Every totalitarian regime need enemies. As Orwell realised in the 1940s they need both external and internal enemies. It’s as true of our present-day western soft totalitarianism a it has been of every previous totalitarian state.
In Orwell’s novel the external enemy is provided by the never-ending wars against either Eurasia or Eastasia. Orwell brilliantly realised that it would be useful if the external enemy changed from time to time. It adds to the atmosphere of paranoia, of uncertainty. Most importantly it makes foreign policy confusing for the average person. For a totalitarian regime that is a very desirable feature. If ordinary people do not understand foreign policy they can be frightened all the more effectively – and made to feel that the safest thing is to trust the government foreign policy “experts” who presumably know what is best. Switching enemies from time to time is of course also useful in training people to believe things that they know to be untrue. We have always been at war with Eurasia. Except when we have always been at war with Eastasia.
Our present-day leaders have absorbed Orwell’s lessons. In fact today we have the same “enemies” – Eurasia (Russia) and Eastasia (China). We also have an extra enemy – Islam. This makes things more confusing, which is of course the whole idea. These are very useful enemies because the threat they represent is so vague and mysterious. It’s difficult for the person in the street to understand how incredibly important it is to stop China from controlling a few islands in the South China Sea. So Americans (and Australians) assume it must be part of some nefarious Inscrutable Oriental Masterplan. It’s basically the Yellow Peril of a hundred years ago dusted off and re-used.
The menace of Russia is also delightfully vague and incomprehensible. Russia must not be allowed to control the Crimea, even though the Crimea has been Russian for centuries. The Ukraine is a vital national security interest for the US and the entire world. Nobody knows why because nobody is capable of disentangling the intricacies of eastern European history and politics. Obviously the Crimea and the Ukraine are vital to the defence of the United States – you have only to look at a map to see that. If the Russians got the Ukraine they’d be in Nebraska within a week.
Islam is even better. Ordinary people don’t know the difference between Shi’a Moslems and Sunni Moslems. They certainly don’t know anything about the Wahhabi sect. Ordinary people don’t know the difference between a secular Moslem state like Syria and an Islamic state like Iran. The fact that the Moslems in the Middle East belong to at least three different distinct ethnic and cultural groups – Turks, Arabs and Persians – adds to the confusion. And who the hell are the Kurds? Where did these ISIS guys come from? How come lots of Syrians are actually Christians? We’d better leave all this to the foreign policy experts. All we need to know is that Russia, China and Islam are all enemies.