A version of this essay was published by firstpost.com at https://www.firstpost.com/opinion/shadow-warrior-what-ails-united-states-poor-leadership-or-malign-forces-12211192.html
There has been a whole series of alarming news stories from the US in the recent past. Each of them individually may have good reasons, but put together, they paint a disappointing picture. As someone who has long rooted for America, I am concerned about systemic problems..
Here the stories are, in random order:
The appearance of Chinese balloons and other Unidentified Flying Objects in the sky
The publication of the accusation that the US blew up the NordStream 2 pipeline
The spectacle of former Twitter executives being grilled for unlawful censorship
The train crash that spewed a million liters of poisonous liquids into the air and ground
The mass shooting at Michigan State, one of many
#Balloongate was intriguing when it was disclosed that a Chinese balloon with an attached payload had meandered its way across the entire United States before it was shot down on February 4th by an F-22, which incidentally is the most impressive fighter jet in the US air force. If I am not mistaken, people on the ground could actually see the balloon with the naked eye. Like many others, I wonder why the thing was allowed to be airborne for a week over the US mainland.
But it started taking on more sinister overtones when it turned out that three more such objects were shot down, that there had been some incursions during the tenure of former President Trump as well, and that this was apparently a regular occurrence. Surely nations spy on each other all the time, but the victims of spying generally know how to deal with it.
I was reminded of the U2 episode long ago, with American Francis Gary Powers being shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 in his high-flying plane. This touch-and-go international incident flared up into one more Cold War spat. But the point is that nations can and do protect themselves from spies up in the sky.
Then why didn’t the most vaunted military force in history shoot these balloon intruders down upon first encountering them? What were the spy satellites doing with their killer lasers? What was the advice given by military intelligence to President Joe Biden? Why didn’t Biden bestir himself? Why didn’t they puncture the balloon over land so that its payload could be captured and inspected? Or did they not want the payload to be captured?
Online skeptics had a field day. For example,
In the end, the whole episode became rather comical, and the US air force, military intelligence and the brand-new Space Command looked incompetent, a bit Keystone-Cop-ish. Is that why they then proceeded, in a show of strength, to shoot down several more ‘UFO’s? Many questions remain unanswered. The latest reports suggest the last few were for mere show.
The detailed story alleging the US destruction of Nordstream 2 (written by Seymour Hersh) is worrying and potentially very consequential. Hersh was in the past celebrated as a journalist, winning a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam; but his claim that the capture of Osama bin Laden was staged did not gain much credibility.
But the point is that the US and Russia are not at war, and a straightforward attack by an undeclared combatant on the physical assets of an adversary may be treated as a declaration of war. Let us remember that iconic event in 20th century US history: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The US felt that was a good enough reason to enter World War II.
The 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident (which may have been fake news of an attack on US naval ships) was the trigger for the US to enter the Vietnam War. Earlier, William Randolph Hearst in 1898 (falsely) claimed Spain sank the USS Maine to induce the Spanish-American War.
Thus there is precedent in American history itself for an unprovoked attack being taken as reason for hostilities and a declaration of war. My concern is that the Russians, embroiled though they are in Ukraine, may consider the Nordstream incident to be sufficient justification for war, or possibly sabotage, in the US (see below). There are discreet ways of unrestricted warfare.
The malign role media can play, as also seen in the Hearst story above, was brought into sharp relief in the Congressional hearings on Twitter’s suppressio veri, suggestio falsi. Clips circulating on the Net showed members of Congress tearing into former Twitter executives in charge of wokeness and censorship, Vijaya Gadde and Yoel Roth, for illegally limiting their Freedom of Speech. Much has been said in this context via the Twitter Files, released online.
The deliberate suppression of news seems to be the in-thing in today's America. We remember how highly damaging information about the Hunter Biden laptop was swept under the carpet. Similarly, medical professionals were made personae non grata and deplatformed when they spoke against the excesses of Covid mania (a Congressperson asked Vijaya Gadde where she got her medical degree from so she could silence Harvard and Stanford medical professors!).
In addition, there is the damning Columbia Journalism Review report by Pulitzer Prize winner Jeff Gerth about how the entire media gaslighted the country regarding alleged Russian collusion with former President Trump. The media is no longer about “all the news fit to print”.
The massive spill that nobody has heard of
A splendid example of that phenomenon is happening under our very noses now as the mainstream media has totally suppressed the information about the February 3rd rail accident near East Palestine, Ohio. This may well be the biggest chemical spill in recent American history. Piecing together information from diverse sources online, it appears several cars of a train carrying vinyl chloride derailed.
It seems that a million liters of vinyl chloride may have been spilled, and the chemical is highly reactive, although used as an ingredient in the making of stable poly-vinyl chloride, a common plastic. Not only will this have got into the groundwater, and into the nearby Ohio river watershed, which means trouble downstream (dead fish are showing up in the waterways). Significant amounts of the chemical burned, and have formed hazardous clouds which may be carried along by prevailing winds.
This may well be a disaster as big as the Love Canal chemical dump near Niagara Falls some time ago, although not as big as the Chernobyl or Fukushima nuclear disasters. Yet, 20 days later, there is almost no coverage in the US media. Why? It’s like the Sherlock Holmes meme of “the curious incident of dog in the night time”. The dog didn’t bark because it knew the perpetrator of a crime.
But the real question is, is this spill a coincidence? Or is it possible that either Russians or the Chinese are ‘punishing’ the US with plausible deniability? The Chinese have enough fifth columnists in the US to do anything they want; the Russians may or may not have them.
Of course it could simply be the result of poor maintenance and lax regulation. Fingers were pointed at Pete Buttigieg, the hapless Transportation honcho, but the real reason may well be a consequence of the wholesale transfer of manufacturing to China.
Anyway, the root cause may be the Ukraine war in one case (Russia) or general pre-2024 election interference in the other case (China). The US would be better off spending the $44 billion it has already earmarked for Ukraine on its own turf to fix creaking infrastructure or health systems.
Or in doing something about its law and order problems. There was yet another unfortunate mass shooting incident, this time at Michigan State. Why do these happen with such metronomic regularity in the US (and pretty much nowhere else)?
Is it poor leadership? Or are many malign forces attacking the country? Or is it just decadence and decline? Voters need to think this through as they prepare for Election 2024. Well, there’s Biden, and Trump, Nikki Haley, and now Vivek Ramaswamy. This is getting interesting.
1330 words, Feb 15th 2023, updated Feb 23rd.