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International Conflicts

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  • Fox Business segment warns against strong response to alleged Saudi murder of a journalist because it could “jeopardize the containment of Iran”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    On October 16, Fox Business’ Varney & Co. hosted the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano to discuss the alleged assassination of Washington Post columnist and permanent U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, purportedly carried out at the direction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

    Carafano is currently the vice president of the Heritage Foundation and served as a State Department adviser for President Donald Trump’s transition team. In his role at the Heritage Foundation, he has written obsessively about containing Iran, which he considers vital to American national security interests; endorsed Trump’s association with strongmen; advocated for American mercenaries conducting operations in Afghanistan in place of regular U.S. military personnel; referred to Trump’s absurd and ineffective travel ban as “reasonable”; argued that, without the U.S. assisting Saudi Arabia in the brutal war in Yemen, the “region” may fall apart; and fearmongered about a favorite right-wing claim about “terrorists trying to cross from Mexico to the U.S.”

    During the appearance, both host Stuart Varney and Carafano framed the major concern surrounding the alleged attack on Khashoggi as potentially jeopardizing the "containment of Iran," and Carafano insisted that the United States government not act until officials “get the facts” of the alleged murder “right.” Varney even floated the idea that the United States could simply slow-walk an investigation and any action on the matter "so the days spread to a week or so, which delays any response from us. ... if I say, can we get away with that, that sounds pejorative, but do you think that's what's going to happen?"

    According to The Wrap, Fox Business remains “one of only two media organizations” sponsoring a planned Saudi Arabian business conference called the Future Investment Initiative, while the “other sponsor, Al Arabiya, is a Saudi-owned operation.” According to the report, “Over the last week, The New York Times, CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, Nikkei and the Financial Times all pulled out of the event amid growing questions about the kingdom’s involvement in the” alleged assassination of Khashoggi.

    From the October 16 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co.:

    STUART VARNEY (HOST): CNN reports that the Saudis are preparing to admit they killed the columnist Jamal Khashoggi in an interrogation gone wrong. ... James, we've got to get the response to this -- America's got to get the response right because we do not want to jeopardize the containment of Iran. Am I right

    JAMES CARAFANO (HERITAGE FOUNDATION): So, I'm going to say some words on this show you've never heard before. President Trump is the calm, responsible guy here. From the beginning he said, we've got to get the facts right, and he is exactly right. Look, we're going to have a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia a year from now. We're going to have a strategic relationship with Turkey a year from now. That's not going to change because the world hasn't changed. But we have to go forward operating on what actually happened, because these relationships are too important to just fly off the handle, and we have to deal with the reality of what happened. So, we have to wait for the facts to come in. So, even though we've heard this CNN report, until the government of Saudi Arabia actually come out and says something, I think we have to be very careful. And the president's right. And you are right. The -- what the greatest destabilizing force in the region that's getting people killed, that's spreading misery by the hundreds of thousands is Iran, and that is the big ticket we have to deal with.

    VARNEY: Do you think we'll try to spin this out, demanding the facts, demanding to know what happened, and so the days spread to a week or so, which delays any response from us. Do you think we'll -- if I say, can we get away with that, that sounds pejorative, but do you think that's what's going to happen?

    CARAFANO: Well, I think we have to get the facts right, and then we have to go --

    VARNEY: That'll take time.

    CARAFANO: -- through the legal process that's required to do that. So, this is a U.S. person, so we might have an issue here where we might want to extradite something. We've got joint investigations between the Saudis and the Turks. We have the U.S. offer -- we should have learned something from the Kavanaugh hearing, which is we shouldn't declare guilt and innocence and then just pontificate our politics. We should let the facts decide what the U.S. response is, and it may take time for the real, concrete facts to come out.

  • Fox & Friends gives Trump administration credit for “cracking down on Russia” after it belatedly implements legally required sanctions

    New sanctions were mandated by US and international law for Russia’s nerve agent assassination attempt in the UK

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox & Friends is, yet again, pointing to congressionally-mandated sanctions the Trump administration is (belatedly) implementing to claim the president is “cracking down on Russia.”

    On August 8, the State Department announced a new round of sanctions against the Russian government and affiliated entities in response to the use of a Soviet-era nerve agent in the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil in March. Months later, in July, two British civilians also came into contact with the nerve agent, which killed one of them.

    Now, Fox & Friends is pointing to the newest round of sanctions to claim the president is “holding Russia accountable” and “screwing this collusion thing up,” even though the sanctions are mandated by Congress and international law, and the administration has been late in implementing them.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): The Trump administration holding Russia accountable.

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Again. The U.S. is issuing brand new sanctions, and this, after the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy and his daughter. They've been investigating since, and they don't like what they've found.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Griff Jenkins live in Washington, D.C. with the details on how the U.S. of A is cracking down on Russia.

    ...

    DOOCY: It looks as if the president is screwing this collusion thing up because I've been watching on the other channels, "He's been colluding with Russia." And yet, once again, they're cracking down on Russia.

    EARHARDT: Slapping sanctions.

    DOOCY: Flying in the face of that narrative with new sanctions.

    ...

    KILMEADE: Every step of the way the president's done this, but he doesn't trumpet it. He doesn't say, "Hey, I've got a press conference, here are the sanctions." He just puts them on, and the next thing you know, they're mounting and I think they are significant. Especially they still focus on the Maginsky (sic) Act, and what he did to certain oligarchs surrounding Vladimir Putin, because it's really throttled their individual banking ability and investment ability.

  • Conservative media want you to believe Trump has been “tough” on Russia. They’re not telling the full story.

    Secretary of State Pompeo echoed right-wing media talking points on Trump’s toughness. In reality, Trump has undercut a number of actions Congress and his administration have tried to take against Russia.

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following President Donald Trump’s disastrous bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, the president’s administration flacks and conservative media lackeys quickly scrambled to his defense, arguing that Trump has been “tough” in his “actions against Russia” and rattling off a series of actions he has taken since 2017 that supposedly support such a claim. The president himself and administration officials have also parroted the talking points in an attempt to dispel the idea that he is somehow in the pocket of the Russian government. But a closer look at the actions Trump shills have pointed to reveals a foreign policy that is more concerned with posturing for media than being “tough” in the face of Russian aggression.

    On July 16, Trump met with Putin for a meeting behind closed doors in which no other American -- except an interpreter -- was present, and they emerged more than two hours later to give a wide-ranging press conference. When asked whether he holds the Russian government accountable for its multifaceted interference campaign during the 2016 elections, Trump repeatedly denied Russia’s involvement, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia. (The president would later claim to have gotten “would” and “wouldn’t” confused.)

    To counter the deluge of negative press in the wake of the meeting, right-wing media and administration officials pointed to various foreign policy and military responses to Russian aggression that the United States and its allies have undertaken during Trump’s presidency to argue that the president’s “actions” actually “have been tough.” About a week after the bilateral meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s conservative media defenders as he faced senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insisting Trump “has taken a truckload of punitive actions against Moscow” and that he has been “tough on Russia” as president. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated the meme, as did the president himself.

    Trump’s defenders have pointed to sanctions against Russia that were imposed under Trump, the American strikes against the Russian-backed Syrian regime in 2017 and 2018, the March 28 expulsion of Russian diplomats and seizure of a Russian consulate, Trump’s demands for other countries to increase their NATO spending, the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine to fend off the Russian military and rebels in the eastern portions of the country, and the pressure Trump put on German Chancellor Angela Merkel over a proposed natural gas pipeline from Russia, among other specific actions. But Trump’s defenders are not telling the full story behind these actions.

    Sanctions

    In the aftermath of Trump’s meeting with Putin, a number of the president’s defenders touted sanctions that were imposed against Russia as evidence of Trump’s clear-eyed approach with regard to Russia. But, not only were the sanctions drawn up and passed by Congress while the Trump administration loudly opposed the move, the administration also dragged its feet in implementing them, missing a deadline to begin the implementation and only taking action after Congress demanded it do so. Moreover, Trump left United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley out to dry by walking back, without explanation, an announcement she made regarding additional sanctions against Russia.

    Additionally, one of the first official actions the Trump administration attempted was “to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election.” The effort to remove sanctions that were already on the books appeared to continue into Trump’s presidency, as one of his top fundraisers and former deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, Elliott Broidy, reportedly offered in 2017 to “help a Moscow-based lawyer get Russian companies removed from a U.S. sanctions list.”

    Syria

    Right-wing media have also cited U.S. airstrikes conducted against the Syrian regime as evidence that Trump has stood up to Russian aggression. But, in 2017, Trump “notified Russia in advance of” the strike, “giving time for both Russian and Syrian forces to avoid casualties in an attack,” and by the very next day, Syrian warplanes were using the airfield that was targeted. Additionally, in 2018, the strikes Trump authorized against the Syrian regime targeted chemical weapons infrastructure, “and not the bases where the Russians and Iranians are.”

    Trump’s defenders have also pointed to an American counterattack on Russian mercenaries and Syrian military personnel in February, saying Trump “authorized” the attack. While the U.S. military did in fact fend off a Russian-backed attack after “repeatedly” warning about the “growing mass of troops,” the strike was an “act of self-defense.” Citing the incident as evidence that Trump is countering Russian interests in Syria does not address the larger picture that, under Trump, Russia has become even more entrenched, further solidifying its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, as Trump lacks a coherent overarching strategy for the war-torn country. Not to mention the fact that, in May 2017, Trump disclosed sensitive “code-word information” originating from Israeli intelligence services to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.

    Expulsion of Russian diplomats

    Trump sycophants are additionally highlighting the March 26 expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence operatives who were in the United States under diplomatic cover and the closure of a Russian consulate as further proof of Trump’s tough stance on Russia. But the expulsion of diplomats is an expected reaction that “represent[s] more symbol than substance.” And Trump also berated administration officials for expelling too many Russian officials, as he was reportedly “furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia” as compared to European allies, who joined the United States in the symbolic gesture.

    Moreover, in a still-unexplained proposition in the early days of the Trump administration, officials looked at “handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.”

    Weapons to Ukraine

    In what has emerged as a favorite talking point for Trump defenders in the wake of the meeting with Putin, conservative media are touting an arms deal with Ukraine. The deal, which the Obama administration had resisted, is meant to bolster Ukrainian defenses against the Russian military and pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels. Except Trump stooges in right-wing media fail to mention that the Ukrainian investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager’s shady business dealings in that country conspicuously stopped just “as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles.” Not to mention the fact that, during the 2016 campaign, Trump made the laughable claim that the Russian military is “not going into Ukraine,” even though it effectively annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. According to Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Ukrainian officials were “tearing their hair and running around like crazies” when Trump was elected because of fears over what it would mean for the country.

    NATO spending

    Trump’s Fox News sycophants have also insisted that by “beating up the NATO allies” at the 2018 NATO summit, Trump succeeded in getting allies to “cough up more money” for the alliance when in fact Trump’s efforts had little to do with members’ increases in direct spending on their national military budgets. According to The New York Times, “each NATO member pledged in 2014,” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense each year by 2024. … As a share of G.D.P., spending by European members and Canada began to rise before Mr. Trump took office.”

    Nord Stream 2

    Conservative media have also pointed to Trump’s critical comments to Merkel at the 2018 NATO summit over the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline that would run from Russia to Germany as confirmation that Trump is “tough” in dealing with Russia. But previous administrations and a bipartisan group of senators also opposed Nord Stream 2, and Trump himself toned down his criticism after meeting with Putin, conceding that the United States cannot block Germany’s domestic energy decisions. The German Marshall Fund’s Ulrich Speck said the president’s attacks against Merkel “looked as if Trump is looking for ammunition against Germany. If he would have been serious on pushing against Nord Stream, he would probably have brought this up much more forcefully with Putin.” Indeed, a “tough” U.S. policy toward Russia would avoid driving such a wedge between the United States and an ally that has disregarded domestic business concerns to wrangle European Union member states, which had their own economic apprehensions, to join sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

  • Russian senator and right-wing media agree: Trump is just trying to avoid a war with Russia

    Russian Sen. Alexei Pushkov: “I am amazed at the desire of the US media and a large part of Congress to portray Moscow as an enemy of the US. What do they want? Do they want a war with a nuclear power?”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media and at least one Russian official are singing from the same song sheet after President Donald Trump’s humiliating press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. As condemnation for Trump’s absurd performance builds, right-wing pundits, administration officials and, now, representatives of the Russian government are suggesting critics of the president are trying to foment war with Russia.

    In an attempt to provide cover for a president of the United States slandering American law enforcement and intelligence agencies while standing on foreign soil next to a despotic kleptocrat who has repeatedly attempted to destabilize western democracies and American allies, some in right-wing media suggested that the president was simply attempting to “avoid war with” the world’s largest nuclear power. Some have even argued that “Democrats” and “establishment media [want] war with Russia,” an argument that was presented by prominent Putin apologist Stephen Cohen (who has regularly been featured on Fox host Tucker Carlson’s show to discuss the relationship between the U.S. and Russia) on the state-run outlet, RT.

    Now, according to BBC’s Steve Rosenberg, a Russian senator is making the same argument.

    Of course, there are a number of options short of armed conflict that the United States and its western allies could take up to counter Russian aggression, but this is not the first time Russian and U.S., pro-Trump media talking points have been in sync. In 2017, Fox News’ senior judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, claimed that former President Barack Obama asked the British Government Communications Headquarters to eavesdrop on Trump during the 2016 campaign and the transition period, and to provide the former president with transcripts of Trump's conversations. Media Matters traced the assertion back to an interview on the state-sponsored Russian network RT with a former CIA official who has accused John Kerry of war crimes, spread the 2008 rumor about a supposed recording of former first lady Michelle Obama “railing against ‘whitey,’” and now is floating "sedition" charges against former Obama officials. Also in 2017, Russian state-run media and American pro-Trump media messaging converged after former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation.

  • Ahead of Trump-Putin meeting, Nigel Farage appears on Fox & Friends to downplay Russian hacking in the 2016 election

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On the morning of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Fox News turned to Nigel Farage, a network contributor with extensive ties to both Russia and Trump, for analysis and commentary. During the interview, Farage downplayed Russian interference in American elections and laughed at a co-host’s suggestion that he advised Trump to undermine the European Union and said, “I'm claiming no credit.”

    Farage, who campaigned for Trump in 2016, has deep and well-documented relationships with Russia and people -- including WikiLeaks' founder -- who are suspected of acting in the interests of the Russian government. According to British outlet The Independent, one of Farage’s closest business associates had frequent contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.K. throughout the 2016 Brexit campaign, in which Russia reportedly interfered. Farage has also been spotted outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, “where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living since he claimed asylum in 2012,” and he is alleged to have given Assange data on a thumb drive. The Guardian has reported that Farage is a person of interest in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in part because of that relationship. Moreover, Farage has appeared on Russian state television numerous times and has stated that Vladimir Putin is the “current world leader he most admired.”

    Farage was named a Fox News contributor in the midst of all this, despite being known for regularly engaging with racist tropes, stumping for a pedophile, and whitewashing white nationalism. During his appearance on Fox & Friends to provide commentary on Trump’s meeting with Putin, Farage characterized the unprecedented Russian campaign to interfere in the 2016 election as just “how the world works.” He added that “the establishment [is] blaming Brexit and the Trump election on Russian collusion without an ounce of evidence, and it’s up to Trump to show the world that we don't need to make things worse with Russia.” From the July 16 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): One of the things going forward, knowing that it is going to happen very shortly, the president's summit, is that there have been a number of Democrats here in the United States who suggested, well, after those 12 Russian spies were indicted for meddling in our election, they shouldn't have the summit. What do you think?

    NIGEL FARAGE: Well, let's just be clear: Twelve Russian spies have been found spying. It's what they do. They do it to us. We do it to them. It may not be very seemly, but it's how the world works. So there’s nothing in it that other than a very strange coincidence of timing, it seems to me. Look, the ultimate sanity test is, ask somebody, do you want better relations between Russia and the West, or do you want them to continue to deteriorate? And anybody with half a brain will say, well, do you know what? Talking is better than not talking.

    ABBY HUNTSMAN (CO-HOST): Nigel, I know you were with the president a few days ago. Talking to him, what is different, in your opinion, about this meeting? Because Putin has met with our presidents in the past -- they’ve all pressed that reset button, saying that things are going to get better, our relationship is going to change. What do you think is different about these two meeting today?

    FARAGE: Well, I think the fact is that the previous meetings have happened sort of around the back of global summits. This is the first time they’ve sat down specifically to try and work out where this relationship is going. So, I think it is important. There are questions, clearly, that the president has to ask of Putin. He may not answer them, but I think it's important that President Trump says, “Look, if you ever have or you ever intend to meddle in our elections, please get the hell out.” But, maybe, maybe we can start to have a more sensible relationship. Because, at the moment what we have got is we have got the establishment blaming Brexit and the Trump election on Russian collusion without an ounce of evidence, and it’s up to Trump to show the world that we don't need to make things worse with Russia.

    ...

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): What do you say to people who say the Russians hacked Brexit and they hacked U.S. elections, and they won on both ends?

    FARAGE: Yeah, this is because nobody thought Brexit would happen, nobody thought Trump would happen, and now the establishment, who still don't understand why middle England and middle America voted in a way that they can't comprehend. They’re desperately looking for an excuse. They’re trying to put together their own conspiracy theory. I’ve been accused endlessly by The Guardian of working with the Russians. And apart from drinking the odd vodka, that’s about as guilty as I’ve ever been. It’s ludicrous.

    DOOCY: Hey, Nigel, before you go, the news yesterday was that Theresa May, the prime minister, said that when she sat down with the president, the president said, “Sue the E.U.” Was that advice from you?

    FARAGE: All I can say on this -- all I can tell you is that the president understands negotiations, and he understood that we had paid hundreds of millions of pounds into an organization every single year, tens of billions over the last decade, to an organization who, frankly, had misspent our money. And so, President Trump’s idea was, start the negotiations being tough. I’m not going to claim credit for it. The president makes his own mind up on things. He’s very good at it.

    DOOCY: Yeah, but you did a little talking to him before he actually got there.

    FARAGE: Yeah, look, the president talks to all kinds of people. I’m claiming no credit.