Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Not Quite A Useful Idiot, Just Naive

A good friend sent me the link to the following article in the Washington Examiner, and called the author a “Useful Idiot”.

Useful Idiot, in Wikipedia:

In political jargon, a useful idiot is a derogatory term for a person perceived as a propagandist for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who is used cynically by the leaders of the cause.

I could quite easily throw the label of “useful idiot” at Adam for his article, but he doesn’t appear to be actively supporting a Russian perspective, at least not for propaganda purposes.

What he does not seem to be aware about Russia is, a few examples of their actions in the past five or so years:

  • Russia is actively undermining the West through information warfare, since 2014
  • Russia shot down MH-17, killed 298 people, and still does not accept responsibility
  • Russia is aligned with every rogue nation in the world, for instance:
    • Venezuela
    • Syria
    • North Korea
  • Russia has invaded
    • Georgia twice – Abkhazia and South Ossetia
    • Ukraine twice – Crimea and Donbas
    • Helped rip out a section of Moldova called Transnistria
  • Russia is laundering illicit funds through Donbas and South Ossetia
  • Russia is actively provoking Ukraine, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and many countries of NATO
    • In the air
    • In the water
    • Under the water
  • Russia is assassinating people in foreign countries, the Skripals are a prime example
  • Russia is actively hacking other countries
    • The GRU was caught, redhanded, hacking the Hague
  • Russia has yet to honor a single agreement or treaty without cheating. In the case of the Minsk agreement, they have yet to fully comply

Russia accepts no responsibility for their actions. It has become so unacceptable that some are calling for Russia to lose its veto authority on the UN Security Council due to a long list of repeated abuses.

Now I’d like to reply to a few of your points.

First, this has nothing to do with domestic politics, Mueller’s report, or even any cloud surrounding any issues.  This is about foreign policy.

Adam, we had to bomb Syrian targets because Russia would not send a strong enough message to their ‘strategic partner’ – you may not use chemical weapons on your own people.

Adam, the sanctions on Russia are not to gain regime change in Russia or to make Putin nicer. The sanctions are to punish Russia until they return Crimea to Ukraine, return Donbas to Ukraine, accept responsibility for MH-17, stop waging information warfare on the US and several other reasons. We wish we could lift these sanctions, if only Russia would abide by international law.

Russia will always claim they are the victim, no matter what we do. That is how Putin survives.

Yes, Putin fears losing the support of his people. Most of his information warfare efforts are pointed internally. He has created a ‘proletarian guard’ of 350,000 soldiers that answer only to him.  His intelligence apparatus monitors and controls every type of communication in Russia. Yes, he is that paranoid.

Yes, we could cut back on defense funding, but as long as Putin actively threatens us with hypersonic weapons and vast Armies, we must maintain a deterrent force.

Adam, as long as Russia behaves like a petulant child and does not abide by international standards, we must remain vigilant and strong.

Adam, we agree, it would be good if Russia behaved. Then they would be a good trading partner. Until then, Russia’s vast economic potential is lost – due to Russia’s own actions.  We must hold Russia responsible for their actions.

</end editorial>

President Trump is breathing a huge sigh of relief now that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report has finally drawn to a close and failed to produce any evidence of Russian collusion. But now Trump needs to capitalize on the moment by strategically lifting sanctions and trying to normalize relations with Russia, lest he risks falling under the influence of establishment, pro-war influences here at home.

To maintain his hold on power, Vladimir Putin is willing to take his nation, even the world, to the brink of nuclear war. He’s already said he “wouldn’t want a world without Russia.” It would be wise for the U.S. to learn from its past mistakes and avoid its failed policy of foreign intervention and democracy-building in Russia. Trump simply needs to call a truce and make Russia a non-event.

Even before the Mueller report was released, it had been clear that Trump is no Russian pawn — he struck Syria (a close Russian ally) after former President Barack Obama refused to, and has only amped up the sanctions against Russia. These sanctions, implemented by Trump and the presidents before him, haven’t achieved their goal of regime change or a “nicer” Putin. Instead, they’ve just solidified Putin’s political position by giving the Russian people a scapegoat to blame for all their problems (the West).

Trump is a successful businessman, so he knows the persuasive role of carrots and sticks. He has demonstrated it with both North Korea and China. But if he wants to de-escalate tensions with Russia, the nation with the most nukes, he must offer its people a taste of Western economic opportunity and freedom. The more than 60 rounds of U.S. sanctions on Russian companies and individuals, and the Russian countersanctions, have severely limited trade, while visa requirements have limited travel to the West. Lifting these restrictions on Western goods and travel would allow Russian people, especially those with money and sway in Russian politics, to realize the benefits of friendship with America.

Putin fears losing the support of his people, especially his inner circle, far more than he fears the economic ramifications of the sanctions America imposes. More sanctions, as many in Congress have called for, would only further play into his hand. But strategic sanctions relief, resulting in growing respect for the West among Russians, could force Putin to seek better relations.

An improved Russia relationship would push the nation to also partner with the U.S. on foreign policy issues, and significantly decrease our spending on proxy wars like those in Syria and Ukraine waged against Russian-backed militias. Finally, we could cut back on our trillion-dollar defense budget. Right now, frankly, the U.S. has far more to fear from $22 trillion of debt than from the self-preserving dictator Putin.

Many in the Pentagon benefit greatly from our spending toward preparing for total war with Russia and China. They’re part of the same military-industrial (and now intelligence) complex that sought to pressure Trump into escalating tensions with the Russians by perpetuating the now-disproven collusion scandal. They argue Putin attempted to influence the U.S. election (as may have the Ukrainians, whom the U.S. still supports unwaveringly), and that Putin is a despot with a dismal human rights record. That part is true — but so was Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi, and countless others like them. When the U.S. helped eliminate their regimes, we faced the consequences of instability, terrorism, and even more human rights abuses. Putin has the world’s largest arsenal of nukes. If we back him into a corner, should we gamble on his hesitancy to use them?

Trying to force regime change isn’t the answer, either. Russia is a motley state of different ethnicities held together by the unrelenting grasp of its dictator. If released, it would likely fall apart into many republics, some of which (like Chechnya) have a history of terrorism, while others have long been eyed by China, another powerful U.S. adversary that could neatly step in to fill Russia’s void.

We stand to gain little from regime change in Russia, but much to gain economically from normalizing relations. Detente with Russia could open up countless closed-off markets (like Belarus and Kazakhstan) to Western goods, and help to resolve other costly conflicts like North Korea and Syria. Now that President Trump has been vindicated from accusations of collusion, he can return to the negotiating table with Putin — using his trademark entrepreneurialism and a renewed resolve for peace.

Adam Barsouk is a medical student, cancer researcher, and Young Voices contributor.