Monday, June 20, 2016

NATO media basics: criticize a symbolic gesture and get hammered

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier (Social Democrats) criticized the latest big NATO exercise in Eastern Europe as "saber rattling" and "stoking volatility". Instead of narrowing the relationship with Russia to a deterrence-only, military focused one, he called for dialogue and pointed out Russia played an important role in preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and in the fight against terrorism.

The reaction was swift: One of the publishers of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) himself took aim at Steinmeier in a short OpEd two days later. Asking if it was Putin's birthday, the publisher (P)* flat out accused Steinmeier of delivering propaganda worthy of Russian propaganda outlets. P went on to tell readers that Steinmeier "turned facts on their head", that Russia was the aggressor, that it had "violated the principles that had guaranteed peace and stability in Europe for decades". P did not see any need to elaborate on these principles, implying they are clear and given.

The clincher, though, is that P agrees with Steinmeier that NATO's action was "symbolic".

If it was symbolic, why attack Steinmeier as handing Putin a birthday present, and why add the charged term "appeasement", topping it off with the question whether the Social Democrats are getting desperate, thus implying election maneuvering?

Der Spiegel was not quite as harsh but pointed at a rift within the coalition government, adding the voice of a Christian Democrat for good measure.

Buttressing the opinion of his boss, the Frankfurter Allgemeine correspondent in Moscow gets top billing a day later, on Monday, with a piece about the increase of "snap exercises" in Russia. For good measure, the oft repeated 2013 episode of a theoretical nuclear attack on Sweden gets added to the usual mix of Polish fears and, of course, Ukraine.

None of the important facts underlying the strategic picture, for example, that Russia is unable to fight a sustained conventional war against NATO, has any room in the emotional media blitz.

The "NatSec community" on Twitter lapped up the debate with its customary mix of short attention span, fear mongering and "if you are not for us, you are against us".

[Update 7/9/2016] Of course, the pundits at the time did not know, that General Breedlove had been actively plotting against his own boss with regard to Ukraine. Though most would likely have ignored this inconvenient fact even it they had known. Steinmeier, on the other hand, in all likelihood had an inkling of underhanded dealings.

* Not his name, but the name is not important. 

[Footnote] The author of this post worked for the good guys for some time, incorrectly assuming this gives it (gender neutral) the right to speak up against being threatened by either the good guys or the bad.

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