An American 'RT' Wouldn't Sway Russians
Published: August 25, 2014 (Issue # 1825)
Russia is planning to substantially expand its propaganda operations in Europe, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. This propaganda effort is expected to be particularly aggressive in France and Germany, where there is substantial popular anger directed toward both the United States and Europe's political and economic institutions as well as sizable minorities who express sympathy for Russian interests.
While some people think this is a cardinal change in policy, it's actually a slightly more aggressive attempt in a long-running Russian strategy to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States. The tactics are new and innovative, there's heavy use of social media tools like Twitter and YouTube, but the goal remains the same: exploit the fact that many Western policies aren't very popular among the European public.
These Russian efforts have deeply alarmed many of those U.S.-based Russia specialists who favor a more confrontational approach, and they have been increasingly vocal in demanding that the U.S. and Europe respond in kind. Consider, for example, what former U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul had to say about the need for a Western "information offensive."
"The West should disseminate accurate information about Russian actions and Western motivations, not only by providing more resources to traditional channels like Voice of America, but also by supporting new sources of reporting, like blogs and online news outlets."
When you take a step back, the argument advanced by McFaul and the other "info war" hawks is essentially the following: The Russians are wasting increasingly large amounts of their taxpayers' money to produce tendentious and biased media coverage. Therefore we need to do exactly the same thing.
Spending more money on government-run media, as McFaul recommends, is unlikely to be a very effective strategy or yield a significant return on investment. Americans should remember that, in today's world, government propaganda is almost useless at re-branding decisions that are unpopular in other countries.
The U.S. government spent untold millions of dollars trying to convince people that the Iraq war was a great idea: It "embedded" journalists with active-duty military units, it created and distributed all manner of reports detailing the "progress" being made under the new Iraqi government, and it even went so far as to create a brand new Arab-language media organization (Alhurra) to more effectively bring the American perspective to the Arab world.
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