The Vast Anti-Russian Psyop Campaign That’s Brought Us to the Brink of Nuclear War

Rainer Shea
There’s an absurdity to humanity’s current predicament of standing on the brink of World War III. This is that the decisive factor behind why the U.S. and Russia are close to war has not been the geopolitical struggles, the economic competition, or the imperialist military encirclement around Russia, but the strange and insipid tools that the imperialists have used to bring these factors to the present point. Their sabotage of the international balance wouldn’t have been possible without the paranoid, conspiratorial, and consequently goofy propaganda campaigns that Washington has carried out throughout the last decade’s new cold war.

To make sense of the present tensions, we need to delve into these wild stories, why they’ve been so influential, and where they’re leading us.

Neocons give rise to a special American obsession with conquering Russia

The historical precedent for today’s anti-Russian psychological operations is initially obvious: Cold War anti-communism. The notions about the Reds infiltrating Hollywood, aiming to invade the United States, and being analogous to movie monsters like The Blob established Russians as the enemy. More importantly, these paranoid mass persuasion campaigns got Americans to abandon any sense of self-awareness; it should be self-evidently ridiculous to uncritically accept that Americans are under threat from some all-encompassing foreign enemy, especially since Americans are the ones who are constantly meddling in the affairs of other countries. The manipulative nature of the propaganda is too transparent. But the Cold War’s ideology of aggressive nationalism negated this potential for self-reflection, letting Americans be sure in their embrace of an absurd worldview.

Anti-communism was integral to these manipulations. Yet when it’s come to Russia, the jingoism and xenophobia have persisted beyond when the country stopped being socialist. As Eric Zuesse has observed:

Though the billionaires succeeded, during the first Cold War — the one that was nominally against communism — at fooling the public to think they were aiming ultimately to conquer communism, George Herbert Walker Bush made clear, on the night of 24 February 1990, privately to the leaders of the U.S. aristocracy’s foreign allies, that the actual goal was world-conquest, and so the Cold War would now secretly continue on the U.S. side, even after ending on the U.S.S.R. side. When GHW Bush did that, the heritage of U.S. Senator Jackson became no longer the formerly claimed one, of ‘anti-communism’, but was, clearly now and henceforth, anti-Russian. And that’s what it is today — not only in the Democratic Party, and not only in the Republican Party, and not only in the United States, but throughout the entire U.S. alliance.

And this is what we are seeing today, in all of the U.S.-and-allied propaganda-media. America is always ‘the injured party’ against ‘the aggressors’; and, so, one after another, such as in Iraq, and in Libya, and in Syria, and in Iran, and in Yemen, and in China, all allies (or even merely friends) of Russia are ‘the aggressors’ and are ‘dictatorships’ and are ‘threats to America’, and only the U.S. side represents ‘democracy’.

Now Americans apply the same attitude from the Cold War to any given modern country that’s disobedient towards the empire—whether north Korea, China, Iran, or the current primary propaganda target Russia. The typical sentiments towards these countries share a pathological focus on portraying them as the villains of the world—as aggressors, human rights abusers, enemies of “democracy,” and generally untrustworthy. It doesn’t matter how little substance is attached to these perceptions. They’re not meant to be carefully considered analyses, they’re meant to be cultural mantras, as essential to the U.S. empire’s mythology as the 4th of July or Thanksgiving.

This is at least the general, cruder version of the worldview that the neocons have instilled within the U.S. population. It stems from a more coherent, strategically focused set of teachings which became solidified within the Washington orthodoxy in reaction to U.S. imperialism’s decline. Even prior to 9/11, and to the subsequent collapse of U.S. hegemony, the neocon thought leaders were making the case for their military adventurist agenda by warning of a coming slide in Washington’s influence. The neocon Project for the New American Century’s 2000 statement on “rebuilding America’s defenses,” which is infamous for its suggestion that an attack on U.S. soil would help rally support for greater military spending, concludes that “even a global Pax Americana will not preserve itself. Paradoxically, as American power and influence are at their apogee, American military forces limp toward exhaustion, unable to meet the demands of their many and varied missions, including preparing for tomorrow’s battlefield.”

Since then, as the U.S. has reached the same point of rapid onset collapse as all previous empires—ironically set off by the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions that the neocons pushed through—their cult of Russophobia has proportionately grown. The issues with U.S. military logistics and control that the Project identifies have been blamed on international scapegoats, primarily the Russians and the Chinese. American Russophobia has been modified to go deeper than anti-communism, though associating Putin with a hammer and sickle is a favorite tactic for today’s liberals. The neocons have gotten those within the NATO propaganda bubble to direct their fear and hostility in tandem with the geopolitical aims the empire has for Eurasia, namely: imperialist coups in Russia and Kazakhstan, and the subduing of China. Paranoia about Marxism taking over has evolved into a simple fear of the other, not necessarily dependent on the economic ideology of this other. What matters is that Russia threatens imperial control.

This persistence of xenophobic militarism, irrespective of socioeconomic ideology, reflects the effectiveness with which the left has been brought into the new cold war’s mentality.

War hysteria, racism, & McCarthyism on all ends of the U.S. political spectrum

To be technically accurate, the U.S. left didn’t need to be brought over to the new cold war, because neoconservatism originated within the U.S. left itself. The founding members of the neoconservative movement were originally part of the Cold War era’s Trotskyist faction. Ideologies don’t appear out of nowhere, they evolve out of previous tendencies. And for neoconservatism, the parent tendency was the intensely sectarian, virulently anti-Soviet faction of “Marxists” who naturally found a significant foothold in the Cold War era’s “left” intelligentsia. Christopher Hitchens, whose hyperbolic anti-Sovietism from a Trotskyist perspective led to him defending the Iraq invasion, is one example of this infamous “trot to neocon” pipeline.

Today’s versions of Hitchens bash Russia, China, Cuba, Iran, Chavista Venezuela, Lukashenko’s Belarus, Assad’s Syria, the DPRK, and every other anti-imperialist country under the pretense of wanting to be “principled” in their critiques of “authoritarianism.” “Democratic socialist” groups like Jacobin and the DSA have gone so far as to facilitate platforms which vilify U.S. regime change targets like Nicaragua and Cuba with the purpose of carrying out U.S.-led regime change within these countries. In this environment, there’s no room for an authentic anti-imperialist movement. Even explicitly fascist U.S.-backed movements around the globe, like Ukraine’s Euromaidan and the recent ultra-nationalist terrorist insurgency in Kazakhstan, get the tacic approval of the primary “leftist” figures. So imperialist fearmongering can thrive unchecked across the whole U.S. ideological spectrum.

So was apparent when it was the liberals, many of whom had formerly been anti-war, that led the new campaign to demonize Russia following the 2016 election. Integral to their embrace of militarism and xenophobia was a partisan-motivated trust in intelligence agencies, which led to the figures within these agencies proliferating the worst kinds of reactionary garbage; during the “Russiagate” hysteria, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper claimed that Slavs are genetically specialized towards lying and cheating.

This and the other angles of attack that liberals utilized during Russiagate’s first years, from homophobic depictions of Trump with Putin to demagogic imagery of Red Square replacing White House to unhinged statements about the U.S. having been “invaded,” solidified the neocon orthodoxy among Democrats—to the point where the Democratic Party was rehabilitating the image of George W. Bush, portraying him as representing a nostalgic era. It was this utilization of the U.S. empire’s two-party oligopoly that perfectly carried through the foreign policy goals of the neocons. With Trump’s opposition continuously denouncing him as a Russian agent, he became willing to go even further in antagonizing Russia than Obama had. He expanded sanctions on Russia, armed Ukraine’s belligerently anti-Russian fascist regime, approved expanding NATO into Montenegro, struck Syria multiple times to the effect of inflaming tensions with Russia, and sabotaged U.S.-Russia nuclear arms agreements.

The consequence was the cultivation of nuclear tensions more dangerous than they had been during the most frightening moments of the previous cold war. Atomic scientists have assessed the conditions of the last several years to be as such; since 2018’s second big Syria strike and subsequent nuclear treaty dissolution, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have judged humanity to be increasingly close to “midnight”—the point where the species could become extinct. The scientists assessed that in 2018 we were two minutes to midnight in their “doomsday clock,” in 2019 they said we were again two minutes close, and in both 2020 and 2021 they said that we were 100 seconds close. That their 100 seconds assessment was unprecedented prior to 2020 speaks to just how dire of a situation the U.S. empire has created. And when the scientists soon come out with their 2022 clock update, it wouldn’t be surprising if the number gets even lower.

This is the insanity of the Russophobic and Sinophobic ideology that the neocons have fully inculcated liberals with. Even when a president was willing to bring humanity closer than ever to nuclear war to be “tough on Russia,” liberals continued to declare that that president was suspiciously lenient. A war zealousness this strong naturally carried through into how liberals, and the “respectable” Republican elites who they came to proudly align with during the Trump era, viewed anti-imperialists.

Anti-war, pro-worker, and social justice movements were targeted with censorship as part of the social media crackdown that the Democrats pressured the tech companies to carry out. Jill SteinJulian Assange, and other figures were decried as Russian assets. Political rhetoric was debased by attacking every challenge to the CIA/CNN narratives as the work of Russian propaganda. This paranoia—born out of uncritical acceptance of the flawed reports intelligence agencies put forth in 2016 which “proved” that Wikileaks got the DNC emails from “Russian hackers”—intensified again around the 2020 election. The intelligence agencies preemptively claimed that Russia, China, and Iran were influencing the electoral process. When the January 6th attack happened, this narrative precedent was used to rationalize a new wave of censorship against anti-imperialists, with Palestinians in particular having experienced social media crackdowns following the riot.

As the Biden administration consolidated power following January 6th, enacting a counterterrorism program designed to target social movements more so than violent white supremacists, the U.S. was more ready than ever for the current war campaign.

A reaction from an empire in turmoil

There’s no stopping the demented determination of the U.S. empire’s drive towards greater escalations with Russia. Even after Ukraine’s government has come out with the conclusion that Russia won’t invade, and that such an invasion would be too logistically impractical for any rational state to carry out, Washington is intent on enacting further sanctions while adding troops to its existing military presence within Ukraine. The Kiev regime, being the fascist U.S. puppet state that it is, has of course provided narrative wiggle room to justify Washington’s provocations. Kiev claims that Russia instead plans to “destabilize” Ukraine, whatever this means. Combined with the recent vague assertions—sourced from predictably anonymous intelligence figures—that Russia seeks to topple Ukraine’s government, this gives the public throughout the imperialist bloc enough propaganda to keep the war fever going.

This consent manufacturing campaign has been effective enough, judging by how the Biden administration has been comfortable with under-delivering on social spending while further inflating the military budget. Even during a pandemic and a depression, the U.S. ruling class is secure enough in the power of its war propaganda to let militarism’s excesses continue unrestrained. And the media is more eager than ever to sell this war effort. Just like when it uncritically reported the CIA’s Iraq WMD lies, the New York Times has applied zero scrutiny in its report on the anonymous claims of a Russian subversion plot in Ukraine. And during Blinken’s press conference on Ukraine, the assembled journalists have revealed their haste to drive forward a U.S. intervention; one of the questions they asked was “as you keep coming back for more dialogue, more talks with the Russians, they continue to act. They continue to mass troops; they continue to destabilize Ukraine. Economically, it’s facing a number of hardships.  Would you acknowledge the harm they have already done just through their aggressive actions, and in turn, why would you not consider sanctions at this point?”

The red flags for a scenario like this, where the empire is close to rushing into world war head on, have been here for at least the last decade. When the U.S. pivoted its “War on Terror” towards “great-power competition”; when it officially legalized covert CIA propaganda being directed towards its own citizens in the 2012 NDAA; when it systematically sabotaged its own tools for diplomacy in favor of adventurist military maneuvers; when its military intelligenstia put out a report declaring that Washington must respond to its geopolitical decline by expanding the justifications for waging war; when it platformed warmongering bigotry within its supposedly enlightened and progressive media outlets; it’s all led up to this point.

That lifting of the previous cold war’s ban on domestic psyops enabled an unprecedented fusion between the media and the intelligence centers, to the point of there having emerged a revolving door for former spooks within the corporate news networks. In this environment, of course the press conferences have journalists egging on the government to go to war; the CIA and the media are now one and the same. And in the Pentagon’s 2017 report about how to handle imperial decline, the doctrine behind this wild enthusiasm for war was laid down. The report recommends that Washington embrace a more nakedly imperialist foreign policy than ever:

While as a rule, U.S. leaders of both political parties have consistently committed to the maintenance of U.S. military superiority over all potential state rivals, the post-primacy reality demands a wider and more flexible military force that can generate ad­vantage and options across the broadest possible range of military demands. To U.S. political leadership, maintenance of military advantage preserves maximum freedom of action… Finally, it allows U.S. decision-makers the opportunity to dictate or hold significant sway over outcomes in international disputes in the shadow of significant U.S. military capability and the implied promise of unac­ceptable consequences in the event that capability is unleashed.

Now that Washington’s coup attempt in Kazakhstan has failed, the empire is applying this plan for desperate, scorched-earth destruction. If even Ukraine doesn’t expect Russia to invade, Washington and its most loyal satellite states aren’t sending in troops out of genuine concern over “Russian aggression.” They’re reacting to the fact that Kazakhstan, which is one of the most important countries for Washington to gain as an ally in the new cold war, will remain aligned with Russia and China. Kiev is leading the charge in demonizing Russia for assisting Kazakhstan’s government in defending from the terrorists that Washington just sent into Kazakhstan; Ukraine has prohibited calling Russia’s forces within Kazakhstan “peacekeepers,” pushing the classification of them as “interventionists.” So Washington is now leveraging Ukraine’s status as the Eurasian epicenter for Russophobic zealotry by pivoting NATO involvement into eastern Europe.

The imperialists have stated, and now manifested, their strategy for trying to retain control amid Washington’s geopolitical decline: accelerate military buildup and adopt an unprecedentedly trigger-happy foreign policy. It’s why Biden has further increased the military budget, even as the society within the U.S. empire’s borders crumbles under severe social neglect. The imperialists are throwing everything into this war effort. And the only thing that can compensate for the internal contradictions they’ve fostered is a massive, fanatical campaign of hatred and lies.