1989, they took what was a clearly outrageous intervention in the affairs of another country and the kidnapping of a head of state, and a violation of international law and turned it into a celebration of American might.

Since this occurred in 1989, you would have thought I would have been worn down by now, that nothing could surprise me.  But, I don’t think I will ever lose my capacity to be appalled and disgusted and offended by the deliberate manipulation of the corporate press. 

A more recent high (or low) point in corporate media manipulation was the coverage by MSNBC of the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders.  I blame Sanders, by the way, for dragging me back into some kind of emotional investment in electoral politics.  I thought I was too cynical to fall for it again.  I was not.

Sanders was a candidate who not only had good policy as part of his platform, he was not ashamed of being a democratic socialist, and on top of that was a man of integrity. 

I watched with horror as MSNBC anchors and commentators lied, distorted and ridiculed Sanders.  There was no limit to their disparagement.  Chris Matthews charged on his program that Bernie Sanders wanted to have people like him executed in Times Square (Feb 8, 2020).   Another MSNBC commentator, an attorney and supposedly professional, said that no woman could ever vote for Sanders, he “made her skin crawl.”   Jason Johnson called the women who worked for Sanders an “island of misfit black girls.”  Commentators and hosts alike blithely maintained that Sanders couldn’t appeal to minority voters.  Then, Sanders won the Nevada primary on February 22, 2020.  Neoliberal democrats went into a panic.  Terrified by Sanders’ ability to appeal to voters of all stripes, MSNBC anchors (especially Joy Reid) went crazy. 

The DNC orchestrated a mass bow-out of all the corporate candidates in the race and bribed them to endorse one of the worst candidates of the lot, Joe Biden.  And the corporate press reacted as if it was a civil rights victory.  Rather than telling the truth, that the powerful in the party prevented regular people from choosing a candidate (as they had done in 2016) and installed their own, the corporate media gushed.

Then followed what I consider one of the most embarrassing examples of political theatre in decades, the Democratic National Convention.  It was a fawning, ass kissing, slavering, emotionally cheap People Magazine, full of personal melodrama (Biden’s dead wife and children, Biden’s dead son, Harris’ biracial upbringing, etc., etc., etc.)  (Note: One of the very lowest points was when Tammy Duckworth spoke and the speech began with the camera focused on her prosthetic legs). 

I do not like emotional manipulation of any sort and this was the cheapest, crassest display of emotional manipulation.  And, it went on for days.  There was virtually no policy, no serious discussion or debate.  But, there were hours of “inspiring” personal stories.  I thought if I heard another word about what a beautiful marriage the Biden’s had I was going to literally vomit.  But, the corporate press (MSNBC and CNN) couldn’t get enough of it.

The corporate media was in love with Biden, the fictional character they created for Biden.  Biden’s mediocrity, his ineptness as a political candidate (Obama didn’t even want to have him as a nominee), his slavish serving of banking interests, his anti-civil rights history mattered not at all.  And, here we are.

To anyone with an open mind, yesterday’s performance at the press conference, the second since Biden took office, was terrible.  Biden has a hard time talking, holding thoughts in his mind, staying on subject, and also confining himself to the talking points he’s been given.  Were he not facing an almost equally inept press, he would be trying to pull himself out of a greater disaster today.

But, just as the corporate media joined in enthusiastically to the love affair with Biden before the election, they protected him from the criticism he deserved for his performance yesterday.  Instead, they lauded him for speaking for almost two hours, the longest presser in the history of the world, according to them.  They praised him repeatedly for just not being Trump, a low bar.  And they dealt with Biden’s worst gaff (that a “small incursion” might be met with lesser sanctions) by simply ignoring it.

The general theme today in the media coverage was that Biden was being treated unfairly.  The line was: Biden just said what everybody already knew, that the European allies were not in complete agreement about what to do with regard to Russia’s impending invasion of Ukraine.  But, this was not the real gaff.  The corporate commentators talked about this to distract from what Biden really said that sent shock waves across Europe.

What Biden said was that there might be a calibrated reaction to a “small incursion” of Ukraine.  This was not what everybody already knew, especially not the Ukrainians.

Ukrainian officials were reported last night by CNN as being “shocked” by Biden’s statement.  And, as they pointed out, it almost gave the green light for Putin to conduct a “small incursion.”  Why would Biden talk about unprecedented sanctions and then admit that the U.S. was willing to look the other way over a “small incursion.” 

As Ukrainian president Zelensky tweeted today, there are no “small incursions” for Ukrainians.  We are talking about people’s lives and we are talking about aggression from the Russian state that hasn’t been seen since WWII.  And, we are talking about the West’s resolve in the face of authoritarianism and military intervention.

But today, the corporate media is writing this off (if they talk about the statement at all) as a small slip of the tongue.  Nothing to see here, move on.  It is unconscionable.  What Biden is talking about is trading off parts of Ukraine to appease the Russians. 

In addition, while the Biden administration is still acting as if unprecedented sanctions will be implemented if the Russians invade, he has already taken off the table excluding Russia from the SWIFT financial system.  Not one reporter, not one asked him about this.

So, Biden has taken off the table both military support to Ukraine and excluding them from the international economic system and now he is trading off parts of Ukraine to appease Putin.  It is unconscionable. 

US may draw the line at cutting off Russia from Swift | Financial Times

Economic reprisals if the Kremlin invades Ukraine will not necessarily cover the world payments system
— Read on

Ukraine: Performance Art

For those who are interested in the increasingly serious situation on the border of Ukraine, the past few weeks have been tense.  Russia moved what have been estimated as 100,000 troops to the border of Ukraine and then intervened in the political situation of neighboring Belarus.  The West has issued threats, or promises, or murmurs about unprecedented sanctions which would be implemented if Russia invades Ukraine again, without being clear on what those sanctions might be.

In response to the growing crisis, a series of talks were arranged between the U.S., NATO allies and the Russians.  But, after a week, these talks were described in the press as having “collapsed.”

Tonight, Ukrainian intelligence is warning the West that there are not only more Russian troops on the border than previously reported (127,000 instead of 100,000) but also 35,000 militia members inside Ukraine who can be mobilized on Russia’s behalf if an invasion occurs. 

So what does the Biden administration do after talks have “collapsed” and more troops are reported on the border than ever before?  Biden agrees to take off the table one of the most serious of the sanctions, the plan to expel Russia from SWIFT, the world’s dominate international payments system.   

The Times of London is reporting that Europe and the U.S. have shelved this as an option even if Russia invades Ukraine.  At a time when the secretary-general of NATO has warned of a “real danger” of war, a strategic option that might seriously cripple the Russians is removed from the board.  This can only be called “preemptive surrender.”

Russia has claimed that it would send jet fighters, air-to surface missiles and anti-aircraft guns to the eastern frontiers in a joint exercise with Belarus.

A “bipartisan” group of senators is in Ukraine to talk to the president, Zelensky.  Richard Blumenthal has promised support and weapons to the Ukrainians in the event of an invasion.  But, it is hard to see this as anything but more performance art by the Democrats. 


Biden boxed in on Ukraine – Axios

Putin’s whims will ultimately be the deciding factor.

— Read on

  • “Officials from virtually all sides are warning that the risk of a large-scale, conventional war on the European continent is greater than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Few agree on how to stop it.”
  • Republicans who regularly travel to Russia and who supported Putin during the Trump administration are now trying to claim they are tougher on Russia than the Democrats.
  • U.S. officials have claimed in recent days that they have intelligence showing that Russia is organizing a “false flag” operation which would create a pretext for a Russian conventional invasion of Ukraine.
  • While sanctions are threatened, the sanctions imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 failed to either reestablish Crimea as an independent entity or deter Putin from further aggressive actions.
  • One European official maintained that a sanctions strategy was being planned that could be announced within hours of a potential invasion.
  • Note: Many argue that the sanctions should have already been imposed. The Ukrainians are trying to push Biden into sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline now rather than waiting until after an invasion.
  • The energy situation in the EU, especially Germany, makes it unlikely that strong energy sanctions will be imposed.
  • The new German government (more environmentally conscious than the previous one) has been unwilling to commit to blocking Nord Stream 2.
  • Because of an agreement struck with Germany by the Biden administration, Democrats recently found themselves voting against sanctions on Nord Stream 2.
  • Note: Given this agreement, it is hard to see how reaction to Nord Stream 2 can even be a threat.