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How Disinformation Works: The Implosion of American Civil Society

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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By now, most of the world has read about the attempt by Russian hackers/intelligence agents to sow discord across American society leading up to the 2016 Presidential election by supposedly planting controversial social media stories, memes, and other such propaganda. The American Intelligence Community has officially stated that these efforts will continue and that there will be still more attempts to ‘undermine American confidence’ in its own democratic institutions, even in its own civil society, by using this virtual disinformation campaign during the mid-term 2018 elections and onward to the 2020 Presidential election. The goal: create chaos, hostility, and outright potential violence between disparate political groups in America.

While most people have read these reports very few seem to understand just how disinformation works, let alone how virtual examples of it could actually be successful in breaking down the famously stable American civil society. To that end, I present to you the following two memes that have been virally spreading all across the internet in the past few weeks, each one obviously geared as fodder for their respective conservative and liberal camps. Indeed, this is one of the more subtle points missed in the analysis of Russian bots and foreign meddling: that disinformation tends to aim at both ends of the political spectrum, not just one. The point is to make everyone displeased, not just one side. By breaking down the following two memes we can see that both prey upon the prejudices and insecurities of each camp while enflaming the mutual resentment and indignation they feel toward each other. Perhaps most important, and least emphasized, is how BOTH memes are in fact wrong, which is always the crucial heart of any successful disinformation campaign to begin with.

While both memes focus on the recent defacement of Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the ultimate conclusions about how to feel over the vandalism are starkly opposite. The meme to the left is popular with the conservative crowd in America, particularly those who feel a special rejection for Hollywood and its supposed peddling of immoral values and sexual largesse. These people angrily feed off of snobbish Hollywood elitism, off a celebrity crowd that supposedly likes to present itself as the crème de la crème of society and a behavioral model of tolerance and acceptance. The conservative meme obviously flips this self-perception on its head, noting how Trump’s star has been defaced simply because of disagreement with his political positions while the stars representing Kevin Spacey and Bill Cosby have not only remained on the Walk of Fame but have been left unscathed. In this case, the disinformation is to breed within the conservative camp a sense that anyone who admires Hollywood is morally debased. After all, how else can one explain physical violence toward the symbol of Donald Trump while two other figures already proven (Spacey admitted it publicly while Cosby lost his court battle) to be, in turn, a pedophile and serial rapist? The problem, of course, is that the meme’s moral accusation is false.

When it comes to Kevin Spacey and Bill Cosby, the real consequences have been stark: both of them have seen the literal end of their celebrity careers; their names now openly synonymous with being predators; they have been physically and symbolically ostracized and outcast from their beloved Hollywood society; they both will be facing years of legal battles and settlement negotiations as they pay out tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars to their victims, who continue coming out into the public light by the day; and law enforcement entities still do not say they are in the clear in terms of possibly facing a prison sentence, as more and more evidence of previous misdeeds becomes exposed. While these facts do not explain why their stars have not been removed from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, they do prove that no one in the liberal camp is ‘morally at peace with their sexual deviance.’ So the meme has nothing to do with reality, legal evidence, or true societal consequence. Instead, its only aim is to make one political persuasion utterly convinced people of the other political persuasion are morally reprehensible and beneath contempt. Obviously, there will be no civil discourse or polite political discussions between two sides when one side views the other as vile. Alas, it does not get much better when analyzing the ‘liberal’ interpretation of the meme.

The meme to the right is borrowing from the Harry Potter lexicon, where our heroes from the series had to search down and destroy seven ‘horcruxes’ that had been hidden by Valdemort in order to safeguard his immortality. Each time a horcrux was destroyed Valdemort would become more vulnerable, ultimately leading to his re-mortality and the possibility of being killed once and for all. In this version of social media disinformation (Russian or otherwise), Donald Trump’s Hollywood star is a horcrux needing to be destroyed so as to help America’s valiant liberal heroes eventually overthrow and politically ‘kill’ The Donald. And no, this is not an attempt at farce, where we just need to poke fun at the liberal crowd that legitimately sees Donald Trump as ‘the politician that shall not be named,’ a supernatural force bent on murderous evil. But it is not too far from the truth when memes like the one above are encouraging the liberal side to view Trump with the same level of righteous indignation and moral repugnance as the people of Hogwarts viewed Valdemort. Trump, for anyone who has ever watched him over the years across the media, has been called many different things, some even self-proclaimed: showman; charlatan; braggart; cretin; snake oil salesman, and the like. But, no matter how much one may disagree with his politics and positions (or lack thereof), he is not the embodiment of darkness bringing about a coming future Apocalypse.

Pushing this type of hyperbolic rage and fear is the essence of disinformation broken down. It takes the exaggeration of inaccuracy and positions it intentionally to fuel deeper misperception that in turn breeds irreversible rejection. When done successfully, as is clearly taking place across social media in today’s American political landscape, it does more than simply cut off dialogue or the chance for civil discourse: it pushes otherwise fair-minded people out of the center and secures them deeper on the fringe-ends of their own political spectrum. And for anyone who truly understands the glory of American political stability and the fundamental spirit of why the Founding Fathers formed a two-party system in the first place, you know that any force that pushes people AWAY from the center, especially during election season, rather than TOWARD the center, is in fact a force that isn’t just pushing people toward their baser natures, but is pulling the very fabric of our political legitimacy apart. This disinformation campaign is currently a force that comes from both the left and the right. While it may have indeed been a campaign started by the Russians, the reality is that much of what is currently being peddled is now being maintained by Americans. The seeds were sown and bitter fruit now springs to life of its own accord. A force that is quintessentially un-American is obliviously being used by Americans to exhibit their own sense of warped patriotism. That is how disinformation works. That is how a disinformation campaign succeeds. And it is how the Russians will win this virtual war (barely trying) if the American populace itself doesn’t stop aiding and abetting its own manipulation.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Americas

Hiroshima and the Peace of the Bomb

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Seventy five years ago this week, the world witnessed a cataclysm that was to change the nature of war forever:  The atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and worse — while the Japanese argued among themselves about whether and how to surrender — a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later on August 9th.  Now there was no other rational choice, and the Japanese gave up.

If anything good ever came out of a war, it was the generous peace.  The US helped in the reconstruction of the defeated nations.  As a teenaged student in London, I remember visiting Germany a dozen years after the war ended.  Major centers had been flattened by the bombing.  In Hamburg, one would see a few residential buildings and then ruins as far as the eye could see as if a massive earthquake had hit.  A never ending horror across all major cities and a shortage of labor.  So the Turks came … and stayed.  Welcome then, not so much now.   

The Germans were humble — a humility that would gradually diminish with the country’s resurgence as one observed over succeeding decades.  Cleanliness and order are part of the national psyche, particularly the latter.  Everything in order — ‘Alles in ordnung‘.  It even applies on a personal level as someone might ask exactly that if you appear disturbed.  It then means, ‘Everything okay?’

A grease spot on the otherwise fresh tablecloth at breakfast, my fastidious six-year old daughter complained.  It was whisked away with apologies and immediately replaced.  Order restored.  Ordnung muss sein says the German proverb.

In dollar terms, Germany is now the world’s fourth largest economy, Japan the third.  The world has not ended despite economic interests being often cited as a cause of war.  In fact, we are grateful for their products judging by the numbers of their automobile names in the US.  Japan appears to have eclipsed the famed auto giants of the past, GM, Ford and Chrysler and UK icons long forgotten.  And Donald J. Trump has a beef with both countries and is busy pulling out troops from Germany.   Of course the giant dragon of exporters to the US, namely China, is for President Trump our public enemy number one.

The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the end, merely the beginning, and at the back of our minds remains the terrifying hope that it is not the beginning of the end.

Following the US, there soon were other nuclear powers:  the UK and the Soviet Union followed by France, then China.  After China, India was not to be left behind, and after India the same logic applied to Pakistan.  Then there is Israel seeking external security while like diseased fruit, it rots from the inside.  And let us not forget nutty North Korea.

When the US and the Soviet Union faced off with thousands of nuclear weapons, the strategists produced the theory of mutually assured destruction.  Its acronym MAD was closer to the truth than its Pentagon proponents could ever have imagined for they would have destroyed not just each other but the world.

Even India and Pakistan with 100-plus weapons each could cause a nuclear winter from the fall-out and the dust covered skies.  The subsequent crop losses and famines would kill many more across the world than the devastation wrought by the bombs.  It is just one more reason why nation states could eventually become obsolete.

Fortunately, for the human race, nuclear war is more potent in the threat than in the execution; the latter  would certainly certify MAD.  The response to a military threat carrying the phrase ‘by all means necessary’ is enough to cool things down quickly.  It was Pakistan’s reply to India’s threat to expand an incident in the disputed Kashmir region with an attack on mainland Pakistan.  In that sense, nuclear weapons have become a sort of insurance policy.  Pakistan and India have fought several major wars but none since both sides acquired nuclear weapons.  The cost is unthinkable, and one hopes will remain so in the minds of strategists.

Such is the world my generation is leaving to you:  flawed but holding together all the same.

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China Replacing Russia as the Boogeyman in the U.S. Presidential Campaign

Danil Bochkov

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During the 2016 U.S. Presidential bid, Russia was picked as a scapegoat to justify the loss endured by the Democratic party candidate. Moscow was vilified for interfering in the election via the dissemination of false information. After the election, a judicial investigation was launched, ending with no evidence of the collusion.

Despite that fact, in 2017 and 2018, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions against Russian entities. This led to the further aggravation of already sour ties undermined by the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. As an act of reprisal for Moscow’s alleged meddling into the conflict, U.S. Congress initiated new economic sanctions.

Russia became what can be regarded as a boogeyman to be reprimanded for whatever misfortune happens — be it ex-spy Sergei Skripal’s poisoning in 2018 or Russia’s alleged bombings of peaceful residents in eastern Aleppo. Russia got blamed for everything, even though the evidence was missing.

In 2017 the U.S. and Russia crossed swords in a diplomatic row by cutting staff numbers and closing each other’s consulates. Since then, both countries have been experiencing alienation from one another, culminating in the recent cancellation of several arms control agreements (i.e., INF, Open Skies).

By the same token, the U.S. has recently upped the ante in handling thorny issues with China, which came under the spotlight during the American presidential campaign. Both candidates — J. Biden and D. Trump — appeal to their supporters using China, competing for the reputation of leaders with the toughest stance towards Beijing.

China is an obvious target of criticism for the U.S. President, who is adamant about securing his second term in office. It is hard to find any other positive agenda as soon as he failed to deliver an efficacious response to the pandemic, which has already put the country’s economy at risk of recession with a gloomy long-term economic outlook.

Russia can no longer alone serve as a scapegoat for misdoings of U.S. politicians. Such rhetoric has been present in American media for such a long time that it has eventually lost some of its appeal to the U.S. audience.

Following a blueprint tailored for Russia, the U.S. has resorted to a maximum pressure campaign against China. In 2018 a full-scale trade war erupted and was followed by sanctions introduced against the most vital industry for China’s global rise — the hi-tech sector. Huawei and ZTE were swiped from the U.S. market. The U.S. also has been widely applying its longer-used instrument of sanctions not solemnly limited to hi-tech giants. Chinese officials in Xinjiang and foreigners doing business in Hong Kong also fell under various restrictions.

As for now, the pendulum has swung from economic agenda to geopolitics and ideology — with the latter being a novelty for U.S. policy towards China. Despite that, China and Russia were already labelled “rival powers … that seek to challenge American values” in 2017, Trump’s national strategy.

In January 2020, Secretary of State M. Pompeo called the Communist Party of China (CPC) the “central threat of our times.” As for Russian ideology, the country was already eloquently described as an “evil state” during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. In July 2020, Mr. Pompeo called on the Chinese people to help “change the behavior” of their government. Thus, he designated CPC as an ideological and independent entity separate from Chinese citizens.

In order to sharpen the rhetoric, U.S. politicians stopped addressing Xi Jinping as “president,” calling him “general secretary” instead — an act which deprives Mr. Xi of political legitimacy usually bestowed upon the elected leader. Another menacing sign is that the U.S. is reportedly reviewing a proposal to ban CPC members from traveling to the U.S., which would basically mean the start of an active phase of ideological confrontation.

Similar to the 2017 Russian-American diplomatic row, today the U.S. and China are also exchanging attacks on each other’s diplomatic missions. For example, from geostrategic perception, in mid-July, the U.S. officially recognized China’s claims in the South China Sea as “unlawful” and made it clear that its strengthening of the policy with regard to SCS is aimed at halting China’s use of coercion.

Both countries do not want to play alone in a tit-for-tat game. The U.S. has already summoned its allies to form a group of democratic countries to oppose the CPC. France and Britain have recently bowed to long-term U.S. pressure to convince allies to steer clear of the Chinese 5G technology.

China is also gearing up by upholding contacts with its tried and tested partners — namely Russia. Despite a minuscule slide in bilateral trade (a 4% decline compared to 2019) amid COVID-19, political cooperation has been developing. In early July, both countries demonstrated close coordination in high-level international organizations by vetoing extension of cross-border aid in Syria. During a telephone call to Vladimir Putin on July 8, President Xi vowed to intensify coordination with Russia internationally, including in the UN.

Russia and China currently maintain close and regular cooperation. According to the Russian ambassador to China A. Denisov, up to now, both presidents have held four telephone conversations and are currently working on preparation for a state visit of the Russian President to China, as well as on the participation of Xi Jinping in SCO and BRICS forums in Russia with open dates.

A new trend in China-Russia cooperation can be noted in the sphere of coordination of bilateral actions to oppose Western ideological pressure in the media. On July 24, spokespeople of the Ministries of foreign affairs held a video-conference on the information agenda. The parties recognized Western powers’ attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of China and Russia by disseminating fake news and placing restrictions on journalists’ work.

U.S. attempts to alienate and isolate China provide Beijing with no other choice but to seek further expansion of cooperation with like-minded states, be it Russia or any other country open for cooperation.

From our partner RIAC

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Origin of US foreign policy: An Analytical Review

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Origin of US foreign policy by Pat Paterson:An Analytical Review

After the start of the republic, the nature of the foreign policy of the US was unilateral. By the end of cold war, the President Clinton changes the traditional nature of Foreign Policy which was traditionally isolationism to ‘exceptionalism’ (to expand its overseas economic and political initiatives which were totally opposite to the traditional practices.)This manuscript is divided into four parts; each part defines us about the history of US foreign policy.

In the first 150 years of US history, the US tried to remain geopolitically isolated from its neighboring countries. In this regards the US have geopolitical advantage having the ocean boarders. US first President, once in his speech told that US should avoid making alliances that might draw them into wars, but it can interact for trade and commerce. US had the policy of unilateral outlook that makes it stand alone among the developed states like China and Russia, as it refused to ratify International treaties. US even did not ratify the CRC (The Convention on Rights of the Child). In this article the author tells us about the 4 to 5 reasons why the US did not ratify the treaties.

US have no need to adapt different international treaties because it has sufficient legal and social protections rules for its citizens. It has no need to adapt anything from outside.  Also the US authorities had the fear that international government may try to force them by using these treaties. The other reason, the author tell us about why US not ratified the international treaties is that the foreign policy is the multi-faced topic, just to focus on the human rights and democracy, the nation have other interests like trade and security arrangements which is also important part of the negotiation.

The US is the only state in the world that has not ratified the ‘The Convention on Rights of the Child’ CRC. The religious and other Foreign Policy analysts reject this treaty and have a claim that it might threaten the rights of the parents, which I think is totally baseless explanation of this rejection.

The author in this article further described the four schools of thoughts regarding US foreign policy, that is based on the Foreign Policy recommendations for US citizens. They are, ‘Jeffersoniasm’ (the political doctrine and principles held by Thomas Jefferson that center around a belief in states’ rights, a strict interpretation of the federal constitution, confidence in the political capacity or sagacity of masses), ‘Hamiltonianism’ (the political ideas or doctrines associated with Alexander Hamilton, especially those stressing a strong central government and protective tariffs), ‘Jacksonianism’ (relating to Andrew Jackson, his ideas, the period of his presidency, or the political principles or social values associated with him), and ‘Wilsonianism’ (it describe a certain type of foreign policy advice. this term comes from the suggestions and proposals of the President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)).

The ‘Exceptionalism’ policy was not just like matter of consideration in the early days of US but in the 21st century it is still a point of pride for many US citizens. The ‘Exceptionalism’ group considers the philosophy of the priorities of the American first and then for the rest of the world. In this example I would like to quote the example of the ‘America First’ vision of the President Trump, this philosophy is used for protecting the values, nationalism and patriotism of Americans.In my opinion, according to this debate the US represented the common citizens of its state through its systems and policies. 

The second part of this manuscript is based on the expansions of the US position during after the World Wars. According to my analysis, the US continued its strategies of unilateralism until it have the fear of another emerging super power, after the expansion of soviet.

Role of Woodrow Wilson is important here as he implement the policies of neutrality in the first World War, President Woodrow Wilson adhered to the advice to kept the US out of the European conflicts when the first 100 Americans died on the Lusitania in May 1915.He also tried to stop the conflicts among the different states, so he tried to implement a new world order that is the League of Nations. After the second world war the focus of US leaders quickly change from inward to outwards as they had the fear of soviet expansion. Its priorities of foreign policies gets changes by changing in the global world order from unipolar to bipolar (the two global super powers).After the World War 2 its focus had changed from only US national security to world stability.

Here in this part of the given article, the author tells us about the two important features of US foreign policy development that is: (1) The Federalism, and (2) the dispensation of powers among different branches of government. The first one, the federalism, is the most important but a controversial issue since the start of the US. Second element is the separation of power between the execution, legislative and judicial branches of government. 

After the cold war the administration of the US is divided into four major eras of different Presidents, some are from democratic and the some are from republican. This era has dominated by globalization. After the world war, the President Clinton and President Obama have the same type of government, they used the smart power and promote multilateralism while the President Bush and President Trump used the hard power and promote unilateralism. Main focus of Donald Trump’s foreign policy may on the military rather than development or diplomacy. Trump pursues the ‘America First’ foreign policy. Trump’s doctrine is nationalism; his main focus is on the individuals of America. Trump use this philosophy of America firs for protecting their value, nationalism, and patriotism.

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