Last month saw a duo of “news” stories making the rounds about this or that Russia-based hacker group that’s “almost certainly linked” to Russian state intelligence. Bloomberg.com and USA Today were among those running with “Russia Accused of Vaccine Hacking,” while the AP had a second go at “Russia Behind Spread of Virus Disinformation,” which originally surfaced in April.
It’s hard to believe anyone could spread more COVID-19 disinformation than the CDC, WHO, NIH, MSM, YouTube/Google and a bunch of power-drunk governors — based on which we’ve built backward health policy, destroyed the economy and killed more people than the very individualized virus ever meant to. Interestingly, many Americans are deeply invested in our trusted COVID-19 disinformation, as it’s proving a useful tool for influencing the upcoming election (against the incumbent), with Facebook and Google-owned YouTube shutting down doctors who deviate from the steady diet of bad or worse news about the coronavirus.
Tucker Carlson analyzed it on his show last month: “Unhappy people want change … Democrats therefore have a strong incentive to inflict as much pain as they can … [T]hey told us that mass quarantines were essential … we were saving lives with our suffering … But as summer approached, it became clear that … science had nothing to do with this. Studies from around the world showed that being outside was far safer than staying at home … And yet governors continued to maintain mandatory shelter-in-place orders … Your kids weren’t allowed to have graduation ceremonies or get married. But hundreds of thousands of confirmed Joe Biden voters were allowed to flood the streets and break things. And then mid-summer came. With the election just months away, America’s suffering had to be intensified … So schools across the country would stay closed in the fall. No one bothered to explain the science behind this, because there wasn’t any. School children remained nearly immune to the fatal effects of the coronavirus … Nearly ¾ of Americans now say their country has become a much worse place than it was. Doctors have prescribed so much Zoloft, the anti-depressant, that it’s now on the Federal drug shortage list … It’s a tragedy. But for Democrats, it’s a win.”
Election meddling, anyone? Talk about disrupting our democratic process, and sowing divisions and planting disinformation. Russia’s got nothing on some of our fellow Americans. But what, exactly, was the latest Russian “disinformation?”
“Among the headlines that caught the attention of U.S. officials,” read the July 28 AP article, “were ‘Russia’s Counter COVID-19 Aid to America Advances Case for Détente,’ which suggested that Russia had given urgent and substantial aid to the U.S. to fight the pandemic.” The nerve of those Russkies, trying to spin a friendship out of this.
It’s a retread of April’s hand-wringing over Russian constructiveness potentially reducing the chances of war, God forbid, by legitimizing Russia in the eyes of the world. So to keep us on the warpath, the article connects the “disinformation” to the bigger trigger word, “election”: “The disclosure comes as the spread of disinformation … is an urgent concern heading into November’s presidential election as U.S. officials look to avoid a repeat of the 2016 contest, when a Russian troll farm launched a covert social media campaign to divide American public opinion.”
Ah, that indivisible American public opinion, especially in an election year. Why, it’s easier to split an atom. “U.S. officials” singled out InfoRos, which operates three websites you never heard of: InfoRos.ru, Infobrics.org and OneWorld.press, which “have leveraged the pandemic to promote anti-Western objectives and to spread disinformation.”
So, in case you’ve been getting your disinformation elsewhere, you may want to tune into these sites to validate this stretch by our indispensable intelligence agencies. Especially since on these sites — unlike news in literally every other country — “there’s also a focus on U.S. news, global politics and topical stories of the moment.” Here’s one the AP saw fit to cite from InfoRos.ru: “Chaos in the Blue Cities.” It “accompan[ied] a story that lamented how New Yorkers who grew up under the tough-on-crime approach … ‘and have zero street smarts’ must now ‘adapt to life in high-crime urban areas.’”
One could almost mistake Russian disinformation for common sense. It leaves you wondering if Russia is behind a billboard along Las Vegas’ I-15 reading, “Cities with riots are mostly run by Democrats.”
Russia doesn’t even get any points for “lamenting” the self-inflicted travails of New Yorkers, who voted for the politicians doing this to them. A 40-year-old woman was randomly stabbed in the 72nd Street subway station at noon Thursday; a 56-year-old man was sucker-punched while dining outdoors with his wife Wednesday night; photos were posted online of a man masturbating on the steps of the New York Historical Society; and onlookers witnessed an apparent overdose in the aisle of a Duane Reade across the street from the Lucerne Hotel, read an article last weekend in the (Russia-funded?)
New York Post:
“The Lucerne and the Hotel Belleclaire were recently converted into homeless shelters, with nearly 300 vagrants between them. Ten of the men are registered sex offenders, including convicted rapists, child molesters and child-porn possessors—all living a block away from a school playground. ‘It’s a great opportunity for my kids to learn compassion,’ [one mom summarized] progressive pals’ response to their new homeless neighbors.”
You don’t have to be Russian to report about this, or wish America ill if you howl with laughter.
A rare sliver of collective sanity came last week in an open letter in Politico Magazine, signed by 103 foreign policy experts and titled “It’s Time to Rethink Our Russia Policy.” The opening acknowledges that baiting Russia isn’t in our national interest; in fact — imagine this — it’s dangerous: “U.S.-Russia relations are at a dangerous dead end that threatens the U.S. national interest. We are drifting toward a fraught nuclear arms race …The global Covid-19 pandemic … rather than fostering cooperation, [has] only reinforced the current downward trajectory.”
As if we’d have it any other way. Russia, as usual, tried to utilize a common threat to mend ties and usher a Western epiphany, but this seemed only to infuriate us more, and we spun it into headlines that Russia is using the crisis to come out smelling like roses. Refreshingly, the letter recommends “a careful, dispassionate analysis and change of our current course.”
But then comes the trouble: “Russia complicates, even thwarts, our actions,” begins the usual laundry list. Our actions being, by definition, beyond reproach — especially in places like Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, etc. “[Russia] has seized territory in Ukraine and Georgia. It challenges our role as a global leader and the world order we helped build.”
As the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can attest to Georgia and Ukraine, sometimes when you start hostilities, you can end up with less land than you started with. Like Israel, Russia didn’t just decide to “seize territory” one day. And for all the mockery of the supposed simpleton in the White House, Mr. Trump didn’t miss the part where “the people of Crimea … would rather be with Russia than where they were,” as he told George Stephanopoulos in 2016. The sort of thing we laid the groundwork for when we dismissed Russian pleas to not open the Pandora’s Box of seizing Serbian land for the folks demanding it. Put another way, to not dismantle “the world order we helped build.” The very thing we now accuse Russia of doing.
Because it got in our way; then had the nerve to use our self-defeating precedent to benefit its national interest, all while causing less damage than did our Balkans misadventures that spilled out beyond the region.
At least these experts put a premium on “restoring normal diplomatic contacts” and advocate extending the New START Treaty, the only major not-yet-shredded treaty on mutual nukes, and “preserv[ing] existing constraints, such as the Open Skies Treaty.” They also recognize that sanctions should be more flexible, writing that they “reduce any incentive [Russia] might have to change course since it considers those sanctions permanent.”
Russia “changing course” shouldn’t be posited hypothetically, given that it has tried a friendly course almost fanatically, even in the midst of rigid sanctions. To give just one random, recent example, in March Mr. Putin called for sharing key technology regardless of sanctions, and pointed out that a COVID-19 vaccine “would be found more quickly if G20 countries work together,” the UK Express reported. Nor, despite sanctions, did seats for our astronauts on the Soyuz ever stop being made available. In fact, no sooner did Mr. Putin in April call the International Space Station “a clear example of the effective partnership of our countries in the interests of all mankind,” than the Pentagon brought him back to Earth by minting a sixth military branch, Space Force.
Driving home the lunacy of it all — literally — our space program is back with a vengeance, every newspaper in America devoting multi-page spreads to it. Space is all the rage, it’s everywhere you turn. Not a bad thing in and of itself, but the coupling of Russophobia and Space Rage isn’t incidental, it’s sentimental. It’s nostalgia for the greater certainties of a Cold War world, and it flies in the face of a meme-worthy quote by Barack Obama: “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” It was supposed to make Mitt Romney feel ridiculous for calling Russia “our No. 1 geopolitical foe,” apparently still laughable in 2012, but gospel by 2016.
Rather than take a look at ourselves, we one-upped the joke and regressed to the 1960s. We don’t want to be just a joke; we want to be the punchline. It’s not Russia that challenges our role as a global leader; it’s us.
Julia Gorin was a Soviet Refusenik who came to the U.S. in 1976. She is editor of “Hillarisms: The Unmaking of the First Female President.”