This is another letter to mainstream media journalists from TheBlogMire’s resident “Russia expert”, Russell O’Phobe
Dear Friends & Colleagues,
It’s been some time since I wrote to you all, and you must forgive me if in this epistle I come across as angry. No, angry is not strong enough a word. Furious would be far more appropriate.
As you will know, the Syrian Army, backed up by the Russian Airforce, took back the city of Palmyra from ISIS. It is of course depressing enough to see the Russian’s doing anything that many people in the world will say is “good”, but the thing that has really put me in a bad mood is the fact that many of you actually chose to report on it.
I had pondered a couple of weeks back whether I should write to you all to warn you what to do if this eventuality came to pass. However, I concluded – naively it now seems – that you would all have the good sense to simply ignore it. Pretend it never happened.
For a while I thought that might be the case. I checked the BBC at one point, and breathed a sigh of relief to see that there was no report on it. Good, I thought. But when I checked back an hour or so later, what did I find? They only went and put the wretched piece at the top of the newsfeed! I checked the Guardian. Same thing. Independent. Same thing. Etc Etc.
Some of you will say to me “What else could we do? We could hardly ignore it”. My response to that is why not? If you’d all just pretended it never happened – and I do mean all of you – do you think that anyone would have noticed? Let me rephrase that, do you think anyone worth bothering about would have noticed? Sure, you’d have had the usual crowd tuning into their so-called “alternative” news sources, but is that such a big deal? So a few freaks get to hear about the great victory, but at least the great majority would have remained in the dark. Which is as it should be. Instead, now the whole world knows.
Don’t you see what you’ve done to our narrative by reporting on this? Don’t you see what it has done to all those stories about the Russians helping ISIS? Made them look rather phoney, hasn’t it? Granted, they were, but if you’d all just ignored Palmyra and pretended it never happened, we could probably have got away with it. Is this really what you went into the media for? To destroy the narrative we have all been so carefully crafting over the past few years? Shame on you. Call yourselves journalists?
By contrast, I notice and applaud the behaviour of Mr Cameron, Mrs Merkel and Mr Obama, who have all had the good sense to keep mum about it. Good for them. I believe in this they have been wiser than you all.
But enough of the past, we need to look to the future, and we need to do so urgently, before the Russkies go and help take back Raqqa as well. Don’t baulk at that. We all know it’s now a very real possibility, and we need to quickly agree on a combined strategy for that eventuality. I have some suggestions that I want to put out there, but I would stress that the only way any of these strategies could work is if we all wholeheartedly agree on them and present a unified front. Only by doing that might we just be able to get away with it.
So here goes with a contingency plan in case the Syrian Army, backed up by the Russkies, retakes Raqqa and utterly routs the Islamic State:
- We do what we should have done with Palmyra, which is to ignore it completely
- We credit the success to the US-led coalition
- We double down on the Russian aggression theme and present the retaking of Raqqa as an ominous sign to the world
I think ignoring it could work, but as I say, only if we present a totally – and I do mean totally – unified front. This is a good year to bury bad news. We have the Olympics coming up. Maybe we could do a much bigger build-up of the Games than is normal, just to get the eyes of the general public focussed on Brazil rather than Syria and the Islamic State. I suppose if any of you felt a little uneasy about not mentioning the destruction of ISIS at all, you could always put a little 100-word piece on page 36 of your papers if you really wanted to. Just nothing too big. Let the whole ISIS thing fizzle out, pretend it never happened, and double down on the bread and circuses.
The second option is, I think, the least workable. Although we could certainly get some US and UK flags Photoshopped onto pictures from Raqqa, it would be hard to sell to the public that the US coalition had worked with the Syrian Army on this, especially after all that “Assad must go” stuff. Frankly it would be an audacious move if we could pull it off, but the danger of being found out is spectacularly high.
My personal favourite is the third option. Look, we’ve been talking about Russian aggression for so long that to many in the public, it’s a given. The problem we have right now is that many of our readers will be welcoming “Russian aggression”, if by that it means driving out ISIS from Raqqa. Our job would therefore be to channel this back to talking about “Russian aggression” in general, and if we could present Palmyra and Raqqa as just a sideshow to their real intentions, I think this could work. Here’s an example of what I mean, taken from the first paragraph of a piece I’ve been working on in case they should succeed:
From Raqqa to Riga: The Reality of Russian Aggression
Although it is known that the Russian Airforce has played a small part in the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa [note the use of the word small. Don’t want to give them too much credit – Russ], Pentagon chiefs fear that this has simply been a dress rehearsal for the real aim of Vladimir Putin, which is the invasion of the Baltic States, Poland and possibly all of Europe. Speaking under condition of anonymity, a high level military source told me:
“Russia’s real aim, unlike the US, was never to see the destruction of ISIS, but rather to test out their combat readiness in preparation for marching into Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius, followed most probably by Warsaw and Budapest. Through a series of lucky circumstances, they happened to be there when Raqqa fell, but now we fear they are going to turn their newly tested military on their neighbours. Which is why we really need to increase NATO spending to counter their aggression”.
What do you think of that? Do you think the public will buy it? Or is it best not to draw any attention to ourselves by just ignoring it altogether? We need to think carefully about this, and we need to all come to an agreement as a matter of urgency. Our journalistic days may well be numbered if we fail.
PS. Since writing this piece, Russ O’Phobe has been admitted to hospital with stomach ulcers as a result of recent workplace and geopolitical stress.