On July 4th, USAID published a policy-document titled “Countering Malign Russian Influence Development Framework” (CMKI). The framework is multi-faceted, incorporating elements related to the energetic sector, the legal and media environments of states in central and Eastern Europe, trade, etc.
In presenting the document, USAID administrator Mark Green first emphasized its economic components, in particular the goal of reducing the energy-dependence of central and eastern European states on Russia. However, strategic considerations such as these aside, one of the most interesting things about both Green’s statement and the policy document’s summary was their approach to and use of language. Even by the standards of a United States government agency, the preponderance of rhetorically overbearing weasel-words and lazy pejoratives was quite breathtaking.
“Disinformation,” “propaganda,” “authoritarian,” “aggression,” etc….
The usual shopping list of meaningless buzz-words.
In the Occident today, the pseudo-science referred to as “neuro-linguistic programming” has largely replaced argumentation. It’s just as well that there’s absolutely no empirical evidence whatsoever that neuro-linguistic programming actually works.
Remember when Yatsenyuk used the phrase “Russian aggression” in practically every answer to every question during press-conferences?
To say that the text of Green’s speech had Ronald Reagan’s fingerprints all over it would actually be unfair to Reagan – as ideologically possessed as Reagan was, at least he had artistic speech-writers. Even the infamous 1983 “evil empire” speech, for all its hubris, contained some stylish rhetorical flourishes. In contradistinction, here’s an example of Mark Green’s own handiwork:
“Liberty and democracy emerged in Europe and Eurasia only after remarkable acts of physical and moral courage. From D-Day, to tearing down the wall, from solidarity to the Baltics human chain, CMKI honors all of these heroes for what they fought for: human dignity, private enterprise, and free markets, citizen responsive governance lifting lives, building communities, creating hope.”
Isn’t Mark Green’s boss currently building a wall? In any case, I digress.
I can’t remember a single Reagan-speech that was so easily falsifiable in its factual claims. It’s a matter of public record that the overwhelming majority of both Polish citizens and Soviet citizens strongly favoured the continuation of public ownership of economic enterprises in 1989. Apart from a few carefully groomed Chicago boys, nobody in central or Eastern Europe was fighting for “free markets” in 1989. Green’s effort reads like an exceptionally clumsy imitation of a Ronald Reagan speech. Earlier, Green had stated that “Moscow is working relentlessly, undermining economic liberalization, reverse democratic development, and weaken the sovereignty of individual states.”
One word which Green uses over and over is “authoritarian,” but needless to say, he never specifies what he means by that adjective. Presumably, we should just take it as given that all of the United States’ geo-political adversaries are “authoritarian.” Green’s word-salad becomes particularly high-octane once he starts building collocations, for example “authoritarian misinformation” or “anti-democratic candidates” (isn’t this an oxymoron?) or, my favourite, “soft power aggression.”
The concept of “soft power” has an extremely long history, of course, starting with Confucius:
“You don’t need an ox-knife to kill a chicken.” (Analects)
However, the phrase “soft power” was first coined by the American political scientist Joseph Nye, and later popularized by Francis Fukuyama.
In the case of Russia, it seems that simply talking about “soft power” is inadequate
– with regard to Russia, we have to talk about “soft power aggression.”
The lack of self-awareness which Green’s speech betrayed defied parody – it went way beyond mere “double-standards.” For example, Green accuses Russia of “targeting countries' democratic systems and political sovereignty. It cultivates and financially supports pro-Kremlin political parties either to elect anti-democratic candidates or more often, simply to add uncertainty and confusion in the public arena,….”
And yet, only a minute later, he proudly states that “through CMKI, we offer tools to help countries develop more representative political parties and civil society groups, conduct credible elections, and institutionalize accountability in governing institutions.”
“Across the region, USAID is supporting a new generation of young political leaders to help build common ground, foster multi-party dialogue, and support the enabling environment for civil society groups.”
“Pro-Kremlin political parties,” as opposed to “representative political parties” and “civil society groups.”
You get the idea. Black hats and white hats.
As for the “new generation of young political leaders,” well, it’s good to know that the production-line which gave us Yatsenyuk and Saakashvili is still cranking out semi-educated drones.
I could go on and on itemizing these red flags, but that would be labouring the point.
In any case, I am reminded of Noam Chomsky’s well-known argument concerning the use of tautologies in American political language.
Both Green’s speech and the CMKI-document’s treatments of informational warfare are interesting. On July 4th, Green stated:
“Third, and of growing importance, at the heart of CMKI is our support for building the capacity of indigenous media to provide trusted, independent news and information services. Because authoritarians are mobilizing, some would say weaponizing, their disinformation, we're also supporting extensive media literacy programs in targeted countries…. We're dedicated to helping citizens recognize disinformation efforts and to see them for what they are. For example, in Georgia, USAID is supporting an initiative to crowdsource efforts to help identify and track anti-Western disinformation. We're working with hundreds of Georgian volunteers online and with our support, 11 independent and credible media partners across Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia are growing their audiences, diversifying their revenue, and elevating their digital media presence to push back on disinformation.”
In relation to Moldova specifically, the CMKI policy-document states that “a USAID-funded “Pop-up Newsroom” offers media professionals and civil-society activists digital behavioral analytics and social-media technologies to analyze and identify disinformation.”
“Digital behavioural analytics.”
This is one of the logical conclusions of the liberal technocratic utopian dream
– the pseudo-objectivity of the algorithm completely replaces the human faculty of judgement. Human beings don’t need to be truth-discerning animals as long as they have truth-discerning machines.
But, of course, that’s not “authoritarian” in the least.