As any politician knows, no evidence of any kind is ever required. It is only necessary to make a statement — any statement — forcefully enough to have an audience believe it. No one will check the lie against the facts, and, if they do, they will disbelieve the facts. Do you think the German people in 1939 pretended that the Poles had attacked them and started World War II? No! Since they were told that was so, they believed it as seriously as you and I believe that they attacked the Poles.-Isaac Asimov, Review Of 1984
Despite the reflexive disbelief from pundits who’ve promoted Russiagate when faced with the part of Mueller’s report that finds no Trump-Russia collusion, these pundits have seized upon a statement from the report that claims Russia hacked into Democratic Party emails in 2016. For context, let us remember that the purpose of Russiagate has never really been to destroy Donald Trump, but to manufacture the anti-Russian sentiments the U.S. empire needs to carry out its plans for great power competition. So it’s predictable that Russiagate conspiracy theorists are now pivoting towards a message that more generally emphasizes Russia as an aggressor that’s “attacked our democracy.”
The puzzling development is that so many Americans continue to believe this clear deception. The claim that Russia hacked the DNC has been thoroughly debunked by forensic evidence that shows WikiLeaks got the emails through an inside leak instead of a hack, and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity has even chastised Mueller directly for his irresponsible omission of this information from his report. Then there’s the issue that looms behind all of this, which is the fact that the intelligence officials, media outlets, and politicians who now say that Russia is a threat are the same people who lied us into war in Iraq sixteen years ago.
America’s intelligence agencies and mass media centers haven’t somehow become trustworthy since they perpetrated the WMD hoax. If anything, these institutions have grown even more likely to lie. Mueller himself is one of the officials who helped carry out the deadly Iraq hoax, having affirmed the claim about WMDs in Congressional testimony while he was FBI director. John Brennan, who was CIA director at the time the agency put out its fraudulent claims of Russian “election hacking,” also held a leadership role at the CIA during its Iraq War intelligence failures. James Clapper, who was Director of National Intelligence during the time of the first Russian meddling accusations, played a key role in helping the Bush administration justify the invasion of Iraq through fraudulent intelligence reports. And the major media outlets, which allowed themselves to be pressured into accepting the Bush White House’s line during the lead-up to the invasion, have become even more consolidated and more thoroughly tied in with the U.S. intelligence community.
Above all, there’s the fact that America has continued to exist as an empire since it invaded Iraq. As a rule, empires will tell lies in order to manufacture consent for the wars they want to start. In the past, the U.S. empire has lied countless times about foreign affairs, most prominently when it’s come to countries that it has an interest in invading. And the U.S. empire continues to lie about other countries, with its current disinformation targets consisting of Russia, Venezuela, Iran, and China.
So why did the majority of Americans support President Trump’s illegal strike against Syria last year amid the overwhelming evidence that their government had lied to them about Assad having committed a “chemical attack”? Why did a Gallup poll this year say that most Americans view Russia as a “critical threat” despite all evidence saying that America has been the aggressor in its recent cold war confrontations with Russia? Why have Donald Trump’s supporters, who voted for him in part because he said the Iraq War was a mistake, accepted the Trump administration’s transparently false pro-war narratives about Iran and Venezuela?
War narratives have continued to be effective after the Iraq invasion because, to manufacture consent for war, America’s government and media use the reliable propaganda approach that Asimov describes in the quote above. In that part of his 1984 review, Asimov was ridiculing Orwell’s idea about the government one day obsessively destroying all records of information which contradicts the official line. The powers that be don’t have to destroy the counter-evidence for their propaganda to be effective. Getting people to believe propaganda, as Asimov pointed out, can be as simple as diverting society’s collective attention towards a new lie, one that many people will get unalterably invested in.
According to a 2015 poll, half of Republicans and around forty percent of Americans overall apparently don’t even recall that the government had lied about WMDs in Iraq twelve years before. And many of the people who do remember this event have shelved it into their minds as just another historical detail. When the issue of the WMD hoax has occasionally resurfaced in our discourse, as it did during one point of the post-2016 hysteria over “Russian hacking,” the defenders of war narratives simply assert that the WMD hoax was an exceptional mistake by otherwise trustworthy agencies. As CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen wrote in a January 2017 column titled No, President-elect Trump: Russian hacking is not like the CIA’s WMD fiasco:
There are some significant differences between the CIA’s weapons of mass destruction fiasco 14 years ago and the evidence that is now being offered by the American intelligence community about the Russian hacking…
The intelligence community was determined to learn from these costly mistakes and instituted more “alternative analysis” and Red Teams to challenge its conclusions. CIA Director John Brennan made essentially the same point this week in an interview with PBS’ Judy Woodruff: “A number of steps … were taken to make sure that we’re going to be as accurate as possible, so it’s been light years since that Iraq WMD report.”
The WMD fiasco, which was probably the most damaging episode for the credibility of the CIA in decades, made the agency much more careful about its handling of circumstantial evidence, as was the case during the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Of course, these reforms within the intelligence community have mainly been for show. They haven’t made these agencies any less corrupt, and they haven’t taken away the agencies’ motivations for misleading the public. Since CNN put out that column, it’s been revealed that the claim about Russia hacking Democratic Party emails did not come from “all seventeen intelligence agencies,” but from three agencies—and that the claim wasn’t agreed upon by the actual agencies in full, but from a series of hand-picked loyalists whose views were given special emphasis. These indications that the Obama administration sought to push through a politically beneficial narrative about “Russian hacking” made it unsurprising when, in July of 2017, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity published a report saying that the DNC’s software wasn’t compatible with an overseas hack.
The mission of war propagandists is to brush these kinds of facts away from the public eye, a task that’s usually as easy as repeating the persuasion formula that Asimov described. However, the information age has produced a big obstacle to the war machine’s ability to control the narrative: ordinary people now have unprecedented tools for sharing knowledge.
In recent years, the revolution in social networking has given dissident, left-wing anti-war websites and journalists major roles in our discourse. and has provoked the political and media class to wage a war on dissent. They’ve used the sensationalism of “Russian propaganda” and “fake news” to carry out unprecedented corporate and governmental censorship against disfavored websites and journalists. They’ve worked to paint anti-war voices and the critics of neoliberal capitalism as foreign or “treasonous” operatives who seek to bring down America’s so-called democratic institutions. Their goal is to keep people misinformed by suppressing and marginalizing those who speak the truth.
This ruling class fixation on social media activity and the online alternative press gives us a clue about how to defeat pro-war narratives. It’s shown that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the other biggest online platforms are major points of geopolitical influence, because acclimating popular sentiment towards war is an instrumental part of launching war efforts. If we continue to use these platforms to push back against establishment propaganda, the war machine won’t be able to dominate how this sentiment is shaped.