They Dupe People Into Debating War With Russia Vs War With China, Instead Of War Itself

Caitlin Johnstone
5 min readAug 22, 2023

Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

One of the most brilliant propaganda maneuvers the managers of the US empire have pulled off lately is splitting the debate over US military policy along partisan lines, with one side supporting aggressions against Russia and the other preferring to focus aggressions on China. In this way they’ve ensured that mainstream discourse remains an argument over how US warmongering should occur, rather than if it should.

Senator Bernie Sanders has a new article out in The Guardian titled “The US and China must unite to fight the climate crisis, not each other,” in which he argues in favor of de-escalation measures comparable to those reached between Washington and Moscow after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“Instead of spending enormous amounts of money planning for a war against each other, the US and China should come to an agreement to mutually cut their military budgets and use the savings to move aggressively to improve energy efficiency, move toward sustainable energy and end our reliance on fossil fuels,” Sanders argues.

Which is a fine sentiment as far as it goes, and it’s not the first time Sanders has expressed this view; last month in The Guardian he argued that the US government should be focused on resolving the climate crisis “instead of fomenting a new cold war with China.” But it’s worth noting that while acting as a dovish detente proponent with regard to China, Sanders has for years been acting as a hawkish cold warrior with regard to Russia.

Sanders has unequivocally stated that he supports the Biden administration’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. Within hours of criticizing the “bloated and wasteful Defense Department that cannot even pass an independent audit” on Twitter last month, Sanders had voted against a special inspector general audit of billions of dollars in Ukraine war funding. Prior to the Ukraine war Sanders had spent years pushing cold war Russia hysteria and lending the illusion of credibility to the baseless mainstream conspiracy theory that the highest office of the US government had been infiltrated by the Kremlin.

It’s not uncommon to see mainstream liberals of the political/media class pushing back somewhat against the China hawks, even while they cheerlead fanatically for nuclear brinkmanship with Russia. Mass media pundits like CNN’s Fareed Zakaria have been vocally oppositional to the mad rush into a new cold war with China while remaining enthusiastically supportive of the proxy war in Ukraine and new cold war escalations against Moscow.

In the same way and to the same extent, you see the political/media class of the mainstream right pushing back against the war in Ukraine while enthusiastically advocating hawkish escalations against Beijing. Tucker Carlson has been one of the most virulent anti-China propagandists in the western world for years, but he’s been critical of US escalations against Russia and the Ukraine proxy war. Republican Senator Josh Hawley is always on conservative media arguing that the US needs to de-escalate against Russia in order to more effectively escalate against China. Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has been campaigning on the platform of making peace with Russia to pull it away from its alliance with China, whom he paints as a tremendous threat and accuses of waging “a modern opium war against the United States of America” using fentanyl.

This partisan rhetoric from pundits and politicians has had an effect on the opinions of ordinary Americans. A recent CNN poll found a significant split between Republicans and Democrats over funding for the Ukraine war, with 71 percent of Republicans opposing additional proxy war funding and 62 percent of Democrats in favor of it.

We saw these two partisan warmonger positions clash head to head in a recent appearance by Ramaswamy on CNN Tonight with the reliably pathetic Jim Acosta. Ramaswamy said he would freeze the current lines of control in Ukraine leaving parts of the Donbass with the Russian Federation in exchange for Putin renouncing Moscow’s partnership with Beijing, while Acosta huffed indignantly and accused him of letting “authoritarian leaders off the hook”.

“That sounds like a win for Putin,” Acosta said of Ramaswamy’s plan.

“The real threat we face today is communist China, which is that much stronger when Vladimir Putin is in Xi Jinping’s camp,” Ramaswamy retorted.

Meanwhile normal human beings whose brains haven’t been turned to clam chowder by propaganda from either mainstream faction would much prefer to avoid giant world-threatening confrontations between any nuclear-armed nations. Economic warfare between nations of immense economic consequence will hurt ordinary people all around the world, proxy conflicts will amass mountains of human corpses, and nuclear brinkmanship leaves us dangling over a horror too terrible to even imagine by a thread that gets thinner and thinner the more tensions escalate.

Which is precisely why so much propaganda manipulation goes into emphasizing the debate about how these conflicts should occur, rather than if they should. It’s not a normal human impulse to support such things, so manipulation is required to manufacture their consent.

And of course it’s really the same conflict; Russia and China are in an increasingly intimate partnership because they’re both being targeted by the US empire, as they both refuse to relinquish their national sovereignty and refuse to recognize Washington as the unofficial capital of the entire planet. Both nations are targeted for subversion and subjugation, and both will be the on the receiving end of US aggressions for the foreseeable future, while people are duped into cheering for one or the other by sociopathic empire managers who want to rule the world.

This manipulation by the way is exactly what Noam Chomsky was talking about when he said that the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum. The empire will happily let everyone scream their heads off at each other all day long about whether to ramp up aggressions against Russia or China, so long as they don’t ever start questioning the need for aggressions at all.


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Featured image via the Kremlin website (CC BY 4.0)