first things first, what is hybrid warfare? It’s a form of aggression by a nation-state on another that is an open attack but stays under the threshold of open warfare. It has a few other benefits. It weakens the target, and it is under the threshold of actual military action. It is cheaper, and it fulfills strategic goals, without the cost of blood, and the cost of treasure is far lower than open warfare. Why nations like Russia and China have done this for at least two decades. After all, how do you take on nuclear power without getting hit back? This is the perfect way
One of the ways Russia has pursued this war is by effectively participating in elections in the west, the United States in particular. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in 2016 and are coming for try two. They know the Trump administration will not try to stop them. After all, the President has been calling it a hoax from the moment he learned of it. Why? In his mind, it delegitimized his victory in 2016. He is partially correct, but his narcissism does not understand how this is an attack on the system itself.
Senator Bernie Sanders was briefed on this a month ago. The Washington Post reported on this. And to be honest, the reaction among some Sanders fans was predictable. Yes, they are paranoid, but the Democratic National Committee is out to get them. In effect, both are playing onto Russian machinations. The ultimate goal is to completely delegitimize American democracy.
Sanders took a far more measured response. One that we should expect from a leader:
“I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.
“In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”
So let’s look under the hood. What is it that the Russian Federation wants? Why are they doing this? We need to understand a relatively recent history. For starters, this goes all the way back to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the retreat by Russia from Eastern Europe. This empire went to the end of World War Two when the Russians expanded their direct influence all the way to East Germany. This led to a Cold War between the Western Alliance and the Soviet Union. The West, in particular the United States, was able to outspend the Russians in the military sphere. And there were a few times when the two alliances almost came to direct conflict, which could have gone nuclear.
One of the people who had to leave in a hurry to get out of East Germany was KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin. He was out of a job, and out of a mission. He was also out of a life goal, to defeat the West. At least this was the case short term. Many of his biographers agree that this was very traumatic and fixed in his mind a goal. It was revenge on the west and the United States in particular. The only way to pursue this was through the world of Russian politics. He not only rose through the ranks, but he also molded Russian politics to his liking. He became the essential man who could fix it. He also enabled a set of very corrupt policies where loyalty to Putin is far more important than loyalty to Russia. Why? Putin is Russia.
After he consolidated power he moved on to his next goal.. He saw the breakup of the Soviet Union as a historic mistake. So he tasked his intel service to find ways to get even, while pretending to join the west as a responsible state, at least in the beginning.
His intelligence services have a few important goals which they have pursued relentlessly:
• Discredit Democracy: this is a western institution. It also could weaken Putin’s role. Why there are elections in Russia, even if the results are doubtful many times.
• Destroy the Western Alliance: this should need no explanation, but the alliance has successfully contained first the Soviet Union, and now Russia. Putin wants to rebuild the Empire, and the alliance stands in the way.
• Rebuild the Russian Empire: This needs repeating because many Americans do not realize how deep this is. It would be the third Russian empire, at least. And Putin sees his nation as essential, and with a manifest destiny.
• Return to a traditional religious society: since he came to power he created an alliance with the Eastern Orthodox Church. And part of the bargain is a place of dominance for the very conservative church. Some consequences include the persecution of LGBTQ people, including restrictive laws.
His services have been very effective since Western Democracies have some inherent weaknesses. One of them is our penchant for free speech which can easily be weaponized. The Russians have used social media, in particular, to attack and divide the United States, as well as other western democracies. Many Americans refuse to take this seriously because in some ways we are still very provincial and naive people. Many also believe that if it’s on the Internet it must be true. There is a lot of information on the internet that is hardly true. Also, there are a lot of sites that look like news services that are not. And some are managed by interested parties trying to divide the country. It works, partly because they know us better than we know ourselves.
There are two major reasons for their success beyond obvious naïveté. The Russians are exploiting them as well. These conditions have developed over the last two generations, partially because of the economic and social conditions of the neoliberal age. People have lost a lot of economic ground and the anxiety is deep. There is also social angst as minorities finally access the top levers of power. which is scaring whites in particular. To be specific, high school educated. white workers who see their world ending. There are as follows:
Distrust in Elites: Americans do not trust their political parties or their politicians. What is interesting is that Americans re-elect their personal politician like clockwork though. Regardless. Congress is seen as beyond broken, and in some places in the hands of the deep state (see the president.)
This is easy to exploit, and the Russians have to great effect. This is why Americans also do not line coastal elites, Hollywood elites, and the media. Again, the Russians have been extremely efficient at deepening those divisions. It does not help that President Donald Trump also has used this to his advantage, by not just calling himself the man of the people, but continues to question media, Hollywood and the Democratic Party. Every time we have the president go deep state or hoax, he is encouraging this. I have written in the past that President Donald Trump is a Russian asset. And now some in the professional commentariat is joining me. I will just say, about bloody time.
Distrust in Authorities: Authorities are anyone with an education. This goes all the way back to before the revolution. There is an anti-intellectual streak in American culture that is deep and long enduring. These experts include scientists who speak of things like Climate Change, and other elements that people have been told is a hoax. They also are part of the medical community that believes in things like public health and vaccination. The present COVID-19 epidemic will prove a challenge to manage since the administration has cut down the funds necessary to pay expert teams.
Chiefly, experts include members of the professional, career civil service These people are under attack and have been painted as the deep state, which hates Trump. There is no evidence that they hate him, but the president would prefer to go back to a service reliant on political favors and loyalty. He has not made a secret out of this, and is in the process of dismantling this professional service brick by brick, not unlike Putin did in Russia.
For China, the goal is to kick the United States out of the Western Pacific and the Indian ocean. How they are interfering is still a question, but it is highly suspected.
What Should Americans do?
The first thing that people must do is admit that yes, the country is under attack. The forces are insidious but can be neutralized. It is not hard if you know this is happening. So here are a few things you can do:
• Admit this is going on. Chiefly Sanders and Trump's fans like to pretend this is some nefarious actors within the elites. Well, it is an elite all right, just not an American elite.
• Be careful not to share fake news, many of them are Russian or from other places.
• Commit to voting, and stop questioning every result. Yes, there are problems in elections, but they are far less common than you would think from what partisans post on social media.
• Some partisans are not your friends or even Americans.
• If you see somebody behaving in a nasty way on twitter or Facebook, alert them, There is a good chance this is an effort to divide. There is also a very good possibility, especially if the account is recent, that the poster is not American.
• If you find white supremacist pages, alert them as well. We know that many of these are put up by Russians.
• Admit that yes, some Sanders and Trump fans are nasty, however, many of them are likely not Americans. Do not take the hook, the line, the sinker.
• Realize that social media is not necessarily your friend, so be wary of what you see on it.
• Practice digital hygiene.