Putin and Me

So, Wikileaks, eh?

Doubtless you have heard of the trove of Democratic Party emails Wikileaks have released just prior to the Democratic Party National Convention. Here’s a small sampling of the headlines:

Wikileaks Proves Primary Was Rigged: DNC Undermined Democracy

WikiLeaks email trove plunges Democrats into crisis on eve of Convention

‘RIGGED’: Trump slams DNC for ‘vicious plan to destroy’ Bernie exposed in WikiLeaks emails

Wikileaks emails: Democratic officials ‘plotted to expose Bernie Sanders’ as an atheist

Newest WikiLeaks email dump proves DNC officials colluded to secure Clinton nomination

Wikileaks email dump suggests DNC favored Clinton over Sanders – understatement of the year award winning headline, that one.

Wasserman Schultz resigning as party leader

WikiLeaks Just Published Tons of Credit Card and Social Security Numbers

Guess which one was the Russia Today headline?

Now, a lot of the leaked material is not shockingly new, although it does prove that Democratic Party insiders have been acting in a shockingly cavalier manner with respect to the candidate they decided they didn’t want from the outset. That is to say, I’m not surprised at the revelations, but a lack of surprise does not mean one should simply go ‘That’s how it is, these days, when it comes to politics…’ This is no way to run a party. Well, no ethical way…1

Let’s also leave to one side WikiLeaks continuing inability to redact the personal information of people not central to the purpose of the leak. Rather, let’s look at the identity of the leaker, Guccifer 2.0. According to both Motherboard and The Washington Post the hacker is likely not a singular person, but a group of Russian hackers (and probably hackers employed by the Russian State). The evidence for this is in part circumstantial; Cyrillic keyboard bindings; metadata which references former KGB heads; Russian-type smileys, and part historical; the Democratic National Committee was hacked by the Russians earlier this year, and this seems more of the same. Yet it paints, overall, a plausible picture; it seems reasonable to at least consider the possibility that either WikiLeaks has been played by Russian security forces, or WikiLeaks is doing the bidding of the Kremlin.

The latter theory is fascinating in its own right, because Assange (and WikiLeaks generally) has an interesting relationship with Russia (as this article goes some way to showing.). But perhaps more interesting is the relationship between the Russian Establishment and one Donald Trump, Republican nominee for President of the United States of America.

Trump’s policy platform has always been weird, insomuch that he doesn’t seem to have much of one. That’s seems like a novel concept for a potential president of a superpower. ‘Vote for me and get me! I’ll stand for whatever takes my fancy this week!’ However, where Trump seems curiously invested is things like NATO (and how the US shouldn’t necessarily support it’s NATO allies), and his budding romance with Russia’s resident Bond villain, Vladimir Putin. Trump talks up how great Putin is a lot. Moreso than he does other despots. There seems to be a good reason as to why, too; Trump’s business empire is rather reliant on Russian money (which seems to be one argument as to why Trump refuses to release his tax returns) now that the big banks in America have decided that Trump isn’t too big to fall after all.

Could Trump be Russia’s politician? I’m not suggesting that Trump is a plant, or some brainwashed candidate, sent in by a foreign power in a Denzel Washington/Frank Sinatra way. Rather, there are vested interests at stake. Trump needs a positive relationship with Russia, because that’s necessary to keep his varied business interests afloat. It explains Trump’s attitudes towards Russia, and Russian interests.

Russia also would, I think, prefer to be able to engage in politicking and military manoeuvring near its borders without the USA baring its teeth, rattling its sabre, and doing whatever else that chimeric monster might use as a display of force. Russia, for example, might like to ‘take back’ the Baltic States, and, because said states are members of NATO, the USA would be obliged to come to their support. Helping out a candidate whose policy platform seems pro-Russia seems like a no-brainer.

Which is to say that there is a case for saying that the leaked DNC emails are not just a Russian plot, but one that works in favour of the Republicans not by accident, but by design, and may or may not have been aided consciously by WikiLeaks. This might be a headless conspiracy.2 This doesn’t need to be a plot masterminded by Vlad. Russian security services (which I am told are notoriously competitive with one another) might well be working to please the Russian Premier, whilst WikiLeaks’ cosy relationship with Russia simply meant they were the easiest vector to get the information out, all of which benefited a potential president of the USA who would look upon Russia with favour.

Or, this could be a plot with a set of singular villains, a stew of Putin, Trump, and Assange, working to prevent yet another Democratic administration. Each of those three men have their own vested reasons to oppose ‘yet another Democrat’ in the the White House.

Whatever the case, the story of the DNC email leaks is likely to get messy for everyone.

The Russia Today headline was, of course, “‘RIGGED’: Trump slams DNC for ‘vicious plan to destroy’ Bernie exposed in WikiLeaks emails”.

Notes

  1. Although I am constantly surprised by the requirement US politicians need to be seen as theistic, and preferably Christian. Get your act together, USA. That’s a really weird requirement, especially since there’s no real evidence Christians make better people.
  2. Headless in that it might be a bunch of actors, working in secret, towards a set of goals which happen to be shared with other actors working on similar projects unbeknownst to each other.

False Flags in Turkey and the UK

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the UK Labour Party seems… challenged? Both in the sense that it is being challenged, and the leadership challenge is itself challenged. Angela Eagle and Owen Jones are seeking to replace Mr. Corbyn, whilst the membership of the party seems to think Jeremy is a-okay in their books, and the Parliamentary Labour Party is just a bunch of self-interested jerks.

Yet it is fair to say that if you trust the polls, a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party does not look like a sure winner should there be an election tomorrow. Now, let’s leave to one side the idea that either Eagle or Jones could turn that around (in part because to have that conversation, we have to discuss the sheer damage their camps are doing to the Party and its traditional support base, just in order to win a nominal election), and talk polls. Because polls are big business, and it seems that the common wisdom about polling is that they are no longer accurate.

Actually, let’s leave that to one side as well, because talk of the accuracy of polling is both boring, and terrible technical. As someone wise once said, there are lies, damn lies, and blogposts about statistical sampling techniques. No, let us focus our attention on this!

[H/T: Tom Freeman]

As the author of that image points out, ‘There are 2 possible explanations for Corbyn’s terrible poll ratings. It’s tricky, they both seem equally plausible.’

Yes, it’s the dilemma; is Corbyn just a bad leader who needs to be replaced, or is he opposed by vested interests. Depending on how you collect your evidence, one or the other (let’s just pretend the theses on offer are exhaustive and exclusive hypotheses), you will believe (or come to believe) one or the other.

How we gather evidence is important, but one thing that many people overlook (or just plain forget) is that our background beliefs inform how we both find new evidence, and how we interpret the evidence. The person who believes no one in their right mind would ever vote for a pacifist as PM will privilege (consciously or subconsciously) the evidence which confirms that hypothesis, whilst explaining away or ignoring evidence to the contrary. This is no pathology of reasoning which is the exclusive domain of any one group of reasoners; everybody does this, from poorly-paid philosophers, to the CEOs of Silicon Valley ventures. Evidence does not so much determine which theories to believe so much as theories determine what counts as actual evidence in a time and place.

I bring this up now to tell you what to think about poor Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour Party. Rather, I want to shuffle our attention to what happened in Turkey last week. Go read this.

Now, just in case you have a little short-term memory loss (because you’ve maybe had a drink or two, or you didn’t go click on that link…), the story is this: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed Fethullah Gülen, a former compatriot who now lives in Pennsylvania, as being behind the military uprising in Turkey last week. Gülen, however, blames Erdoğan for the ‘purported coup’ in Turkey, claiming it could have been staged by the government.

False flag!

Now, as someone who has followed Turkish politics for a while now, I was perplexed by the coup. On one hand, Erdoğan seems like a bad ruler, one who is slowly dismantling a once liberal democracy founded on secular values, in order to carve out a place in the history books for himself. Erdoğan has expanded the powers of the president, reduced the political clout of the PM, sacked judges he doesn’t agree with, restricted the media, and so forth. He seems like a despot, and he’s even built himself a palace. On the other hand, military coups are bad, m’kay.1

So, what to make of the claim the coup was a false flag? It certainly seems possible; as sources in Turkey have pointed out, Erdoğan clamped down on the coup quickly and ruthlessly. He had a list of nearly three thousand coup linked judges that needed to be arrested at the ready, and another featuring over one and a half thousand military personnel. It all seemed a little convenient.

Or did it? Erdoğan knows he has enemies, and presumably keeps tabs on them. It’s not that unreasonable to think he’s been making a list of who’s naughty and nice (and checking it twice), and the aftermath of coup was simply the best time to make use of it. The fact Erdoğan was prepared to purge his enemies does not necessarily tell us much at all about the coup, but it does tell us something about Erdoğan’s ruthlessness.

Indeed, it’s in the interest of Hizmet (the rival political movement headed by Gülen) to ensure that the failure of the coup can be explained away with respect to Erdoğan’s known characteristics. Erdoğan has been reshaping Turkish political life for a while now, and what better to finalise that process than the reaction to a coup? Even if Gülen doesn’t really believe Erdoğan organised the coup, it makes sense for Hizmet to suggest it. It explains the failure of the coup (because it was never meant to succeed), allows Hizmet to distance itself from the coup and its leaders (since Hizmet opposes Erdoğan, so cannot really have been in on it), and it gives them another angle on just how bad Erdoğan really is.

So, from the perspective of someone who suspects Erdoğan of great ills, the idea he might have been the hidden hand behind the coup is an idea I’m happy to toy with. My prior judgements about his general character means I can see how this could be part of his plot to take sole charge of Turkey. Yet I’m not going to let my scepticism of Erdoğan’s good faith to overlook the PR benefits Gülen and Hizmet gain by suggesting Erdoğan might have organised the coup. Yes, it was convenient in the end to Erdoğan, because he has managed to purge elements opposing his reign in Turkey. Yet, if the coup was genuine, that was a predictable result nonetheless; you don’t typically get a second chance at a coup, something the conspirators would have known going in.

Notes

  1. I had similar perplexed feelings about the military coup in Fiji.