US Leadership Is Being Given a Distorted Image of Russia

Almost every one of Washington’s bold statements made about our country is guaranteed to have two qualities. First, Russia is accused of malicious actions. Second, the arguments supporting these statements don’t completely correspond to any domestic realities, nor to Moscow’s motives for its international actions.

One might assume that these things are all said exclusively for the international political market. However, this is not the case. The overwhelming majority of countries, reports and other resources on which the establishment bases its statements and actions serve only the political elite and the public U.S. audience.

I emphasize that we are not currently talking about social-economic theories and values, but about the foreign message being presented. Still, citizens of “disobedient” countries are told that as soon as they break the chains of tyranny, they will be gladly accepted into the family of civilized nations. At the same time, inside the United States it has long been the prevailing point of view that the free world is at capacity, that there is no room left — they will not take anyone else.

Certain statements made and actions carried out by U.S. politicians are the product of information targeted at the domestic market. It raises a legitimate question: How do reputable think tanks and universities with a long history, good funding and well-organized access to information generate such a low-quality product? In fact, it’s not even a quality product, but a fake.

Of course, after the Cold War ended, Russian researchers began to face certain financial difficulties. But they were never penniless. Both state orders and private sponsors provide foreign policy specialists, including those studying our country, with sufficient funds to conduct high-quality research — sufficient by American standards! Most academic and expert communities outside the United States have never even dreamed of such funding. And yet it is the fakes that get to the very top — to the corridors of power. It’s only the most authoritative publications devoted to foreign policy toward Russia.

An example of such pseudo-expertise can be found in Fiona Hill’s recent article in Foreign Affairs. It is not just some passing remarks made by a minor expert in some newspaper. Hill is one of the main experts on Russia. She was responsible for three administrations’ approaches toward Russia, two through intelligence analytics and the third through political interaction. In addition, at the Brookings Institution, she also professionally studied Russia and Eastern Europe. Brookings is one of the main think tanks that has been supplying ideas and analytical materials to Congress and the White House for many years. As for Foreign Affairs, it is the most authoritative U.S. foreign policy magazine. With its influence and doctrinal power, it is perhaps equivalent to the Soviet magazine, The Communist. So Hill, writing on the Russian issue in Foreign Affairs, is a force to be reckoned with.

I will not dwell in detail on the contents of the article; a translated version of it is available if desired. But it leads to nothing but a loss for words. It’s unclear even why she was an author, since it’s a compilation of all kinds of media cliches and myths, including those that have been refuted more than once. In reality, Hill yet again decided to repeat her long-standing thesis that Russia, not China, is the main threat to the United States. But this is a long-standing song of the Brookings Institution.

The section devoted to Russia is a perfect example of intellectual vulgarity, incompetence and arrogance, all in one. Is it any wonder that similar statements are made by senators, representatives of the administration and talking heads? Is there really no qualified and conscientious expertise on Russia in the U.S.? But the thing is, there is! Even the notorious Rand Corporation from time to time issues reports that have a sound basis in reality. This happens even with the Atlantic Council, which is recognized in our country as an undesirable organization.

By the way, a characteristic embarrassment happened in the latter organization in March of this year. Two leading experts of this think tank, Emma Ashford and Matthew Barrows, published a work on the website arguing that the focus on respect for human rights in Russia is a counterproductive approach. Moreover, they suggested that the democratization of the Russian political system could lead to undesirable consequences for the United States and the West as a whole.

There was an immediate reaction. Twenty-two Atlantic Council employees simultaneously rebuked their colleagues. Ashford and Burroughs’ article was immediately linked to a $4.5 million dollar donation from a well-known entrepreneur David Koch, head of Koch Industries. Koch is one of the main sponsors of the libertarian Cato Institute, which advocates for as little U.S. interference as possible in other countries’ affairs. And as usual, the entrepreneur himself was basically called an agent of the Kremlin. An article by one of the 22 critics says, “The Koch industry operates as a Trojan horse operation trying to destroy good institutions and they have pretty much the same views as the Russians.” The scandal that broke out was described in detail by Politico.

Koch Industries and the Cato Institute, of course, are not pro-Russian. They oppose the interventionist policy of the establishment, viewing it to be against the national interests of the United States — as they understand those interests. By the way, the Cato Institute regularly publishes articles and reports that lay out quite reasonable foreign policy concepts, supported by real knowledge and a fairly deep understanding of both the international situation and the realities of domestic life.

The Center of National Interest, which publishes the magazine The National Interest, devoted to international affairs and military construction, has similar competencies. In 2016, Donald Trump’s foreign policy team held their presentation at this site. The first national security advisor to the 45th president of the United States, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, worked at this center for a long time. Flynn’s fate, as you know, was unenviable. As part of “Russiagate,” he was lured into a trap and accused of lying to an FBI agent. Although the charges were later dropped, the life of this honored man was destroyed.

In 2021, Director of the Kennan Institute Matthew Rozhansky was considered by the Biden administration for the head of Russian direction in the National Security Council. And although his candidacy was not subject to confirmation by the Senate, there was a big uproar in Congress. Of course! Rozhansky argued that Russia is a country with which the United States will have to learn to coexist, since all hopes that our country will disappear somewhere or become unstable enough that it can be democratized or dismembered are in vain. As a result, a first-class specialist on Russian subjects was not hired in the White House.

Another center worth mentioning is the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. It was established quite recently — in 2019. Troublemakers highlight that this center was created “under Trump.” Koch Industries, with which we are already familiar, is also involved by … drum roll please … participating in its initial financing! And Open Society Foundations is associated with George Soros. The activities used for these funds (they are a network) are also considered undesirable in Russia. However, since then, no donations from Soros-related groups have been received by the institute. It is rumored that Soros himself simply dropped the ball, which led to the creation of an organization that contradicts his goals.

The Quincy Institute was named in honor of John Quincy Adams, an ambassador to the Russian Empire, secretary of state and U.S. president. This organization is also often reviled in Washington — for the same foreign policy realism and for the alternative point of view in domestic affairs. Alarms have been raised about the state of modern Russian studies in the United States for a long time, but it was the Quincy Institute that systemically addressed the Russian policy studies crisis. In August 2021, a detailed article was published describing the extent of the ignorance about Russia at the institute. The main reason, according to experts, is that qualified knowledge on Russian subjects is not only discouraged, but suppressed.

A person who says something that is not in line with the concept of Russia as malicious risks not getting a public position, and his employer risks state funding. And if, in order to gain knowledge about Russia, an American specialist needs to make contact with Russian citizens or, God forbid, go to Russia, such actions can put an end to his career. Moreover, even a simple statement of proven facts and analysis based on them can irritate the authorities in power and in the academic environment — simply because it contradicts the content of the junk fiction that is mass-produced on order from politicians.

Besides, the system in the U.S. operates like a revolving door — the politicians go to think tanks; after a couple electoral cycles, they are then called up again to serve in the executive branch or are helped into Congress. It’s simply the ideal mechanism for mixing consumers and suppliers of expertise. For now, the ruling class of the United States will need the image of a “malicious Russia” with “an economy torn to shreds,” and “suppressed by the tyranny of the Russians”; this image will be regularly drawn by “experts.”

Here, the question isn’t why the U.S. is not our friend. We may not have any friends in these titled intelligence centers. The real question is why they don’t know Russia; such ignorance is a state order. However, the same applies to the expertise on China — and the Middle East. U.S. leaders simply do not know the world they are trying to influence.

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About Christa Diehl 26 Articles
Christa studied International Relations and Russian at the University of Delaware. She spent a semester in Saint Petersburg and loved it. Aside from studying languages, she likes playing the guitar and traveling.

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