This article originally appeared at Pox Amerikana
‘The masses have never thirsted for the truth. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master….Whoever attempts to destroy those illusions is always their victim.’
– Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: The Study of the Popular Mind
Colour my Revolution
With petrol still around 25c per litre and a packet of Ritz crackers a bargain at $1.79, the year 1989 is a memorable one to be sure, with the Fall of the Berlin Wall – itself signposting the beginning of the end of the Cold War – perhaps being for most the event that first comes to mind, at least for those folks concerned with the more substantive and epochal of life’s (and history’s) noteworthy markers.
Yet another significant event that year surely was the so-calledTiananmen Square Massacre, wherein hundreds (some reports suggested “thousands”) of students amongst the huge crowds of pro-democracy activists occupying Tiananmen Square in the Chinese capital Beijing, were allegedly massacred after authorities lost patience, declared martial law, and ruthlessly suppressed the uprising.
Now I expect many will be wondering why I have used words like “allegedly” and “so-called”. Myself included, most folks absorbed the official ‘T-Square’ gospel then, and to this day it would be difficult for them to entertain an alternate reality to that portrayed by Western leaders and the mainstream media (MSM). Even here in Australia, our Prime Minister of the time Bob Hawke memorably experienced an emotional meltdown whilst addressing the nation in the aftermath of the crackdown.
After roundly condemning the Chinese authorities for their response, Hawke began relaying harrowing – and supposedly authentic – witness accounts of the purported scale and brutality of the “massacre”, all juxtaposed with the iconic, blood-drenched images streaming in from Beijing’s famous landmark. Hawke’s response doubtless was illustrative of that of most Western leaders at the time to be sure, and, as has since become apparent, presaged a similar response from their respective successors to more recent events of significance causing much angst on the geopolitical scene.
With all this in mind, the recently released book Ukraine: ZBig’s Grand Chessboard How the West Was Checkmated, byNatylie Baldwin and Kermit Heartsong, is illuminating for a host of reasons. This, not least because – along with refuting a good deal of the accepted narrative surrounding the event – tellingly for our purposes herein it dispels any notions that T-Square was indeed an organic, home-grown protest/resistance movement fuelled internally by student-led frustration and anger with the pace of political reform in the post-Mao era.
Their book in fact posits Tiananmen as a another ‘case study’ of Uncle Sam’s long cherished tradition of stirring the geopolitical pot – fomenting political, economic and social disruption and chaos in countries it sees either as a threat or for some ulterior motive whose respective government (or leader) of the day it wishes to discredit or undermine, and then regardless of the outcome, very effectively portraying it as something quite different from what it actually represented.
Put simply, the events in Beijing of that year “bore all the hallmarks” of what came to be known as ‘color-coded’ revolutions, essentially coups d’état cooked up and covertly stage managed by the United States with the express purpose of relieving the target country’s government of the day of the burdens of power and replacing it with one more amenable to the perpetual motion feast that represents at any given time Washington’s political and economic dictates.
In the case of China, the U.S. wanted to oust Deng Xiaoping – the redoubtable Chairman Mao’s wily successor – and replace him with Zhao Ziyang, someone within the ruling Politburo the putsch pirates of the Potomac presumably viewed as perhaps more simpatico with said “dictates”. It is also reasonable to suspect that with everything that was going down in Eastern Europe at that time, the ‘putsch-meisters’ experienced a geopolitical ‘our time has come’ zeitgeist moment, and accordingly hoped to capitalize on the broad anti-Communist, pro-democracy/pro-Western fervor of the times by exporting it to China. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as it were!
Baldwin and Heartsong – the broader themes of whose book we shall return to in Part Two – report that the “color revolution” playbook, in effect became the putsch pirates weapon of choice for facilitating regime change in the target nationdu jour. Yet they emphasize that despite the claims of Western governments and the MSM about the events in Tiananmen, ‘…the Chinese government’s version of the truth….was indeed accurate, and that no massacre had ever taken place’. [My emphasis].
To support this extraordinary revelation, the authors cite a July 1989 cable released by Wikileaks in 2011 sent from Chilean diplomat Carlos Gallo – who himself witnessed the events on the day – to his U.S. counterpart. Although space limits a detailed dissection of Gallo’s account (which does not necessarily refute people were killed and injured in the eventual crackdown), it is significantly at odds with Western versions. At the very least it places the events of T-Square in a wholly different context, and gives us a vastly different perspective on the final outcome and the decisions taken by the Chinese authorities.
Yet whilst the attempted Beijing putsch failed spectacularly, from a propaganda perspective though it succeeded admirably (the condemnation of the Chinese government’s actions was universal and as noted, the official Western narrative of a ‘brutal’, ‘repressive’, ‘wholesale’ “massacre” remains intact), and moreover it crucially afforded a proving ground for similar activities going forward in other countries. Despite the setback in Beijing, the color ‘revolutionaries’ were on a roll. They’d learnt their lessons well.
(It’s entirely plausible the Chinese learnt one or two lessons as well, but such speculative musings – whilst nevertheless valid and enticing – are perhaps best left for another time.)
As noted by Baldwin and Heartsong, “color revolutions” represent then something of a subset of “swarm warfare”, designed to insidiously infect like a virus the social, political and economic institutions of the target nation. As the contagion spreads, swarm warfare,
‘…causes the host state to lose any and all viability (governance, control, policing capability) whereby it quickly dies and is transformed into something entirely different…[color revolutions] have no front lines, are primarily waged in urban areas, and utilize social media as viral replicators [so as] to properly direct the infection into the nation’s vital organs…[T]he overriding strategy is to manipulate and control the state in an attempt to cause paralysis and ultimately its political death.‘
I expect by now those with a more perceptive view of recent U.S. ‘hugger-muggery’ in its international relations and who don’t rely on the MSM for their insight into geopolitical affairs will be nodding their heads knowingly, as the outcomes, if not the techniques and methods used, will have become a more familiar refrain since ‘T-Square’. But for those not so informed, regime ‘reset’ (to use a word much in vogue around the Beltway) by Washington has a long, sorry-ass, sub-rosahistory as the indispensable foreign policy tool, almost always righteously premised on national security, national interest or humanitarian grounds and invariably paired with justifications based on the defence and promotion of liberty, democracy, freedom and the rule of law.
In the post-WW2 era, this “history” goes back at least as far as 1953 when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in cahoots with Britain’s MI6, infamously engineered the removal of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohamed Mossadegh in Iran and replaced him with the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. And whilst it took around 60 years for the ‘Company’ to ‘fess up to its involvement in the Iran coup, this was considerably longer than it took for the blowback to arrive.
As history records, as another in a long conga-line of U.S. client tyrants, the imperious, klepto-brutocrat ‘Peacock Potentate’ then went on to divinely (mis)rule his country with an iron-fist until his own belated, long-awaited overthrow in the Iranian Revolution of 1979, itself surely one of the most pivotal, nay portentous geopolitical events of that year. It was quite possibly also one of the best exemplars in the history of tyranny and despotism of moral causation eventually prevailing – or to put it more simply, ‘what goes round, comes around’ – even if ‘karma’ took its time in arriving.
It’s fair to say then this one coup alone – as ‘successful’ at the time as it was clandestine – had profound, far-reaching, geopolitical, economic and national security consequences for the U.S. and the West in general, and indeed for the rest of the world. The present imbroglio over the agreement reached with Tehran on its mythical nuclear weapons program along with the interminable Sturm und Drang that preceded it – and which is unlikely to abate anytime soon – is in many respects a reflection of that.
Moreover, it is worth noting herein those folks still baffled by whatever residual distrust, bitterness and enmity harbored by many Iranians towards Uncle Sam and all that he purportedly stands for need look no further beyond a cursory examination of the execrable Shah’s quarter century rule. A good place to start would be to familiarize oneself with the exploits of his CIA/Mossad trained secret police the SAVAK, whose impressively sadistic torture manuals set something of a pioneering benchmark even for their former mentors in the vicious black arts of brutal oppression and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, along with political terror and plain, old fashioned, garden variety murder.
In fact so successful then was this regime ‘recalibration’ initiative in Iran that the following year a similarly inspired scheme was concocted and implemented for Guatemala’s leader Jacobo Arbenz with a not dissimilar result, by which time the now well-tried formula had become the gift that, at least for the regime ‘Change Rangers’ past and present, just keeps on giving. To put that another way, if the old adage is true about all problems looking like nails when the only tool in one’s repair kit is a hammer, then we can probably equate those nations reluctant to toe the Washington line to the “nails” with the color revolution now being analogous to the “hammer”.
With Friends Like These (Down Under)
As it turns out, even here Down Under, whilst not widely suspected at the time, with good reason there is now a not insignificant number of Aussies who believe that elements of the CIA – colluding with our own intelligence community, local U.S. diplomats of the day, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited as the self-appointed MSM agent provocateur – weredirectly involved in leveraging in 1975 not dissimilar regime change strategies.
These machinations contributed to the political instability thereby seriously undermining the duly elected Labor government of the day (one that this ‘boots-on-the-ground’ writer remembers all too vividly), and in the process giving many of us an inkling of what it might have felt like to live a ‘banana republic’. And Australia was then – and remains to this day – one of America’s most loyal (many would say obsequious) allies, a reality that prevails today irrespective of the political party in office at any given time. For many Australians who since then have come to increasingly suspect U.S. involvement inPrime Minister Gough Whitlam’s unceremonious ouster, it was/is a case of, ‘with friends like [the Americans], who needs enemies?’
Whilst the catalyst for this treacherous subversion and the convoluted backstory behind it remains a narrative for another time, for our purposes herein it is instructive to note it led to an unprecedented Constitutional crisis that eventually saw our whole government ‘putsched’. To this day, regardless of political persuasion, Whitlam – who’d earlier pulled Australia out of the Vietnam quagmire and had even begun heretically questioning our ongoing commitment to maintaining America’s much prized Pine Gap intelligence and surveillance facility, actions which inevitably outraged President Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the putsch pirates of the day – remains the only PM in our history who dared challenge the prevailing Washington orthodoxy. Quelle surprise!… …many might say!
Interestingly, Whitlam, when some years later was presented compelling evidence his government was indeed ‘termited’ by the U.S., experienced what can best be described as cognitive dissonance; so entrenched is the benevolent, credulous view of the U.S. in the Australian political psychopathology, even he all but refused to believe it.
(Readers seeking further insight into this little known U.S. intervention in the affairs of other countries might follow the links here, here, and here. They make for fascinating reading. The John Schlesinger film The Falcon and the Snowman is also worth seeking out.)
As for the aforementioned coups in Guatemala and Iran (along with several others that followed in their wake, e.g. Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1961 and Indonesia in 1965), those in the know with regard to the short- and long-term outcomes from these prototypical examples of what signaled Washington’s predisposition to regime change recidivism, will readily recall there were no happy endings. This proved to be especially so for the ordinary citizens of most countries affected along with their families and communities, who for those remaining alive at least are still recovering from the devastating effects – personal, political, economic, social – of this meddling by the U.S. intelligence community and their confreres populating the ranks of the foreign policy power elite on both banks of the Potomac.
Map Detailing the April 1961 Cuban Bay of Pigs Invasion Plan
And even when these strategies spectacularly went pear-shaped and back-fired on the perps, most notably with the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, the well-documented blowback was no less marked in this case, albeit “blowback” of a different kind. As is well known, this regrettable, avoidable chapter in the chronicles of U.S. Cold War interventionism eventually brought America to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and triggered ironically events that contributed in no small measure to the assassination of the man who gave the ill-fated coup the ‘green’ from the off. If this ‘blast from the past’ is ringing alarm bells with some – which might be expected given the blowback from events as they appear to be unfolding in the Ukraine – then it has probably served a useful purpose.
It is of course one we shall come back to.
As always some backgrounding is necessary herein to help the ‘medicine’ go down as it were. In August 2012 French journalist and political activist Thierry Meyssan, in an article cogently titled “Perfecting The Method of ‘Color Revolutions’: Western leaders slip back into childhood”, tells the story of an alliance between social scientist Gene Sharp, and the then chief psychologist of the Israeli Army, a Colonel Reuven Gal.
Sharp’s game-plan entailed a mash-up of the theories of Gustave Le Bon – whose seminal 1895 book on crowd psychologyThe Crowd, The Study of the Popular Mind was influential in the later development of public relations, propaganda and‘psy-ops’ – and those of Sigmund Freud. After first noting it was Sharp who both masterminded and ‘ring-mastered’ the failed Beijing putsch (after the protest movement was quelled and order restored, Deng reportedly arranged for Sharp to be promptly ‘escorted’ back to where he came from, leading us to speculate on his probable fate if he’d attempted the ‘T-Square’ gambit during the Mao era), Meyssan then observes,
‘On this basis, Sharp and Gal set up training programs for young activists with the objective of organizing coups. After a few successes in Russia and the Baltics, it was in 1998 that Gene Sharp perfected the method of the ‘color revolution’ with the overthrow of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.’
Now it’s uncertain if Sharp had in mind a key Le Bon maxim, ‘the masses have never thirsted for the truth. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master….Whoever attempts to destroy those illusions is always their victim’, when he developed his theories. But given the way things have evolved it seems he might have factored it in; one could say it is even woven into the fabric of the whole ‘psy-ops’ methodology underpinning the color revolutions. The subsequent – albeit varying – success of later revolutions of this type may be testament to that. Either way, along with drawing on Le Bon’s broader, deeper insights, Sharp determined it may be possible to exploit Freud’s famous theory of the “Oedipus complex”and incite groups (or crowds) of people to oppose a head of state, as an archetypal father figure.
For reasons that will become evident shortly (at least for those who haven’t already determined where this is going), it seems safe to say that in the process Sharp went on to exercise a measure of influence on the geopolitical scene that belies his relative obscurity. That said, considering the sub-rosa nature and purpose of his work – and considering the likely motives of those upon whose behalf he was invariably acting – this is hardly surprising. To be sure, his 1973 The Politics of Nonviolent Action marked him out as the leading exponent of the use of non-violence in covert political power projection and the techniques and dynamics that might exemplify such.
But it was his seminal 1985 paper called “Making Europe Unconquerable: The Potential of Civilian-Based Deterrence and Defence”, that for successive U.S. governments and their intelligence agencies became the ‘go-to’ playbook for regime change, one that would eventually morph into what is now called ‘color revolutions’, although the word “revolution” is something of a misnomer. As Meyssan observes,
‘A genuine revolution entails an upheaval in social structures that takes place over several years, while a ‘color revolution’ is a regime change that occurs within weeks’.
Either way Sharp virtually invented the “color revolution” ‘phenom’, which sought to apply more sophisticated, under the radar approaches to the task of removing undesirable governments and their leaders than perhaps the ones exemplified by Iran and Guatemala, along with numerous others that followed in their wake. And it is both instructive and pertinent to note that no less an identity than George F. Kennan, the key architect of the US ‘containment’ policy underpinning the U.S.’s broad strategic response to the perceived Soviet threat during the halcyon ‘daze’ of the Cold War, noted in his reviewof Sharp’s work in 1986 that his purpose in writing the book was…
‘….”to make civilian-based deterrence and defense a thinkable policy…. meriting further research, policy studies, and evaluation.” [F]or this, he (Sharp) makes a reasonably good case….[and] the view advanced in this book deserves consideration, if only because of the bankruptcy of all the visible alternatives to it.’
The Late George Kennan – Doyen of Sovietologists
Foggy Bottom Blowback Blues
It would appear then that someone was listening to Kennan and did give due “consideration” to Sharp’s thesis, the events of Tiananmen three years after he made the above statements testament herein. Yet it remains unclear as to whether the quintessential Cold War Wise Man himself would if he were still with us, approve of the more recent manifestations of Sharp’s non-violent, albeit still imperially infused ideology that underpins the rationale of the color revolution. This might especially be the case regarding events in the Ukraine in early 2014, and not simply because the Maidan ‘revolution’ and its aftermath – embracing as it did/does ultra-nationalist and extreme fascist/neo-Nazi groups – was/remains the very antithesis of “non-violent”.
To underscore this, in a 1997 New York Times Op-Ed piece, Kennan made clear his views on America’s decision during the Bill Clinton era, one carried over into the George W Bush era, to expandNATO, the successful outcome of which is all too often predicated upon the implementation of the regime change methodology exemplified by the color revolution. After observing that ‘expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era’, Kennan cautioned,
‘Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.’ [My Emphasis.]
With this in mind, we can rightfully say even without benefit of an abundance of hindsight that Kennan’s assessment of situation and circumstance herein was, in its palpable insight and prescience, directly proportionate to that of the unsullied folly and hubris exercised by the U.S. foreign policy cognoscenti past and present who’ve chosen to ignore it and press on regardless.
And the very fact the Maidan putsch was ‘made in’ (sorry) the bowels of Foggy Bottom, to all intents and purposesindependent of the official decision-making processes of White House foreign policy at the time (to be effectively embraced a fait accompli by President Barack Obama‘s administration), along with the way things are panning out on increasingly pear-shaped fronts as we speak, would one suspects, give Kennan serious pause for concern about the way the U.S. is seeking ten years after his passing to project power globally.
In particular, the preeminent Sovietologist of his generation and doyen of foreign policy intellectuals – by most accounts a man with a pragmatic if not indeed principled aversion to ideological fervor and imperialized grandstanding in international relations – would be unsettled in no small part by how the U.S. manages its strategic relationship with its former Cold War adversary, one with whom he had no small acquaintance, and for whom one imagines, no slight respect.
Much, much more so one might readily proffer, than the present putsch-meisters. On both counts!
In his excellent book Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, author Richard Sakwa appears to underscore the above statement, and even more broadly the gravity of the geopolitical situation vis a vis the Ukraine. After noting the‘failure to create a genuinely inclusive and symmetrical post-Communist political and security order’ ultimately delivered to all stakeholders what at best he calls a “cold peace”, which in turn ‘stimulated new resentments and potential for new conflicts’, he then added,
‘[T]he Ukraine crisis forces us to rethink European international relations….If Europe is not once again to be divided, there need to be new ideas about what an inclusive and equitable political and security order encompassing the whole continent would look like… Unfortunately, it appears the opposite will happen: old ideas will be revived, the practices of the Cold War will, zombie-like, come back to life, and once again there will be a fatal dividing line across Europe that will mar the lives of the generation to come.’
This outcome Sakwa opines somewhat optimistically, is ‘far from inevitable’, but he does concede that to avoid it ‘will require a shift in the mode of political discourse from exprobation to diplomacy, and from denunciation to dialogue.’
At this stage of the game though, to the extent they even gave such rationales serious consideration given the turn of events, one is left wondering if that “shift” Sakwa refers to has not already been declared a non-starter by the putsch pirates. For that matter, given how far they have already come by eschewing such “rationales”, we can safely conclude any rapprochement or normalisation of relations between the two nuclear powers implicit in said “shift” was never in the brochure to begin with.
End Part One.
(To be continued.)