Atlantic Council Explains Why We Need To Be Propagandized For Our Own Good
I sometimes try to get establishment loyalists to explain to me exactly why we’re all meant to be terrified of this “Russian propaganda” thing they keep carrying on about. What is the threat, specifically? That it makes the public less willing to go to war with Russia and its allies? That it makes us less trusting of lying, torturing, coup-staging intelligence agencies? Does accidentally catching a glimpse of that green RT logo turn you to stone like Medusa, or melt your face like in Raiders of the Lost Ark?
“Well, it makes us lose trust in our institutions,” is the most common reply.
Okay. So? Where’s the threat there? We know for a fact that we’ve been lied to by those institutions. Iraq isn’t just something we imagined. We should be skeptical of claims made by western governments, intelligence agencies and mass media. How specifically is that skepticism dangerous?
Trying to get answers to such questions from rank-and-file empire loyalists is like pulling teeth, and they are equally lacking in the mass media who are constantly sounding the alarm about Russian propaganda. All I see are stories about Russia funding environmentalists (the horror!), giving a voice to civil rights activists (oh noes!), and retweeting articles supportive of Jeremy Corbyn (think of the children!). At its very most dramatic, this horrifying, dangerous epidemic of Russian propaganda is telling westerners to be skeptical of what they’re being told about the Skripal poisoning and the alleged Douma gas attack, both of which do happen to have some very significant causes for skepticism.
When you try to get down to the brass tacks of the actual argument being made and demand specific details about the specific threats we’re meant to be worried about, there aren’t any to be found. Nobody’s been able to tell me what specifically is so dangerous about westerners being exposed to the Russian side of international debates, or of Russians giving a platform to one or both sides of an American domestic debate. Even if every single one of the allegations about Russian bots and disinformation are true (and they aren’t), where is the actual clear and present danger? No one can say.
No one, that is, except the Atlantic Council.
The Council On Foreign Relations Says Domestic Propaganda Is Necessary
One year ago, a State Department press event included quite possibly the most epic “deer in the headlights” moment in all of government press briefing history.
During the final press briefing in May of 2017, the State Department put high level official Stuart Jones at the podium to give the daily briefing, and he was asked how the US could call for democracy in Iran while ignoring the fact that one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies is an oppressive autocratic state with an opaque legal system run by strict Islamic sharia courts.
ere’s how Newsweek‘s Tom O’Connor set the scene at the time:
Stuart Jones, who was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq by former President Barack Obama in 2014 before assuming the title of assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs in January, took a long, silent pause after an Agence France-Presse reporter asked the official how President Donald Trump could criticize Iran’s democracy, while standing next to Saudi Arabian officials.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, where every position of power is appointed by either the king or other members of the Al Saud royal family from which the nation derives its name. Trump recently visited Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the U.S., and took the opportunity to deeply criticize the two nations’ mutual foe, Iran, and its commitment to democracy weeks after it held its presidential election.
Though clearly hilarious and at the same time appropriately awkward, the incident highlighted the fact that mainstream journalists rarely ask the obvious questions that might so easily expose the glaring hypocrisy of US foreign policy and its leaders.
As Wide Asleep in America blog so aptly described: “In lieu of delivering an actual answer, Jones became visibly uncomfortable, signed audibly, stared blindly into nothingness and said nothing for roughly 18 seconds. You could see the squeaky gears laboring to rotate in his head. You hear the faint trickle of urine run down his thigh. You could feel Jones praying to be suddenly whisked away by a dragon-drawn chariot sent to him by the sun god Helios.”
It’s so beautiful and epic we thought it deserved its own anniversary of remembrance.
But on a more serious note, about six months after Stuart Jones’ internal meltdown moment, a leaked State Department memo obtained by Politico spelled out how Washington merely values the concept of human rights insofar as it can be molded toward propaganda ends. The leaked government memo, made public for the first time in December 2017, instructed top State Department leadership that “Allies should be treated differently — and better — than adversaries.”
“For this reason,” the leaked internal State Department memo argued, “we should consider human rights as an important issue in regard to US relations with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. And this is not only because of moral concern for practices inside those countries. It is also because pressing those regimes on human rights is one way to impose costs, apply counter-pressure, and regain the initiative from them strategically.”
As the May 2017 Stuart Jones presser demonstrated, this means countries like Saudi Arabia or Qatar will always be let off the hook in spite of — for example — US ally Saudi Arabia executing over 50 people so far this year, half of them related to nonviolent drug charges, according to HRW. Or this might further translate into government officials choosing to look the other way when allies illegally possess or pursue nuclear or other banned weapons.
Politico explained that the memo encourages government leadership, on up to the level of the Secretary of State, “that we should do exactly what Russian and Chinese propaganda says we do — use human rights as a weapon to beat up our adversaries while letting ourselves and our allies off the hook.”
More recently, one year after the incredible and embarrassing State Department scene, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has delivered an even more astounding propaganda fail which went largely unnoticed in the media. The CFR is among America’s oldest and most establishment think tanks, with a who’s who of government insiders filling up its ranks, and has often played an advisory role on important policy questions to elected officials.
The CFR’s Richard Stengel, a former editor of TIME magazine, told an audience at a CFR event in late April called Political Disruptions: Combating Disinformation and Fake News that governments “have to” direct “propaganda” toward their own populations.