(He’s got them down pat.)
The problem is that, compared to Aaron Mate, Mr. Schwartz is out of his depth, even when it comes to his pet subject of Russiagate. Mate has actually read the Mueller Report and covered this deep state conspiracy theory from the start — in considerable detail. He’s delved into the Russiagate weeds, as they say.
Earlier this year, Mate’s Russiagate-skeptical reporting won him journalism’s prestigious Izzy Award, named for the legendary muckraking journalist, I.F. “Izzy” Stone.
(Matt Taibbi’s Russiagate-skeptical reporting won him an Izzy, as well. Glenn Greenwald has also done great reporting in this area — excoriating mainstream media outlets for their egregiously sloppy, often-wrong Russiagate reporting — but the awards people must have felt that Mr. Greenwald’s Pulitzer doesn’t need any company on the shelf, this year.)
By the time this cordially civil debate is over, Mattathias Schwartz finds, at one point, that he must request a change of subject — because he’s not followed international policy very closely.
Specifically, he confesses he’s not well enough informed to discuss Washington’s Russia policy over the last two presidencies. He doesn’t have a strong sense of which policies have continued from Obama to Trump, which ones have escalated, and what’s changed, generally, from one administration to the next:
“We’re moving pretty far outside of my area of expertise, like, the arc of U.S.-Russia relations, and I don’t wanna’, you know, I’m not a — I mean I know something about it, but I don’t have, you know, I don’t want to come off as endorsing your views. I don’t want, really, to debate them, either…
“And there definitely is, like yeah, there’s disagreement about Russia policy, and that’s part of the backdrop to this. And whether Russia’s like some sort of giant threat or not — there’s profound disagreement about that. And people feel very strongly, on both sides… and, yeah, you can tell I’m a Sophie! I’m not a Russia expert!”
Mate generously gives Schwartz a pass.
As a result of Mr. Schwartz’s abdication, Mate is only able to say a few words debunking the “Putin’s Puppet” narrative — even as the record of the last few years shows Donald Trump has been far more aggressive against Russia than Barack Obama was (Obama, after all, was a tiny bit sane, and his presidential moment called only for renewing the Cold War and inching us incrementally toward WWIII; Trump’s moment calls for bolder measures, fulfilling his preordained role in U.S. foreign policy, pushing U.S. aggression and hegemony to the breaking point).
Trump’s anti-Russia bellicosity, escalating the New Cold War instigated (primarily) by Democrats, has been noted by none other than Noam Chomsky and award-winning journalists from Aaron Mate to Chris Hedges to Matt Taibbi to Glenn Greenwald.
But still, the conventional wisdom has it that Trump is “Putin’s Puppet.”
(What a breathtakingly backward theory!)
Trump is the “puppet” of Putin like Hollywood’s “Chucky” is the puppet of… whatever poor kid in the movie gets “Chucky” for a birthday present!
When it comes to U.S. foreign policy over the last few years, it’s fair to say that Vladimir Putin’s orange-coiffed puppet, little “Donny,” has turned out to be one of those demon-possessed, psychotic toys that says “I wuv you” one minute and tries to bury a meat cleaver in your head the next.
For one thing, Trump has only prolonged the U.S. proxy war with Russia in Ukraine, which began with the 2014, Washington-midwifed coup. What’s worse, he’s provided weapons to the Ukrainian neo-Nazis that President Obama prudently refused to arm (even after bringing them to power and turning them loose on the Ukrainian countryside).
Destabilizing the world and risking international conflict, President Trump has also seriously damaged the multi-party Iran treaty (Obama’s one significant foreign policy achievement) and unilaterally scrapped the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty — spurning Russian pleas for sanity, in both cases.
Trump has armed Russia’s most hostile neighbors, maintained U.S. bases and conducted war games on Russia’s borders, and continued his predecessors’ assault on Moscow’s allies in the world, from Syria to Venezuela to Iran and beyond — all while expanding on Obama’s “Pivot to China,” surrounding the Chinese mainland with hundreds of U.S. warships, bases, and missiles.
Effectively, the United States has been inviting — for decades — a major military/economic conflict with Russia and China. This effort has escalated considerably over the last decade, with Washington still trying, despite the crumbling of the U.S. empire, to realize the Wolfowitz Doctrine (permanent, unchallenged world domination by a U.S.-based, corporate empire unbound by law).
As Aaron Mate notes, it’s extremely dangerous that there is no national conversation about Washington’s aggressive flirtation with a third world war.
But let’s return to Trump’s anti-Russia record…
Despite the ammunition it gives his political enemies (the neoconservatives), Donald Trump has repeated the as yet unproven allegation that Moscow attempted to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He’s done so despite the Mueller team’s admission in federal court that there is no evidence of official Russian involvement in the ridiculously hyped “troll farms.” And he’s done so despite the general lack of hard evidence supporting the Russian “hacking” claim.
Last but not least, Donald “Hitler” Trump has tried, unsuccessfully (thank goodness), to get European nations to help the U.S. confront Russia, militarily and economically — in ways that Russia would view as extreme aggression demanding retaliation.
[What are Putin’s “red lines?” 1. Washington must not strangle Russia’s future economic ties to Germany and Europe — specifically, the U.S. must not block Moscow’s planned oil pipeline to Europe. 2. Washington must not deny Russia its historic naval ports in Crimea and Tartus, isolating them geographically, as U.S. regime-change ops in Syria and Ukraine were intended to do. 3. Washington must not burden Russia with debt and sabotage their agricultural sector, bankrupting Russian farmers and making the country dependent on U.S. crops to feed itself. That’s it. Washington can surround Russia with missiles and run propaganda campaigns against Moscow all day long — but Moscow has been clear, these are the “hills” they’re willing to “die on.” Though, dying on those hills isn’t exactly Plan A. Plan A is more connected to the unprecedented joint military exercises Moscow and Beijing have been conducting with India, Pakistan, and a few other nations on the wrong side of U.S. hegemony.]
When Mate and Schwartz return to the subject of alleged “collusion” between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Russians, Schwartz is again lost, not up to date, and confused about the timeline of key events.
Embarrassingly, he attempts to peddle one of the most thoroughly debunked planks of this conspiracy theory, citing claims from his colleague, Michael Schmidt’s, discredited 2017 NYT article, entitled “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contact With Russian Intelligence.”
Sadly, Schwartz still believes those “collusion” claims, simply because his employer, the Times, has failed to retract its erroneous story. He’s apparently unfamiliar with his bosses’ dodgy editorial policy when it comes to admitting errors in their warmongering propaganda campaigns.
Furthermore, Schwartz is genuinely surprised to learn that Schmidt’s reporting was contradicted by the FBI’s James Comey, Robert Mueller, and Peter Strzok. And he’s also unaware that his colleague has omitted those collusion claims in his new Russiagating book.
(Walked right away from those claims, Michael Schmidt has.)
But no matter how many times their Russiagate stories are debunked, people like Schmidt, Schwartz, their editors, and leading members of congress are perfectly happy to return to the propaganda trough, citing anonymous spooks with their evidence-free claims in order to keep the neo-McCarthyite narrative alive with fresh slop — like the NYT’s recent Russian “bounties” story, which was immediately disputed by the CIA.
And speaking of fresh slop… ladies and gentlemen, I give you the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s latest report!
The thrust of the senators’ argument is this: even though Robert Mueller — with tens of millions of dollars, subpoena power, and the resources of the U.S. Justice Department at his disposal – could not prove that Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence operative, they really, really think he is one… or that he was one, anyway… at least when he was talking to Paul Manafort in 2016!
(But they apparently doubt that Konstantin Kilimnik was a Russian spy in 2014 when he was in the room with Sec. Clinton’s Assistant SecState for European affairs, Victoria “Fuck the EU” Nuland, helping steward the Obama administration’s Ukraine coup, overturning a democratic election.)
To support their theory that this longtime U.S. State Department asset is really a Russian intelligence agent, the senators highlight the indisputable fact that Mr. Kilimnik (like Mr. Mueller) has publicly questioned some of Russiagate’s central claims…
Their apparent reasoning: anyone who doubts Russiagate is almost certainly… A RUSSIAN SPY!!!
Schwartz argues that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s nearly unanimous, bipartisan acceptance of their own report’s conclusions makes Russiagate’s central claims “more probable.” Even though the senators have presented few new facts and offered no hard evidence of collusion, Schwartz is inclined to believe them.
His argument: How can a whole committee-full of U.S. senators all be wrong about the report they produced? Oh, they weren’t unanimous? Well, one dissenter, so what?
(I mean, it isn’t like U.S. government officials have a long history of spreading deep state propaganda: hyping the Soviet threat during the Cold War; covering up the deep state’s assassination of JFK with the Warren Commission; promoting the fictional “Tonkin Gulf Incident” to launch the Vietnam War; justifying Operation Desert Storm on “incubator babies” invented by a western PR firm; peddling phantom “WMD” to sell the 2003 Iraq War… And then there was the time the bipartisan Silberman-Robb commission told us that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney “did not politicize” the Iraq War intelligence… no, not at all.)
Near the end of the debate, Schwartz finally concedes to Mate:
“Honestly, I wish (it seems like I’m dy-) I haven’t gone deep on this story. And I can tell that you have. And I do see — I understand what you’re saying about it. And I can’t — I just don’t have what I need to, you know, have a robust debate about it. Because I haven’t. It’s just not something — it’s something you’ve been tracking, and I haven’t… And I’m gonna’ read more about it after we get off.”
Schwartz isn’t even aware that the Mueller team never interviewed Julian Assange, despite Assange’s repeated offers to be questioned. Mueller refused those offers despite Assange’s and Wikileaks’s alleged central role in Russia’s supposed attack on our allegedly “democratic elections.”
By and large, this debate is an entertaining and cordial affair. It’s frequently feisty, with both debaters digging in and scoring an occasional point. It’s substantive, too. The “points” are worth knowing. By the end of the discussion, however, Mattathias Schwartz, amiable fellow that he is, comes across as out of his league, uninformed, and something of an establishment tool — a Groupthinker and sucker for the Gish Gallop fallacy.
To his credit, Schwartz admits that the Steele Dossier’s central claims are garbage (he certainly deserves a point or two for debating in good faith!). That wholly debunked, now toxic “dossier” was the product of opposition research first commissioned by the Jeb Bush campaign, then bequeathed to the Hillary Clinton campaign (after Jeb’s implosion). It involved tales of “Russian prostitutes” and “pee-pee” — just enough tabloid fare to get the American public hooked.
Thanks to partisan FBI agents’ falsification of FISA applications, that bogus dossier was used to launch the first “Russiagate” probe. Immediately, the U.S. government began spying on a major party’s presidential candidate and senior-level members of his campaign — despite the fact that the dossier was the creation of a private company hired by two political campaigns notorious for their “ratfucking” dirty tricks.
The fact that an active Russian intelligence official contributed to the Clinton camp’s Steele Dossier is just a bit of icing on the Irony Cake that is Russiagate.
There turns out to be no hard evidence of any connection between the Trump campaign and the Russian government… but the 2016 Clinton campaign apparently relied on the Bush campaign, ex-spooks, and at least one GRU operative!
But don’t tell Mattathias Schwartz…
This Times representative has no answer for the charge that the vast majority of Russiagate claims have been debunked within hours. The MSM’s parade of errors do not remotely give him pause.
He is untroubled by the frequency and uniformity of these glaring journalistic “mistakes” suggesting a massive propaganda campaign designed to demonize Russia and promote the New Cold War — facilitated by a stenographic press corps, exceptionally deferential to anonymous government sources (even by U.S. standards).
“Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.” — Noam Chomsky
Mr. Schwartz is unperturbed by the lack of hard evidence in: the Mueller Report, Crowdstrike’s sworn testimony, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s latest manifesto. And he finds terribly compelling government reports and MSM articles built on the claims of anonymous sources and littered with qualifiers like “likely” and “possibly” and “we believe with high confidence…”
It’s like Mr. Schwartz hasn’t followed U.S. politics for long.
It’s almost like he was born yesterday.
Ultimately, the Times’s Schwartz comes across as a bright, fairly naive, somewhat venal youngster — a go along to get along kinda’ guy. (Sincere and affable enough, I suppose, but clueless.)
Meanwhile, Aaron Mate comes across as authoritative and brilliant. He’s one of America’s most informed and committed journalists, and it shows.
By the time the debate is over, one of the world’s preeminent Russiagate experts, the award-winning Mr. Mate, has repeatedly had to patiently, ever so gently, correct and edify Mr. Schwartz… a neophyte, “Sophie” journalist who is shaping up (if he’s not careful) to become a blithe, careerist foot-soldier for the Military Industrial Complex and the New Cold War.
Hannah Arendt’s phrase about “the banality of evil” comes to mind.