If we were to write a spy novel, one of those exciting mysteries with skulduggery in the back rooms of nation states, secret messages, insider agents, moles, and punctuated with personal faults, this would be a great plot line:
One nation, the major protagonist we might call Rushtanastan, is still recovering from years of economic turmoil following the collapse of a dictatorship regime based on centralized commune control, as it transforms to an open market capitalist form of economy. Beset by unfettered criminal activity and greed among a few of the surviving leaders, they set out to compete with their main adversary, a world power leader we might call Americstan, which was mostly the agent of their collapse.
Rushtanastan’s goal is to undermine the power of Americstan so that their influence on the global scene is diminished to a third world level. They realize that direct confrontation would not be feasible. Military actions would cause very negative results, to the point of their total destruction. How to proceed? First, they train agents and slowly infiltrate the enemy’s society, in business, education, press, military, and government. It starts at the local level, electing city, county, and state politicians, making business deals that encourage investments in Rushtanastan, and developing media outlets that look and sound patriotic.
Rustanastan spends years carefully cultivating business relations with selected Amricstan entrepreneurs, and infiltrating the upper levels of the major political organizations, and into the halls of the most secret intelligence agencies, with sleeper cells and deeply embedded agents. Biding their time until they have all the actors in place, Rustanastan uses their plants to sow doubts and fears about social ills, assaults on civil rights, orchestrates economic failures, undermines confidence in the social safety nets, shifts in demographics, and hammers on the patriotic feelings that those fears arouse. Propaganda flows from their sources to influence the unaware populace.
Fast forward two decades: Engineering an economic collapse takes a lot of hard work and heaps of luck, but they manage to create a crisis that almost causes a world wide major depression and the collapse of smaller nations, using the greed of high-rolling investors to lure them into bogus deals backed by D- rated securities. The collapse is almost total, but Americstan manages to survive, although with severe damages. Social upheaval rolls across the land, with millions of the population suffering loss of employment and homes. The people are very unhappy, and many stay that way even after a very strong recovery over the next 8 years. Many feel left out, left behind as the economy booms. And they are correct, because it is the outcome designed into the plan.
Next, they foment civil wars in unstable countries in the Middle East, backing one against the other, funding the tribal leaders in their quest for dominance. It is a great distraction, and a dark hole into which other’s resources are dumped trying to alleviate the turmoil. It also creates millions of refugees seeking a safe haven.
Engineering an election becomes the next step, grooming a candidate, indoctrinating the support team, publishing the propaganda through their established “news” media. Rustanastan helps get their candidate elected by issuing fake news reports, paid trolls on social media, leaked emails, and constant alarming press issues. During that time they are also in quiet communications with their candidate’s staff. They use those calls to undermine the country’s security by allowing those calls to be recorded, and eventually released, all part of the plan.
Knowing that a direct assault would be fruitless, they use their planted agents to erode Amricstan from the inside, creating doubts, fears, dividing the people into left and right, neighbor against neighbor, race against race., religion against religion, citizen against citizen.
As Americtan focuses on their internal battles, battles that are carefully orchestrated, Rustanastan mounts military actions against weaker countries that test the will of Amricstan to resist. Each military push is designed to gain territory for expanding their economic power, and access to free export of their major resources: unrefined petroleum, methane, and seed crops.
As their plan evolves, the social erosion in Americstan continues unabated. Until masses of people in the public domain, some contrite politicians, and several uncompromised intelligent wonks investigate, tear open the curtain, reveal the culprits hiding inside Americstan and bring them to justice.
Rustanastan responds with military threats that are supported by their closest ally, a closed country we’ll call Nordekorestan, which launch ICBMs toward Americstan, but are successfully destroyed in flight.
International agencies attack Rushtanastan with sanctions that cause their economic collapse. The world is saved.