Useful idiot? 有用的白痴

中国日报网2019-10-25 06:36:43显示图片

Reader question:

Please explain “useful idiot”, “definitely a stooge and useful idiot”.

My comments:

It’s a highly politically charged description, or rather accusation, calling anyone a stooge and useful idiot. At least the phrase “useful idiot” is highly politically charged.

First, stooge. A stooge is someone who serves merely to assist others, often doing unpleasant work, and doing so without complaint. To be clear and fair, a stooge has little choice. Someone who does the dirty work for the boss of a gangster group, for example, is a stooge.

It is a derogative term.

“Useful idiot”, on the other hand, is a more derogative term still. It is an idiom, meaning the term cannot be interpreted literally. An idiot, by definition, is someone who is low in general intelligence. Useful idiot, therefore, sounds more or less like an oxymoron – a self-contradictory description – because a stupid person cannot be very useful per se.

However, if you understand its origin and context in which “useful idiot” is used, you will understand why someone is described as a useful idiot, who describes them thus and when.

So, let’s cut to the chase and go straight to the point. “Useful idiot” is originally “a citizen of a non-communist country sympathetic to communism who is regarded (by communists) as naive and susceptible to manipulation for propaganda or other purposes” (The Oxford English Dictionary).

For example, during the cold war, especially during the height of McCarthyism, many American artists were accused of being useful idiots of the Soviet Union because their views or artistic works were considered as sympathetic to the Soviet cause. The Soviets were, of course, archrivals of America politically, America being a capitalist country.

Today, politicians still use this term to describe anyone who serves the purpose of their own political opponents either willingly or unwittingly – especially unwittingly, “idiot” implying that they are fools or that they are being fooled by their opponents. For example, if a Republican Party member says anything that sounds similar to what the Democrats have been espousing, he or she may be accused of being a useful idiot of Democrats.

And, vice versa, a Democrat who supports a Republican initiative may equally likely be accused of being such an idiot.

Idiot or no idiot, just remember that “useful idiot” is a political jargon and therefore should best be reserved for describing politicians themselves.

“Useful idiot”, by the way, is not dissimilar to the Chinese cold-war terminology of “running dog”.

Running dog?

Never mind, just know that it’s a term that’s equally politically charged and equally derogative.

Now, recent media examples of people who are accused of being useful idiots (whether they deserve the accusation depends on your political view):

1. Nearly a year after the presidential election, the scandal over accusations of Russian political interference in the 2016 election has gone beyond Donald Trump and reached into the nebulous world of online media. On November 1, Congress held hearings on “Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation Online.” The proceedings saw executives from Facebook, Twitter and Youtube subjected to tongue-lashings from lawmakers like Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who howled about Russian online trolls “spread[ing] stories about abuse of black Americans by law enforcement.”

In perhaps the most chilling moment of the hearings, and the most overlooked, Clint Watts, a former U.S. Army officer who had branded himself an expert on Russian meddling, appeared before a nearly empty Senate chamber. Watts conjured up a stark landscape of American carnage, with shadowy Russian operatives stage managing the chaos.

“Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words,” he proclaimed. “America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”

Next, Watts suggested a government-imposed campaign of media censorship: “Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced: silence the guns and the barrage will end.”

The censorious overtone of Watts’ testimony was unmistakable. He demanded that government news inquisitors drive dissident media off the internet and warned that Americans would spear one another with bayonets if they failed to act. And not one member of Congress rose to object. In fact, many echoed his call for media suppression in the House and Senate hearings, with Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jackie Speier agreeing the most vehemently. The spectacle perfectly illustrated the madness of Russiagate, with liberal lawmakers springboarding off the fear of Russian meddling to demand that Americans be forbidden from consuming the wrong kinds of media—including content that amplified the message of progressive causes like Black Lives Matter.

Details of exactly what transpired vis a vis Russia and the U.S. in social media in 2016 are still emerging. This year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a declassified version of the intelligence community’s report on “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” written by CIA, FBI and NSA, with its central conclusion that Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order.”

To be sure, there is ample evidence that Russian-linked trolls have attempted to exploit wedge issues on social media platforms. But the impact of these schemes on real-world events appears to have been exaggerated. According to Facebook’s data, 56 percent of Russian-linked ads appeared after the 2016 presidential election, and another 25 percent “were never shown to anyone.” The ads were said to have “reached” over 100 million people, but that assumes that Facebook users did not scroll through or otherwise ignore them, as they do with most ads. Content emanating from “Russia-linked” sources on YouTube, meanwhile, managed to rack up hit totals in the hundreds, not exactly a viral smash.


Before he emerged in the spotlight of Russiagate, Watts languished at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, earning little name recognition outside the insular world of national security pundits. Based in Philadelphia, the FPRI has been described by journalist Mark Ames as “one of the looniest (and spookiest) extreme-right think tanks since the early Cold War days, promoting ‘winnable’ nuclear war, maximum confrontation with Russia, and attacking anti-colonialism as dangerously unworkable.”

Daniel Pipes, the arch-Islamophobe pundit and former FPRI fellow, offered a similar characterization of the think tank, albeit from an alternately opposed angle. “Put most baldly, we have always advocated an activist U.S. foreign policy,” Pipes said in a 1991 address to FPRI. He added that the think tank’s staff “is not shy about the use of force; were we members of Congress in January 1991, all of us would not only have voted with President Bush and Operation Desert Storm, we would have led the charge.”

FPRI was co-founded by Robert Strausz-Hupé, a far-right Austrian emigre, with help from conservative corporations and covert funding from the CIA. From the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, Strausz-Hupé gathered a “Philadelphia School” of Cold War hardliners to develop a strategy for protracted war against the Soviet Union. His brain trust included FPRI co-founder Stefan Possony, an Austrian fascist who was a board member of the World Anti-Communist League, the international fascist organization described by journalists Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson as a network of “those responsible for death squads, apartheid, torture, and the extermination of European Jewry.” True to his fascist roots, Possony co-authored a racialist tract, “The Geography of Intellect,” that argued that blacks were biologically inferior and that the people of the global South were “genetically unpromising.” Strausz-Hupé seized on Possony’s racialist theories to inveigh against anti-colonial movements led by “populations incapable of rational thought.”

While clamoring for a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union—and acknowledging that their preferred strategy would cause mass casualties in American cities—Strausz-Hupé and his band of hawks developed a monomaniacal obsession with Russian propaganda. By the time of the Cuban missile crisis, they were stricken with paranoia, arguing on the pages of the New York Times that filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was a Soviet useful idiot whose film, Dr. Strangelove, advanced “the principal Communist objectives to drive a wedge between the American people and their military leaders.”

Ultimately, Strausz-Hupé’s fanaticism cost him an ambassadorship, as Sen. William Fulbright scuttled his appointment to serve in Morocco on the grounds that his “hard line, no compromise” approach to communism could shatter the delicate balance of diplomacy. Today, he is remembered fondly on FPRI’s website as “an intellectual and intellectual impresario, administrator, statesman, and visionary.” His militaristic legacy continues thanks to the prolific presence—and bellicose politics—of Watts.

- McCarthyism Inc.: Hyping the Russian Threat to Undermine Free Speech,, November 13, 2017.

2. Representative Hakeem Jeffries said on Sunday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report should be made public, explaining that there are several options that the conclusions could point to, including the chance that the president is “just a useful idiot” who has been taken advantage of.

“The American people deserve to know whether Donald Trump is either A) a legitimate president, B) a Russian asset, C) the functional equivalent of an organized crime boss,” Jeffries, a Democrat representing New York, said on CBS News’ Face the Nation. “Or D) just a useful idiot who happens to have been victimized by the greatest collection of coincidences in the history of the republic.”

Mueller officially concluded his investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, submitting his final report to Attorney General William Barr on Friday. Although several close Trump associates have been indicted, convicted or pleaded guilty in the probe, none of the charges have been for conspiring with Russia. With no new indictments planned by Mueller, Trump’s supporters have harshly criticized some Democratic leaders who have said for months that there is evidence of collusion.

While Barr has maintained that he will publicly release as much of the report as is allowed under legal regulations, Democrats have urged for all findings to be made public. Several prominent Democratic lawmakers are also pushing for impeaching the president, regardless of the Mueller report's findings. But Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said earlier this month that she doesn’t currently support impeachment.

“Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country,” Pelosi said, although she added that she believes Trump is “unfit” in many ways to be president.

Jeffries backed Pelosi’s position in his Sunday interview, saying that most Democrats share the speaker’s position.


3. As if inspired by Donald Trump, Joe Biden’s presidential campaign shouted “fake news” at TV news on Sunday with a letter calling on the networks to stop booking Rudy Giuliani.

Written by Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn and deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield and first disclosed by Politico’s Michael Calderone, the letter denounced the networks for allowing Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, “to spread false, debunked conspiracy theories on behalf of Donald Trump.” Specifically, the campaign objected to Giuliani’s spurious claims about Hunter Biden and Joe Biden engaging in “corruption” in Ukraine. The campaign insisted that fact-checking Giuliani in real-time or disputing his wild assertions was insufficient. He must be banished from the airwaves.

On the surface, a Giuliani ban sounds like a good idea. Early in the Trump administration when the president thought his legal team wasn’t adequately defending him, Trump plaintively asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”—referring to his former say-anything, do-anything personal attorney, a ruthless operator who worked for Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Trump seems to have finally found his contemporary Cohn in Giuliani, who relishes his role as the most unreliable of unreliable narrators in Trump world. Like Cohn, Giuliani will say anything in service of his client, whether that means energetically contradicting the Trump team’s collusion denials or reversing himself inside a single paragraph when asked if he instructed Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

But if we’re going to ban Giuliani from the shows for truth-bending, shouldn’t we have to do the same for the other prevaricators who peddle Trump and his talking points on television? Just this last Sunday, an entire squad of Trump dissemblers visited the shows to spread mounds of cock-and-bull for their man. While these mounds might not be as mighty or as stinky as the ones Giuliani spews, they are malarkey just the same. Here’s a brief serving:

On CBS’ Face the Nation, hosted by Margaret Brennan, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) dismissed the whistleblower’s complaint against Trump as being based on “hearsay.” But legal experts agree that the memorandum of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump leans on the Ukrainian is completely admissible non-hearsay.

On the same network’s 60 Minutes, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said with a straight face that the Trump-Zelensky conversation produced evidence of “two leaders having admiration, not intimidation.” McCarthy aped Giuliani’s technique of filling the air with chaff when he accused correspondent Scott Pelley of adding a word to what Trump said to Zelensky. (Pelley got the Trump quotation—“I would like you to do us a favor though”—absolutely right.) Then, when Pelley asked McCarthy how the president’s defense would roll out, McCarthy played stupid, saying, “The defense of what?” Pelley had to answer, “Well, there’s an impeachment process.”

Jake Tapper, the host of CNN’s State of the Union, came close to losing his Cronkite cool in the face of a swarm of falsehoods advanced by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on behalf of the president. “That’s not what happened,” Tapper responded to Jordan’s erroneous account of the Biden-Ukraine story. “You’re suggesting that Biden called for the prosecutor to be fired to protect his son,” Tapper said. “That’s not what happened.”


The Biden campaign fails to understand that there is news value in having not just humbug artists like Giuliani on their shows, but also charlatans and beguilers like Graham, McCarthy, Jordan and Miller. When forced to spar with critical news anchors, their lies become transparent and diluted. In his recent appearances, Giuliani has been a shvitzing, manic mess, plotting out imaginary treacheries and schemes by the president’s political opponents. Graham comes off like the president’s useful idiot. McCarthy looks like he’s in over his head, and Jordan sounds like he should be sized for a straitjacket.

- Who's Afraid of Rudy Giuliani?, September 30, 2019.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)