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Australian National Review – How America’s Top Spymaster Sees The World And Why That Is Rather Disappointing — RT World News

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The CIA head’s vision for the future of America’s ongoing confrontation with Russia is surprisingly shortsighted

William J. Burns has published a long piece in Foreign Affairs under the title Spycraft and Statecraft. Transforming the CIA for an Age of Competition‘. This is an essay likely to be read with great attention, maybe even parsed, not only by an American elite audience, but also abroad, in, say, Moscow, Beijing, and New Delhi, for several reasons. Burns is, of course, the head of the CIA as well as an acknowledged heavyweight of US geopolitics – in the state and deep-state versions.

Few publications rival Foreign Affairs’ cachet as a US establishment forum and mouthpiece. While Burns’ peg is a plea to appreciate the importance of human intelligence agents, his agenda is much broader: In effect, what he has released is a set of strategic policy recommendations, embedded in a global tour d’horizon. And, last but not least, Burns is, of course, not the sole author. Even if he should have penned every line himself, this is a programmatic declaration from a powerful faction of the American “siloviki,” the men (and women) wielding the still gargantuan hard power of the US empire.

By the way, whether he has noticed or not, Burns’ intervention cannot but bring to mind another intelligent spy chief loyally serving a declining empire. Yury Andropov, former head of the KGB (and then, for a brief period, the whole Soviet Union) would have agreed with his CIA counterpart on the importance of “human assets,” especially in an age of technological progress, and he would also have appreciated the expansive sweep of Burns’ vision. Indeed, with Burns putting himself so front-and-center, one cannot help but wonder if he is not also, tentatively, preparing the ground for reaching for the presidency one day. After all, in the US, George Bush senior famously went from head of the CIA to head of it all, too.

There is no doubt that this CIA director is a smart and experienced man principally capable of realism, unlike all too many others in the current American elite. Famously, he warned in 2008, when serving as ambassador to Moscow, that “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin).” That makes the glaring flaws in this big-picture survey all the more remarkable.

Burns is, obviously, correct when he observes that the US – and the world as a whole – is facing a historically rare moment of “profound” change in the global order. And – with one exception which we will return to – it would be unproductive, perhaps even a little churlish, to quibble over his ideologically biased terminology. His mislabeling of Russia as “revanchist,” for instance, has a petty ring to it. “Resurgent” would be a more civil as well as more truthful term, capturing the fact that the country is simply returning to its normal international minimum status (for at least the last three hundred years), namely that of a second-to-none great power.

Yet Burns’ agenda is more important than his terminology. While it may be complex, parts of it are as clear as can be: He is eager (perhaps desperate) to prevent Washington from ending its massive aid for Ukraine – a battle he is likely to lose. In the Middle East, he wants to focus Western aggression on Iran. He may get his will there, but that won’t be a winning strategy because, in part thanks to multipolar trend setters, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS, Iran’s escape from the isolation that the US has long imposed on it is already inevitable.

Regarding China, Burns’ real target is a competing faction of American hawks, namely those who argue that, bluntly put, Washington should write off its losses in Ukraine and concentrate all its firepower on China. Burns wants to persuade his readers that the US can have both its big fight against China and its proxy war against Russia.

He is also engaged in a massive act of CIA boosterism, clearly aiming to increase the clout of the already inordinately powerful state-within-a-state he happens to run himself. And last but not least, the spy-in-chief has unearthed one of the oldest tricks in the subversion and destabilization playbook: Announcing loudly that his CIA is on a recruiting spree in Russia, he seeks to promote a little paranoia in Moscow. Good luck attempting to pull that one on the country that gave us the term “agentura.” Moreover, after the horrific terror attack on Crocus City Hall in Moscow, it is fair to assume that Burns regrets having boasted about the CIA expanding its “work” in Russia. Not a good look, not at all.

What matters more, though, than his verbal sallies and his intriguingly straightforward, even blunt aims, are three astonishingly crude errors: First, Burns insists on reading the emerging outcome of the war in Ukraine as a “failure on many levels,” for Russia, revealing its, as he believes, economic, political, and military weakness. Yet, as the acknowledged American economist James K. Galbraith has recently reiterated, the West’s economic war on Russia has backfired. The Russian economy is now stronger, more resilient, and independent of the West than never before.

As to the military, Burns for instance, gleefully counts the tanks that Russia has lost and fails to note the ones it is building at a rapid rate not matched anywhere inside NATO. In general, he fails to mention just how worried scores of Western experts have come to be, realizing that Moscow is overseeing a massive and effective expansion of military production. A curious oversight for an intelligence professional. He also seems to miss just how desperate Ukraine’s situation has become on the ground.

And politics – really? The man who serves Joe Biden, most likely soon to be replaced by Donald Trump, is spotting lack of popularity and fragility in Moscow, and his key piece of evidence is Prigozhin and his doomed mutiny? This part of Burns’ article is so detached from reality that one wonders if this is still the same person reporting on Russian red lines in 2008. The larger point he cannot grasp is that, historically, Russia has a pattern of starting wars on the wrong foot – to then learn, mobilize, focus, and win.

Burns’ second severe mistake is his argument that, ultimately, only China can pose a serious challenge to the US. This is staggeringly shortsighted for two reasons: First, Russia has just shown that it can defeat the West in a proxy war. Once that victory will be complete, a declining but still important part of the American empire, NATO/EU-Europe will have to deal with the after-effects (no, not Russian invasion, but political backlash, fracturing, and instability). If Burns thinks that blowback in Europe is no serious threat to US interests, one can only envy his nonchalance.

Secondly, his entire premise is perfectly misguided: It makes no sense to divide the Russian and the Chinese potentials analytically because the are now closely linked in reality. It is, among other things, exactly a US attempt to knock out Russia first to then deal with China that has just failed. Instead, their partnership has become more solid.

And error number three is, perhaps, even odder: As mentioned above, Burns’ language is a curious hybrid between an analytical and an intemperate idiom. A sophisticated reader can only wince in vicarious embarrassment at hearing a CIA director complain of others’ “brutish” behavior. What’s worse: the tub-thumping or the stones-and-glasshouse cringe? Mostly, though, this does not matter.

Yet there is one case where these fits of verbal coarseness betray something even worse than rhetorical bravado: Describing Hamas’ 7 October assault as “butchery,” Burns finds nothing but an “intense ground campaign” on Israel’s side. Let’s set aside that this expression is a despicable euphemism, when much of the world rightly sees a genocide taking place in Gaza, with US support. It also bespeaks an astounding failure of the strategic imagination: In the same essay, Burns notes correctly that the weight of the Global South is increasing, and that, in essence, the great powers will have to compete for allegiances that are no longer, as he puts is, “monogamous.” Good luck then putting America’s bizarre come-what-may loyalty to Israel first. A CIA director at least should still be able to distinguish between the national interests of his own country and the demands of Tel Aviv.

Burns’ multipronged strike in the realm of elite public debate leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. It is genuinely disappointing to see so much heavy-handed rhetoric and such basic errors of analysis from one of the less deluded members of the American establishment. It is also puzzling. Burns is not amateurish like Antony Blinken or a fanatic without self-possession, such as Victoria Nuland. Yet here he is, putting his name to a text that often seems sloppy and transparent in its simple and short-sighted motivations. Has the US establishment decayed so badly that even its best and brightest now come across as sadly unimpressive?

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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