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    ‘Dune: Part Two’ Draws Biggest Opening Since ‘Barbie’ at the Box Office

    The science-fiction sequel sold an estimated $81.5 million in tickets in the United States and Canada, the biggest opening for a Hollywood film since “Barbie.”“Dune: Part Two” and its A-list cast jump-started moviegoing in North America after a dismal start to the year.The science-fiction sequel sold an estimated $81.5 million in tickets in the United States and Canada from Thursday night to Sunday, the biggest opening for a Hollywood film since “Barbie” in July. (Taylor Swift’s concert documentary arrived to $93 million in October.) “Dune: Part Two,” directed by Denis Villeneuve, collected an additional $97 million overseas. IMAX screenings were especially strong.Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros. spent $190 million to produce “Dune: Part Two,” not including a megawatt marketing campaign that found Zendaya, Timothée Chalamet, Austin Butler, Anya-Taylor Joy, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Florence Pugh trotting red carpets in Mexico City, London and New York.The movie had originally been scheduled for November, but Legendary pushed back the release date because of the actors’ strike: Without the buzzy young cast promoting the movie — Zendaya’s bottom-baring robot suit at the London premiere arrived on the internet as a sonic boom — Legendary feared that “Part Two” would not turn out audiences in big enough numbers to warrant the high budget. Sci-fi fans were likely to come one way or another. But Legendary also needed to sell the film’s more delicate story — a boy becoming a man, a guy falling in love — which would be more difficult without cast interviews.“It was a tough decision because I knew moving the movie out of the fall was going to cause a lot of pain for exhibition,” said Josh Grode, Legendary’s chief executive, using Hollywood jargon for theaters. “But when you have a cast like this one, you use it.”“We’re really, really happy,” Mr. Grode added.Ticket sales in North America had been down 20 percent this year compared with the same period last year. “Dune: Part Two” narrowed the decline to 13 percent. Theaters have struggled partly because studios have not released a steady flow of films; moviegoing begets moviegoing, analysts say, with trailers playing before titles on one weekend helping to fill seats the next. Marquees will be less sparse in March. “Kung Fu Panda 4,” “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” and Legendary’s “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” are all expected to be hits.Second place for the weekend went to “Bob Marley: One Love” (Paramount), with about $7.4 million in ticket sales, lifting its three-week domestic total to $82.8 million. The faith-based drama “Ordinary Angels” (Lionsgate) collected $3.9 million, for a two-week total of $12.6 million. More

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    The Truth About US Democracy

    The Fair Observer website uses digital cookies so it can collect statistics on how many visitors come to the site, what content is viewed and for how long, and the general location of the computer network of the visitor. These statistics are collected and processed using the Google Analytics service. Fair Observer uses these aggregate statistics from website visits to help improve the content of the website and to provide regular reports to our current and future donors and funding organizations. The type of digital cookie information collected during your visit and any derived data cannot be used or combined with other information to personally identify you. Fair Observer does not use personal data collected from its website for advertising purposes or to market to you.As a convenience to you, Fair Observer provides buttons that link to popular social media sites, called social sharing buttons, to help you share Fair Observer content and your comments and opinions about it on these social media sites. These social sharing buttons are provided by and are part of these social media sites. They may collect and use personal data as described in their respective policies. Fair Observer does not receive personal data from your use of these social sharing buttons. It is not necessary that you use these buttons to read Fair Observer content or to share on social media. More

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    Mitt Romney’s Excessive Evening

    The Fair Observer website uses digital cookies so it can collect statistics on how many visitors come to the site, what content is viewed and for how long, and the general location of the computer network of the visitor. These statistics are collected and processed using the Google Analytics service. Fair Observer uses these aggregate statistics from website visits to help improve the content of the website and to provide regular reports to our current and future donors and funding organizations. The type of digital cookie information collected during your visit and any derived data cannot be used or combined with other information to personally identify you. Fair Observer does not use personal data collected from its website for advertising purposes or to market to you.As a convenience to you, Fair Observer provides buttons that link to popular social media sites, called social sharing buttons, to help you share Fair Observer content and your comments and opinions about it on these social media sites. These social sharing buttons are provided by and are part of these social media sites. They may collect and use personal data as described in their respective policies. Fair Observer does not receive personal data from your use of these social sharing buttons. It is not necessary that you use these buttons to read Fair Observer content or to share on social media. More

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    When Will We Know the Bleeding Truth?

    In an article for Bloomberg, British historian Niall Ferguson expresses his strategic insight into the real motives of the Biden administration concerning the course of the war in Ukraine. Officially, the US claims to be acting in the interest of Ukraine’s defense in an effort to support democracy and reaffirm the principle of sovereignty that permits any country to join an antiquated military alliance directed by the United States, on the other side of a distant ocean.

    Less officially, President Joe Biden has been emphasizing the emotional side of US motivation when he wants to turn Russia into a “pariah,” while branding its president as a “war criminal” and a “murderer.” Biden’s rhetoric indicates clearly that whatever purely legal and moral point the United States cites to justify its massive financial engagement in the war, its true motivation reflects a vigilante mindset focused on regime change.

    A Russian-American Game of Mirrors

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    The administration denies it has regime change on its mind. But Ferguson cites a senior administration official who privately confided that Biden’s “end game now … is the end of Putin regime.” The historian concludes that rather than seek a negotiated end to the war, the US “intends to keep this war going.”

    As usual in foreign policy matters, Ferguson notes a certain convergence of viewpoint from his own government. He quotes an anonymous source affirming that the United Kingdom’s “No. 1 option is for the conflict to be extended and thereby bleed Putin.” A little later in the article, Ferguson qualifies as “archetypal Realpolitik” the American intent “to allow the carnage in Ukraine to continue; to sit back and watch the heroic Ukrainians ‘bleed Russia dry.’”

    Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Bleed (a country):

    To encourage and prolong an unnecessary and unjustified conflict in the interest of sucking the life out of the political establishment of a declared enemy, a process that usually automatically implies sucking the life out of at least one other country, including eventually one’s own

    Contextual Note

    Ferguson dares to question the dominant belief in the US that bleeding Russia is a recipe for success. “Prolonging the war runs the risk not just of leaving tens of thousands of Ukrainians dead and millions homeless, but also of handing Putin something that he can plausibly present at home as victory,” he writes.

    Embed from Getty Images

    When the focus is both on bleeding and prolonging the combat, there is a strong likelihood that the bleeding will be shared. If a boxer sees a cut over his opponent’s eye, he may strategically focus all his punches on the opponent’s face hoping for a technical knockout. But, by focusing on the loss of blood, he may drop his guard with the risk of getting knocked out or opening his own bleeding wound.

    “I fail to see in current Western strategizing any real recognition of how badly this war could go for Ukraine in the coming weeks,” Ferguson observes. The reason may simply be that the hyperreal moment the Western world is now living through is proving too enjoyable to critique, at least for the media. The more horror stories of assaults on innocent civilians make their way into the headlines, the more the media can play the morally satisfying game of: here’s one more reason to hate Vladimir Putin.

    If the White House is focused, as it now appears, not on saving Ukrainian democracy but on bleeding Russia, all the stories of Russian abuse of brave civilians are designed with the purpose of prolonging the war, in the hope that, discredited by Putin’s failure to break Ukraine’s resistance, Russians will revolt and depose the evil dictator. In the meantime, those Ukrainians who manage to survive are being asked to play the supporting role of watching their country reduced to ruins.

    Ferguson speculates that US strategists have come to “think of the conflict as a mere sub-plot in Cold War II, a struggle in which China is our real opponent.” That would be an ambitious plan, riddled with complexity. But the Biden administration has demonstrated its incapacity to deal effectively even with straightforward issues, from passing the Build Back Better framework in the US to managing a pandemic.

    The Ukraine situation involves geopolitics, the global economy and, even more profoundly, the changing image of US power felt by populations and governments across the globe. At the end of his article, the historian describes this as an example of dangerous overreach, claiming that “the Biden administration is making a colossal mistake in thinking that it can protract the war in Ukraine, bleed Russia dry, topple Putin and signal to China to keep its hands off Taiwan.”

    Historical Note

    One salient truth about Americans’ perception of the Ukraine War should be evident to everyone. Today’s media thoroughly understands the American public’s insatiable appetite for the right kind of misinformation. Niall Ferguson makes the point that the US government may nevertheless be inept in providing it. The history of misinformation in times of war over the past century should provide some clues.

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    In 1935, Major General Smedley Butler wrote a book describing the logic behind his own service on several continents. Its title was “War Is a Racket.” He described the American vision of war as a quest for corporate profit. He tried to warn the nation of the inhumanity of such an approach to the use of military force. He manifestly failed because he was late to the game. Back in 1917, Edward Bernays, the “father of Public Relations,” seduced the American public into believing that the only motive for the nation’s invasions and wars is the spreading of democracy. It was Bernays who provided Woodrow Wilson with the slogan “make the world safe for democracy.”

    For the rest of his life, Bernays not only helped private companies boost their brands, he also consulted on foreign policy to justify regime change when it threatened a customer’s racket. In 1953, working for United Fruit, he collaborated with President Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, and his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz, the elected president of Guatemala. Arbenz had a plan to redistribute to the country’s impoverished peasants “unused land” monopolized by United Fruit. In a 2007 article for the Financial Times, Peter Chapman recounted that both Dulles brothers were “legal advisers” to United Fruit. Chapman notes that the company was also involved in the 1961 CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion.

    In other words, concerning their impact on the American psyche, Bernays the PR man defeated Butler, celebrated at the time as America’s greatest living war hero. His fame was such that a group of powerful fascist-leaning businessmen tried to recruit him to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the infamous 1933 “Business Plot.”

    Americans continue to rally around Bernays’ genius for reducing a suspect ideology to a catchy slogan. American interventions abroad are framed as noble efforts to support democracy and promote American business (Butler called them rackets). It’s a population of avid consumers of the media’s plentiful supply of misinformation.

    There are nevertheless odd moments when real information breaks through, though it rarely leaves much lasting impact. Last week, the Pentagon leaked news contradicting the narrative the State Department, the intelligence community and US media have unanimously adopted and promoted. In the Defense Department’s view, Russia’s invasion is not an example of unrestrained sadism toward the Ukrainian people. “As destructive as the Ukraine war is,” Newsweek reports, “Russia is causing less damage and killing fewer civilians than it could, U.S. intelligence experts say.”

    Embed from Getty Images

    The US military establishment calls it the “Russian leader’s strategic balancing act,” observing that Russia has acted with restraint. It realistically assesses that, far from seeking to subdue and conquer Ukraine, Putin’s “goal is to take enough territory on the ground to have something to negotiate with, while putting the government of Ukraine in a position where they have to negotiate.”

    Ferguson has gleaned his own evidence concerning US and UK strategy that “helps explain, among other things, the lack of any diplomatic effort by the U.S. to secure a cease-fire. It also explains the readiness of President Joe Biden to call Putin a war criminal.” Peace is no objective. Punishment is. This is a case where the Pentagon has received the message of Smedley Butler and dares to contradict an administration guided by the logic of Edward Bernays.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    After a Difficult Year, US Farmers Are Pessimistic

    Debt is of great concern to many American citizens, despite the Biden administration’s selective efforts at debt forgiveness. While high and trending upward, debt has at least remained relatively stable over the past year.

    Market concentration, on the other hand, is a more pernicious issue. More than half the value of US farm production came from farms with at least $1 million in sales in 2015, compared to only 31% in 1991.

    The consequences of consolidation become apparent in the sales of various agricultural products. For example, in 2000, the biggest four companies sold 51% of soybean seeds in the United States. By 2015, their share rose to 76%.

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    “The agricultural industry is different than other industries because Capper-Volstead allows them to combine in ways that other individuals would go to jail for,” says  Allee A. Ramadhan, a former Justice Department antitrust attorney who led an investigation into the dairy industry. The 1922 Capper-Volstead Act was a law originally designed to protect producers by allowing them to secure their interests through cooperatives. Unfortunately, it has resulted in the perfect conditions for heavy consolidation by the largest companies.

    Consolidation doesn’t just impact prices, but it also contributes to US agriculture’s declining competitiveness. That is why agriculture was included in President Joe Biden’s executive order on competition last July, in which he declared that the “American promise of a broad and sustained prosperity depends on an open and competitive economy.”

    Fertilizers and Destabilizing Forces

    In addition to the structural concerns for US agriculture, there have been further destabilizing factors since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did the health crisis remove domestic outlets for agricultural products due to repeated lockdowns, but it also severely disrupted production. This was particularly in terms of available human resources, whether before at the farms or down the processing chain with the temporary closure of many slaughterhouses.

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    Aside from the impact of COVID-19, extreme weather has pummeled certain states, reduced production and caused billions of dollars in damage. The prices of many inputs are snowballing into other areas. Prices for urea have skyrocketed. DAP, the common phosphate fertilizer, has reached its highest price tag since the 2008 financial crash that led to the food pricing crisis.

    “As fertilizer prices continue to rise, farmers will either cut application rates, cut fertilizer entirely in hopes for lower future pricing, or cut other farm products to account for the bigger expected spend,” says Alexis Maxwell, an analyst at Green Markets.

    Some farmers are essentially holding out before buying for the next growing season, in the hopes that costs come down. But that is a risky strategy.

    Contributing to the destabilizing forces, recent countervailing duties against foreign fertilizer producers selling to the US market have cut supply. Chris Edgington, the president of the National Cotton Growers Association, said in late 2021 that the Mosaic Company petitioned for the tariffs and has since seen its share of the phosphate market grow from 74% to 80%, a near-monopoly. “There’s been a dramatic increase of fertilizer costs to the producer and that’s not looking to end,” he added. In general, the price increases for different fertilizers are not yet at the levels seen in 2008, but they could soon be even higher if they keep climbing.

    Uncertainty Due to the Ukraine War

    The war in Ukraine has added fuel to the fire regarding the uncertainties in the agricultural sector. The conflict has pitted against each other Russia and Ukraine, whose wheat exports account for more than 25% of the world’s supply. Now, these exports are at risk, as witnessed by the emerging food crisis in several North African and Middle Eastern countries.

    For instance, Tunisia imports nearly half of its wheat from Ukraine to make bread. In the country where the Arab Spring began in December 2010, Tunisians are worried there could be shortages of supplies and a repeat of bread riots like in the 1980s. Alarmingly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused prices to rise to their highest level in 14 years. Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt are also beginning to be stricken by flour shortages.

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    The conflict has also led to the introduction of severe sanctions against Russia and Belarus, two of the world’s largest producers and exporters of fertilizers of all kinds, along with natural gas, an essential ingredient in ammonia production and a key component of complex fertilizers. Although the United States produces most of its own natural gas, fluctuations in world prices have a significant effect on the fertilizer industry. This only exacerbates the difficulties farmers currently face in obtaining inputs.

    Thus, while US farmers could look forward to a windfall of increased demand for their grain in the coming year, in the immediate future, they are simply faced with a further increase in production costs. Due to these added costs of inputs and the supply chain issues, US agriculture — especially the wheat industry — may be lacking the fertilizers needed to maximize yields, resulting in a decline in production and impeding its capability to respond to global demand.

    In a way, in the immediate and near future, the nightmare of 2021 is only worsening. For Arkansas farmer Matt Miles, “There’s no guarantee of anything being a sure thing anymore. That’s the scary part.”

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    A Russian-American Game of Mirrors

    Most of the propaganda Western media is now mass-producing focuses on the very real belligerence and lies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Print and broadcast media have thrown themselves into a propaganda game serving to cast them in the noble role of prosecutors of an evildoer and defenders of victimized Ukrainians. Some academic-style publications have begun to join the fray, in an attempt to refine the propagandizing strategies.

    One good example is an article in The American Purpose by the National Endowment for Democracy’s vice-president for studies and analysis, Christopher Walker. In the piece titled, “The Kleptocratic Sources of Russia’s Conduct,” Walker builds his case around the idea that “Vladimir Putin and his gang are fixated on wealth and power.” The author admits being inspired by political analyst Daniel Kimmage, who in 2009 produced what Walker terms a “clear-eyed assessment of Putin’s Russia.” He cites this wisdom he gleaned from Kimmage: “The primary goal of the Russian elite is not to advance an abstract ideal of the national interest or restore some imagined Soviet idyll,” but “to retain its hold on money and power.”

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    Kimmage sums up one difficulty Americans have felt when dealing with Putin as an ideological adversary. Whereas the Soviet Union’s embrace of communism made the ideological gap visible even to moronic voters, Putin reigns over a nation that American consultants transformed in the 1990s into a capitalist paradise (i.e., a paradise for owners of capital). To distinguish Putin’s evil capitalism from America’s benevolent capitalism, Kimmage called the Russian version a “selectively capitalist kleptocracy.”

    Walker notes that “the system of ‘selectively capitalist kleptocracy’ in Russia that Daniel Kimmage described” 13 years ago has now “evolved in ways that are even more threatening to democracy and its institutions.”

    Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Kleptocracy:

    The form of government universally adopted by all powerful nations at the end of the 20th century.

    Contextual Note

    An acerbic critic might be excused for not feeling particularly illuminated to learn that Putin and his cronies “are fixated on wealth and power.” Who would expect them to have a different philosophy and mindset than the leaders of every other powerful country in the world? The list includes those that claim to be faultless democracies, committed to implementing the will of the people. The first among them is, of course, the United States, but France, the United Kingdom and others adhere to the same sets of values, even if each of them has worked out more subtle ways of applying them. And, of course, Saudi Arabia stands at the head of everyone’s class as the exemplar of leaderships fixated on wealth and power.

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    Kimmage’s description of Russia as a “selectively capitalist kleptocracy” may be helpful in ways he may not have intended. Russia’s selective capitalist kleptocracy contrasts with America’s non-selectively capitalist kleptocracy. The real question turns around what it means to be selective or non-selective. Walker makes no attempt to differentiate the two because he believes the term kleptocracy only applies to Russia. But statistics about wealth inequality reveal that the American capitalist system has become a plutocracy that can make its own claim to being a kleptocracy.

    In 1989, the top 10% of income earners in the United States earned 42% of the total income, which is already significant. In 2016, they accounted for 50%. “By the start of 2021, the richest 1% of Americans held 32% of the nation’s wealth,” according to The New York Times. Between the start of 2020 and July 2021, “the richest 1% gained $10 trillion” in accumulated wealth.

    The gap is destined to keep widening. Unlike Putin’s oligarchy, composed of his “selected” friends and other winners of Russia’s industrial casino, the 1% in the US have non-selectively emerged to constitute a kleptocratic class that, thanks to a sophisticated system of governance, writes the laws, applies the rules and captures the new wealth that is programmed to gravitate towards them.

    Kimmage’s idea of a fixation “with wealth and power” correctly describes the mindset of the members of the American kleptocratic class, whether they are entrepreneurs with names like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, or politicians like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who rose from poverty to convert power into riches and earn their place as servants of the kleptocratic class.

    Unlike Putin’s mafia-like political culture, the system in the US is subtle and sophisticated. It contains convenient paths to join the kleptocratic class, such as a Harvard or Stanford degree. But mostly it relies on fixation. Within the US kleptocratic class diversity exists. Some may be more focused on power (including cultural power) than wealth. But the fascination with both wealth and power is common to all. The system is built on the symmetrical principle that wealth feeds power and power feeds wealth.

    Walker accuses Putin of another grave sin, beyond kleptomania but including it: expansionism. He denounces the “spread of the roots and branches of a transnational kleptocratic system that stretches well beyond the Russian Federation to pose a multidimensional threat to free societies.”

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    How could a discerning reader not notice the dramatic irony here? Has Walker forgotten that Putin’s complaint about NATO is that, despite promises made to the contrary, it has spent 30 years aggressively expanding toward Russia’s most sensitive borders? Putin may be interested in expansion, but Eastern Europe has become a slow tug-of-war in which NATO, under US impulsion, has been the most active and insistent aggressor.

    In short, Walker has produced an essay that correctly identifies very real political evils within the Russian system. But they share the same basic traits as the politico-economic culture of the West under US leadership. In an absolute failure of self-recognition, Walker somehow manages to avoid acknowledging his own culture’s image reflected back to him into the mirror that has become the target of his complaints. That is because, in this article, he has focused on producing just one more example of what has now become the shameless, knee-jerk propaganda that pollutes Western media in this climate of an existential war from which the US has abstained, preferring to let the Ukrainians endure the sacrifice for the sake of American principles.

    Historical Note

    In the 17th century, European history began a radical transformation of its political institutions lasting roughly 300 years. After England’s Puritans beheaded their king and declared a short-lived Commonwealth, European intellectuals began toying with an idea that would eventually lead to the triumph of the idea, if not the reality of democracy, a system Winston Churchill generously called “the worst form of government except for all the others.”

    For the best part of the 19th and 20th centuries, representative democracy became the standard reference for everyone’s idea of what an honest government should be like, while struggling to find its footing with the concurrent rise of industrial capitalism. Capitalism generated huge inequality that seemed at least theoretically anomalous with the idea of democracy.

    During the late 20th century, industrial capitalism that had previously focused on production, productivity and mass distribution, gave way to financial capitalism. This new version of capitalism focused uniquely on wealth and power. In other words, democracies switched their orientation from a belief in their citizens’ anarchic quest for personal prosperity in the name of the “pursuit of happiness” to the elite’s concentrated focus on the acquisition and accumulation of money and clout.

    Embed from Getty Images

    This new social model merged the logic of democratically designed institutions with economic and legal mechanisms that created a sophisticated system at the service of a small number of individuals who understood and controlled the levers of wealth and political power. Their major cultural achievement consisted of giving a sufficiently wide base to this new form of plutocracy that disguised its kleptocratic reality.

    For nearly half a century, the Cold War promoted the spectacle of a combat between democratic capitalism and autocratic communism. Both sides seized the opportunity to build military powerhouses that could provide an effective shelter for the kleptocratic class. Once the heresy of communism was banished from Russia, it could morph, under Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin, into a caricature of the much more subtle kleptocracy encapsulated in Reaganomics.

    The Russian and American versions of economic power management shared the same orientations but deployed them in contrasting ways. Kleptocratic rule was at the core of both. Using a musical analogy, the American philharmonic version of kleptocracy was delivered in Carnegie Hall, with a fully orchestrated score. Russia offered an improvisational version delivered by local musicians in an animated tavern. In both cases, as the proverb says, “he who pays the piper calls the tune.”

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    A Fictional Debate Between a General and a Journalist

    Washington Post reporter Brandon Dyson emerges from the shadows in a street near Foggy Bottom after he recognizes General Edwin Moran leaving the State Department building and walking toward his car. Brandishing a microphone, Dyson rushes up to intercept him.

    FADE IN:

    EXT. Georgetown Street — Late Afternoon

    DYSON: General, if you could spare a minute, I’d like to get your take on how the Ukraine war’s going. Are you satisfied we’re achieving our objectives?

    MORAN: You’re a reporter. Read the papers.

    DYSON: I write for the papers, so I don’t necessarily trust everything I read. I’d like to get it from the horse’s mouth.

    MORAN: Look, you’re asking the wrong stallion. Address your questions to the politicians. The military’s job is to obey orders, not give interviews. Our opinion means nothing.

    DYSON: I’ve been talking to the politicians. I know what they’re saying, which is why I’d like to hear your thoughts. I’m interested in the military perspective, the feelings you guys have about your mission.

    MORAN: We don’t have feelings. We have orders. Orders lead to actions. Feelings come later.

    DYSON: OK, but everyone is acting like we’re engaged in a war. And you know much more about war than any politician.

    MORAN: Officially we’re at peace. So I have nothing to say.

    DYSON: We’re definitely in a major economic war that sits on top of a local shooting war. That’s a unique situation. The media are whipping the public into a frenzy of war fever. Do you feel you’re being sidelined?

    MORAN: Do I feel…? I told you, don’t ask me about my feelings.

    DYSON: Well, you and your colleagues must be wondering about what this frenzy means. You can see everybody in the media itching to take on the Russkis. Anyone who thinks a war isn’t necessary can be called a traitor. But at the same time, the official message is that we’re not going to battle.

    MORAN: We’re ready for any action that’s required. That’s all. For the moment, it’s the State Department’s war, not ours. Their weapons are sanctions and they have quite an arsenal.

    DYSON: So you admit that applying sanctions is the equivalent of war?

    MORAN: Sanctions actually kill people more surely and on a more massive scale than any non-nuclear weapons.

    DYSON: That’s the point. Critics point out that they target civilians and disrupt the survivors’ lives, people who have nothing to do with politics or combat, whereas war is supposed to be about opposing armies. Are you saying you consider sanctions a legitimate way to conduct war?

    MORAN: Well, if you really want my opinion, I’ll tell you. Sanctions make a mockery of the idea of war, which is always has been and should always be considered a noble pursuit. Politicians have no idea what true war is all about. They say they have a strategy, but they have no sense of operational goals.

    DYSON: If you admit they have a strategy, how would you assess their tactics?

    MORAN: We don’t try. All we can do is hope they come out victorious.

    DYSON: Have they given you military people any idea of what victory would look like?

    MORAN: From what I can tell, it’s bringing down the evildoer, Vladimir Putin.

    DYSON: So, it’s regime change?

    MORAN: That’s what it looks like.

    DYSON: Blinken absolutely denied that last week on “Face the Nation.” But he does say it’s about provoking the devastation of the Russian economy.

    MORAN: Pretty much the same thing.

    DYSON: The French minister Bruno Le Maire said something similar, about provoking the total collapse of the Russian economy. It’s beginning to sound like “Carthago delenda est.”

    MORAN: Is that French?

    DYSON: No, Latin. You know, Cato.

    MORAN: Are you telling me the French minister works for the Cato Institute here in DC?

    DYSON: No, it’s what Cato the Elder said during one of the Punic wars.

    MORAN: It’s disrespectful to call any of our wars puny, even if we have to admit there were a few failures.

    DYSON: I’m talking about ancient Roman history. Cato was a Roman politician who preached the destruction of Carthage around 200 BC. He ended all his speeches at the Senate with the catchphrase, “Carthage must be destroyed.” You must have studied the Punic wars? The Romans went ahead and definitively wiped Carthage off the map in 146 BC, killing or enslaving every one of its citizens.

    MORAN: Oh, yeah. I remember hearing about that in my history classes at West Point. That was a time when politicians knew how to finish off the quarrels they started.

    DYSON: So, is that what we’re talking about now? Destroying Russia?

    MORAN: Don’t see how that can work without a nuclear attack. But if they can bring down the regime with sanctions, more power to ‘em. After the habitual “mission accomplished” moment they always love to stage, they’ll probably call us in to clean up the mess. That generally doesn’t go very well, but we’ll make the best of it.

    DYSON: As you always do, I guess. Well, thanks for the valuable insight. I’m very grateful.

    MORAN: You’re not going to quote me on any of this? You do and I’ll make sure every officer down to the rank of lieutenant knows your name. You’ll never get another story from the Pentagon.

    DYSON: Hey, I was only interested in your ideas. And, don’t worry, I won’t take any direct quotes or mention your name. Trust me, I work for The Washington Post.

    Disclaimer: This fictional dialogue exists for entertainment purposes only. The ideas expressed in it are totally imaginary. Its eventual inclusion in any Hollywood movie or television script will be subject to negotiating authoring rights with Fair Observer. That is nevertheless highly unlikely for the simple reason that some of the reflections in the dialogue appear to contradict the widely held beliefs spread in the propaganda that now dominates both the news media and the entertainment industry.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    On Ukraine, Turkey Is Moving Cautiously Toward the West

    Just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the chief commentator of the Turkish daily Sabah, Mehmet Barlas, summed up his assessment of the situation with the sentence, “If we had to reckon with a war, President Erdogan would not have left today for a four-day trip to Africa.” He added that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, is in constant contact with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

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    “All experts,” the avowed Erdogan supporter continued, agreed that Washington was escalating the crisis to solidify its dominance in Western Europe. With that, Barlas also echoed the general mood in Turkey. It is fortunate, he said, that Russia’s president is much more reasonable and wiser than his American counterpart, Joe Biden.

    The Bond Between Erdogan and Putin

    This positive image of Putin and Erdogan’s familiarity with the Kremlin leader is no accident. Particularly since the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, Erdogan has, with Putin’s help, been able to position himself independently of — and sometimes even against — the United States and Europe on key foreign policy issues.

    In Syria and Azerbaijan, Ankara and Moscow succeeded in marginalizing Western actors. In Libya and the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey acts as a competitor or even adversary to member states of the European Union.

    Turkey’s flirtation with Moscow led to concerns that Ankara might turn away from Europe altogether. That contributed to the EU’s kid-glove approach to Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus. It also resulted in Washington’s belated reaction to Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system with sanctions. It is true that Turkey has experience with Putin as a cool strategist and ruthless power politician in conflicts such as the one in Syria. But Erdogan has always seemed to succeed in avoiding escalation.

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    Despite all of Ankara’s tension with Moscow, Erdogan’s rapprochement with Russia has brought him much closer to his goal of strategic autonomy for his country from the West. Turkey skillfully maneuvered between the fronts of global rivalry and was able to considerably expand its scope and influence in just a few years.

    In this seesaw policy, however, Turkey is behaving much more confrontationally toward Western states than toward Russia. For years, the government press has painted a positive picture of Russia and a negative one of the United States and Europe. This is not without effect on Turkish public opinion. Around a month before Russia attacked Ukraine, in a poll carried out by a renowned opinion research institute, a narrow relative majority of 39% of respondents favored foreign policy cooperation with Russia and China instead of Europe and the United States.

    In the first days after Russia’s invasion, Ankara’s policy followed exactly the aforementioned pattern. Turkey condemned the attack, but it is not participating in sanctions against Russia. In the vote on suspending Russia’s representation rights in the Council of Europe, Turkey was the only NATO state to abstain and, as such, is keeping its airspace open to Russian aircraft.

    The West is paying particular attention to whether and how Turkey implements the Treaty of Montreux. The 1936 treaty regulates the passage of warships through Turkey’s Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits into the Black Sea. It limits the number, tonnage and duration of stay of ships from non-littoral states in the Black Sea. In the event of war, the convention stipulates that the waterways must be closed to ships of the parties to the conflict, and it entrusts Ankara with the application of the treaty’s regulations

    Ankara Swings Around

    It took Turkey four days to classify the Russian invasion as “war.” However, Ankara is still reluctant to officially close the waterways — as the treaty stipulates — to ships of parties to the conflict, Russia and Ukraine. Instead, Ankara is warning “all countries, Black Sea riparian or not,” against sending warships through the straits.

    In the literal sense, this step is not directed unilaterally against Moscow, but it also makes it more difficult for NATO ships to sail into the Black Sea. According to the treaty, however, the waterways may only be closed to warships of all countries if Ankara considers itself directly threatened by war. Consciously creating ambiguity, Turkey has triangulated between the West and Russia.

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    Almost imperceptibly at first, however, a reversal has now set in. There are four reasons for this. First, the West is showing unity and resolve unseen since the Cold War, and its sanctions are undermining Russia’s standing in the world. Second, Putin is losing his charisma as a successful statesman and reliable partner. Third, Ankara realizes that Putin’s vision of a great Russian empire could provoke more wars. Fourth, the ranks of the adversaries are closing and it is becoming more difficult for Turkey to continue its seesaw policy.

    Thus, strongly pro-Western tones have emerged from Ankara in recent weeks. Turkey will continue to support Ukraine in consultation with the West, according to the president’s spokesman. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu now claims to have contradicted Russia’s wishes for the passage of warships through the Bosporus “in all friendship.” President Erdogan is also in favor of admitting Ukraine to the European Union and Kosovo to NATO.

    Moreover, Ankara is not contradicting reports by Ukrainian diplomats that Turkey is supplying more armed drones and training pilots to fly drones. On March 2, Turkey joined the vast majority of states in the UN General Assembly’s condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that asked Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces.” Two days later, during the extraordinary meeting of NATO’s foreign ministers, Turkey supported the deployment of NATO’s Response Force to NATO countries neighboring Ukraine.

    It looks like Putin is not only bringing long-lost unity to the EU, but he is also reminding Turkey of the benefits of its Western ties. Western states should realize that only more unity among themselves and more determination will make Turkey reengage with the West.

    *[This article was originally published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), which advises the German government and Bundestag on all questions relating to foreign and security policy.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More