For years the West has ignored Russia and allowed for a build-up in both military power and political influence. Today we are suffering from that lack of foresight. We wanted to see Russia as a newly liberated country that has existed only since December 26, 1991. The fact remains that what Russia is doing today is nothing more than Russian policy for the last 200+ years.
We can add to this another player of the game from the past, Iran. Iran and Russia have diplomatic and military ties that go back to the 16th century. Driven by economic need what was then Persia moved goods across Russia to Britain, bypassing the territory of the hostile Ottoman Empire. While this relationship has gone through ups and downs it is currently at a mutual beneficial stage opposing a common enemy, the United States.
It is only now, that there seems to be a political advantage, that some in the West have turned on Russia, somewhat. Following the election of Donald Trump his opponents suddenly discovered that Russia was "interfering" in the US elections. This, of course, is not new, Russia has interfered with US and other democracies elections for years, especially under Stalin, using campaigns of disinformation.
Today we have come to the point where the Russian collusion story line has blinded us to the true danger. Actually, we are following a Russian script that may have been written years ago. A former KGB informant Yuri Bezmenov who, as a journalist, became disillusioned with the Soviet Union and defected, wrote and lectured extensively about Soviet disinformation plans and the way they have been used to infiltrate, brainwash and demoralize American intellectuals and other elitists, to soften up coming generations to accept Soviet propaganda and become true believers in socialism.
"As I mentioned before, exposure to true information does not matter anymore. A person who is demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him, even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents and pictures. ...he will refuse to believe it... That's the tragedy of the situation of demoralization."
–Yuri Bezmenov [1980s]
Since the mid 1960's, through the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement, the loudest segment of our society was able to convince themselves that all the ills in the world were of American origin. Over the years this attitude became so prevalent that it was accepted as fact and crept into colleges and universities and accepted as dogma. Today this concept has gone so far as to not only polarize the country but destabilize the government. This of course falls in line with the declared national interest of, first the Soviet Union and now Russia.
Russia has always been a nation of contradictions and seesaw relations with the rest of the world. The modern period of relations began during the First World War and was cemented during the Soviet era. It must be understood that Russian priorities do not change because a type of government has been replaced. Thousands of years of culture do not just disappear because of a statue being torn down. The Russians have historically been xenophobic, leading to extreme nationalism.
When a jaded western politician sees a land grab such as Crimea and eastern Ukraine it is assumed to be for nefarious purpose. Assume for a second that the Russian government truly believes it is acting in a justified manner based on national interest and protection of the Russian nation. Support for a dictatorial regime such as Bashar al-Assad in Syria is seen as an attempt by Russia to return as a political player in the Middle East not as protection of what it sees as the legitimate government of Syria. In fact, it is both. This does not mean that it is right, but it is the reasoning used based on national interest.
What happens then when the US is taught or assumes it is always wrong? How can American leaders act in the US national interest if that interest is assumed to be evil? As the years have gone by the concept of critical thinking has been replaced by emotion. Russia is a grand master of playing emotion and building on dreams. The former KGB was very efficient at finding people, especially young college students whose emotions and belief in a socialist utopia could be played upon. Some of those students, like the Cambridge 5, became spies. Some, such as many in the peace movement of the 1960’s were simply manipulated.
The momentum built up over the course of decades no longer needs an external force to continue. This is not to say that Russia did not inject itself into the last election or will not attempt to do so in the future, it will. Russia is in competition with the United States and will act in its own best self-interest. To that end Russia will work to either help or hinder other governments. Historically Russia has operated using covert tactics and propaganda. The Czar used Blood Libel to justify his Pogrom against the Jews and Lenin, Stalin and the rest of the Soviet leaders refined the use of disinformation and propaganda to further advance national or political interest.
By allowing the United States to be divided we are accomplishing the Russian agenda. Further we are helping push the agenda of the newly risen Democratic Socialists, riding a tide of popularity based on anti-Trump agitation and unrealistic dreams. All the while Russia sits back and lets us beat ourselves bloody with increasingly emotional arguments.
Russia cannot defeat the US either militarily or economically, but it can politically. Colleges are now being taught by third generation professors who have been taught by increasingly radical faculties. This is not purely the result of a Russian campaign but is definitely being taken advantage of by Russia.
The only defense the US has against this slide away from what has defined America is the reintroduction of logic and critical thinking. The hallmark saying during the 1960's was to "Question Authority." Russian propagandist, today called trolls and bots, pepper social media with "truths and facts". We must demand to see the facts behind the claim. One of the right’s favorite claims in the past, supported by Russian trolls, was that the attack on the US mission in Benghazi was avoidable and that a quick reaction by the US military would have saved American lives. Ambassador Stevens had access to the same intelligence as Hillary Clinton but chose to go to Benghazi. The real problem was the administration blaming a bogus film trailer that was anti-Islam. On the other side is the claim that President Obama was born in Kenya. This of course is false and there is proof of his birth in Hawaii.
Regardless of the facts many on social media have kept these and other "facts" alive. How many are Russian is unknown but enough to continue to drive a wedge between many Americans. As long as we continue to teach that America is the root of all evil the impact of any Russian campaign will be far outside its actual size. We cannot stop Russia or anyone else from putting out half-truths and outright lies but we can minimize their impact by allowing for the free flow of information. As the old saying goes minds are like parachutes. They only work when open.
We must return to a time when colleges were a center of open discussion and free flow of ideas and thoughts. Russia will never stop trying to be Russia but if the rest of the world would question what is being put out on social media by all sides and begins to look for reasonable facts we will shut down much of the unwanted influence we have given these sites. To begin we must acknowledge that the fault lies in ourselves for allowing this to happen, then we can fix it. Think of what you see on social media much as you look at product advertisement, its meant to bend the truth enough to make you want to buy in.