Propaganda works best when it uses both sides. This is PSYOPS 101.
For example, about half of all the Facebook material put out by the Kremlin-backed "troll farm" in St. Petersburg, in 2016 was aimed at stoking racial animus from both sides.
"Separate ads, launched simultaneously, would stoke suspicion about how police treat black people in one ad, while another encouraged support for pro-police groups," USA Today reports.
Then after the election, the "Internet Research Agency" tried to organize simultaneous pro- and anti-Trump rallies in New York City. Clearly, the goal of discrediting American democracy was at least as important as electing Trump.
So no matter how much our alleged president wants a good relationship with Vladimir, he is really just a permanent Kremlin propaganda project, and Putin will use both sides of the Donald Trump "issue" to achieve his own ends.
The point of modern propaganda isn't only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) December 13, 2016
I first became aware of this "both sides" propaganda rule while serving in the US Army. Although my job did not directly involve PSYOPS, some of my co-workers had specialized in it. One particular Cold War veteran showed me his personal collection of propaganda leaflets from the 1991 Gulf War.
As part of the 4th Psychological Operations Group, he had helped produce and print more than 29 million leaflets that were released over Kuwait and Iraq by every available means. According to Psywarrior.com, their operations succeeded in "preparation of the psychological battlefield:"
The Coalition forces packed M129E1 leaflet bombs with up to 54,000 machine-rolled leaflets, which were dropped over Iraqi concentrations by F-16, F/A-18, B-52, and MC-130 aircraft. Other leaflets were delivered by balloons. Before the war started, 12,000 leaflets were floated onto the beaches of Kuwait by bottle. Interrogation of Iraqi prisoners revealed that 98% had seen Coalition leaflets.
When Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf finally started his ground attack, most of the Iraqi Army did exactly what all this propaganda had told them to do:
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The major PSYOP themes were Surrender (12.4 million leaflets), Inevitability of defeat (6.6 million), Abandon Equipment and Flee (1.9 million), Saddam is to Blame for the war (4.7 million) and other (3.5 million).
Those detailed instructions on how to surrender safely turned out to be critical in saving American (and Iraqi) lives. But that lesson was not what I remember best about the scrapbook.
Instead, "you always want to print on both sides of the leaflet," he explained, pointing out how all the coalition leaflets were printed that way. "If you leave one side blank, then the enemy can repurpose your leaflets against you."
This had happened to the Iraqis, he told me. Saddam's military failed to observe this both-sides rule in their feeble attempts to drop leaflets on the coalition. His team was then able to collect the propaganda, print counter-propaganda on the reverse sides, and then drop the mocking leaflets back on the Iraqi troops with images portraying allied command of the skies.
While we cannot say that all this leafleting was decisive in the outcome of the conflict, we can say with certainty that it helped shape the behavior of Iraqis. As soon as the bombing campaign began, "several groups of Iraqi soldiers carried the flyers with them and followed instructions precisely as they crossed in recent days into U.S. lines," according to contemporary reporting.
It worked so well that the Pentagon used leaflet drops again in 2003, again printing on both sides of the paper.
As with most disinformation, the goal is to create doubt and deniability, to cast evidence as personal or partisan, a post-truth world.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) January 10, 2017
As he explained, this rule of propaganda -- "cover both sides" -- is so basic that one can find diverse applications all across the universe of disinformation.
Fox News shows have featured several token liberals over the years, including the late Alan Colmes, the hapless Bob Beckel, and podcaster Kyle Kulinski. Far from providing any fairness or balance, they are all mere foils -- excuses for the conservative hosts to smack down liberal ideas without really engaging them. Or there is the Patrick Caddell option: a liberal who has seen the light and endorses the conservative conspiracy theory. Both sides! Fair and balanced!
In what many recall as his lowest moment, Trump blamed "very fine people" on "both sides" for the neo-Nazi violence at Charlottesville. Ridiculous as it may seem, this is an example of gaslighting that establishes co-dependency in its victims: antifa are just the fairness and balance to neo-Nazis. Why, they are practically twins! See who gets elevated in that narrative?
If as you read this, you are thinking about the Bothsiderist habits of mainstream media opinion shows, and how they are a product of right wing agitation, you are getting how this works. Effective propaganda centers the conversation on its own terms wherever possible.
Russian Twitter trolls did not simply attack Hillary Clinton from the right on behalf of Trump, but also through support for Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein on the left. Despite Moscow's cultural conservatism and outreach to American evangelicalism, RT cultivates leftist voices.
Without belaboring the point, note that the lovely new terms in our lexicon of political scandal -- kompromat, active measures, etc. -- are all intrinsically entwined with this principle. Information that serves Putin does not necessarily serve Trump, especially when it is true.
Here's one example. Natalia Veselnitskaya met with Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort during June 2016 in order to compromise the Trump Organization; it does not matter that they did not shake hands over a quid pro quo, only that the terms of that potential exchange were communicated.
Then last month, nearly two years after the meeting, Veselnitskaya admitted to being a "Kremlin informant" in an interview with NBC's Richard Engel. She would not have said this without Kremlin approval, and Putin would not approve the disclosure of kompromat unless he saw an advantage in it.
Why would Putin let that particular dime drop? Well, Trump hasn't actually gotten rid of those pesky Magnitsky sanctions. If the quid was protecting Trump kompromat -- such as a pee tape, or an affair with a porn star -- then mob boss Putin is still largely waiting for his quo, isn't he?
Then there is the curious way that all Trump-Putin interactions are disclosed to the American people by Putin's state media instead of the White House. It makes Trump look weak and furtive where the Russian leader is stoic and forthright.
Putin simply wants to make the world safe for his mafia state. Trump is no more than a means to that end.
If our government remains paralyzed by polarization and dysfunction after November, Putin can advance his interests by (A) calling out Democrats for not going after Trump hard enough via Facebook pages, or (B) using Facebook pages to condemn Democrats for attempting a deep state coup. Or (C): why not both?
On the other hand, there have been warnings on the right that impeachment would bring on a new civil war. Suppose Democrats win a massive victory in November and Robert Mueller produces a recording of Donald Trump committing treason. In that case, Putin could (A) let slip disclosures that feed the frenzy, or (B) call impeachment a deep state conspiracy and urge "patriot" militia goons to act out.
If the goal is chaos, why not both?
For that matter, Vladimir Putin is the sort of person who would release a fake video of Trump with a hooker to discredit the Steele dossier, then release a real video just to make the waters muddy and deep. Putin's wilderness of mirrors exists to disconnect us from one another as a nation and help us reduce ourselves in the eyes of the world. It's working so far. Why would he change?