There is an old saying that goes: "The greatest lie the devil ever told was convincing the world he didn't exist." The Present Author will paraphrase that to fit our topic:
The Greatest Lie Russia Ever Told Was That The Cold War Is Over.
Oh, we thought so! We had our Reagan / Gorbachev moment, with all that mushy perestroika and glasnost and goodwill getting gooey all over each other.
Anybody remember the feel-good wave we all had as the Berlin Wall came down? Jesus Jones launched us into the '90s with "Right Here, Right Now" bursting with naive Generation X optimism, and David Hasselhoff showed up in a glowing piano jacket and sang a song about how we were all free from our problems forever. You expected them to conjure John Lennon back from the dead to declare this the Lord's Millennium of peace.
Yeah, that was all bullshit. Despite the fact that Russia signed a new constitution in 1993, including some remarkably western-like ideas like article 29, which guaranteed freedom of ideas and speech, and the banning of propaganda and censorship, Russia went right back to its old tricks as if the restructuring never happened. The agitprop train just kept right on chugging along.
And, as the Washington Post notes, we Americans keeping buying Russian propaganda like stupid ol' suckers. When are we going to wise up?
Why Do Americans Fall For Propaganda?
The United States may not have stayed the course so faithfully liberty-wise, but one civil right we're pretty married to is freedom of speech. We got that sucker into amendment 1, no playing around. Take a visit to the most backwoods, hicksville, rural areas in America and ask the rednecks; every American, no matter how neo-conservative, is still fully cognizant of the fact that they can say anything they goddamned well please because "it's a free country!"
Free speech is a unique issue because it's one of the few ideas left in America with bipartisan support, albeit for different motives. Democrats take free speech to mean the right to speak up to defend their nation and its liberties, and Republicans interpret it as "I can be the biggest asshole in the world and nobody can stop me!"
Hey ladies, he's single! Anyway, the enforcement and practice of free speech in America has certainly been a point of contention, some would argue even breached, but your average US citizen is secure in their First Amendment rights. This attitude promotes a delusion that propaganda is no threat in the US. Why should it be, when any editor can launch a newspaper editorial calling it out? Indeed, that happens quite frequently.
Yes, but the detail everybody overlooks is that the First Amendment prevents only the federal government from gaining a foothold in effective propaganda, and then only on United States citizens. Behold, the United States government has engaged very heartily in propaganda here and abroad, because they can still do that. It isn't as effective as it could be without the First Amendment, but it can still be done. The First Amendment prevents censorship, the crux of propaganda's effectiveness, so the US government can lie all it wants to, but its citizens can holler back to expose those lies on the front page of every blog. However, if nobody notices the lie, nobody calls it out. If people believe the lie over the truth even after a fair hearing of both, the First Amendment has no say in the situation.
Meanwhile, corporations can and do engage in propaganda. It's called "astroturf," and it can even be practiced by special interest groups with a political motive. That's just where we're at right now on the big social media debate. Facebook is accused of manipulating public political opinion, with some assistance from wingnut Peter Thiel. I've written before about the influence of China on our corporations which in turn also curbs our liberties here in this country.
Ah, China. Their best friend has also been in the news lately regarding manipulation of media in the United States. Something about "fake news," wasn't it? Russia is using fake news as "a form of warfare," or to be more specific, "information warfare."
Watching the above video at about the 5:17 mark, one Russian RT pundit states "Russia is a threat to the US's hegemony." Let's bookmark that word "hegemony" and come back to it later, because it is the nut of the matter.
While the United States has dwelled in blissful ignorance of the threat of propaganda, other countries have been practicing it unhampered for decades. It isn't just the same old tricks, either. They have scientists developing on this front, the same way we Americans research new fighter jets and missile launchers. Countries like China and Russia have been perfecting information warfare techniques like they were researching the cure for cancer.
Russia's Information Warfare Has Been Going On For Decades!
How far back does Russia's influence on western thinking go? That question is answered in a humble little report from the US Director of National Intelligence, published January 6, 2017. This report makes me wish that I had the power to blare it from megaphones atop rooftops on every street in the world until people finally LISTEN to it. It is called "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections" (pdf link). It's right there at DNI.gov, published forever.
Since many of you can't be bothered to read a whole PDF, I'll clip out an excerpt to share as a JPG. You can post a JPG on social media, can't you? Maybe this will help people read it.
"...to UNDERMINE PUBLIC FAITH in the US Democratic process."
Stop and think about that. Do you, Americans, know anyone who has their faith in US democracy undermined? How about phrases like "Why vote? It doesn't change anything!" "We're picking from the lesser of two evils." "What's the difference between candidates? All politicians are the same." Does that sound familiar? Well, congratulations, Mr. Putin, your propaganda worked.
Furthermore, that same report - remember, by the DNI, the coordinating brain center of all United States defense intelligence - goes on to say:
> "During the Cold War, the Soviet Union used intelligence officers, influence agents, forgeries, and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin, according to a former KGB archivist."
So they were up to the same tricks when they were the Soviet Union that they are now as a Federalist Republic. More quotes from that same report:
> "The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR)Directorate S (Illegals) officers arrested in the United States in 2010 reported to Moscow about the 2008 election."
> "In the 1970s, the KGB recruited a Democratic Party activist who reported information about then-presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter’s campaign and foreign policy plans, according to a former KGB archivist."
So in addition to the Hillary-Trump campaign in 2016, we have confirmed Obama-McCain 2008 activity and even Carter-Ford 1976 activity, as well as meddling in US affairs going back to the Cold War. That's nigh on ~60-70 years of Russia sticking its nose into US politics.
If there is anybody left who believes in the United States of America and doesn't want to see it just dissolve into another Russian or Chinese holding, one good bit of activism that anyone can do is to print out copies of the PDF, staple them into pamphlets, and leave a copy on every flat surface they encounter all day long, every day. Hand them out in classrooms, post them on bulletin boards. Your tax dollars paid for it. Get your money's worth for a change.
"An Entire Global Industry That's Out Of Control"
Aside from direct efforts from the Kremlin gremlins, there's large-scale, corporate manipulation of your media every day in every part of the world. We're just now waking up to this idea. So alarmed are we to discover that fake news rules the web, in fact, that observers from inside Silicon Valley have pronounced social media to be this out-of-control monster. Worldwide instant communication for everyone, cheap and democratic - what could go wrong with that? We didn't see what we were building before it was too late. Now we're having meltdowns.
Case in point, Cambridge Analytica has been discovered to be manipulating voters in 68 different countries, on an "industrial scale." Cambridge Analytica was originally busted operating through Facebook, which takes us back to the social media monster again. And gives us one more occasion to post this guy's mug:
...to ask "just how much longer do you want to trust all your personal data and your entire life history to just this guy?" Because all the First Amendments in the world won't help you there anyway. Media corporations are worldwide, beyond the scope of any government control. We weren't ready to deal with legislating media on that scale, and when we do, we aren't thinking big enough.
That article quotes a propaganda investigator at Bard College in New York, saying that we're still seeing just the tip of the iceberg: "There’s evidence of really quite disturbing experiments on American voters, manipulating them with fear-based messaging, targeting the most vulnerable, that seems to be continuing. This is an entire global industry that’s out of control."
Putin: A Closer Look
It's easy to sit back and sling insults at world leaders. We have John Oliver happily doing that job for us, since way back when Michael Flynn was the first Trump cabinet member busted:
But what does Putin want, exactly? That DNI report identifies that Putin, and Russian officials before him, felt that Democrats in America are bad news for Russian interests.
Which is strange, because the infamous "Red Scare" is a right-wing thing. Joe McCarthy was Republican. Every time any liberal proposes we have any domestic spending at all, a conservative is there to scream "Socialist!" There's even the word "pinko," going back a century ago, which means "a person regarded as being sympathetic to communism" and "has since come to be used to describe anyone perceived to have leftist or socialist sympathies." If anyone, the Soviets should have been pals with the left wing. But their favoring of the right-wing extends back to the time when even the left was perceived as more sympathetic to their point of view. Isn't that weird?
Now, of course, the Russian Federation has swung all the way around to the extreme Neocon right-wing of Republicans. So Republicans switched from reviling to worshiping Russia, while they both still have a common enemy - Democrats.
So if a Liberal Democrat is Russia's enemy when Russia is a Republic itself where American Republicans love it, and a Liberal Democrat is also Russia's enemy even when Russia is a Soviet Union where American Republicans hate it, then that kind of says something about Liberal Democrats. The point isn't whether Democrats will be nicer in foreign policy to Russia. Experience should show everyone that America's foreign policy turns on a dime no matter who's in charge.
But Democrats do make America stronger as a nation. Left-wing leaders like Obama and the Clintons don't get friendly with Russia, they get friendly with the EU. Because most of the world's richest countries also happen to be liberal democracies if not utterly socialist-democracies, so when we all cooperate together, China and Russia get shut out in the rain.
Russia Wants To Undermine United States Hegemony
Now for that bookmark: There is one person who was not jubilant when the Berlin Wall came down, and who was not overjoyed when Gorbachev and Reagan made kissy-lovies and ended the Cold War.
That was I, that was me. Your Present Author.
Why wasn't I happy? It's because I could see that Russia was playing us for suckers, true, as could many. But it also dawned on me that the US has a hegemony. The end of the Cold War left the USA as the most powerful country in the world. None dare stand up to us. We are, reluctantly, an empire.
There have been many empires in world history. But they all have one thing in common: They all fall. Once you're at the top, there's nowhere to go but down.
Russia was also once an empire (1721-1917).
In Putin's eyes, Russia is very close to being one again. It is tantalizingly close, in fact.
We see enough proof that we don't need to take the Ukrainian president's word for it. Certainly, any country aspires to be a global power and extend its reach as much as possible, in the name of security if nothing else.
The Atlantic lays down the definite answer to Putin's motives. Putin, a former KGB officer, fell into his position at the right place and time, nothing more. But now that he has this opportunity, he'd be a fool to squander it.
In most recent developments, Trump has taken on a General-Ripper-type role as launching hostilities against Iran, which has provoked at least a slap fight so far and maybe worse down the road. For now, a hacking group claiming Iranian fealty has attacked a minor US website and posted the following image, which we will preserve here before it's taken down everywhere else online:
Trump, still impeached, has taken yet another stunning and clumsy move which, in the long term, will only destabilize the US. This pleases aspiring emperor Putin greatly!