The Russians Are(n’t) Coming!: Paul Reveres, the Washington Hawks Are Not

In America’s Emerald City these days, if there’s even a hint of a war-wind-down, imperial-deescalation, or military budget-cuts, Washington’s (non-dribbling) Wizards have a ready response: Russia! Indeed, these military’s magicians have a far-simpler and more effective playbook than the city’s aptly-named NBA franchise. Since President Donald Trump’s election year, basketball’s Wizards are a meager 148-162; the Wizards of Warfare are essentially undefeated – not a single war hath ended. The first-place War Wizards rely on two go-to moves to maintain militarism:

  1. Invent or Exaggerate a "new" Russian threat (anywhere and everywhere).
  2. And, if that hasn’t done the trick:

  3. Plant, time, or twist a "new" media story evincing Trump’s collusion, favoritism, or blindspot for Vladimir Putin.

Enter this last, now typical, Wednesday. At a morning Pentagon press conference, Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed that 12,000 U.S. troops will be removed from Germany per the president’s previously stated intentions. Later that same night, the Daily Beast reported that according to three ironclad sources – "two senior American officials and another individual with knowledge of the matter" – that the State Department "Warn[ed] Russia on Bounties While Trump Cries ‘Fake News.’" The article’s subtle subtitle offered the gist (and motive-rub): "The secret warnings stand in contrast to what President Trump has said about the intelligence in question."

Rather convenient, that. It’s an old formula. Just in case the chorus of troop withdrawal critics – NATO allies, bipartisan congressmen, private and public intelligence "firms", et. al.) – can’t seal the deal with a war-weary but confused public, in rides the media to spotlight a repeatedly discredited Trump-Putin link. Presto! The Washington groundhog predicts (and delivers) six more weeks, years, maybe decades, of [potentially nuclear] winter.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Of course advanced degrees are not synonymous with intelligence, and Washington hasn’t functioned in decades. Maybe that’s why it’s difficult for so many to discern that Trump may be a moron but isn’t necessarily wrong on NATO; may be a serial liar, but senses the truth of establishment schemes to scuttle even modest imperial retrenchment.

The Things "We" Know But "They" Do Not Say

There’s just one problem: the entire establishment foundation regarding Russia is so much bullshit. There, I said it! The media mouthpiece for the military-industrial-complex’s 17 personal (if technically official government) intelligence agencies, deliberately deletes all exculpatory evidence and relevant context. They omit, distort, or reframe all things inconvenient or uncomfortable for their pecuniary and professional stake in endless war and war-spending.

For example, that NATO’s founding raison de etre was inherently anti-Russian; and thereby, Moscow’s mistrust of the West’s broken-promise expansion right up to its post-Soviet borders is completely rational.

That Putin isn’t Stalin, and isn’t even a communist. He ran and runs against the Communist Party. He’s no peacenik; but neither is he Pol Pot (whose genocidal mania Washington more than tacitly supported).

That more often than not, the supposed Tsar-Commissar-Premier Putin’s predictable responses to US and NATO provocation are – if not benevolent or preferred – muted or delimited. In 2018, when American special operators-directed airstrikes killed scores of attacking Russian mercenaries in Syria, he distanced himself from his contracted countrymen. In 2014, he seized Crimea, but not (as many locals requested) Ukraine’s entire Eastern Donbass region. In the 2008 war with Georgia, he took de facto control of the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but not the capital city of Tbilisi. If (and it’s a big if), he paid bounties for American scalps in Afghanistan, he sure waited nearly two decades and only after previously cooperating with that US adventure on his very borders. We should perhaps speak of Russia as restrainer rather than renegade.

That Putin’s restraint and restriction is often more of a force for regional and global stability than America’s madcap militarism. In Syria – where Politico recently complained that "Russians squeeze US troops…amid uproar over Trump’s dealings with Moscow" – Putin backed a killer with limited regional capabilities; but Obama aligned the US with Islamists (like Al Qaeda) possessing grandiose transnational ambitions. In Libya, Moscow may support a (former CIA-asset) warlord, but it was Washington which shattered the country in a reckless regime change war and then callously washed its hands of the entire macabre mess.

That Trump’s only cutting 12,000 troops from a Germany-based force of 36,000 that couldn’t counter a full-throated invasion of Central Europe (that isn’t and wasn’t ever coming) anyway; and a force which probably wouldn’t, and damn sure shouldn’t try to stop even a Russian incursion into its former-Soviet – and now, foolishly, NATO-incorporated – Baltic Republics. Something tells me that Trump’s recently tapped and much-maligned – he the "renegade” former colonel – nominee for ambassador to Germany implicitly knows this. After all, the German-speaking Douglas Macgregor spent a career studying Soviet military tactics and history. At one time, he intensely debated none other than Trump’s hawkish former National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, on the efficacy of a Russo-American War in Eastern Europe. The former advises caution in dealing with nuclear-armed Russia and opposes provocative NATO-expansion; the latter, well…visions of glorious catastrophic war dance in his head.

Thing is, Putin knows he could probably call some bluffs and seize these former Soviet satellite states. He hasn’t. Ironically, a bipartisan Russia-hawk "Team Swamp" – ranging from Republican neocon spawn Liz Cheney to Democrat machine boss Nancy Pelosi – that’s fronted by climate-science-touting liberals, willing risks the equally-scientific cataclysm of even a "limited" nuclear war over inessential and distant little Latvia. See, the establishment opposes the potential slow-death of global warming but is apparently unconcerned about the immediate extinction of nuclear winter. We humans are a strange species, indeed – though maybe not long for this world.

Thus, is it so crazy to admit Putin prefers playing chess to Russian Roulette? Well, Washington’s professional gas-lighters will certainly say so.

Goodbye to Gaslighting

After nearly three decades of post-Soviet alarmist nonsense – and four years of veritable Trump-era hysteria – some of us are sick of politely hedging our Russiagate/New Cold War skepticism. What’s the point of qualifying or caveating critiques of the next "bombshell" revelation of Putin the Terrible’s latest misdeeds? The establishment media-congressional-intelligence bipartisan blob will go ahead and gaslight us anyway.

Indeed, after perusing a piece on gaslighting warning signs – penned by an experienced psychoanalyst PhD, directing the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence – it’s clear we skeptics are in emotionally abusive relationships with our prominent politicians and pundits. Allow me to Russiagate(s) translate just the first four ways to know you-might-be-a-gaslight-victim for all those other anxious skeptics out there:

  • You ask yourself, "Am I too sensitive?" many times per day.
    • Maybe I am overthinking this or seeing Russia-baiting connections where they aren’t?
  • You often feel confused and even crazy in the relationship.
    • AM I crazy? Am I the only one who sees through this nonsense?
  • You’re always apologizing.
    • Yes, I’m not saying I like Putin; and sure, Assad is awful; But…
  • You can’t understand why you aren’t happier.
    • I’ve been empirically vindicated on this stuff every time – so why doesn’t it feel good?

For those sentient thinkers who see themselves in the list – fear not. Hope lingers with saner voices than mine (among the purported insane, that is) who’ve already had enough, and say so in appropriately blunt terms:

Notice that none of these accurate, but dismissed and/or disregarded, authors appeared in the New York Times or on CNN. In fact, a daily-alarm-raising establishment obsessed with unearthing a grand Russian conspiracy, usually rejects such voices as alarmist, obsessive, conspiratorial. Victimizers do love to blame their victims, don’t they?

So when it comes to Russia-Cold-War-hype, perhaps paranoia is the new prudence.

And a "conspiracy theory" simply Occam’s new razor.

Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and contributing editor at His work has appeared in the NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Mother Jones, ScheerPost and Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. His forthcoming book, Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War (Heyday Books) is available for pre-order. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet and see his website for speaking/media requests and past publications.

Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen