From Russia with Love

In the campy and not necessarily entirely family-friendly (it was the first movie to be released with the PG-13 rating in America) but nonetheless culturally significant 1984 film, Red Dawn, a group of teenagers wage a guerilla war against invading Soviet soldiers in the Colorado Rockies.

What is especially curious about the film, especially for us living in the morally “grey” twenty-first century in which anti-heroes are just as popular as heroes, is the clear patriotic and anti-Communist message of the film.

The Soviets are unquestionably bad, and the Americans are the “good guys.”

Indeed, with a few exceptions, this message was by and large accepted by most Americans not only throughout the 1980s but throughout the Cold War.

For better or worse, as the United States and Russia struggled for world dominance in the twentieth century, most Americans viewed liberal democratic capitalism as superior to Soviet communism.

However, with the proliferation of the multinarrative and conspiracy-driven culture of the twenty-first century digital age, a host of variant ideologies have taken root in the American mind, ranging from monarchy and German National Socialism to various forms of anarcho-libertarianism as well as every variant of Marxism under the sun.

Moreover, many Americans of the right and left no longer feel loyal to the United States, its traditions, or its government.

Throughout social media, it is not uncommon to find Americans sympathetic to countries such as Iran, Syria, Sweden, and, yes, even Canada, arguing that these countries and their leaders are superior to a decadent and morally bankrupt United States.

One of the countries that has drawn the most sympathy -- especially among the American right -- is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. As evidenced by a host of memes, podcasts, and articles, many on the right view Putin’s Russia as the savior of the West.

Arguing that Putin has restored Christianity in Russia and has effectively won the culture war against the left in his home country, some on the right view Russia as being America’s moral superior.  Indeed, some have even suggested that if Russia were to engage in a war with the United States, it would be far better for Americans if Russia won.

Attempting to dissuade conservatives from sympathy for Russia, former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Rebekah Koffler argues in Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America (Washington, DC Regnery Gateway, 2021. 410pp. $28.99) that Vladimir Putin views America as his mortal enemy and that Russia is already engaged in an information and cyberwar with the United States and is, even more alarmingly, preparing for what they feel may be an inevitable kinetic and even nuclear war with the United States.

Koffler is ethnically Russian and was born in Soviet Kazakhstan in the Soviet Union. However, although growing up under Communism, her mother encouraged her and her sister not to trust Soviet propaganda. After a foreign exchange visit to Great Britain, Koffler quickly realized that many of the stories Soviet authorities told of the West were lies. Having become enchanted with the United States, she moved to America and married an American, hoping to serve the United States in the intelligence community.

Her research into Vladimir Putin and Russia has led her to believe that Russia poses a clear and present danger to the United States.

Despite warning of Russian influence in the United States, throughout Putin’s Playbook Koffler insists that she does not believe the Steele Dossier or “Russiagate” narrative concerning President Trump.  Koffler herself worked under General Michael Flynn who was appointed by Barack Obama as DIA director in 2012, and she does not believe that General Flynn conspired with Russia. Koffler’s view is that Russia simply wanted to sow chaos regarding the election and thus helped create the impression that Donald Trump’s 2016 election was illegitimate.

This desire to sow chaos, Koffler argues, is at the heart of Russia’s information strategy, which following the direction of “Putin’s Brain,” Aleksandr Dugin. As Koffler notes, in his 1997 book Foundations of Geopolitics, Dugin argues that Russia must “weaken” and “deceive” in order to win its conflict with the United States as well as introducing “geopolitical discord into America’s internal reality” by encouraging “separatism and ethnic, social, and racial conflicts” as well as  “actively support dissident movements [and] extremist, racist groups and sects...”

This point is key, for Koffler is not the only one to suggest that Dugin and other Russian assets have used various hardline movements in the United States to sow discord. Koffler argues that the Russians know that the profound religious, ethnic, and political divisions in America are tremendous opportunities to exploit.

In Putin’s Playbook, Koffler also suggests that, in addition to waging a media and propaganda war against the United States, Russia preparing for a kinetic or “hot” war as well as a potential nuclear war with America.  

Identifying U.S. involvement in the color revolutions of Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, Putin feels that he himself will eventually be on the list. The Russian leadership is also aware of the work of Halford Mackinder, known as the “Mackinder Doctrine,” which emphasizes the importance of Eurasia on the world stage. Mackinder’s analysis was later developed by John Spykman in the 1930s and then later again by former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in his 1997 The Grand Chessboard: American Primary and Its Geostrategic Imperatives.  As demonstrated by a 2016 Russian Center for Strategic Assessments and Forecasts report, the Russians see the American wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria as attempts of the United States to put the Mackinder Doctrine into effect and seize control of Eurasia.

Koffler argues that Vladimir Putin, unafraid to facedown the Americans, envisions himself as a new czar who will bring back the glory of Russia and rule a Eurasian empire. The Russian people likewise desire a strong ruler and are, for the most part, united behind Putin. Drawing from the work of George Kennan, Koffler argues that the Russians have always been surrounded by enemies and are a people forged for suffering and war.

Another of Koffler’s crucial points, which has been echoed by military and intelligence figures for decades, is the reality that America no longer has full-spectrum military dominance.

Under Putin, Russia has attempted to expand and update both its conventional as well as its nuclear military power. Countering U.S. aggression to Russia, Putin himself has been making many hostile moves toward the United States, showing Russia’s new military capabilities. Since 2007, Russia Tu-95 “Bear” bombers have engaged in sorties near the United States; some of these runs even have breached U.S. airspace. Moreover, as a show of force, on March 1, 2018, Putin showed a video rendering of what appeared to be a nuclear strike on the state of Florida, where U.S. Special Operations Command is located.

However, perhaps the most dispiriting element of Putin’s Playbook is Koffler’s admission that the United States is increasingly resembling the Soviet Union of her youth. No longer in America is Marxism a marginal phenomenon. Rather, Culture Marxism is taught to Americans from kindergarten to graduate school. Moreover, as Russians were in the Soviet Union, Americans are now tracked, traced, monitored, and punished for politically incorrect speech or for questioning powerful government entities. Putin, Dugin, and other Russians are not entirely wrong in their criticism of the decadence and hypocrisy of the West.

As Koffler frequently implies, America will not be saved by being defeated or conquered by Russia. Rather, conservatives must reengage and (peacefully) fight the culture wars once more.

Koffler hopes that the war in Russia will be won by the United States, but it will only be won by an America that does not succumb to the siren song of the same totalitarian ideology that poisoned Russia during the Soviet Union and now takes a different but not necessarily less aggressive form during the reign of Vladimir Putin.

Image: Regnery

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