A police officer stands guard outside of the home of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury, Britain, March 8, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Peter Nicholls
The sensational case of the poisoning of the ex-MI6 agent and former Russian military intelligence colonel, Sergei Skripal on March 4 in Salisbury, UK, is becoming curiouser and curiouser. Moscow is strongly refuting British allegations of Russian involvement in the poisoning of Skripal. An engrossing plot in big-power politics is also unfolding. There is stuff here for a Le Carre novel.
Are we witnessing a replay of the false flag Gulf of Tonkin attack of August 1964, the imaginary “incident” concocted by the US military to provide legal and political justification for deploying American forces in South Vietnam and for commencing open warfare against North Vietnam?
To recap, Britain alleged a military grade nerve agent of a type known as Novichok was used in Salisbury. It was originally developed in the former Soviet Union, and, therefore, Moscow’s hand – possibly, even President Vladimir Putin’s hand – was “highly likely”.
Moscow has maintained, on the other hand, that it had destroyed all its chemical weapons and said the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) investigation verified this.
The British allegation quickly morphed into a large-scale expulsion of Russian diplomats (over 100 of them) by western capitals, under heavy pressure from Washington and London. The US alone expelled 60 Russian diplomats, while Britain expelled 23.
Britain is studiously ignoring the Russian requests for samples of the chemical agent used in the Salisbury attack and for giving consular access to the ex-spy’s daughter Yulia. Meanwhile, Britain instead approached the OPCW to investigate.
The OPCW has refused to confirm or deny the country of origin of the chemical agent used in the Salisbury attack.
There is egg on PM Theresa May’s face.
On April 18, Moscow disclosed that it has handed over to the OPCW alleged proof that the Novichok agent purportedly used in the Salisbury attack actually happens to be patented as a chemical weapon in 2015 in the US and produced in that country. (By the way, unlike Russia, the US is yet to destroy its chemical weapon stockpiles, as required under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997.)
Now, not only the British government but Washington too has some explaining to do. Participating in the BBC’s Hard Talk program this week with Stephen Sacker, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov punched hard, saying “‘highly likely’ is a new invention of British diplomacy to describe why they punish people – because these people are ‘highly likely’ guilty. Like in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll when he described a trial… and the King said: ‘Let’s ask the jury’ and the Queen shouted: ‘No jury! Sentence first! Verdict afterwards!’ That’s the logic of ‘highly likely.’”
Britain is steadily edging away from the Skripal case, hoping, perhaps, that the matter will die down. But will Moscow let Britain off the hook? The Russians also seem to be holding back on some explosive information pointing toward alleged complicity by the US in this affair.
Simply put, could the Salisbury attack have been an Anglo-American joint covert operation undertaken with the ulterior motive to ratchet up tensions between the West and Russia? Indeed, it meshed well with the Russia-collusion campaign against Trump.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that the former National Security Advisor HR McMaster might have hoodwinked President Donald Trump into approving the expulsion under the wrong notion that similar numbers of expulsions by European allies was in the pipeline. In the event though, the Europeans made only token expulsions.
Earlier, McMaster tried to stop Trump from congratulating Putin on his big victory in the Russian election on March 18 in a phone conversation (where they discussed a possible summit meeting in a near future).
If the Skripal incident was McMaster’s swan song, the indefatigable Russophobe probably hoped to kill two birds with one stone – push Russia’s relations with the West to a crisis point and second, scotch the prospects of an early US-Russia presidential summit.
How far all this is linked to Trump’s decision on March 22, finally, to sack McMaster as National Security Advisor is a moot question. By the standards of military people, McMaster has the reputation of being an “intellectual” but the man proved to be a Cold Warrior fit for a museum. The one-star general who was overlooked for promotion by the Pentagon was Trump’s default choice following the abrupt departure of Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor.
Michael Wolff narrates a hilarious episode in his book Fire and Fury that during the job interview for National Security Advisor, McMaster tried to impress Trump when he showed up wearing a uniform with his silver star and launched into a wide-ranging lecture on global strategy. Afterward, Trump reportedly remarked, “That guy bores the shit out of me.”
Hillary Clinton's had a year and half to demonstrate to the American people that they elected the wrong candidate, a message reinforced in every way imaginable by a mournful media suffering from a bad case of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Her endless book tour has explained again and again "What Happened" to her inevitable candidacy, including weak-willed women, widespread racism, Middle American ignorance and those sinister Russian bots. So how are Americans feeling about the woman they failed to elect in 2016? Even worse. In fact, a lot worse.
According to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Clinton's favorability rating is even more grim than it was when she lost in 2016. Both Trump and Clinton made history in the election by being the least liked presidential candidates ever. Clinton staggered into the election with a 10-point deficit in her favorability rating (Trump was actually in worse shape). Now, Clinton's at an abysmal -25.
The Wall Street Journal reports on what's happened to public perception of the highly "unusual" political figure post-election:
Historical WSJ/NBC polling shows that recent losing presidential candidates — Mitt Romney, John McCain, John Kerry and Al Gore — experienced post-election declines in positive sentiment. But Mrs. Clinton’s dropoff is a bit steeper–her positive rating is at a new low of 27%, compared with 52% who have a negative opinion. That spread of 25 percentage points is greater than President Trump’s, who is under water by 18 points.
As the Journal notes, her extremely negative favorability rating makes her a far more toxic figure for political candidates in competitive areas than Trump. For that reason, Republicans have already begun looking for ways to tie embattled Democrats to Clinton:
Her negative numbers make her something of a natural target for Republicans who want to associate their opponents with her as the party heads into a potentially difficult midterm election this fall. In doing so, they have managed to put some vulnerable Democrats in states Mr. Trump easily won, like Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, on the defensive. That was driven home last month when Democrats took distance from comments Mrs. Clinton, attending a conference in India, made about middle-American Trump voters.
In fact, here's anad featuring Hillarycreated by McCaskill's leading Republican opponent, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley:
So why is Clinton even more unpopular now than she was when she failed to beat a former reality TV show host with the worst favorability of any candidate in history? As HotAir's John Sextonpoints out, Hillary's favorability, as she admits herself, suffers when she's campaigning. And since the election, "she never stopped campaigning" (formatting adjusted):
After the election, there were public appearances offering a myriad of excuses for her loss. Then she published a book putting the excuses for her loss in writing. Then she went on a book tour regaling her fans with the excuses for her loss found in the book. She also made clear that she intended to continue having a say in politics through her Onward Togetherorganization. And then there were the campaign-like gaffes, such as her announcement last September that women were succumbing to pressure from men in their lives not to vote for a woman candidate. ... Just last month Hillary said she won the election in places that weren’t “looking backward” thereby reviving the whole “basket of deplorables” statement which was one of the low points of her campaign.
Sexton's exactly right. The feeling is that Hillary 2016 has never ended. While America has moved on, including her own party, Clinton appears to have convinced herself that if she just explains "What Happened" one more time, she'll finally win the election we all knew was hers by right. And one thing Americans hate more than a loser is a loser who won't accept that she lost.
US-Saudi coalition airstrikes massacred at least 20 people attending a wedding in Yemen yesterday.
The head of the hospital in Hajjah said they had received 40 bodies, most of them torn to pieces. 46 Yemenis were injured, including 30 children.