President Trump is trying to convince the American people that Russia’s cyber attack on our election did not matter. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It was an enormous triumph for Russia, a major battle won by them in the cyber war against the NATO Alliance.
It is a war in which America has much to lose. Without the stability of a unified Europe, our global presence would be weaker. We have been the dominant player on the world stage since 1946 because the great European powers have been aligned with us. The stability of this unprecedented alliance is precious. But that stability is under deliberate and constant attack by Russia under Vladimir Putin’s deft leadership.
Since 1946, Russia has contested our influence in Central Europe. Vladimir Putin, a KGB Colonel, has been a cyber specialist since the 1980s. Trump seems unaware of Putin’s war. He is so fixated on the Muslim Menace that he overlooks the geopolitical stakes for which Putin is playing. Putin wants his government to dominate the buffer states surrounding Mother Russia, and to extend that influence outward as far as possible, west and north to Central Europe and the Baltic States, and south through Syria into the Middle East. This is a different game from “wiping out ISIS,” Trump’s fixation.
Putin conducts information warfare. The first thing his Little Green Men did when they invaded Crimea was to seize the building containing the internet exchange servers for the region. But this “tactile” aggression was a small element in his larger information strategy. Before foreign elections (Ukraine, The French Primary, Brexit, ours) online communities funded by Russia aggressively publish hundreds of demeaning online messages about candidates they seek to weaken. These Russia-sponsored groups establish nationalistic websites that appeal to the right-wing that exists in every population. Nationalism is the great threat to European stability. The dissolution of NATO and the European Union are absolutely what Putin is after.
The President must broaden his vision. It is not only European stability that is threatened in the cyber war. Democracy itself, which relies upon a well-informed electorate, is being attacked. The effect of Putin’s lies is comparable to the effects of the President’s egocentric tweets. Trump has attacked our free press with as much venom as our enemies. He does not seem to realize that our democracy depends on professional journalists. Without them we cannot know the facts. There is no truth without facts, and there is no democracy without truth. When he tweets fact-free opinions, he bypasses the truth seekers we depend upon.
By aping the propaganda techniques of a Russian dictator, President Trump makes himself Putin’s ally in the cyber war. He says there is “no proof” that the hacks of Clinton’s campaign manager and of the DNC influenced the outcome of the election. He denies the deliberate insertion of Pro-Trump fake news into the campaign. Any statement he doesn’t like he declares as false.
The President seems to think that nothing is as important as his popularity. But the geopolitical cyber war is not a TV-ratings war. To lie about the vote count as if it is a Nielsen Rating is not simply immoral and un-Presidential, it reflects thinking that misses the greater significance of the Russian hacks. Russia wins when nationalism wins. Russia wins when Western democratic institutions are destabilized. World peace and democracy are both at stake in the cyber war. We lost a decisive battle in that war in 2016. President Trump must reverse the losing trend by turning his attention away from measures of his popularity and dedicating himself to more important matters.