The Weaponization of Falsehood: America’s Embrace of Propaganda in the Ukraine War

Perhaps the most sinister development in America’s involvement in the war in Ukraine is the steady expansion of a propaganda campaign supporting the Zelensky government. Not only has the intensity of this effort been increasing, but there have been explicit statements from media and government sources attempting to normalize falsehood as a proper weapon of war. U.S. journalists now acknowledge that the Zelensky government is issuing propaganda as part of “information operations.”

“It’s a war — everything they do and say publicly is designed to help them win the war. Every public statement is an information operation, every interview, every Zelensky appearance broadcast is an information operation,” said another source familiar with western intelligence. “It doesn’t mean they’re wrong to do it in any way.”

U.S. propagandists, aware of the availability of accurate reports of events from independent Internet sources, are now boldly declaring that propaganda lies are justified in wartime. Since the U.S. is now engaged in a proxy war with Russia, actively arming Ukraine and applying damaging economic sanctions against Russia, the weaponization of anti-Russian propaganda is being defended as patriotic. Thus, the Russians are depicted as barbaric war criminals and American news on the war is dominated by stories of Russian atrocities that are often unsubstantiated Ukrainian claims. Meanwhile, documented atrocities committed by Ukrainians are ignored by the major U.S. media outlets.

The eager participation of U.S. mainstream media in this propaganda campaign is reminiscent of the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, during which doctored intelligence was uncritically accepted as justification for a disastrous military adventure that devastated a nation that had no connection to the 9/11 attacks. The current biased MSM coverage of the war in Ukraine is further undercutting the diminishing credibility of mainstream news sources.

The U.S. intelligence agencies, whose reputation was damaged by their failures in regime change wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, are now further injuring their reputations by abandoning objectivity in favor of a commitment to information war. A recent comment from a government source indicated how intelligence is now manipulated to support the information war against Russia:

“It doesn’t have to be solid intelligence when we talk about it,” a U.S. official said. “It’s more important to get out ahead of them — Putin specifically — before they do something. It’s preventative. We don’t always want to wait until the intelligence is 100 percent certainty that they are going to do something. We want to get out ahead to stop them.”

The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies were established to provide accurate information to guide the policies of the government. By entering a gray zone where accurate information is mingled with engineered disinformation, the value of these organizations has become questionable. How can our nation trust “intelligence” that has been corrupted by political expediency?

The corrosive effects of official normalization of falsehood by a government is a serious problem. If lying is deemed a worthy patriotic defense of the nation, then when is it not justified? Should America lie about its economic statistics? Should our government lie about our national health and crime information? Where does the political justification for falsehood end? A major reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union was widespread public distrust of a government that lied about everything to preserve the regime.

The normalization of lying destroys social capital, the valuable store of trust among individuals and institutions. When citizens believe that everyone is lying to secure their own interests, trust diminishes, cooperation declines, and discord spreads. Corruption flourishes in low-trust societies, with damaging economic consequences, while high-trust societies tend to have superior economic performance. Americans in leadership positions would do well to consider an old maxim from Plato: But above all things, truth beareth away the victory.