Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The geopolitical alliance we don't want to talk about: hearts and minds edition

U.S. aircraft carriers in the Arabian sea
The war in Vietnam was all about winning hearts and minds and in the early 21st century things are no different. But instead of dropping propaganda leaflets on enemy soldiers, today the battle for hearts and minds is waged online and in the media.

Recently I have become a fan of Russia Today, or as they are now known after their recent re-branding, simply RT. I started following them regularly after their site was the only place I could watch coverage of Kim Jong Il's funeral, which was awesome by the way.

Clearly this name change was meant to downplay the fact that Russia Today is a slick modern 24 hour cable news propoganda channel supported by the Russian government. Not only do they broadcast their news channel on satellite but they also do a pretty good job with social media. As you can see they even sponsor tweets and do so (shockingly) especially when the topic is an issue the President's liberal base vocally disagreed with him on.

Putin sees that the West dominates the international media discourse and he is using every tool at his disposal to try and level the playing field and force America to deal with the same level of scrutiny that Russia has to deal with. Putin wants to undermine the West's version of events and is still reeling from a serious loss when the West's intervention in Libya succeeded. Russia initially opposed action in Libya but later relented in the face of international pressure.

Russia and Putin don't want to see a repeat of what happened in Libya when dealing with Assad for a lot of reasons. Chief among them is Russia's decades old alliance with Syria, and oh yeah, their only naval base outside of the former Soviet Union just happens to be in Syria. Russia has sent one, possibly two aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean Sea in what seems to be an attempt to deter the United States from attacking Syria and possibly Iran at the same time.

On a deeper level, I think Russia has to support Syria in case Putin's brand of "soft authoritarianism" becomes inadequate as a mechanism for him to maintain power and he is forced to start using mass violence against his own people as Bashar Al-Assad is now. Putin fears that if another domino in what seems to be a wave of western supported revolutions is allowed to fall, the West will get a new puppet, Russia will lose an ally and the Russian people will be further emboldened to reclaim their country from Putin's corrupt grip.

So the RT probably wants to convince us to stop our government from attacking Iran and Syria. RT often posts about Iran's capabilities in an attempt to convince the American people that any military action would be suicide. I happen to agree with them. But in light of current events I am not sure a confrontation can be avoided. After the failure of the watered down UN resolution against Syria because of Russia and China's veto we have closed our Embassy in Syria and leveled new economic sanctions against the Iranian central bank. These are not encouraging developments.

I fear we may be headed inexorably toward conflict with Iran and Syria and by extension Russia and China. I don't understand why the President feels the needs to take such a belligerent stand on Iran. The American people are tired of war and don't want to see another military adventure in the Middle East even if it means Iran might be able to join the already pretty large nuclear club.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the British government is banning an Iranian TV channel ostensibly because they failed to pay a fine. I predict we will see more stories like this one as the battle for international hearts and minds goes on. And now that Julian Assange will be getting a show on RT I worry that soon I won't be able to hear the admittedly biased version of events coming from Moscow and be forced to go back to the BBC for something a little closer to the truth than the mainstream media here in the United States is willing to tell.

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