Former CIA official John Stockwell said that “It is the function, I suggest, of the CIA, with its 50 de-stabilization programs going around the world today, to keep the world unstable, and to propagandize the American people to hate, so we will let the Establishment spend any amount of money on arms.” With the 2013 legalization of covert government propaganda within the American media, this has become more true than ever. And the dangerous disinformation that it produces often works its way into mainstream discourse in insidious ways.
This dynamic is perhaps, most apparent on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” A look at the rhetoric from a September 2018 episode of Maher’s show tells us some ominous things about how America’s political and media class wants people to think. The hostility towards Russia that Maher and his panel expressed was nationalistic and often openly in favor of anti-Russian aggression; one of the show’s guests Max Brooks, for instance, said that it’s “time to make Ivan bleed,” a borderline racist statement with disturbing undertones that was nonetheless cheered by the audience.
In addition, their discussion heavily consisted of endorsements of militarization and assurances that the U.S. military/intelligence establishment has no ill intentions. Neil Degrasse Tyson spoke favorably about the American military while emphasizing the idea that war is sometimes necessary; April Ryan characterized China, North Korea, and Iran as threats to the U.S’; during a conversation with Tyson about getting Washington to expand its military capabilities, the Atlantic Council’s Evelyn Farkas remarked that “It is a troubled world up in space with Russia and China, I’ll just leave it at that;” and towards the end, Brooks made the blatantly false claim that the United States doesn’t use economic, cyber, or information warfare. But, added Brooks, “we need to get back in the game” and use these things to “hurt” the Russians. These things should disturb anyone who values protecting other human beings over strengthening their own nation-state.
First, when one dissects the charges that Maher’s panel made against Russia-from the claim that Russia invaded Ukraine to the claim that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to the claim that Russia has poisoned the Skripals-they’re all found to be baseless. The same is true for their claims that Russia and other world powers pose any serious threat to the U.S; in all of these cases, America has been the aggressor.
As the U.S./NATO empire loses its dominance, the Western ruling class is currently carrying out massive aggressions around the globe to try to restore American hegemony. Click To Tweet When mainstream pundits present major world powers like Russia and China in this kind of hostile light, they’re helping acclimate Americans to this destructive campaign. And as Maher’s section of punditry has shown, liberals have become just as big a target as conservatives for war propaganda.
In the case of the war propaganda that’s aimed at liberals, nationalism and xenophobia have naturally played a large role. During 2016, when the hysteria around unproven claims of “Russian hacking” appeared, the advocates of a new cold war were able to win over much of the country by attaching the already ingrained American fear of Russia to partisan feelings. Russia was claimed to be the perpetrator of Donald Trump’s election, and Trump was made out to be Putin’s puppet. So for many people, diplomacy with Russia became viewed as inherently bad and even treasonous.
At the heart of the anti-Russia campaign has been the idea that Russia needs to be beaten down in order for America to be strengthened. This fits with the central motive behind the West’s revival of the cold war, which is to stop Russia from becoming a power that threatens the dominance of the U.S.-centralized global empire. Putin’s military support for Assad and his willingness to strengthen Russia’s stand in the world made him a top enemy of the Western plutocracy. So Putin needed to be demonized as an aggressor, and Trump’s minor variations from the standard new Washington approach towards Russia needed to be portrayed as evidence that Trump is owned by the Kremlin.
For the most part, Trump has actually complied with this dangerous cold war agenda, with the Trump administration having armed anti-Russian forces in Ukraine, imposed sanctions on Russia, escalated U.S. involvement in Syria, and expanded NATO. But when the president occasionally makes some effort towards better relations with Russia, the other factions of the ruling class use the unsupported charge of Trump/Russia collusion to pressure Trump into completely staying in line.
So an alliance has developed between mainstream liberals and anti-Trump neoconservatives to defeat “Ivan” and everyone who’s judged to be helping Ivan. This alliance is held together through the idea that by aligning with notorious warmongers like Bill Kristol and George W. Bush, liberals are now transcending partisanship to unite Americans against a common enemy.
This happy narrative is a marketing operation designed to make progressive-minded people support a horrifying push towards war, militarization, censorship, and nationalistic hatred of perceived foreign “adversaries.” And it’s worked to an extent, given how Maher’s audience clapped when Brooks said that the U.S. needs to pummel Russia with economic warfare; economic sanctions are effectively a war crime because they target a country’s population, and Brooks was able to advocate them because anti-Russia sentiment has been so normalized.
Meanwhile, the factors continue to gather for world war and for the repressive domestic measures that such a war would entail. Entities like the Atlantic Council are now directly policing social media for content that they deem to be “Russian propaganda.” America’s intelligence agencies have developed into a fourth branch of government with the power to surveil and indefinitely detain every American. The tensions between world superpowers could develop into war the next time the U.S. escalates in Syria or Iran.
At one point during a later episode, Maher asked: “why do you think people are fascinated with doomsday dystopian futures?” Part of the answer to this query may be the fact that a dystopia is already emerging. And it’s ironically being created by the reactionary messages that pundits like Maher have helped promote.
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