US Foreign Policy and National Security: A Case Study for Projection

While accusing other nations of abetting cyber terrorism within their own borders, the US National Security Administration (NSA) was discovered to have dealt in cyber espionage for the benefit of private corporations. (Photo via Shutterstock)While accusing other nations of abetting cyber terrorism within their own borders, the US National Security Administration was discovered to have dealt in cyber espionage for the benefit of private corporations. (Image: Surveillance Camera via Shutterstock)

Projection is the misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto others. Think of the Talmudic adage: “When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you.” It’s quite fascinating to watch US officials make such blatant and egregious use of this psychological tactic. Below are just a few examples of this device in action.

Projection #1: John Kerry tells Russia it can’t invade nations under false pretenses.

Let’s put aside the Partition Treaty on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet, which allows a large contingent of the Russian Navy to station up to 25,000 troops in the Port of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, and the question of whether the Crimean referendum was legal or not. Instead, focus on US Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments:

“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.” – John Kerry on “Face the Nation” (March 2, 2014)

“You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests.” – John Kerry on “Meet the Press” (March 2, 2014)

“It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve.” – John Kerry at US Embassy in Kiev (March 4, 2014)

The contradictions here are quite remarkable. It is understandable if one has trouble reconciling this view with the manner in which US foreign policy has been conducted for the last several decades (and even earlier). As others have already pointed out here, here and here, the irony of Kerry’s remarks cannot be overstated. The United States has invaded or intervened in so many countries throughout the years that one would need to devote serious time and energy to keep track. From the fraudulent Gulf of Tonkin incident to the phantom weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the United States has a long history of “invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

The fact that Kerry could even utter these words not once, but three times – with a straight face – is quite impressive.

Projection #2: The Obama administration accuses China of cyberattacks and cyberespionage – then the NSA revelations drop.

Leading up to President Obama’s two-day meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in June 2013, the media focused almost exclusively on cybersecurity. Media outlets prefaced the discussion on alleged Chinese hacking of US targets for the purposes of obtaining intellectual property and corporate secrets for economic gain. Former US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon made a lengthy statement referencing Chinese cyberattacks and hacks earlier that year. Here are some highlights (emphasis mine):

Increasingly, U.S. businesses are speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyber intrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale. The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country. As the President said in the State of the Union, we will take action to protect our economy against cyber-threats … But, specifically with respect to the issue of cyber-enabled theft, we seek three things from the Chinese side. First, we need a recognition of the urgency and scope of this problem and the risk it poses – to international trade, to the reputation of Chinese industry and to our overall relations. Second, Beijing should take serious steps to investigate and put a stop to these activities. Finally, we need China to engage with us in a constructive direct dialogue to establish acceptable norms of behavior in cyberspace. – Tom Donilon (March 11, 2013)

Naturally, any nation would want to safeguard its sensitive information and protect local business, but the United States was not arguing from a position of strength during this time. By the time Obama stepped off the plane to meet with Jinping in Palm Springs, California, on June 7, 2013, two of the Snowden revelations were published by The Guardian: the Verizon handover of millions of customer phone records and the NSA’s own internal documents detailing the PRISM program. Obama landed in Palm Springs and immediately began to engage in damage control.

After the media spent almost a week hyping up talk of cybersecurity and pointing the finger at China for cybertheft and espionage, the release of this information could not have been timed any better to showcase a glaring hypocrisy, and they surely embarrassed the Obama administration – which was clearly caught off guard and scrambling to find excuses.

Later revelations would reveal that the United States itself engaged in cyberespionage as the NSA spied for the benefit of US corporations. Targets included foreign corporations such as Brazilian oil and gas giant Petrobras, and international banks and banking systems. It was also revealed that the United States (along with Israel) unleashed the Stuxnet virus aimed at Iran. President Obama ordered an increase in cyberattacks against Iran, targeting its nuclear facilities in an effort to disrupt a nuclear weapons program that US intelligence and Mossad admit does not even exist. Apparently, Iran has now learned how to launch potent cyberattacks itself because it evidently learned from the best.

With all of the cyberspying that the US establishment accused China of during the week leading up to Obama’s meeting with Jinping – regardless of whether or not it’s true – the US was engaging in its own spying and at a much greater magnitude.

Projection #3: Successive US administrations lecture the world on human rights.

Every year, the US State Department drafts country reports on human rights for nations around the world. In these reports, one finds assessments of any given nation’s respect for civil liberties, use of torture, conditions of prisons and detention centers, arbitrary arrest and detention, due process of law, corruption and transparency in government, and more.

It is unfortunate that the State Department is not tasked with assessing the United States’ own human rights record, because it would surely fail just as hard (assuming it would even be objective). Jonathan Turley penned a compelling article in The Washington Post listing the 10 reasons why the United States is nowhere close to being the humans rights champion it proclaims to be and has no business judging other nations’ human rights records when it has plenty to work on within its own borders.

How does the United States fare when held up to the scrutiny? It doesn’t look good with all of the documented cases of civil liberties abuses, CIA torture, extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention, CIA black sites and secret prisons (at home and abroad), voting restrictions, abuse of civil asset forfeitures, rampant police violence (with impunity), FBI Minority Report-esque entrapment schemes, invasive and voyeuristic spying and surveillance of citizens accused of no wrongdoing, police militarization, drone killings, the crackdown on freedom of press and a full on war on whistleblowers, as well as the relentless, vicious and predatory prosecution of relatively powerless people while the politically powerful are insulated and free to act with impunity.

When anyone from the Obama administration or the State Department speaks about the human rights record of other nations, they should realize that people all over the world saw what happened during the Occupy Wall Street crackdown. People all over the world saw what happened in Ferguson. People all over the world saw the United States absolving Israel of any wrongdoing during Operation Protective Edge. And people know the scores of innocent people being murdered by drone strikes (and the Obama administration’s shameful attempt to deceptively reduce that number). It should be noted that it was those same people who had just been bombed incessantly in Gaza who gave the residents of Ferguson support and tips on how to withstand a barrage of tear gas canisters launched by militarized police.

The world is paying attention. UN officials were very critical of the Detroit water shut off and condemned the US record on police violence (among other things). Amnesty International said the United States had no right to lecture any other nation on human rights during the events in Ferguson – as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, ironically, both issued statements slamming the US human rights record and appealing for police to use restraint, respectively. The Chinese also shared their thoughts on Ferguson in this searing Xinhua commentary.

China in particular feels that the annual State Department reports are highly politicized. It feels so strongly about this that they release an annual publication on the US human rights record – and all of the aforementioned shortcomings are mentioned in the report.

The question then becomes: Why does the United States constantly project its own image onto others? Perhaps it does so in a bid to undermine, usurp, and/or influence geopolitical outcomes; or it could be a reflection of the psyche of those people within the upper echelons of government. Perhaps it’s simply explained in perception versus reality. The real decision-making elite in this country (i.e. the national security bureaucrats, the Pentagon, CIA and NSA officials, and the captains of industry etc.) never reveal their true intentions and they invest a ton of time, effort and treasure into misleading the masses with benevolent rationales for all things war, imperialism and neoliberalism.

Actions speak louder than words and these examples of projection are probably the only way we can get a glimpse of those true intentions. Or perhaps, it’s easier to accuse other nations of things like military aggression and cyberespionage rather than admitting to and coming to terms with the fact that the United States is not exactly the exceptional nation it proclaims to be.