Do People Grasp Russian Authoritarian Thinking?

 

Buried deep in this comment thread was this exchange: One of our members, BalticSnowTiger—who is, I suspect, in the Baltics, but this is the Internet, so who knows–proposed:

Unless people in the West and far apart finally invest a moment to understand Russian authoritarian thinking, behaviour, strategy and the effect deterrence has all of this is moot.

One of our members, AIG–who is, I suspect, in America, but this is the Internet, so who knows–replied:

People do understand this.

AIG, I don’t want to simplify or make a straw man out of your argument. I suggest our readers carefully study that thread, and judge both comments in context. But my response is this:  Let’s try to make empirical, testable statements. I fear that the majority of the adult population–in most Western countries—has nothing like a sufficient understanding of Russian authoritarian thinking, behavior, and strategy.

Specifically, I don’t think you’d find, if you conducted a well-controlled poll, that most people in the West would instantly appreciate the following references, or have any clue what they mean:

  • The 1999 apartment bombings;
  • The Second Chechen War;
  • The murder of Litvinenko;
  • Abkhazia;
  • South Ossetia;
  • Nagorno-Karabakh;
  • Transnistria;
  • “One-party system, characterized by censorship, with a puppet parliament, no independent judiciary, and notable for its hypertrophied special services;”
  • “Siloviki structures in governance, clericalism and statism in ideology;”
  • “The rehabilitation of the Soviet past;”
  • “A state-sponsored global PR effort, in which  RT–and “Sputnik news” are Pravda. Rebranded, but otherwise the same;”
  • “Intensified official lobbying activities in the US through PR companies like Hannaford Enterprises;”
  • “A Kremlin pumping more money than you can imagine into various forms of public diplomacy: new media ventures to target international audiences; conferences to seduce Western opinion-makers; and NGOs in Western capitals dedicated to analyzing every real failing of Western democracy;”
  • “Former KGB officers running Russia. The FSB is just the KGB. No one really lost his job.” (Test that one in a poll, see how many know that. Bet you not a lot);
  • “The FSB monitors the Russian population electronically, controls the political process, creates front enterprises, and runs its own prisons;”
  • FSB: How many in the West even know what that is? A majority, you think? Doubt it;
  • “Putin’s Russia is dominated by former and active-duty intelligence offiicers.” Think the majority grasp that?
  • “Russia: an assassination-happy nightmare where detention, interrogation, and torture–right from the KGB handbook, no translation necessary–are used to silence journalists and businessmen who annoy Putin.” Let’s poll that statement. Think everyone knows that?
  • “Chekists.” How many Americans know that word? Or understand how it applies, in 2015?
  • “The export-appeal of Putinism as an ideology.” Familiar phrase?
  • “Former Soviet republics in Azerbaijan, Belarus and central Asia follow Moscow’s lead, as do Venezuela and many African and Asian countries.” Think people grasp that?
  • “The new geopolitical trend: undemocratic, oligarchic and corrupt national elites put up a nice facade of democracy with parliamentary trappings and a pretence of pluralism–a trick they learned from Putin.” Think people get that?
  • “Eastern Europe, where Kremlin-friendly politicians get all the campaign funds they need.” Does everyone know that?
  • “Otherwise sensible Americans finding Marine LePen sensible.”

I could go on, and on, and on. But if you show me a single, well-constructed poll indicating that “People understand this” in America–no less “the West”–I’ll gladly say, “Well, I was wrong.”

I will be so relieved to be wrong that I will weep with relief to be on the losing side of an argument. I want to believe you so badly that my pride means nothing–zero–to me on this one. Please, please, tell me I’m wrong.

If anyone doubts where I really am, I’ll grab a copy of tomorrow’s newspaper in Paris and take a photo of myself with it. But I could, as you know, manipulate that quickly, with photoshop. If anyone can think of a better and more convincing test, I am happy to do it. I don’t really care if it involves some kind of violation of my privacy.

I am an American citizen, in Paris. Terrorist attacks in Paris are rare. They do not terrify me. They do not make me want to flee. Seeing Sputnik news, in Paris, terrifies me–and makes me want to flee. But I don’t know where to run.

My passport says, “America.” That makes things clear: my first responsibility is to do everything in my power to get Americans to grasp this, no matter where I am. And to explain that they need to grasp this fast–and get the rest of the world to grasp it, too.

There are 177 comments.

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  1. Capt. Aubrey Inactive
    Capt. Aubrey
    @CaptAubrey

    Based on anecdotal evidence from my perch safe in east-coast-suburbia-USA I think its fair to say that most Americans think Putin is a bad guy but if Isis is a 10 on the bad guy scale I suspect most would put him between 6 and 8. Does anyone in the US see him as a potential Stalin who could create something akin to a harvest of sorrow? Nope. Nobody, except maybe me and a few of us here.

    • #1
  2. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    I sorta semi-follow this and I don’t know half of the stuff on that list (and that’s being generous, I’d have to google Chekist to refresh my memory, but at least I know it).

    What I’m most curious about is the last item on that list: strategy and the effect deterrence has.

    I was under the impression that -authoritarian or not -Russia knew enough not to pick a nuclear fight.  My worry has always been that if the US and NATO broadcast loudly enough that they have no intention to fight, Russia will interpret that to mean “ok, things will never escalate to nuclear level,” and therefore pick a conventional war.  That leaves us with no good options.  Either we fight -and lose -a conventional war in Europe, we go nuclear, or we watch Europe get swallowed and hope the Atlantic is a sufficient barrier.

    • #2
  3. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Claire Berlinski: I could go on, and on, and on. But if you show me a single, well-constructed poll indicating that “People understand this” in America–no less “the West”–I’ll gladly say, “Well, I was wrong.”

    Well, you’re framing this as a “the average Western person needs to understand this”.

    I don’t know why the average Western person needs to understand this. The average Western person doesn’t know who Putin is. Nor should they care. US policy shouldn’t be guided, or dependent, on what the “average person” knows or thinks.

    This is an issue of whether Western governments understand this or not. I.e., the people who are actually going to deal with Putin and Russia.

    However, I don’t think they have any problem understand the issue here. I think the problem is the people who think that the issue can be resolved by the US getting involved militarily. Short of an actual US military involvement, all other measures of force are a waste of time. Any reasonable person ought to be able to figure out the costs and benefits of such a move, and figure out quite easily, why it just isn’t worth it.

    And they are a waste of time precisely because this is a long term issue…with long term solutions.

    This is an issue of…Russia being Russia. Russia was always the anti-West. Was always run by psychopathic dictators. Was always comprised of a population which adores dictatorships and psychopaths.

    What changed in the recent years was only 1 variable: oil prices. Russia got money, and reverted to doing what it always does.

    So what’s the solution to that, then? Crush their economy. But that is a long-term strategy, that isn’t going to happen whether the US military intervenes in Donbass or not. That’s irrelevant, and at best, a dumb move.

    This is how the Cold War was won. The Cold War was not won in Afghanistan. It was not won by fighting Russia’s proxy wars around the world. It was won by crushing their economy. Well, that’s what we’re doing now.

    Second issue: I notice you are directly or indirectly implying in some of your posts that somehow I’m spreading “Kremlin propaganda”. I’m about the most anti-Kremlin person’ you’ll find. Saying that we shouldn’t start WW3 over a turnip field in Donetsk, isn’t “Kremlin propaganda”. What I’m saying is that a long-term strategy of isolating Russia and crippling them economically, is the only thing that worked in the past, and the only thing that will work again. And as a matter of fact, the US has been doing this to a…surprisingly successful degree.

    Third issue. You mentioned in earlier posts that the problem with the US strategy is that we aren’t in “lock step” with some of our “allies”. But that’s…a good thing…given what these “allies” are doing vis a vis Russia. Why would I want the US to be guided by the wills of France or Germany, which are clearly not capable nor willing to do much about Putin? I certainly want the US to take a much stronger position, and to tell Hollande and Merkel to follow us.

    Fourth issue. The majority of the pro-Putin propaganda in the US comes from…libertarians and conservatives.  Ron Paul types and Pat Buchanan types. The Ron Paul types, I suspect, are paid by the Kremlin to spread such nonsense. There is no better and more natural ally of dictators than the Ron Paul libertarians who want to dismantle all US foreign policy. The Pat Buchanan types are, well, people who are enamored with “strong leaders” for the sake of being under the thumb of “strong leaders”. So, idiots.

    • #3
  4. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    PS: And of course, the run up of oil prices which allowed Putin to become more aggressive, was…well…somewhat our own doing. We know why and how.

    So nearsightedness is what got us here in the first place. More of the same, isn’t a good idea. We have…1,000 years of Russian history to know what we’re dealing with here. Pretty much everything has been a constant there for 1,000 years. The variable that changes, is whether they get money, or not. So that ought to point us in some direction of why this is a long-term issue.

    • #4
  5. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    I get why Russia is in trouble in the long run. But they ARE a nuclear power, and that means that they have access to desperation tactics that other failed countries do not.

    Putin has leverage, as long as he is willing to use his army. He has leverage as long as Europe has not replaced Gazprom’s critical fuel to keep warm in the winter. And he has leverage, if he chooses to use it, with the threat of EMP detonations over Europe or elsewhere.

    I would not bet that Putin will abstain from using the tools he has, especially as he knows that both the army and Gazprom poker chips will become useless in the near term. Use it or lose it.

    • #5
  6. user_32335 Member
    user_32335
    @BillWalsh

    Clever of you to slip a typo into your Russian as test, Claire, but some of us do know it’s “siloviki.” (I kid, of course, but it’s folks our age who last paid any serious attention to Russia. You’d be shocked at the collapse of Russian departments for lack of students. Well, maybe you wouldn’t be…)

    • #6
  7. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    iWc:I get why Russia is in trouble in the long run. But they ARE a nuclear power, and that means that they have access to desperation tactics that other failed countries do not.

    Putin has leverage, as long as he is willing to use his army. He has leverage as long as Europe has not replaced Gazprom’s critical fuel to keep warm in the winter. And he has leverage, if he chooses to use it, with the threat of EMP detonations over Europe or elsewhere.

    I would not bet that Putin will abstain from using the tools he has, especially as he knows that both the army and Gazprom poker chips will become useless in the near term. Use it or lose it.

    Well that’s precisely why a military solution here isn’t a solution. We’re dealing with a nuclear power, run by a leadership that is perhaps even more insane than the Ayatollahs of Iran (I’d say, certainly more insane).

    And we have the issue that many of our “allies” in Western Europe are either incapable or unwilling to do much about it. But that too, has been a constant for several decades now, and it’s not a new phenomenon. Western Europe welcomed Russian (at the time Soviet) dependence for themselves several decades ago, at a time when the threat was even worst than it is now.

    The solution has to be financial because without finances, they can’t rebuild their military. Their military, right now, is still a joke, relative to NATO and the US. But to remain so, their economy needs to be isolated and crushed. There’s nothing we can do about their nuclear arsenal, however.

    But, another problem that “conservatives” have here is that many don’t understand that their own constituents or “allies” are a problem here. As are the willingness to let short-term petty domestic politics, get in the way of long-term goals (i.e. as the GOP did in 1999 against Clinton…one of the most shameful performances of the GOP)

    Putin’s allies are “conservatives”, “libertarians” and all sort of “right wing” or “center right” parties in Europe. Many do it because of an ideological affinity for Putinism. Others do it for the sort-term political convenience of opposing existing parties in power. Putin’s allies include many of the “right” Parties in Europe, from UKIP to Le Penn in France or Orban in Hungary to Berlusconi in Italy to now even Sarkozy in France. All useful idiots…and many of them…”our” useful idiots.

    • #7
  8. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Claire Berlinski: I could go on, and on, and on. But if you show me a single, well-constructed poll indicating that “People understand this” in America–no less “the West”–I’ll gladly say, “Well, I was wrong.”

    Every “poll” I’ve seen of the US public on Putin indicates a deep unfavorable view of him.

    Gallup has him at 63% unfavorable.

    YouGov at 70% unfavorable.

    This of course, despite the fact that majority of people don’t know much about him. But as I said earlier, this isn’t really an issue because US foreign policy isn’t a “popularity contest” to be determined by polls. Nor should we realistically expect that Americans ought to know such details as you listed about a place that impacts their daily lives…not at all.

    Of course, these 63% or 70% unfavorable views aren’t out of line with unfavorable views of the US population on the Soviet Union, even during the height of the Cold War: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2749146?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

    fewrfwer

    Even in the mid 1980s, the negative view of the USSR in the US peaked in the mid 70%. So at worst, we can say that the unfavorable views of Putin today are about at the same levels as they were during the Cold War regarding the Soviet Union.

    So it doesn’t appear to me that there’s some unusual groundswell of positive support for Putin in the US. Of course, 10-15% of the population will have “favorable views” of just about anything.
    So when I say “people do understand this”, or when BalticSnowTiger says “people don’t understand this”…the real question is, which people? Only certain people need to understand this.

    • #8
  9. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Bill Walsh:Clever of you to slip a typo into your Russian as test, Claire, but some of us do know it’s “siloviki.” (I kid, of course, but it’s folks our age who last paid any serious attention to Russia. You’d be shocked at the collapse of Russian departments for lack of students. Well, maybe you wouldn’t be…)

    Actual fact: A typo. And a word I know pretty well. But one I would have been less likely to make in a language I know well.

    I corrected it, but I was tempted to delete your comment and leave it in as a test. Otherwise: I’d like stats on the number of Americans who have the command of Russian to cringe at that typo. I wonder.

    • #9
  10. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    AIG:Putin’s allies are “conservatives”, “libertarians” and all sort of “right wing” or “center right” parties in Europe. Many do it because of an ideological affinity for Putinism. Others do it for the sort-term political convenience of opposing existing parties in power. Putin’s allies include many of the “right” Parties in Europe, from UKIP to Le Penn in France or Orban in Hungary to Berlusconi in Italy to now even Sarkozy in France. All useful idiots…and many of them…”our” useful idiots.

    I don’t hear a lot of what you are describing in conservatism here in the states but I sure do in libertarianism.  Pretty tough to paint conservatives with the Pat Buchanan brush at this point….he is hardly representative of conservatives the way Ron Paul is of libertarians.

    Although I agree that financial pressure is key, I think you glossed over pretty quickly proxy military involvements as insignificant in your earlier comment.  The cold war wasn’t won by using one approach but by opposing communism as a constant in all foreign policy.  Economic policy, military involvements, foreign aid, intelligence…  It is that kind of foreign policy that we are lacking now in dealing with Russia, Iran, China, or radical Islam.

    • #10
  11. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Concretevol:

    I don’t hear a lot of what you are describing in conservatism here in the states but I sure do in libertarianism. Pretty tough to paint conservatives with the Pat Buchanan brush at this point….he is hardly representative of conservatives the way Ron Paul is of libertarians.

    Well I didn’t say Pat Buchanan is representative of conservatives. But he is representative of a certain group of conservatives.

    Concretevol:

    Although I agree that financial pressure is key, I think you glossed over pretty quickly proxy military involvements as insignificant in your earlier comment. The cold war wasn’t won by using one approach but by opposing communism as a constant in all foreign policy. Economic policy, military involvements, foreign aid, intelligence… It is that kind of foreign policy that we are lacking now in dealing with Russia, Iran, China, or radical Islam.

    Well, it’s easy enough to say we are “lacking this”. But I don’t really see it. At least, I don’t see it lacking to a greater degree than it was in previous administrations.

    China isn’t anywhere near a “threat” of this magnitude. China is interested in internal consumption of its propaganda to keep its people happy. But as a real threat to the US? I don’t see it.

    And furthermore, it’s not as if our previous foreign policies towards Russia or Iran were very well thought out, or not “lacking” in such resolve, during previous administrations. Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 was met with no US response at all, for example (this under Bush’s administration). As for Iran, our own blunders gave them much more clout than they could have achieved on their own (our blunders in Iraq, for example). Similarly, people forget we supplied Iran with weapons during the 1980s (not just us, but Israel too!). Real politics.

    • #11
  12. TeamAmerica Member
    TeamAmerica
    @TeamAmerica

    @AIG- “We’re dealing with a nuclear power, run by a leadership that is perhaps even more insane than the Ayatollahs of Iran (I’d say, certainly more insane).

    And we have the issue that many of our “allies” in Western Europe are either incapable or unwilling to do much about it. But that too, has been a constant for several decades now, and it’s not a new phenomenon. Western Europe welcomed Russian (at the time Soviet) dependence for themselves several decades ago, at a time when the threat was even worst than it is now.”

    What’s new is having a president who announces a goal of having a US military of the size it was pre-WWII, when Portugal had a bigger army than the US. Obama is cutting our nuclear deterrent, and is starting by cutting the most survivable arm, sub-based nukes, while Russua, AFAIK, has 5 or 10 times the number of nukes we have. Bin Laden was right about strong vs. weak horses, and Eisenhower was also correct- “Weakness, history has shown, is often provocative.”

    • #12
  13. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    AIG:

    US policy shouldn’t be guided, or dependent, on what the “average person” knows or thinks.

    No, it shouldn’t be. But when there’s a massive disjunct between “what average people think” and “policy,” I see it as a problem that needs solving.

    No, I most certainly do not think you’re a Kremlin apologist. I believe I said, “I don’t want to simplify or make a straw man out of your argument. I suggest our readers carefully study that thread, and judge both comments in context.” But if anyone else believes that’s what I was saying, then clearly my comment was open to interpretation in the way you suspect. If so–I ask others in all sincerity: did it sound that way to you?–If others think so, then it will seem plausible to me. I will apologize to you; and I will remember to be more clear in the future.

    Now: I’ll say this clearly, in case there is any confusion:

    1) I do not think you’re a Kremlin apologist. I don’t think that’s a useful way of looking at your arguments at all. I have read them with interest, as I have those of Ricochet members who disagree with you.

    2) I don’t know whether authorizing the provision of “defensive” weapons to Ukraine is a good idea. I do know that there’s no such a think as a “defensive” weapon. There are weapons. They can be used for offense or defense–that’s a question of the people using them, not the weapons themselves. I don’t want to be propagandized by Sputnik–or by anyone else who insults my intelligence–so please, let’s call them weapons, say what kind exactly, to whom we propose to provide them, in what way we expect them to be used, and how we’re prepared to ensure they will not be used against the people they’re supposed to defend–or against us.

    3) My mind is made up about whether we should be pouring “defensive weapons”–and troops–into the Baltics. That seems to me an easy call.

    4) The reason it does, really, matter what Americans think is that the way we respond to this will be determined by a body that represents what Americans think–Congress. And very soon. I don’t think this decision should be made in secret or illegally. And it isn’t going to wait for the next presidential election. It will cost money, and Congress must authorize it: It has the power of the purse.

    5 I believe it is a hugely important decision. I would like to hear good arguments for and against it in the US media. I’d like the gravity of this decision to be deeply understood. I don’t think any aspect of American policy–not even foreign policy–should be left to experts in Washington who know better. I just haven’t seen huge evidence that they do. We, the People, must watch our idiot government. Always. And treat them as “our idiot government.” Always. Because that’s what Americans do: We allow our governments to serve us, and assume that if they’re good at anything, it’s probably just a mistake. The job of the Fourth Estate, above all, is to do this. I think many of them have forgotten this. My confidence in the US media has been deeply, deeply shaken. I don’t know where to look or to trust for a serious debate about this.

    6) I’m sure of this: The US can’t do public diplomacy–or fight an information war–to save its life. That is one of the great lessons of the years I spent in Turkey. Whether we could have changed the outcome there, I don’t know. But I know that were I designing a policy to ensure that the Turkish people hated and feared the United States, I doubt I could have done better.

    7) If you want my advice on non-military matters, I am on much more solid ground. I know that Americans should be screaming to the heavens about how badly we do “basic public diplomacy”–and about the way Russia is so much better at it. The US should be so far ahead on this as to leave Ivan gasping. I don’t see evidence that we’re even trying, no less succeeding.

    Beyond that, I am opening the discussion, and hoping to learn from it.

    • #13
  14. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    TeamAmerica:What’s new is having a president who announces a goal of having a US military of the size it was pre-WWII, when Portugal had a bigger army than the US. Obama is cutting our nuclear deterrent, and is starting by cutting the most survivable arm, sub-based nukes, while Russua, AFAIK, has 5 or 10 times the number of nukes we have. Bin Laden was right about strong vs. weak horses, and Eisenhower was also correct- “Weakness, history has shown, is often provocative.”

    None of this is…true. Sorry to say.

    1) Looking at raw “numbers” of men or military equipment across decades of technological advances doesn’t mean much at all. The US military maintains a much more powerful military today than it did in the past, not simply relative to our adversaries (which have shrunk 10 or 20 times), but also in absolute terms.

    When people say things like “our Navy is smaller than it was pre-WW2”, that means nothing. A guided missile destroyer today is multiple times more powerful than a cruiser was, 30 years ago. So how can one compare on the bases of numbers? One can’t. We had 100,000 airplanes in WW2. We have 5,000 today. Is our air force today weaker then in WW2? Of course not. It’s far more powerful.

    2) Our nuclear deterrent isn’t being shrunk. That’s simply not true. The decisions to shrink it have happened over decades, and over successive administrations. A new SSBN class is under development, as well as a new nuclear bomber, as well as a new ICBM system.

    3) Russia’s nuclear arsenal stands at about 2,300. Ours at about 1,900.

    I know such “talking points” are the mainstay of “conservative” news outlets, but all this does is demonstrate that “conservatives” are just as willing, capable and susceptible to invent a fantasy world to fit their short-term political agenda as Liberals are.

    • #14
  15. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Claire Berlinski:

    No, it shouldn’t be. But when there’s a massive disjunct between “what average people think” and “policy,” I see it as a problem that needs solving.

    But there’s no disjointed view here.

    The unfavorable view of Putin is at the same levels as the unfavorable view of the USSR was, at the height of the Cold War in the US.

    2) I don’t know whether authorizing the provision of “defensive” weapons to Ukraine is a good idea. I do know that there’s no such a think as a “defensive” weapon. There are weapons. They can be used for offense or defense–that’s a question of the people using them, not the weapons themselves. I don’t want to be propagandized by Sputnik–or by anyone else who insults my intelligence–so please, let’s call them weapons, say what kind exactly, to whom we propose to provide them, in what way we expect them to be used, and how we’re prepared to ensure they will not be used against the people they’re supposed to defend–or against us.

    Well, the weapon systems being proposed to be given to Ukraine are “defensive” weapons. They are anti-artillery radars, anti-tank missiles, UAVs and communication systems.

    I don’t agree with giving it to them because they don’t know how to use them, and they will end up in the hands of Russians within 2 weeks of delivery.

    In fact, we have already given them 3 anti-artillery radars, 2 of which are already out of action because they don’t know how to use them.

    3) My mind is made up about whether we should be pouring “defensive weapons”–and troops–into the Baltics. That seems to me an easy call.

    Sure. And we are. So there’s no conflicting views here.

    4) The reason it does, really, matter what Americans think is that the way we respond to this will be determined by a body that represents what Americans think–Congress. And very soon. I don’t think this decision should be made in secret or illegally. And it isn’t going to wait for the next presidential election. It will cost money, and Congress must authorize it: It has the power of the purse.

    So, I take it then that you are not in favor of the critiques that Ricochet members have been making of Obama’s request from Congress on ISIS? ;)

    But, I don’t see any conflicting views here between Congress and Obama.

    6) I’m sure of this: The US can’t do public diplomacy–or fight an information war–to save its life. That is one of the great lessons of the years I spent in Turkey. Whether we could have changed the outcome there, I don’t know. But I know that were I designing a policy to ensure that the Turkish people hated and feared the United States, I doubt I could have done better.

    The question becomes, why do we care? People anywhere around the world hate those with power. The US is powerful, hence, it is hated. It has always been so, and will always be so. Who cares? I sure don’t.

     I know that Americans should be screaming to the heavens about how badly we do “basic public diplomacy”–and about the way Russia is so much better at it.

    Better at it? The same people who fall for RT propaganda are the same…idiots…who fall for Alex Jones propaganda.  Now I know what you’re saying, because in Europe most people will fall for anything that is anti-American. That doesn’t make Kremlin’s propaganda better. Kremlin’s propaganda is positively childish. But, it appeals to the people who are childish. And there’s clearly a lot of those. A lot more of those in Russia, then elsewhere.

    As for why we don’t do propaganda well: well, it’s because we don’t do propaganda. I’m not sure I’d want the US to do propaganda, either.

    The US should be so far ahead on this as to leave Ivan gasping. I don’t see evidence that we’re even trying, no less succeeding.

    Why does it matter? Are we trying to change the minds of the Russian people? Why? First off, we’re not going to succeed. Russians have loved crazed dictators for 1,000 years. Who cares what they want. Are we trying to change the minds of Turks or Arabs? We’re not going to succeed. Made-up realities are a staple of daily life there. Are we trying to change the minds of Europeans? Who cares?

    • #15
  16. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    The US should be so far ahead on this as to leave Ivan gasping. I don’t see evidence that we’re even trying, no less succeeding.

    Claire, your post and comment 13 are fascinating. The response to point 7 is Barack Obama and John Kerry. Even if there were the public awareness you’re advocating, why would the Obama/Kerry response be different from their response to ISIS, i.e. doodling around and claiming victory?

    • #16
  17. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    So if I understand your overall point is that: Russia has a more aggressive and better propaganda machine than the US has, and this is leading to people having “favorable” views of Putin.

    But, I’d say I don’t see this. First of all because Russia’s propaganda is humorous at best. No one is falling for it. Second off, because those that chose to have favorable views of Putin and unfavorable views of the US…always had so. Because it’s in the nature of many of these societies to hate the more powerful, and idolize dictators. More people had a favorable view of Saddam Hussein in these places, than of the US. Who cares? Their opinion doesn’t matter to me.

    So I don’t think its worth to lower ourselves to the level of trying to win the “minds” of people in many of these societies. And that include France as well.

    And third, it’s not the same case in the US. 70% unfavorable views of Putin. About as bad as the USSR in the mid 1980s. And there don’t seem to be any differences in opinion here between the President and Congress. The best criticism here is “we should do more”. Well, ok, that’s always a criticism.

    PS: I’m sure there’s studies done on this in psychology on how and why people fall for propaganda in communist countries, for example. From my own limited experience (having been born in a communist country)…people don’t fall for propaganda. It’s usually really bad and transparent. People simply chose to accept it because it already fits their world view.

    There is no idiot in Russia who thinks the Ukrainians were crucifying Russians (actual Russian TV story). But a lot of people already have a world view that is susceptible to accept such stories, even when they know they are lies.

    • #17
  18. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    AIG:

     “conservatives” are just as willing, capable and susceptible to invent a fantasy world to fit their short-term political agenda as Liberals are.

    I believe that. I believe it is a deep weakness of American politics, across the board. My own definition of “conservative” may be different from others, but it is–in essence–“A preference for dealing with the world as it as, rather than as we wish it were.” Telling me “I’m a conservative” won’t sell me on any given Policy X. Telling me, “I can see the difference between reality and the way things ought to be, and this is my strategy for bringing the former close to the latter without taking an outsize risk of making things even worse” just might–depending on the quality of the argument.

    The issue here is not just the military. Of course no one in his right mind thinks we can win a war–conventional or nuclear–with Russia. The question is how to persuade Russia that the price of pursuing traditional Russian expansionism is not worth it–and do so without ending up in a conventional or nuclear war. I am not persuaded that we are deeply serious about this, yet.

    • #18
  19. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    jetstream:Even if there were the public awareness you’re advocating, why would the Obama/Kerry response be different from their response to ISIS, i.e. doodling around and claiming victory?

    How many airstrikes does the US conduct against ISIS targets per day? How many Iraqi troops are engaged in fighting? Where? What does Russia’s economy look like these days?

    You may not find answers to these questions in “conservative” news sites.

    • #19
  20. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Claire Berlinski:

    The issue here is not just the military. Of course no one in his right mind thinks we can win a war–conventional or nuclear–with Russia. The question is how to persuade Russia that the price of pursuing traditional Russian expansionism is not worth it–and do so without ending up in a conventional and nuclear war. I am not persuaded that we are deeply serious about this, yet.

    Ok. Fair enough.

    • #20
  21. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    AIG:

    jetstream:Even if there were the public awareness you’re advocating, why would the Obama/Kerry response be different from their response to ISIS, i.e. doodling around and claiming victory?

    How many airstrikes does the US conduct against ISIS targets per day? How many Iraqi troops are engaged in fighting? Where? What does Russia’s economy look like these days?

    You may not find answers to these questions in “conservative” news sites.

    On average less than 10 strikes/day .. it’s not an air war, it’s just doodling around.

    I don’t know what the number of Iraqi troops are, but they haven’t performed well – in some cases they haven’t performed at all.

    Russia’s economy?

    • #21
  22. AUMom Member
    AUMom
    @AUMom

    Solzhenitsyn’s speech to Harvard many years ago was the first inkling I had that even without an oppressive regime, Russians would not think like the West. I mistakenly thought all educated folks honored Western civilization, not the USA but the West. I know, incredibly naive and stupid of me.

    A family friend, who was the Moscow correspondent for NBC several years ago, told my father he could not conceive of the depth of corruption or depravity of the Russian society. This man had spent decades in Europe and DC. He knew what both corruption and depravity looked like. He said it was completely amoral.

    We in the States take our ability to hear and read news so for granted, we just assume every has the same opportunity that we do. Yeah, they may have to work a little harder but it’s available. It is not. A friend who spent a year in China said she stopped thinking about some things because she knew their apartment was bugged, their driver was a spy, and the workplace was bugged. When you stop talking about things, many times you stop thinking of them as well. Russians are not waiting for us to come and rescue them from Putin.

    All the above to say, I know that Russia is far more dangerous than ISIS, Al Queda, and Boko Harum on steroids. I just don’t know what to do about it.

    • #22
  23. user_494971 Contributor
    user_494971
    @HankRhody

    I know a guy who will argue that Russia is not up to anything nefarious. Leaves me flabbergasted. Hippies smell, politicians are corrupt and Russia is up to something nefarious. That’s just the way the world works.

    • #23
  24. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    jetstream:

    Russia’s economy?

    You know that’s not a response, right?

    On average less than 10 strikes/day .. it’s not an air war, it’s just doodling around.

    About 70 sorties per day. But hey, whatever number I give you, you’ll say…tis but a scratch!

    So what would be the point

    • #24
  25. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    AIG:

    But, another problem that “conservatives” have here is that many don’t understand that their own constituents or “allies” are a problem here. As are the willingness to let short-term petty domestic politics, get in the way of long-term goals (i.e. as the GOP did in 1999 against Clinton…one of the most shameful performances of the GOP)

    Putin’s allies are “conservatives”, “libertarians” and all sort of “right wing” or “center right” parties in Europe. Many do it because of an ideological affinity for Putinism. Others do it for the sort-term political convenience of opposing existing parties in power. Putin’s allies include many of the “right” Parties in Europe, from UKIP to Le Penn in France or Orban in Hungary to Berlusconi in Italy to now even Sarkozy in France. All useful idiots…and many of them…”our” useful idiots.

    Oh, this conservative understands that problem. Only too well.

    Agree.

    • #25
  26. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    AIG:So when I say “people do understand this”, or when BalticSnowTiger says “people don’t understand this”…the real question is, which people? Only certain people need to understand this.

    Fair enough. Let’s break the question down further:

    1) Who, in your view, exactly needs to understand this deeply enough to respond to this as the national security emergency it is? (I’ll let you define this group.)

    2) Do you think they understand it well enough?

    3) Does the US public understand it well enough to say, “Yes, we’re opening our wallets–big time,” or “No, x, y, & z are damned fool responses?”  x, y, and z, I presume will be a series of authorizations for spending–involving many different programs– over the coming decades.

    Throw away the party distinctions on this one–it’s a national security question. I am more than prepared to believe (in fact, I take it as given) that there are people on both sides of the aisle who are unwise and incompetent to make this decision. And more than willing to believe that there are people on both sides who are wise and competent.

    What I’m not prepared to believe is that the public, generally, grasps the gravity of the problem, or how much money we’re going to have to spend (at the very least) to contain it in the coming decades.

    • #26
  27. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    AIG:

    Third issue. You mentioned in earlier posts that the problem with the US strategy is that we aren’t in “lock step” with some of our “allies”. But that’s…a good thing…given what these “allies” are doing vis a vis Russia. Why would I want the US to be guided by the wills of France or Germany, which are clearly not capable nor willing to do much about Putin? I certainly want the US to take a much stronger position, and to tell Hollande and Merkel to follow us.

    Agree. I think, though, that part of this problem–a very significant part–is that they’re looking at the US and seeing a public that isn’t all that interested. They have concluded from this that we’re not remotely united about this, and thus can’t really be trusted to stay interested.

    • #27
  28. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    AIG:

    Why does it matter? Are we trying to change the minds of the Russian people? Why? First off, we’re not going to succeed. Russians have loved crazed dictators for 1,000 years. Who cares what they want. Are we trying to change the minds of Turks or Arabs? We’re not going to succeed. Made-up realities are a staple of daily life there. Are we trying to change the minds of Europeans? Who cares?

    On this, I deeply disagree, but I need to write a longer argument about this. I am not in favor of the US going into the propaganda business. But I think honest public diplomacy–not propaganda–is profoundly important. I base this on my experience of Turkey. This story is one I’d write at book length, if I could. But if you look at the numbers, you’ll see that during the time I lived there, the US went from being a “popular country” to “a deeply unpopular one.” My very-vague sense is that half of this may be attributed to Turkey’s government and to global trends over which we have no control. The other half–and I would love to be able to prove this, not just assert it, but for that I’d need time and funding, which I can’t get–is owed to the way our government presents itself in Turkey.

    If you asked me to come up with a program for “being hated by Turks,” it would look very much like what we did. By accident, I assume. I can’t believe we do it on purpose. But if Turks are looking for any reason not to believe the lies they’re being told by their government about anything, they sure won’t hear the truth from us. Ever. We don’t even defend the truth about ourselves when it comes to the most basic, obvious, provable things: When the prime minister of Turkey said we casually massacred OWS protesters, we didn’t say, “No, really, we didn’t.” So why should anyone in Turkey believe otherwise? They can’t read English. Multiply things like that over time, daily–what do you think happens over the course of a decade?

    • #28
  29. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    AIG:

    So, I take it then that you are not in favor of the critiques that Ricochet members have been making of Obama’s request from Congress on ISIS?

    Hell no, I am not. I must have missed that debate. And it’s not even the ballpark debate we need to be having, is it? The debate is, “How do we destroy ISIS without empowering Assad, Iran, and Russia?”

    I would guess the rational strategic perspective is this: start from the top: Put Russia back in the cage. Then you have no Assad–and a much less threatening Iran. After that, ISIS is a nasty, nasty problem–and no way we’ll clean that up from the air (you loving the look of Libya?)–but at least Russia will think a bit before seeing Syria as a terrific place to send Americans home in body bags. That is precisely how they now view it.

    Unfortunately, this all has to be done at once, and now. And without screwing any of it up. And meanwhile, we also have quite a number of other emergencies on our hands–which in more normal times would be viewed as such. What happened in Yemen would usually be “the news,” not “oh, as a passing footnote … “

    • #29
  30. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    AIG:

    When people say things like “our Navy is smaller than it was pre-WW2″, that means nothing. A guided missile destroyer today is multiple times more powerful than a cruiser was, 30 years ago. So how can one compare on the bases of numbers? One can’t. We had 100,000 airplanes in WW2. We have 5,000 today. Is our air force today weaker then in WW2? Of course not. It’s far more powerful.

    Once again you demonstrate that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about, which is equally infuriating and tedious.

    For one thing 30 years ago was 1985. Not only are the guided missile destroyers of today not magically more powerful than guided missile cruisers of yesterday, they often have (and had) the exact same weapons. In fact the Ticonderoga-class CGs were based on the Spruance-class destroyers, with the same hull design and powerplant. Their planned replacement, by the way, was so expensive that the planned thirty was cut back to three. So the navy resumed building a modified version of the 1980s Arleigh Burke design, lacking any better alternative.

    Worse, China is now building up their own navy, including aircraft carriers, and a destroyer design quite similar to the Arleigh Burke-class, including a phased array radar system, either stolen or designed locally.

    Meanwhile, most of the present US Navy was built during the 1980s and 1990s, meaning those ships are going to need replacement rather soon.

    But they won’t be replaced. So I bet by 2025 China will have a navy as large or larger than the USN is now, if nothing changes.

    And it seems nothing will change, because the people running the US, from Barry on down, can’t imagine any real threats to the US, or don’t care about them.

    Except for those Tea Party people, that is. They’re terribly afraid of those people.

    Russia? China? No problem.

    • #30

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