It's entirely possible that Joe Biden could be the next US President. If so, buckle your seatbelts because the advice he's getting on Russia is, almost certainly, dangerously wrong.
Regular readers will know of my deep scorn for “Russia Watchers” - Westerners who, as a rule, purport to have an understanding of the country beyond their actual competence. Sadly, they are an unavoidable hazard on this beat, much as snow is to Siberia, or blazing summer sun to Krasnodar.
For the most part they are more of an amusement than a menace, self-important but not remotely influential - such as Molly McKew, Mark Galeotti and Malcolm Nance. Safely ensconced on the punditry circuit, or Think Tank racket, where they can, thankfully, do little real harm.
However, problems start when they gain the ear of policymakers. Probably the best example being Michael McFaul, who even managed to land the US ambassador’s gig in Moscow, under Barack Obama. Once landed in the Russian capital, he then proceeded to scorch all around him: like a toddler let loose with a box of matches at a fireworks shop.
It’s notable that since his disastrous term - and bear in mind some elements in Russia clearly worked to undermine his endeavours - Washington has appointed experienced, and competent, diplomats.
Michael Carpenter is another illustration of what happens when an inept gibberish babbler is let loose in the corridors of power. A small potato who has somehow risen, without a trace, to be regarded as a Russia expert in Washington. And the fact he’s acquired this status serves to expose the corrosion of American foreign policy expertise. It also shines some light upon why US officials continue to get Russia wrong, by underestimating its abilities, misunderstanding its concerns and confusing its intentions.
Remember Barack Obama's line about Russia being no more than a "regional power" and John McCain's insistence that it was "a gas station masquerading as a country?" Both delivered before Moscow helped to upend US plans for Syria.
Fast forward to today and Western media is worried about growing Russian influence in Africa.
Carpenter is a policy advisor at the “Penn Biden Centre,” the Think Tank of the former US Vice President. Although he tends to come across more as a propagandist. Which is presumably why he’s also employed as a lobbyist/fellow at NATO’s Atlantic Council adjunct.
According to his own biography, which I am copy/pasting verbatim: “Carpenter previously served in the Pentagon as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense with responsibility for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia, the Balkans, and Conventional Arms Control. He also served in the White House as a foreign policy advisor to Vice President Joe Biden as well as on the National Security Council as Director for Russia. Previously, Dr. Carpenter was a career Foreign Service Officer with the State Department.”
So, in other words, this man had a lot of influence. And he’s presumably being kept in a sort of cold storage until the Democrats reassume control of the White House (perhaps under Biden himself), and he can spend another few years misinforming power-brokers.
Just before New Year 2018, he posted a Twitter Thread, which began “I've been asked what I expect from Russia in 2019. Here's my top 10 list of events to watch out for (not in any particular order of probability).” Carpenter kept it pinned to his profile throughout the year. Only removing it a few days ago.
Given how it turned out, I initially thought it was remarkable chutzpah. But, upon reflection, it’s clear Carpenter meant it as a “f*ck you” to real experts, because, as a system insider, he knows Washington is no longer interested in substance when it comes to Russia. Today, we are a long way from George Kennan.
Here is what Biden’s man predicted.
1) “A military incursion into Ukraine. The most likely target is the canal that feeds freshwater from the Dnieper river to Crimea. Without this water, Crimea's agricultural sector goes under. Also, look for Russia to seek complete dominance over the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait.”
I've been asked what I expect from Russia in 2019.— Michael Carpenter (@mikercarpenter) December 22, 2018
Here's my top 10 list of events to watch out for (not in any particular order of probability) 👇
None of this happened. Instead, Moscow-Kiev relations thawed slightly under new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
2) “A military flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh if Prime Minister Pashinyan does not cater to corrupt Russian interests in Armenia.”
This region was quiet in 2019. And Russia maintains good relations with both Azerbaijan and Armenia.
3) “Pressure on President Lukashenka (sic) to allow Russia to build a military base in Belarus, especially if the US green-lights the construction of "Fort Trump" in Poland. If Minsk resists, the Kremlin will be prepared to execute an Anschluss operation.”
Russia did not invade Belarus and made no attempt to build an armed forces base in the country. Minsk previously, in 2018, rejected the notion of a joint air facility on its territory, described as “an unpleasant episode,” by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Not quite the language of war.
4) "Russia and Iran take control of eastern Syria as the US withdraws and Turkey engages in cross-border attacks on Kurdish fighters. Over time this guarantees that disenfranchised Sunni Arabs radicalize into ISIS 2.0."
I’m no Middle East expert, and unlike Carpenter I don’t pretend to be, but I know the Americans haven’t withdrawn and ISIS 2.0 hasn’t shown up.
5) "A growing Russian military presence in Libya helps General Haftar consolidate control of the country, which becomes a Russian protectorate."
Again I don’t know much about Libya, but I think I’d have heard if it became a “Russian protectorate.”
6) "Moscow arms the Taliban with more sophisticated weapons as the US draws down its forces and the NATO ISAF mission is stretched to the breaking point. Moscow displaces the US as the chief power-broker in Afghanistan and the Taliban comes back to power."
None of this came to pass.
7) "Moscow supports Bosnian President Milorad Dodik's efforts to separate Republika Srpska from the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina, risking a renewed ethnic conflict in the Balkans."
There have been no credible reports suggesting this happened. And Bosnia formed a government, only last week, after a 14-month impasse. No easy task given agreement is required between Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Muslim Bosniaks.
8) "The Russian-Saudi relationship blossoms as Moscow sends more weapons to Saudi Arabia and coordinates further oil supply cuts."
This is the only prediction you could say Carpenter got half right. Oil supply coordination did continue (but that was pretty obviously going to happen). Nevertheless, there were no new weapons deals hatched.
9) "EU sanctions on Russia fall apart as one of the EU member states breaks consensus in return for an undisclosed energy deal with Russia. The most likely candidates: Hungary, Italy, Austria."
Not a single EU member state broke ranks on sanctions.
10) "The Kremlin's active measures campaign in the US goes into overdrive as Russia seeks to shape the 2020 presidential field. Dark money becomes the main tool of Kremlin influence as Russia concludes that financing organic disinformation is more effective than offshore ops."
There is no evidence to support this theory. In fact, experts in Moscow suggest the Kremlin will do everything possible to avoid anything which may be perceived as interference in the 2020 US election. This is because a) Russian leaders don’t want to make life even more difficult for President Trump, and b) hope to avoid a repeat of the hysteria of the past few years.
If Carpenter had made errors in a few of his forecasts, you could cut him a bit of slack. But the fact he was so spectacularly inaccurate, yet doesn’t seem remotely embarrassed about it, is incredibly depressing. It also serves to prove a point I have made for years now: it seems nobody in America, or the UK, has ever suffered career damage as a result of being wrong about Russia. Instead, they appear to “fail up.”
The pundits and pontificators know this. And it encourages them to become more shrill in their disinformation and agitprop.
Back in August, I called out Carpenter on Twitter after he pushed falsehoods about the “Open Skies” observation program. From which the US is reportedly considering withdrawing. The former government official launched an extraordinary personal attack, labeling me a “dumbass,” before resorting to the last refuge of the scoundrel by blocking my account.
The US is permitted eight annual "spy plane" operations in Russia, all coordinated 72 hours in advance. As are the Russian flights over America. Both sides are subsequently obliged to provide a copy of all data collected to the host country.— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) August 15, 2019
I’m too polite to respond in kind, but it’s quite something to have your intelligence questioned by someone who is clearly out to lunch when it comes to his own purported area of expertise.
Reprinted with permission from RT.