It gives me no pleasure to even consider this, outside of a plot for fiction. However, we need to consider it with an open mind. Is the shutdown more than just bucking for a wall on the southern border? Is this an ill-advised political move by a terrible negotiator, or are we dealing with hybrid warfare?
Let me explain. Hybrid warfare is a favorite of Russia. The 2016 election, BREXIT, the support of far-right politicians and ideologues in the west is a long-standing strategy. The goal is to weaken democracy itself and make citizens question their own institutions.
This threat is taken seriously by NATO, but the organization is nowhere close where it should be:
Finally, NATO needs to be more robust in exposing and challenging those who spread disinformation. NATO must find ways to support the spread of independent and objective information, and counter fake narratives, reinforcing the work carried out by the EU disinformation task force (East StratCom). It is important for NATO to learn from the historical experience of the Baltic States — countries that were occupied by the USSR for nearly fifty years, are especially attuned to Russian propaganda and are more resilient to disinformation. Faced with hybrid warfare threats, these skills should be shared with other NATO member states.
Both BREXIT and the American election had elements of hybrid warfare. They shared multiple elements of Hybrid Warfare involving psychological intelligence operations. We saw it with Facebook, and Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm hired by President Trump’s 2016 election campaign, gained access to private information on more than 50 million Facebook users. The firm offered tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior.
Cambridge has been largely funded by Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to the president who became an early board member and gave the firm its name. It has pitched its services to potential clients ranging from Mastercard and the New York Yankees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This matters, because they worked for the campaign. We now know that Paul Manafort shared internal polling data with Russia. This shows intent to do things that will benefit Vladimir Putin.
So how about the shutdown? It is doing great economic damage already. The New York Times writes:
The revised estimates from the Council of Economic Advisers show that the shutdown, now in its fourth week, is beginning to have real economic consequences. The analysis, and other projections from outside the White House, suggests that the shutdown has already weighed significantly on growth and could ultimately push the United States economy into a contraction.
If we have two quarters, one after the other, we will be in a recession. Mind you, many economists did expect one in 2019, best case for the president in 2020. The President crows over how well the economy is doing under his guidance. He is about to screw the pooch on this one. He is also afraid of being blamed for a contraction like Herbert Hoover was. And his fear could become reality.
However, the shutdown is further destabilizing the country and throwing shade at American democratic institutions. This follows the exact goals of the Russian state and hybrid warfare. It may deepen the populist bent that led to quite possibly, the worst president of the modern period.
What about the Senate Majority Leader? He leads one of the two chambers in the legislative branch. He is acting as if he were, for all intents and purposes, part of the executive. While the House has brought many pieces of legislation, including the bill passed by his very body in December with large majorities. He had the numbers, probably still does, to overcome the promised presidential veto. However, in December the House was in Republican hands, and then-Speaker Paul Ryan refused to bring this same bill, which likely would have passed as well.
While President Donald Trump first promised to own the shutdown, Republican leadership has also abdicated their responsibilities to the nation. They might be egregious enough to earn censure, even expulsion. Not that this will happen.
The party that once accused Democrats of being the blame America first party, are purposely weakening and destabilizing the nation. There are other periods in American history where a nativist, so-called America First, know nothing Party did this. Whether it is the Whigs before the civil war or the nativists of the 1930s. Both lost the argument. One was a reason for a civil war, which incidentally some in the far right currently fantasize. The other pretty much went away ten minutes after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their descendants were the John Birchers, started in California.
Some of the forces driving this are very much American. But Russia has taken advantage of them to advance policies that will ultimately restore Mother Russia to what Putin perceives at its rightful place. In the process, tearing apart western democracy and institutions is a state goal. Americans have to become wiser to this.
Hybrid warfare works when you have a very fertile ground. This paralysis is making one man extremely happy…traditional enemies, the US and the UK are paralyzed. This is cheaper than fielding a few carrier groups and strategic forces. Vladimir Putin has wanted revenge for the collapse of the USSR, and now he is near the point of real victory.
Trump is doing his bidding. What he thinks he will get out of it is beside the point. Whether he is conscious, or not, is also beside the point. Trump has been working to make Mother Russia great again. And it was very obvious at Helsinki.