We continue to live in an utterly polarised media landscape. The West, according to Russia, has become obsessed with hyping up war… (exhibit A)
While the Western media has become obsessed with building the narrative that Russia will use a false flag (yes, that favourite of the Alex Jones universe) to justify war (Exhibit B):
Or as CNN specifically reports on Monday:
And the United States says that’s exactly what this is: make-believe violence. It says Russia is plotting to stage a fake attack, and shoot a gory propaganda video of it, as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine. The clip would frame the Ukrainian military — and by extension, their NATO allies — for an attack on Russian-speaking people.
In my opinion it’s all turning into a multi-level geopolitical Columbo episode.
By which I mean it’s the perfect framing for a Kobayashi Maru situation, the ultimate chess move which your opponent simply cannot win. To win, the cornered party would have to literally change the rules of engagement.
In the current state of affairs the entity being faced with the Kobayashi Maru is Russia.
This is easy to see. If Russian speakers are legitimately attacked by Ukrainian entities, it’s unlikely anyone will now believe them. That leaves them in a situation where they either don’t react, and allow the West/Ukrainians to trash them — looking weak and admitting failure. Or they do react, and get accused of “well they would say that wouldn’t they!”
The “pre-casting” of the false flag itself is the strategy in play.
And I would argue it’s the continuous appearance of the “pre-casted” Kobayashi Maru situation in high stake geopolitical confrontations all over the place in recent years, which is the most suspicious thing of all.
The go to high-profile “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario of recent time, of course, was Covid lockdown. The death toll associated with not acting was so heavily pre-casted that if authorities didn’t act, and deaths piled up anyway, they would risk political annihilation because they had been forewarned. If they did act and the deaths still came, the narrative, meanwhile, would always be switched to “well it would have been so much worse if we had done nothing.” If the death count was low, meanwhile, no-one could ever be sure (without another control group that didn’t lockdown) if it was because of lockdown or because the disease itself had been overhyped.
Either way, the argument to sit back and do nothing — a.k.a wait and see while gathering data in a composed and considered manner — was immediately off the table.
One other recent example of the Kobayashi Maru was the Nov 2020 US election. It was so heavily pre-casted that if Trump lost, he would claim the election was rigged (as well as the method he would claim), that if it really was rigged*, Trump would have found himself in an impossible situation. If he backed off and said nothing, he would be admitting failure. If he called it rigged, he wouldn’t be believed by anyone.
(*To be clear I’m not suggesting I believe the election was rigged, I’m suggesting that the way the media is structured right now, I would have to dedicate more time than I have to figure out the truth, and thus most likely default to the Occam’s razor view, which is that Trump is lying. Which is itself a gameable reaction.)
This is why I compare things to a Columbo episode. Very often in the series the murderer’s strategy is to double bluff authorities. Rather than just framing someone else for the murder they’re about to commit, they pre-cast that the framed individual will claim they were framed when they stand accused of the crime. The strategy also involves the psychopathic murderer befriending the investigative detective, Columbo, and helping him find the “evidence” that can corroborate that the framed individual really did commit the crime. “Oh look, isn’t it odd that the nephew of the deceased left a burning cigarette at the scene?”
But the murderer usually underestimates Columbo, and his tendency to deploy entrapment techniques of his own to expose the true murderer.
All that said, in the current landscape of total info confusion I think it’s super important for journalists, writers and commentators to be up front about their own agendas, expertise and knowledge.
My disclosure is this: Like most people, I genuinely have no clue what’s going on. I am also not a deep-rooted geopolitical expert. My analysis is mostly amateur, based on a lay perspective derived from being a continuous news and information processor. That really is what I bring to the table. Unlike most people, it’s my job to read, watch and analyse the news all the time. It’s also my job to look for pockets of info that might have been overlooked by the crowd.
Until now that’s mostly been centred on finance and markets. But geopolitics affects finance and markets, so I’ve vicariously developed a periphery expertise, which compared to the total lay person is probably pretty informed. But it’s important to stress that I’m not an expert.
That said, because I am market/finance led, my only agenda is to figure out what is really going on without any emotive charging of the situation.
The other thing I bring to the table, of course, is that I am Polish. In the current geopolitical situation that implies a bias. I would, however, argue that the bias is not a bad one, since a) it’s geographically relevant and b) the Poles have always been in the middle ground in European power struggles. If you want an objective view on anything, it probably makes sense to trust the people sandwiched between the two biggest geopolitical forces in the world. Or as Norman Davies put it, those who live in “God’s playground“.
Even so, it’s important for readers and commentators to push back against any bollocks I might accidentally communicate. It’s how we will all learn and become experts together. I very much welcome your push back. I am enlightened by it. All I ask is be nice about it. Because if you are (and most of my readers are indeed delightfully lovely and respectful) you’re more likely to extract a concession. And a concession = a credit in my book that we can both sign off on. (And it’s up to you if we mint it on the blockchain.)
I really am enjoying this blog. Best wishes for success in your new endeavor.
If you work hard enough, you can get news from a stable of free thinkers not wedded to the left or the right but sincerely attempting to report and analyze the critical events of the day. I’m now following writers who a decade ago I wouldn’t think of reading. The common thread is they are all committed to (American) First Amendment principles of free speech and association. Its so dreadful these days that the average Joe can’t speak their mind without fear of loosing their job.
My reaction to the Ukrainian dilemma is why not revert to the post WWI practice of holding a plebiscite in the ethnically mixed regions of the Ukraine and in particular where Russian is the predominant language? If they want to reintegrate with Russia, let them do it. If the majority want to stay in the Ukraine, then Russia would really be caught in a Kobayashi Maru moment.
I can think of plenty of reasons Russian speaking Ukrainians would freely choose to reintegrate with Russia. Ukraine is a failed state with an inability to elect leaders who do not become horrendously corrupt. Its loosing population, has the lowest birthrate in Europe, and is hopelessly dependent of income transfers from Ukrainians who have fled the country to earn a living in Europe or other destinations. Someday the American leadership class will realize our foreign interventions always fail if all they do is prop up corrupt politicians.
Regarding whether the 2020 Election was “clean”, I suggest looking at the entrails of Biden’s opinion polls. How could a politician, who generated THE MOST votes in American history, now have a disapproval score only 10 points below Nixon at the time of his resignation? Hard core support is barely 20% – again almost Nixonian. After less than 12 months of office.
This defies explanation in light of Biden generating the highest voter participation since the 1950s. It also defied past election patterns that a presidential candidate who generated 12 million more votes than Obama’s record set in 2008 see his party lose seats in the House of Representatives? (Democrats gained over 20 seats in 2008.)
There is a reason European democracies tested and subsequently rejected vote-by-mail schemes. In many US states a similar test was conducted in 2020 as a reaction to the pandemic – but even worse these experiments were poorly planned. And when it came to opening the envelopes and counting the ballots there was very limited oversight in key jurisdictions, in contrast to entrenched American election principles of adversaries all having equal access to observing how the vote count is processed.
This doesn’t prove Biden was illegitimately elected. But its like the lab leak theory — if you do even a modest amount of investigation to how the vote was collected in Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania and contrast the final result against his collapsing popularity and negative coat tails in the Congressional house election, you might start to conclude that the virus didn’t jump shift using a pangolin…. Biden’s vote total shares much in common with a naturally evolved Covid19 virus.
As a third worlder I become bored by the continuous importance placed by first worlders on being right. The rest of the world, Russia and China particularly, pursue their interests. If a reason or pretext is needed they will provide some words. If such is deemed false or inadequate then whatever. The Russians will say they are defending their security and nato is a gun aimed at their head. The Kremlin pr office will issue any stories necessary to justify anything. Neither Russia nor the US fully recognise the ICC. There is no forum where any party will be held to account.
The media churn on false flags and pretexts obscures info on tactical movement, diplomatically and militarily. The western media persists in their belief that if they prove their righteousness then God’s finger will come out of the sky and squish their enemies flat. Reading news copy one has to skim.
One does wonder how long the Russians can maintain the mobilization. My experience with infantrymen is they don’t like indefinite deployment in the open in the middle of winter.
I believe your analysis is super professional and much needed these days.
Didn’t Russia stage a civil war to invade Crimea? And didn’t Trump repeatedly claim that he really won the 2016 popular vote, but crooked elections stole it (but not the electoral college that time)? So it doesn’t take an imaginative mind to believe they will extend previous tactics further. Past performance may be indicative of future results.
Izabella – great start! I’d love to hear your observations on how language and points of reference for common good differ between the cultures that clash (in current times illustrated by Russian state and the community driven west) and how both language and core values become hostage of wolfs fighting against each other
Another angle id love to know more about is a very passive response of corporate world to emerging risks to the world peace. Joint global move to elevate the rights for inclusion and diversity has been certainly an impressive movement with same narrative. Perhaps current conflict exposes an area where corporate world is not interested in representing the values they stand by?
Thanks for the article, pre-casting seems like a relevant concept indeed. But now you got me really interested in Columbo and his entrapment techniques as epistemic tools! How about a ”Columbo’s guide to navigating the battlefields of information warfare” ?
I think that would be bloody brilliant. And am up for it. Not least because I have seen every single episode and am a huge fan. A Columbo reading of Oedipus Rex got me a top mark in my early education.
I clearly need to educate myself on Columbo!