Comment: On the Trump/Russia Crisis and Current Applications of Public Diplomacy

The reasoning used by the US intelligence community to conclude that Russia attempted to influence the US election in favor of Trump is identifiable in terms of “public diplomacy.”  To understand its current use, one must be familiar with the development of US Army strategies, or what is being called “the future of war,” and the Russian reactions to this precedent.

* * *

On January 19, 2017, The New York Times published a story saying, “The American government has concluded the Russian government was responsible for a broad computer hacking campaign, including the operation against the D.N.C.”[1]  The conclusion referred to the Director of National Intelligence report released on January 6, 2017.[2]  On every page of this report it says “This report is a declassified version of a highly classified assessment; its conclusions are identical to those in the highly classified assessment but this version does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the influence campaign.”  The statement tells you right away it is not standard.  Simply reading “This report is a declassified version of a highly classified assessment” should be enough to tip one off that this document is crafted to imply there is some very secret method of determining whether or not influence campaigns in broadcast media are taking place.  But the end, “this version does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the influence campaign,” indicates that the disclaimer is particular to this document and the set of facts within it – it was written for publication.

The “Key Judgments” include language such as “expressions” of “desires” to “undermine the US-led liberal democratic order.”  The ICA “assess” that Putin himself ordered “an influence campaign” to “denigrate” Clinton.  Further, they “assess” that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” and “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”  The influence campaign consisted of “a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert…with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.” [3]  These judgments consist of expressions of desires, “clear” preferences, aspirations, and assessments of perceptions.  It is highlighted that “systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.”[4]  They are admitting “influence” does not mean election outcome; it means ideational content being perpetuated.  Delving deeper a reader will discover that these are “assessments” being made with inferences from “Putin’s public comments.”  The document includes questionable reasoning, such as this direct quote: “Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.”[5]  It seems a like a melodrama.

The reasoning used by the US intelligence community to conclude that Russia attempted to influence the US election in favor of Trump is identifiable in terms of “public diplomacy.”  To understand its current use, one must be familiar with the development of US Army strategies, or what is being called “the future of war,” and the Russian reactions to this precedent.

“Public diplomacy” is an application of “soft power.”  Soft power, according to Rhodes Scholar Joseph Nye, is the ability to co-opt the preferences of others, based on their positive perception of one’s values, practices, policies, and relationships with foreign actors.[6]  Institutions engaging in public diplomacy initiate and shape public dialogues, define and manage debate parameters, create and maintain networks of friendly foreigners, and monitor opinion polls.  Smith and Mos describe public diplomacy as “basically an extension of the propaganda and psychological warfare techniques developed during World War II.”  They contrast public diplomacy with the New Public Diplomacy (NPD) on the grounds that (1) NPD is applied by non-state actors in addition to the government, (2) it is tied to domestic propaganda, and (3) not aimed at persuasion, but ‘creating a dialogue’.[7]   Nye has described the “development of lasting relationships with key individuals over many years,” listing “access to media channels” as an avenue for successful public diplomacy.[8]   Often these networks develop from the interaction of government bureaucracies, think tanks, philanthropies, and corporations; “many areas that are not covered by traditional international relations.”[9]  Boyer says that “most U.S.-led government-to-people or U.S.-sponsored people-to-people activities designed to further professional, educational, or cultural collaboration or understanding would fall under the U.S. public diplomacy umbrella.”[10]

It is important to note, as Osipova says, “Moscow…perceives Western soft power as a threat, recasting Nye’s originally Liberal concept in terms of…what the Kremlin sees as the modern modes of warfare: soft power and public diplomacy.”[11]  Soft power is a threat because the overall Russian perspective focuses on countering and preventing the “primary threat of regime change,” “color revolutions”.[12]   The US developed a form of warfare that includes the leveraging of emotional propaganda, outrage movements, and the rhetoric of human rights.  Claims of rights abuse, corruption, or otherwise unflattering characterizations of authorities are spread on social media to produce outrage movements (social justice warriors).  Western NGOs, such as the Ford Foundation, Soros’ Open Society, and the National Endowment for Democracy, orchestrate these campaigns.  In other words, the non-state US foreign policy actors have and are using the ideology of liberalism as a tool for ideological subversion in other regions in the world.

The Russians developed countermeasures that defend their own position of regime stability from these forces seeking to upset it.  Russian countermeasures are then identified by the Western think tanks and intelligence agencies as ‘disinformation’ and ‘information warfare’.  The reports from Chatham and Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) are particularly alarmist in their identification of Russian methods of information warfare.  Because the outrages movements are using the rhetoric of liberalism, the Russians see themselves as needing to prevent the spread of liberalism into their sphere of influence.  Russian public diplomacy, the use of RT and other foreign language international media broadcasting to broadcast pro-Russia information, has since been developed into “an alternative cultural, moral, and civilizational pole in the world to be followed by those unhappy with Western liberalism.”[13]  This definitional dilemma posed by the weaponization of ideology is the real threat.

The institutions the Russians are said to have hacked are identified as “US primary campaigns, think tanks, and lobbying groups they viewed as likely to shape future US policies.”[14]  Chatham House and CSIS may be two of these think tanks.  These think tanks are institutions classified under the category of “public diplomacy.”  In 2015 and 2016, each published very questionable analyses and condemnations of Russian economic and political behavior.[15]  In the CSIS report, the authors identified Russia as “a champion of traditional, conservative, and nationalist values (rooted in Eastern Orthodox Christianity).”[16]  Keir Giles, at Oxford, in a Chatham House publication, labeled “Western values and vital interests” as “not reconcilable with those of Russia,” and “adjusting for that reality in long-term management of the relationship, is crucial.”[17]   Thus, when Trump and Trump voters oppose the social justice warrior conception of politically correct liberalism, they are identified as having a converging perspective with Russian defense requirements.  That is why the US intelligence community is suspicious of Trump and his surrogates.  The US intelligence community and military take foreign propaganda seriously, especially when it is part of military operations, i.e., ‘weaponized’ information dissemination.

Recently, Matthew Armstrong testified at a House Armed Services Committee hearing that “Infowars” was an “echo chamber” for the “modalities” of Russian news organizations like RT and Sputnik.[18]  Armstrong, formerly a Board member at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (the “public diplomacy” face of US propaganda dissemination), is a “strategist on public diplomacy and international media,” runs a blog on the subject, and is an “associate fellow” in Communications at King’s College London.[19]  As this comment posits, “public diplomacy” is indeed the literature relevant to understanding US intelligence community concerns with Russian information broadcasting and Trump.

McClatchy published a story on an apparent FBI probe of US media one day after its original posting.  They, however, changed the headline a day after posting.  This helped draw attention to apparent targets in that ongoing FBI probe.  When the article was posted it was titled “FBI’s Russian-influence probe includes a look at far-right news sites,” but, a day later, it was renamed “FBI’s Russian-influence probe includes a look at Breitbart, InfoWars news sites.”[20]  The McClatchy article reported that the Russians used botnets to increase artificially the coverage of certain stories favored by the Russians, like Wikileaks’ releases of John Podesta’s emails.  Further, while the McClatchy article did not say there was evidence that Russian’s were using bots to push Brietbart and Infowars, the article was arranged in a way to imply just that, among other things.

Breitbart is likely included because of the suspicion and hostility surrounding Steve Bannon, who helped found and run Breitbart, which he left to become CEO of Trump’s Presidential Campaign.  After Trump was elected, he appointed Bannon to White House Chief Strategist.  He had previously written on his concern that Obama was hosting Chinese agents-of-influence.[21]  Trump then broke with traditional bureaucratic protocol when he elevated Bannon’s position to one that interacts with the National Security Council at their “Principles” meetings.  Bannon’s political perspectives are informed by similar elements of consideration as Aleksander Dugin, a political theorist and TV pundit in Russia.  This is not a perspective that is confined to partisan politics in the United States.  It refers to the long-term implications of globalizing liberal technological development and traditional values recognized as religious or national.  Horowitz says Bannon suggested “the importance of using nationalism to stand up for traditional institutions” at a Vatican meeting in 2014.

We, the Judeo-Christian West,” Mr. Bannon added, “really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as Traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism.[22]

At that Vatican meeting, Bannon named “the pan-European union” as one of the primary political problems in the West, along with “centralized government in the US,” by which he meant the administrative state.[23]  These issues being unfamiliar to the vast majority of people, at least in the US, according to the US intelligence community, it appears, opens Breitbart up for investigation as possible dupes or agents of the Russian government.  These convergences justifying investigation require one has already ruled out the possibility of legitimate native dissent from the stated opposition.

Presumably, Infowars is named in the FBI probe because of their open interactions with Russians on the air.  Infowars, shortly after Trump’s inauguration, attempted a dialogue with Aleksander Dugin.[24]  Almost certainly, the US intelligence community (and “public diplomats”) observed this on air conversation with disdain.  Armstrong’s comments that “Infowars” is an “echo chamber for those modalities” of Russian news organizations like RT and Sputnik is a really tenuous connection.[25]  Modality is synonymous with method.  If the method is the comparative metric, then many things fit into the category of “echo chamber” for those methods.  What Armstrong could have articulated in the hearing, but did not, is that RT and Infowars engage in what professionals call “public diplomacy.”  An example in itself of “public diplomacy” or “cultural exchange,” Alex Jones opening up a friendly conversation with an influential Russian political theorist and ideologue was an attempt to identify common interests and viewpoints – to defuse hostility and misunderstanding on a cultural, rather than policy, level.  Alex Jones says as much before he begins the interview.  The exchange revealed terminological confusions, yet was probably a success for both Jones and Dugin.  A critical confusion they had was over the concept of Atlanticism.[26]  Their approaches to the subject differed in that Dugin started with geostrategy and ended up at culture, and Jones started from history and philosophy and moved to geopolitics.  Dugin referred to Halford J. Mackinder as the main progenitor of the Anglo-American Atlanticist geostrategic perspective that targets the Eurasian ‘heartland’, which the Russians perceive as their geostrategic imperative.  Dugin was, of course, referring to All Souls-Oxford and the Rhodes/Milner Round Table, the pan-European Movement, NATO, and US-led globalism.[27]  These are the actual institutions people refer to when they use the phrase “the West.”  Jones referred to Atlanticism, philosophically, through Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis.  North America as the New Atlantis, according to Jones, was and should be the proper vision for the United States, a technological society governed by a higher reason than typically employed in politics.  Jones is Jeffersonian in his thinking on this subject.  He laments that the Western elite, for the ends of geopolitical power, have perverted Bacon’s vision.  Dugin agreed, and credited [Pat?] “Buchanan” in saying “America has warned the world, but has lost itself.”  Continuing, that “that is very tragic…America stopped to be real America, and became instrument for globalist, international, anti-national” forces.  This is an accurate characterization of the US in the 20th century; it is alienated from is anti-imperial soul, and is under the influence of what amounts to British international/imperial thinking.  Despite the rhetorical confusions, the two agreed on many points such as respect for national sovereignty and borders, respect for diverse cultures around the world, and that the bad guys are the “globalists” trying to undermine and homogenize those things.  Dugin, hinting at his and Putin’s perspective of Trump, declared that since the US election, “anti-Americanism has vanished” in Russia.  Thus, the US and Russia are not cultural enemies if they each recognize and respect their respective sovereignties.  Why that is a bad thing, the US intelligence community will probably need to explain.  It is not hard to see why the US intelligence community is attempting to say Alex Jones is being or has been manipulated by the Russians so they can spread their disinformation to Jones’ audience.  This is, however, absurd.   Conscious attempts to reach common grounds are simply not the preferred avenue for those in the intelligence community.  Attempting to do so outside of their direction is seen as threatening.  There is a convergence of opposition to the international ruling class among US nationalists and Russians.  Needless to say, these are very big ideas, Atlanticism and Eurasianism, and will need a larger public debate moving forward.  The assumptions, judgments, and strategies in the upper echelon of the US intelligence community, which leads them incorrectly to think convergence is tantamount to collusion, are at odds with these observations, and should be questioned.

[1] Michael S. Schmidt, Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman, and Matt Apuzzo, “Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates,” The New York Times, January 19, 2017.

[2]‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,’” Intelligence Community Assessment, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, January 6, 2017.

[3]  “‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,’” p. ii.

[4]  “‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,’” p. iii.

[5]  “‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,’” p. 1.

[6] Joseph S. Nye Jr., “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 616, Iss. 1, March 2008, pp. 95-96.

[7] Giles Scott-Smith & Martijn Mos, “Democracy promotion and the New Public Diplomacy,” in New Directions in US Foreign Policy, Parmar, Miller, and Lewidge, eds., Routledge, 2009, p. 227.  Iran-Contra was considered to be a “public diplomacy program.”  See, Robert Parry and Peter Kornbluh, “Iran-Contra’s Untold Story,” Foreign Policy, No. 72, Autumn 1988, p. 4.  On the development of psychological warfare research as the professionalized academic field of mass communications, see Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion: Communication Research & Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960, Oxford University Press, 1996.

[8] Joseph S. Nye, Jr., “Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century,” the Globalist, May 10, 2004.

[9] Spencer P. Boyer, “Transatlantic Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century,” in Smarter Power: The Key to a Strategic Transatlantic Partnership, Jehan & Simonyi, eds., Center for Transatlantic Relations, 2014, pp. 149-150.  Outside of traditional international relations, Parmar and Rietzler identify, as a “key thread” in “the history of US foundation philanthropy in the twentieth century,” the “centrality of knowledge to political and state power. … builders of heavily politicised knowledge networks—networks that may be likened to epistemic communities or, in Gramscian terms, networks of organic intellectuals linked with the US state as well as with civil society.” Inderjeet Parmar & Katharina Rietzler, “American Philanthropy and the Hard, Smart, and Soft Power of the United States,” Global Society, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2014, p. 4

[10] Boyer, “Transatlantic Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century,” pp. 149-150.  On the use of culture as covert/overt diplomacy and soft power and dialogues, see also, Jacob Crawford, “From Flynn to McMaster: The ‘Future of War’ and the Three Dimensions of Proxies in U.S. Political Warfare,” March 14, 2017, pp. 6-8.

[11] Emphasis added.  Yelena Osipova, “Indigenizing Soft Power in Russia,” in The Routledge Handbook of Soft Power, Naren Chitty, Li Ji, Gary Rawnsley, Craig Hayden, eds., Routledge, 2017, p. 4.

[12] Charles K. Bartles, “Russia’s Indirect and Asymmetric Methods as a Response to the New Western Way of War,” Special Operations Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2016, p. 4.  See also, Charles K. Bartles, “Getting Gerasimov Right,” Military Review, Jan/Feb 2016, pp. 30-38. ; Jacob Crawford, “From Flynn to McMaster: The ‘Future of War’ and the Three Dimensions of Proxies in U.S. Political Warfare,” March 14, 2017, pp. 1-2, 6-14.

[13] Osipova, “Indigenizing Soft Power in Russia,” p. 5.

[14]‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,’” p. 2.

[15] On the relation of these reports to the use of “fake news” in the 2016 election, see Jacob Crawford, “Legitimacy of Lexicon,” February 14, 2017.

[16] Conley, Mina, Stefanov & Vladmirov, The Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe, Center for Strategic & International Studies, Rowman & Littlefield, October 2016, p. 6.

[17] Keir Giles, “Russia’s ‘New’ Tools for Confronting the West: Continuity and Innovation in Moscow’s Exercise of Power,” Chatham House Russia and Eurasia Programme Research Paper, March 2016,” p. 69.

[18] Also, see Matthew Armstrong, “The Past, Present, and Future of the War for Public Opinion,” War on the Rocks, January 19, 2017.  This was submitted to the record at Armstrong’s House Committee testimony on March 15, 2017.

[19] The BBG is comprised of the US information agencies now allowed to disseminate propaganda domestically.  See, Tim Cushing, “’Anti-Propaganda’ Ban Repealed, Freeing State Dept. To Direct Its Broadcasting Arm At American Citizens,” techdirt, July 15, 2013.

[20] The first headline and post can be viewed here: Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, “FBI’s Russian-influence probe includes a look at far-right news sites,” McClatchy, March 20, 2017.  The second can be seen here:  Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, “FBI’s Russian-influence probe includes a look at Breitbart, InfoWars news sites,” McClatchy, March 21, 2017.

[21] Stephen K. Bannon, “A Cancer at the Center of the Presidency: Robert Roche a Chinese Agent-of-Influence?Breitbart, October 21, 2012.

[22] Jason Horowitz, “Steve Bannon Cited Italian Thinker Who Inspired Fascists,” The New York Times, February 10, 2017.

[23] Jason Horowitz, “Steve Bannon Cited Italian Thinker Who Inspired Fascists,” The New York Times, February 10, 2017. ; Philip Hamburger, Is Administrative Law Unlawful?, University Of Chicago Press, 2014.

[24] The full interview is here: Aleksander Dugin interviewed by Alex Jones on February 7, 2017.

[25] Interestingly, Armstrong, formerly a Board member at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (the “public diplomacy” face of US propaganda dissemination), is a “strategist on public diplomacy and international media” and runs a blog on the subject.  The BBG is comprised of the US information institutions allowed to disseminate propaganda domestically in 2013.  See, Tim Cushing, “’Anti-Propaganda’ Ban Repealed, Freeing State Dept. To Direct Its Broadcasting Arm At American Citizens,” techdirt, July 15, 2013.  Just as this paper posits, “public diplomacy” is indeed the literature relevant to understanding US intelligence community concerns with Russian information broadcasting and Trump.  They are worried about the spread of Russian values, i.e., religious conservatism.

[26] Alex Jones and Aleksander Dugin, “Aleksander Dugin: Trump Is The Rebirth of America,” The Alex Jones Channel: Youtube, February 7, 2017.

[27] On the Atlantic networks and ideas see, Andrea Bosco, The Round Table Movement and the Fall of the ‘Second’ British Empire, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017, esp. pp. 23-26 & notes. ; Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment: From Rhodes to Cliveden, Books in Focus, 1981. ; Alex May, The Round Table, 1910-1966, Oxford Thesis, 1995. ; Andrea Bosco, June 1940, Great Britain and the First Attempt to Build a European Union, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017, pp. 203-259. ; Lord Robertson, “NATO and the Transatlantic Community: The ‘Continuous Creation,’” Journal of Transatlantic Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2003, pp. 1-7. ; Richard J. Aldrich, “O.S.S., C.I.A. and European Unity: The American Committee on United Europe, 1948-1960,” Diplomacy & Statecraft, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1997, pp. 184-227. ; Inderjeet Parmar, Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power, Columbia University Press, 2012, pp. 65-96.

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