Appropriate skepticism here from AP reporter Matt Lee, who’s known for being a pitbull when challenging State Department flacks. No one who lived through the assurances about Iraqi WMDs in 2002 or an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer will fail to appreciate his demand for hard evidence this time that Russia really is plotting to frame Ukraine for atrocities as a pretext to invade.
Having said that, I’m not sure what he wants to see or hear from State spokesman Ned Price. Does he want Price to hand him a packet of classified information, replete with sources and methods?
Also, what would State gain by inventing this tale of a Russian “false flag” operation if it weren’t true? Watch, then read on.
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 3, 2022
There’s an obvious reason for State to reveal this plot in advance. Putin would look ridiculous if he followed through on a scheme which the United States had already exposed. It would amount to an admission that Russia’s casus belli is a sham.
What motive would State have to lie, though? If Russia isn’t planning to concoct a pretext for invading, what does the U.S. gain by staking its credibility on a false allegation which it has every reason to believe will soon be disproved?
Exposing the plot is sound strategic thinking inasmuch as it forces Russia to take ownership of the fact that it’s the aggressor here, not Ukraine. The idea of Ukrainians attacking Russian-speaking citizens while the Russian army is massed on the country’s border, spoiling for an excuse to invade, is farcical. But there are useful idiots around the world and in the U.S. who are looking to make excuses for Putin in the name of promoting authoritarianism who’d seize on a storyline about Ukrainian atrocities to cast Russia as the victim in the conflict. State is doing what it can to preempt such nonsense. If Putin wants to attack, he’ll have to come up with a better lie than “Ukraine threw the first punch.”
Still, Price accusing Lee of seeking “solace” in Russian propaganda is gratuitously nasty and part of a pattern among Biden administration spokesmen lately. I wrote yesterday about Jen Psaki all but accusing Josh Hawley of being a Russian dupe for thinking it’s time to withdraw Ukraine’s invitation to join NATO. She pulled the same stunt with a reporter on another topic during an exchange on Air Force One:
During a briefing with reporters aboard Air Force One, Psaki was asked whether the White House would put out evidence to support the claim of a suicide detonation to counter public skepticism.
Psaki responded: ‘Skeptical of the U.S. military’s assessment when they went and took out … the leader of ISIS?’
‘Yes,’ responded the questioner Ayesha Rascoe of NPR.
‘That they are not providing accurate information,’ continued Psaki, ‘and ISIS is providing accurate information?’
I’d say it’s less a matter of trusting ISIS over the U.S. military, Jen, than recognizing that the U.S. military sometimes relies on bad intelligence and ends up admitting after the fact that it got things catastrophically wrong.
Even some liberals are grossed out by these tactics:
Both of these responses from Psaki and Price are completely dumb and gross and only make them, and the case they are making, look worse. https://t.co/SlrnXtwrep
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) February 3, 2022
HuffPost, which is normally aligned with Biden and his party, captioned yesterday’s Price and Psaki episodes with the headline, “Biden Admin Officials To Reporters Asking For Evidence: Just Believe Us.” After Iraq, it’ll be a long time before the left trusts intel assessments on the say-so of the U.S. government. Even when the government is being run by liberals.