White House spokesman Josh Ernest said
“What we also know is that the Malaysia Airlines jet was brought down by a missile that was fired from the ground. It was fired from the ground in an area that was controlled by separatists, and in an area where the Ukrainians themselves were not actually operating anti-aircraft weapons at that time. So that is why we have concluded that Vladimir Putin and the Russians are culpable to this tragedy.”
This statement has not been retracted or clarified. The White House has let it stand. We have to assume they said what they intended to say.
First, a minor point of clarification. Ernest’s grammar is faulty. The word “culpable” should be followed by the proposition “for”, not “to”. He’s saying that Putin and the Russians are blameworthy for or responsible for or to blame for this tragedy. He’s saying they are guilty of causing this tragedy.
My point in this blog is not to issue a judgment or theory of the shooting down of MH17. It is to point out several things about this White House statement, with my main concern being to delineate the foreign policy behavior of the U.S. of which this statement is a part. What my observations come down to is that if the White House were acting maturely and diplomatically, it would not be making statements like these. This kind of hasty and ill-considered judgment and language is for another purpose than wise and statesmanlike handling of the Ukrainian situation. It is for another purpose than bringing that civil war to an end and restoring some kind of harmony and order in that region. It is for another purpose than stemming the tides of destruction and refugees that this civil war is producing. As best as I can tell, the White House wants to blame Putin and support Kiev as part of a larger policy of hegemony in that region or even an even more ambitious aim of destabilizing the Russian government or form of government. Another aim is to cater to its Eastern European and NATO allies. The latter political aims in mind, not the former humanitarian aims, make it comprehensible why the White House engages in cheap and rash statements that read from a propaganda playbook. Propaganda, not statesmanship, is the White House modus operandi in this case.
This statement blaming Putin and the Russians makes an oversimplified assessment of a more complex reality. That is what propaganda usually does. Suppose for an instant that separatists shot down MH17 by mistake. Would this mean that Putin and some amorphous and unidentified group called “the Russians” are guilty? Under the scenario of a mistake, which is only one of quite a few possibilities, that would be a premature judgment. If we imagined a trial of defendants accused of shooting down MH17, would we be reaching such a conclusion based upon what has so far been reported about this event? This would be impossible. No jury could reach a verdict with what we know so far. There are too many questions, too many unanswered questions, and too many possibilities. Would Putin be a defendant? What would he be charged with? Wouldn’t he be allowed to put up a defense? Wouldn’t we need to know much more about the chain of command, about orders given, and about how this event came about?
Would a vague body called “the Russians” be on trial? That phrase within Ernest’s statement is pure propaganda in pointing an accusing finger at an unidentified set of enemies called “Russians”.
The logic of the White House is so poor in this statement that this again tells us that it is designed as propaganda for political purposes, not with the design of achieving humanitarian objectives in that troubled land. The statement jumps to the conclusion that Putin and the Russians are to blame for shooting down MH17, based upon three other items that it regards as facts. The first is that MD17 was brought down by a ground to air missile. The others are that the missile came from an area controlled by separatists and an area in which Kiev had no anti-aircraft weapons. Even if all three of these statements were true, does it follow that Putin is guilty? Wouldn’t it be necessary in a court of law to tie Putin to the alleged actions of those on the ground? Wouldn’t the defense have quite a few ways to dispute the connections? Wouldn’t the defense have quite a few alternative scenarios that would raise reasonable doubts about his guilt? After all, the flightpath of MH17 changed. The Ukrainians have ground to air missiles. The separatists may have captured some. Ukrainian jets were in the air at the same time. The Ukrainians have been launching heavy attacks on the separatists. Wouldn’t the prosecution have to show motive, means and opportunity?
My point, I repeat, is not to question the beliefs of the White House or to provide alternative scenarios. Those are easy to find. It is to say that the White House has chosen to take its premature beliefs and premature judgments to the public as conclusions about the guilt of the President of Russia. Looked at in a legal context, the case is flimsy and nonexistent. Its immediate purpose is to smear Putin and “the Russians”, to demonize them in the public forum and generate support for more stringent measures to be taken against Putin and Russia.
We are witnessing antagonistic foreign policy being shaped around judgments that do not stand up even to rudimentary standards of evidence, due process or justice. The administration is engaging in propaganda. Truth and the pursuit of truth as a firm basis for action are cast aside. The feigned or even actual sincerity with which the government’s skilled propagandists and politicians make their cases should not obscure the fact that propaganda is their standard verbal currency. It is their habitual technique. This administration has been engaging in propaganda for years now, in every bit as serious a way as Bush’s propaganda campaign before invading Iraq. I seriously doubt that the American people has fully woken up to the fact that the White House constantly propagandizes.
The White House provides the public with the misleading information or supposed facts that Putin invaded Ukraine and that he’s guilty of shooting down MH17. It does this to serve its political purposes. This is the definition of propaganda.2:23 pm on July 26, 2014 Email Michael S. Rozeff