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Landmines and disinformation for me, but not for thee

Spreading potentially false claims and planting explosives outside cities can be 'good' as long as they're done by the right side. Who knew?

Analysis | Europe

Two stories snuck below the radar this week: the U.S. admitted to deploying what up until now has been deplorable and downright wretched “disinformation” in the Ukraine crisis. Furthermore, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs boasted about the effective use of landmines** against the Russians — a week after headlines conflated their use by the Russians with civilian atrocities.

First, the disinfo. This week the leading lights of our mainstream media sat on a stage and lectured Americans in front of a banner reading “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy.” They must've been too busy to give this stunner from NBC News the treatment it deserves:

It was an attention-grabbing assertion that made headlines around the world: U.S. officials said they had indications suggesting Russia might be preparing to use chemical agents in Ukraine.

President Joe Biden later said it publicly. But three U.S. officials told NBC News this week there is no evidence Russia has brought any chemical weapons near Ukraine. They said the U.S. released the information to deter Russia from using the banned munitions.

It’s one of a string of examples of the Biden administration’s breaking with recent precedent by deploying declassified intelligence as part of an information war against Russia. The administration has done so even when the intelligence wasn’t rock solid, officials said, to keep Russian President Vladimir Putin off balance. ...

...“It doesn’t have to be solid intelligence when we talk about it,” a U.S. official said. “It’s more important to get out ahead of them — Putin specifically — before they do something. It’s preventative. We don’t always want to wait until the intelligence is 100 percent certainty that they are going to do something. We want to get out ahead to stop them.”

Headlined as a “break from the past” — truly? — the piece is actually a glowing tribute to the administration’s gambit to throw Putin off his game. The only break from the past here is near-past. Aside from the self-serving gasbaggery coming from the aforementioned stage at the University of Chicago this week, the mainstream media has been screeching about disinformation in a sort of trance-like mantra for more than four years. Most recently it has been used to smear critics of a more escalatory policy in Ukraine. Now, according to this NBC News report, it is:

 “the most amazing display of intelligence as an instrument of state power that I have seen or that I’ve heard of since the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Tim Weiner, the author of a 2006 history of the CIA and 2020’s “The Folly and the Glory,” a look at the U.S.-Russia rivalry over decades. “It has certainly blunted and defused the disinformation weaponry of the Kremlin.”

Get it? The U.S. must use “good” disinformation to combat the “bad” disinformation by the Russians. Just like we engage in “good” military invasions (Iraq, Libya) to overthrow  the “bad” guys (Hussein, Qaddafi).

Which brings us to landmines. The U.S. never signed the international ban on landmines, which have a pesky habit of lying around for decades after wars and blowing civilians’ limbs off. We know this. But as always, the Americans want it both ways, pointing to their “desperate” use by bad guys, like the Russians, as akin to atrocities. Like these headlines last week, here and here.

But then it turns out the Ukrainians are using them too, but their use is “effective” and “strategic” and important to the mission. Here’s Joint Chiefs Chair, Gen. Mark Milley, testifying yesterday.

"Land mines are being effectively used by the Ukrainian forces to shape the avenues of approach by Russian armored forces, which puts them into engagement areas and makes them vulnerable to the 60,000 anti-tank weapons systems that we're providing to the Ukrainians," Milley said. "That's one of the reasons why you see column after column of Russian vehicles that are destroyed."

This reminds us of course of the incident earlier in the invasion when Linda Greenfield, our UN ambassador, tried to rip the Russians for what appeared to be cluster munitions in their convoys marching toward Kyiv. Her statement had to be edited, however, because the U.S. still has such weapons — which too leave little bomblets behind that tend to kill and main unsuspecting civilians — in its own arsenal.

Like the contradictions in Greenfield's story, Milley's will no doubt be met by mainstream crickets, too. These threads just don't fit the proscribed narrative, which at its worst, promulgates a “fine for me, but not for thee” hypocrisy.

**UPDATE: After publishing, landmine expert Jeff Abramson pointed out to me that unlike the Russian mines, Ukrainians are using anti-tank/anti-vehicle mines, which are not prohibited under the 1997 international treaty banning anti-personnel mines, and are actually considered safer for civilians. My apologies for the mistake.

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