Part 4. Mental escalators of violence in US policy and media makers- Part 4D. Who truly stands against corruption? Black-and-white thinking causes US experts to believe falsehood

False Bias #4. The US Is Fighting Against Corruption. The previous essay about authoritarianism referred to the 2019 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee for the Senate Hearing of the National Defense Strategy presented by Damon Wilson, President of the National Endowment for “Democracy,” who stated: “Our nation and its closest friends agree that the great challenge of the 21st century will be the competition between the free world and authoritarian corrupt state-led capitalism, chief among them China and Russia.”

In this essay, we’ll look at the second term in Wilson’s label for Russia: “corrupt.” According to Wilson, the US is defending the “free world” against “authoritarian corrupt state-led capitalism.” But is the US fighting corruption? My understanding is that some US policymakers are striving to reduce corruption. But fighting against corruption has never been a reason for the US to wage war or proxy war against another nation. If it were, it would have to attack itself first. After all, the US government has nothing to boast about with regard to its own ethics.

Consider the bloated, unaudited Pentagon budget,[1] with its lucrative cost-plus contracts, no-bid contracts, exorbitantly jacked-up prices,[2] the shamefully huge CEO salaries,[3] its endless build-up of conventional and nuclear weapons which somehow are just not built right to ever be adequate, its exploration into chemical, biological, and space weapons because the nukes and conventional weapons still aren’t enough, the US weapon industry’s massive millions of dollars in annual so-called “campaign contributions,” a.k.a. bribes, to politicians,[4] and the bribes paid by the weapon industry and tax dollars paid by the US government to foreign nations, such as Saudi Arabia, just to get them to agree to purchase US weapons.[5]

How can anyone look at all that and fail to see that the US government runs on corruption? We, the American taxpayers, are subsidizing the American weapon industry, even though it’s killing us, economically and physically. We’re even paying foreigners to buy US weapons, not only through bribes, but through Foreign Military Financing. No one asked us for our permission or our opinion. We’re just brainwashed to believe it’s right or kept in the dark. Is the purchase of US policy by the wealthy so endemic that it’s falsely accepted as democracy rather than plutocracy?

On the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index posted by Transparency International, the US ranked 27th out of 180, with 180 being the worst. That’s about one-sixth of the way down the list. In addition to a ranking, each nation also receives a score out of 100. The top three nations ranked together as 1st, Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand, each received an 88. The US received a 67.

In this war supposedly motivated in part by this belief that the US is defending the “free world” against “authoritarian, corrupt state-led capitalism,” US policymakers’ ally, Ukraine, is ranked 122, while US policymakers’ enemy, Russia, is ranked 136. In terms of scores, Ukraine received a 32 and Russia a 29 (out of 100). How can US policymakers possibly state that this war is in part a war of the free world against corruption, when its ally received a 32/100 and its enemy received 29/100? Will US policymakers stop fighting Russia once its gets a whopping 32 as a score and moves from a rank of 136 to a rank of 122?

I think not. After all, other US corrupt allies have ranks even lower than Russia: Pakistan 140, Uzbekistan 140, Kyrgyzstan 144, Tajikistan 150, Iraq, which the US supposedly liberated, 157, and Afghanistan, the nation into which the US funneled billions of dollars and expended so much effort for 20 years to build democracy, 174 (out of 180).[6]

Nearly every one of these US-allied nations is violently authoritarian, as well! Yet despite their corruption and authoritarianism, US policymakers haven’t expressed the need to create what Wilson calls a “permanent deterrence” posture against those nations as they have against Russia.

On the contrary, the US sends them weapons, a nice little tool to prop up their violent authoritarianism. Gee, I wonder why these corrupt, extremely violent authoritarian nations are considered US allies—good guys, but Russia’s alleged authoritarianism and corruption requires this “permanent deterrence” posture? Is it because corruption, authoritarianism, and violent oppression actually don’t matter that much to US policymakers as long as the foreign leaders are malleable putty, subservient to US policymakers’ self-centered, avaricious goals?

And notice that US policymakers are calling Putin’s Russia corrupt, but they weren’t upset about Yeltsin’s rule, when Russia was plagued with corruption. In fact, it was the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 and US-advised economic policies that kick-started all of this corruption![7] Moreover, US policymakers were totally involved in interfering in Russia politics in order to ensure Yeltsin’s re-election. As Andre Damon points out on the World Socialist Web Site, “The intervention of the US government and President Bill Clinton personally to secure the reelection of Boris Yelstin in the 1996 Russian election was so brazen that Time magazine featured on its July 15, 1996 cover a caricature of Yeltsin holding an American flag, accompanied by the headline, “Yanks to the Rescue.”[8] If the US is fighting corruption, why was it promoting Yeltsin?

According to Karen Dawisha’s Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, Putin seems to be the alpha and omega of corruption in Russia. I haven’t read the book myself, but I’ve read an article about it published in NED’s publication, Journal of Democracy, and I’ve read readers’ reviews, some of which point to the book’s enormous listing of bad events that imply they’re Putin’s fault, that “Vlad’s Bad,” but without firm attempts to actually connect all the bad things listed in the book to Putin. Details of events may be numerous in the book, but proof and connections may be a weakness. However, I haven’t read the book and can’t confirm the accuracy of these criticisms.

Dawisha’s book is reviewed in the Journal of Democracy, an official publication of NED and John Hopkins University Press, which includes on its editorial board Robert Kagan, one of the co-founders of the infamous US-hegemony-seeking Project for the New American Century, described in the previous essay, Part 3B. In the journal, Harley Balzer explains that Dawisha demonstrates her theory that Russia, under Putin, was intentionally developed into a predatory state that allows his colleagues to reap incredible benefits.

Yet even in Balzer’s article, there is this tendency to mention bad things without proving they’re Putin’s fault, even bad things that were occurring in Russia when Putin was not yet president. It’s as if the reader is supposed to take a hint and jump to conclusions. For example, he writes that in 1999, prior to Putin’s presidency, nearly three hundred people were killed in some apartment bombings. He then writes, “Dawisha provides an astonishing account of convenient accidents, murders, and unsolved disappearances of whistleblowers, disaffected cronies, journalists, and people whose businesses or other assets were attractive acquisitions.”[9] However, it’s not clear that any of these are definitively linked with Putin. Isn’t it possible that many hands were at play?

In fact, in her book, Corruption in America, Sarah Chayes writes of numerous aspects of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union that one would think had much more to do with a general state of corruption played out by innumerable actors rather than the result of deliberate malicious intentions of predation by Putin and “his cronies.” Considering the enormous effect upon the economy, ownership of assets, poverty, health, crime, human relations, and values that resulted from the collapse of Communism, it seems entirely too simple and convenient to place the brunt of the blame for current corruption in Russian upon Putin and “his cronies.” In fact, I would call this blame-flinging, for US policymakers, once again, are not taking any blame for their own role in struggling so long to topple Communism without apparently having put significant thought into the types of effective and safe steps Russia could take once Communism was destroyed.

As Chayes observes, “For the rest of the world, the most consequential event of the decade was the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991. Overnight, entire government institutions and incalculably valuable assets that had been the collective property of everyone in that vast empire were Russia’s alone. The stage was set for the wholesale transfer of those assets to private hands.” And such a transfer set the stage for selfishness, crime, and violence.

Chayes writes of Misha Glenny’s McMafia, which concludes, “The collapse of the Communist superpower. . . is the single most important event promoting the exponential growth of organized crime around the world in the last two decades.” Chayes adds, “The violence was unheard of too, as private security companies staffed by former murderers or weightlifters or KGB operatives enforced business contracts. It was as though the whole former Soviet bloc was mainlining the Midas disease.”

She explains:

“Classic organized crime is one lens through which to view the madness. Equally fateful was the wholesale transfer of Russian public property to a few individuals. After a phase of privatization open only to the nomenklatura—those with connections—came a voucher program. It was designed by US advisors in league with members of President Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle. The theory was that the faster enterprises passed into private hands, the sooner the economy would become efficient.”

Harvard University’s Institute for International Development and President Clinton’s inner circle were all involved, with some using “their insider positions to trade in privatized assets for themselves.” Chayes explains, “The whole thing was a lavishly funded laboratory experiment in the Reagan-era unfettered pro-business principles that the Clinton administration was validating. Harvard, with its liberal reputation, added to the validation.”

Yet violence and crime were only some of the negative consequences of the 1991 collapse of Communism. The “shock therapy” of capitalism, believed to be so salubrious for Russia, had disastrous effects. A 2001 UNICEF report found that the capitalist reforms imposed upon Russia in the 1990s caused 3.2 million excess deaths, resulting in a six-year life-expectancy decline for men. Capitalism caused over one-third of the Russian population to live in poverty. Unemployment became massive. Child malnutrition escalated as did HIV and tuberculosis. Not until 22 years later, in 2011, did Russia climb back up to the level of life expectancy it had had under socialism in 1989.[10]

Chayes notes that along with the collapse of Communism came a change in values, with a priority placed on the garish display of wealth and a loss of the sense of civic responsibility.[11]  The rejection of Communism and rise of poverty combined with world condemnation of Communism and its themes of economic equality and giving to society may have led to a 180-degree twist in viewpoints where luxury, selfishness, and the display of individual wealth became popular as cheap signs of status, in the most shallow sense of the word, and independence, in the ugliest sense of the word. I would think it was almost a sense of drowning, as people must struggle to maintain a living and feverishly, selfishly protect any wealth or power they’ve gained. While I haven’t read any reports on values and attitudes within Russia following 1991 in a cross-sectional analysis throughout society, according to Chayes, at least in some circles of Russia, these types of changes were reported. This decline in traditional morality and social responsibility could easily lead to the rise in violence, chaos, and corruption, which in turn could provoke a subsequent reaction of authoritarianism.

None of these dizzying fallout-effects of the collapse can be easily blamed on Putin’s leadership. It all began even before he was president! More responsibility should be placed on those who thoughtlessly pushed to precipitate the collapse. Reportedly, NED was involved in promoting the dissolution of the USSR. And, as noted in a previous essay, President Carter and US National Security Advisor Brzezinski of Poland deliberately tried to give the USSR its own quagmire of a Vietnam in the form of Afghanistan, a quagmire to suck away its wealth and morale.[12] I would think that these actors also should take some blame for the current state.

Another feature of Putin and “his cronies” that Dawisha reveals is the “close-knit nature” of the players in Russia who are reportedly preying upon Russian resources. While this may be true, this same “close-knit nature” is a despicable feature of a few centuries of US policymakers. Look through US history: administration after administration, it’s the same names, families, lawyers, bankers, railroad owners, military men, weapon manufacturers, and fossil fuel corporations running the government and walking through the revolving door from big business, the military, and law offices to government and then back again to business consultant.

Putin is condemned for having been a KGB member, yet the CIA certainly has had its agents in different offices of US government, including that of President George Bush, Sr., who was formerly the Director of the CIA. For some unknown reason, military experience is also regarded as an indicator of leadership qualities, even though it’s not. The close-knit nature of US policymakers with businessmen, lawyers, and bankers for the past few centuries is quite incestuous and, at the same time, exclusive. Most Americans aren’t invited to the club.

As just one of multiple examples within each administration, look at the role of James Baker as White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Treasury for President Reagan, White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of State for Bush Sr., a consultant to the infamous Enron, and the manager of Bush Jr.’s legal team during the Florida recount for the 2000 presidential elections.

Baker became a senior partner in the law firm Baker Botts, “deeply involved in the fight for oil and gas of the Caspian Sea,” and a senior counselor to the infamous investment firm the Carlyle Group. According to Baker Botts website, its clients include industries pertaining to energy—including pipeline projects and liquified natural gas—technology, biology, pharmaceutical companies, the media, and telecommunications, including some of the world’s largest media conglomerates and global telecommunications providers.

In 2003 it was Baker whom was dispatched by Bush Jr. to Georgia, which lies between the Black and Caspian Seas, to supposedly inform Eduard Shevardnadze that elections must be “free and fair,” even though Georgia’s elections were more free and fair than several other nations in that region. Four months later Shevardnadze, who, much to the dismay of US policymakers, had made some fossil fuel deals with Russia, was overthrown. Next, Bush Jr. appointed Baker as an envoy to Iraq for restructuring its foreign debt.

Mark Briody, author of The Iron Triangle: Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group, commented on Democracy Now! in 2003 regarding Bush Jr.’s appointment of Baker to Iraq:

“[Baker] has had a similar role in the Carlyle group as George Bush Sr. had when he was working with them and that is to be in some ways an envoy for the company, someone to meet with foreign leaders, and both political and business leaders in order to cut deals and open up wallets overseas, encourage people to invest in the company. . . . he’s not an official employee of the government. I think he’s only allowed to work 130 days a year or something like that, which gives him a status that enables him to keep his job at the Carlyle group, and at Baker Botts so he doesn’t have to worry about certain conflicts of interest. But at the same time, you know, a position like this will give him access to the investment community and a firsthand knowledge of dollar flow overseas, that no one else would be able to see.”

Isn’t it a little too close-knit to have a lawyer for a law firm trying to get American hands on Caspian Sea fossil fuels being so heavily involved in government policy? As Briody states, neither the Carlyle Group nor Baker Botts are required to divulge their client lists, so it’s not even known whether Baker’s goals were to further the interests of the Iraqi and American people or to serve the clients of Carlyle Group and/or Baker Botts.[13] Yet cases like this abound in US government, where those in the fossil fuel, nuclear energy, or weapon industries either are in government themselves or have “cronies,” to use the word that Putin’s associates are called, in government doing the work they want done for them, paving the way for their industry to reap major profits.

Dawisha’s work in seeking to divulge the close-knit nature and predations upon Russian resources of Putin’s colleagues in operating Russia is important and I’m not trying to diminish any value of her work, yet US policy and media makers should not view her work in isolation from the highly close-knit nature and self-centered predations of the US policymaker-businessmen-lawyer-banker circle that runs the US. And certainly, US policymakers have no right to consider such defects in Russia to be justification either for war against Russia or proxy war against Russia or a coup, unless they mean to wage war against their own close-knit nature and self-centered predations upon US and foreign wealth and promote a coup against themselves. Americans would do better to use their tax dollars and resources to clean up US government rather than meddle abroad and send billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine to wage proxy war against Russia.

Since US policymakers are guilty of the very corruption and close-knit wheeling-and-dealing of which they accuse Putin, could it be that US policymakers are angry with Putin because, by nationalizing the energy and banking sectors, he’s made Russia’s economy a bit more closed off to US and other foreign investors and their profit-hungry hands?[14] It’s a hot topic kept under wraps that we’ll discuss further in a later essay.

Are they also upset with Putin because he spoke in favor of mutual disarmament, spoke against the militarization of space, and justly spoke out against the US “nearly uncontained hyper use of force” and disdain for international law at the 2007 Munich security conference?[15] Do they not like leaders who remind them of universal ethics? Do they not like Putin because he didn’t placidly accept US-promoted coups in Ukraine and Georgia prompted by US policymaker desires for pipelines, fossil fuels, and energy markets for liquified natural gas?

Another weakness in this entire argument about saving the Free World and fighting corruption is that the US government’s dearly beloved ally, Ukraine, is overflowing with corruption. How dare the US issue the false propaganda, replete with false black-and-white thinking, that the US fights against corruption and Putin promotes it! As Putin states in his July 2021 essay and here, quoted, in his February 21, 2022 speech, “Corruption, which is certainly a challenge and a problem for many countries, including Russia, has gone beyond the usual scope in Ukraine. It has literally permeated and corroded Ukrainian statehood, the entire system, and all branches of power.” According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, which is based on the perceptions of experts and businessmen, Russia may be even more corrupt. But how many US policymakers even admit that corruption is a problem in the US government?

And don’t overlook the role US policymakers played in creating the corrupt Afghan government. Prior to the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban had “cultivated a reputation for relatively clean government. During the Taliban’s previous reign, from 1996 until 2001, bribes were uncommon, and the justice system was viewed as comparatively honest (and certainly less corrupt than that of the Western-backed government established after the Taliban’s ouster).”[16] It was US policymakers who replaced the relatively uncorrupt Taliban with corrupt warlords, and it was US policymakers who corrupted them further by making alliances, not based upon Afghans’ reputations of integrity, kindness, humanity, justice, and trustworthiness, but based upon which Afghans would respond to lures of guns and money. Billions of US tax dollars went into Afghanistan. But somehow, the money didn’t make it to where it needed to go.[17] During the US occupation, justice in those areas under Taliban control were popular amongst Afghans “precisely because they perceive it as less corrupt and more efficient.”

What kind of person in his right mind would think to form a democratic, uncorrupt national government by buying off allies with guns and money and then putting them into positions of political power? The very process is just begging to attract people of the lowest common denominator who are venal, immoral, and corrupt! But then again, as books such as Sarah Chayes’ On Corruption in America describe in detail, this is how US policies are made and US policymakers are bought and elected, through bribery, intimidation, and “campaign contributions,” so perhaps US policymakers thought that since this was the American way, it was the democratic way to create a government. After all, their usual shorthand logic is that anything US policymakers do is democratic, by definition. It makes you wonder what credentials US policymakers can possibly have to establish an actual democracy.

That leaves us with two more words in Wilson’s “authoritarian, corrupt, state-led capitalism” term. You can bet they like “capitalism,” but what US policymakers really don’t like is the word “state-led”—not because it’s government-led, but because it’s not US-government-led. As stated, Russia’s “state-led” capitalism re-nationalized some industries such as energy and banking, preventing US businessmen and bankers from accessing all of Russia’s wealth the way they probably want to. Based on the US track record abroad, it’s likely that what’s really bothering US policymakers who are waging this anti-Putin smear campaign is the fact that the Russian government has more control than the US government over the Russian economy. It just doesn’t seem fair to US policymakers who, with a pouting stamp of the foot, find Russian control over Russia’s economy to be downright adversarial, aggressive, authoritarian, and undemocratic.

For US policymakers, there seems to be nothing more unnerving, nothing more indicative of authoritarianism, corruption, inhumanity, aggression, and hidden weapons of mass destruction to boot, then a foreign government that doesn’t put the satisfaction of US policymakers’ interests as the top priority. If a foreign leader won’t put US policymakers’ wishes first, then that cinches it, he’s authoritarian, corrupt, and dangerous. For US policymakers who like their interests and their decisions to be at the core of other nations’ and regions’ planning—as we already saw specifically expressed in the earlier essay about the Project for the New American Century—“state-led” is far too independent from the US government.

In the earlier essay Part 4B and also in the previous essay, we discussed how the black-and-white thinking that is characteristic of what Gordon Allport called the Prejudiced Personality can skew a person’s perception and understanding of reality. Whether these US policymakers actually realize their own cognitive distortions isn’t clear. Do they realize that they’re being selfish and self-centered? Or does black-and-white thinking literally force their brains to perceive the world as good vs. bad, thus compelling their minds to see US policies as moral and Russian motives and goals as evil, despite all evidence to the contrary? Does the Prejudiced Personality’s characteristic of selective perception—seeing and remembering only what one is looking for—prevent their minds even from ingesting other information and integrating it into minds, from developing and changing when learning information that contradicts their beliefs?

Clearly, labeling the US government as a force against corruption and Putin as a force for corruption is a false dichotomy, either a result of deliberate deceit or a result of distorted, black-and-white thinking and thoughtless groupthink of US policy and media makers. While such falseness is bad and harmful enough, the extremely dangerous consequence is that US policymakers are using this and other false dichotomies as justification for a proxy war against Russia. Even worse, they could next use these false dichotomies as justification for a coup, a drone attack, biological weapon attack, or conventional or nuclear weapon attack upon Russia.

Kristin Christman has been independently researching US foreign policy and peace since 9/11. Her channel focuses on US-Russian relations at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuNEw9-10lk-CwU-5vAElcg. Kristin graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College with a BA in Russian, and she holds Master’s degrees in Slavic languages from Brown University and public administration from SUNY Albany. She has been a guest with former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter and UNAC coordinator Joe Lombardo on Cynthia Pooler’s program, Issues that Matter, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDlaLNJih7U. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice recently published her article on suicide, culture, and peace in their special edition on suicide, Vol. 33 No. 4.  kristinchristman956@gmail.com

Notes

[1] Robert Greenwald and John Amick, “Defense Spending: There’s No Better Way to Talk about the Corrosive Effect of Money on Politics,” Huffington Post, Aug. 29, 2012.

[2] William D. Hartung, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (New York: Nation Books, 2012), 23, 72-76, 82, 88, 136, 148.

[3] Susan Webb, “Blood Money? U.S. Is World’s Top Arms Dealer,” Jan. 26, 2016, People’s World, http://www.peoplesworld.org.

[4] Ammo.com, “An Inconvenient Truth: How the Obama Administration Became Earth’s Largest Arms Dealer,” https://ammo.com.

Ariel Gans, “Defense Lobbying Hits Eight-Year High Ahead of Defense Spending Bill,” Open Secrets, Dec. 9, 2021, https://www.opensecrets.org.

Hartung, Prophets of War, 29.

[5] Hartung, Prophets of War, 115-32.

Andrew Feinstein, The Shadow World:  Inside the Global Arms Trade (New York: Picador, 2012), 262-72.

[6] Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index,” 2021, https://www.transparency.org.

[7] Sarah Chayes, Corruption in America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020), 269-79.

Greg Rosalsky, “How ‘Shock Therapy’ Created Russian Oligarchs and Paved the Path for Putin,” Mar. 22, 2022, https://www.npr.org.

[8] Andrew Damon, “The US Government and the Russian Election,” World Socialist Web Site, Dec. 27, 2017, https://www.wsws.org.

[9] Harley Balzer, “Stealing Russia Blind,” Journal of Democracy, Apr. 2015, Vol. 26, 165-69, https://www.journalofdemocracy.org.

[10] Benjamin Norton, “German EU Official Uses Racist Rhetoric Claiming Russians Don’t Value Life,” Apr. 15, 2022, https://multipolarista.com.

[11] Sarah Chayes, Corruption in America, 269-79.

[12] Bill Van Auken, “Zbigniew Brzezinski, Architect of the Catastrophe in Afghanistan, Dead at 89,” World Socialist Web Site, May 29, 2017, https://www.wsws.org.

Nick Turse, The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (New York: Verso, 2010), Chalmers Johnson, “Abolish the CIA!” 31-32.

David N. Gibbs, “The Brzezinski Interview with Le Nouvel Observateur (1998),” Translated by William Blum and David N. Gibbs, https://dgibbs.faculty.arizona.edu.

[13] Democracy Now!, “Saving President Bush: Send in James Baker,” Dec. 8, 2003, https://www.democracynow.org.

[14] Richard J. Anderson, “A History of President Putin’s Campaign to Re-Nationalize Industry and the Implications for Russian Reform and Foreign Policy,” Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Defense Technical Information Center, Feb. 8, 2008, https://apps.dtic.mil.

[15] Vladimir Putin, 43rd Munich Conference on Security and Policy, Feb. 11, 2007, https://russialist.org.

[16] Josh Von Trapp, “Will Afghanistan’s New Taliban Rulers Govern Corruptly?” The Global Anticorruption Blog, Nov. 1, 2021, https://globalanticorruptionblog.com.

[17] Craig Whitlock, The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021).


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