Congratulations, President Putin! Everything Is Going According to Plan.
Why the Kremlin loves Donald Trump.
To: President Vladimir Putin
From: Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the National Security Council
Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich:
Congratulations on a great week. I am happy to report that Operation Orange is producing results beyond our wildest expectations. (And before I forget — no, our scientists still haven’t figured out why the guy’s skin is that color. Will let you know when we figure it out.)
So, to summarize: The Republican Party’s candidate for president of the United States has now cast doubt on Washington’s pledge to defend its NATO allies, suggested that he will recognize our annexation of Crimea and lift the sanctions against us, and watered down his party’s platform on Ukraine. And, of course, the WikiLeaks release of those files we swiped by hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems created chaos at the Democratic convention, causing a giant headache for Hillary. (Richard Nixon would be proud — now there was a guy who knew how to handle uppity females!) All this would have been great enough on its own.
But now Trump’s taking it farther than we ever thought he would. He has publicly asked us to help find the 33,000 emails that Hillary deleted from her private server — the first time any U.S. politician has asked Russia to intervene in a U.S. election. Of course, a little while later he said he was just being “sarcastic,” but the scandal has taken on a life of its own. We couldn’t have planned it better: We are officially front and center in the U.S. presidential campaign. No one can claim that we’re not a great power now.
The U.S. media are in a predictable frenzy. Lots of talk of a “New Cold War” and so on. It’s amazing. You’d think that nothing had changed in the past 25 years. Don’t they notice that we all have blue jeans and bank accounts now? We understand offshore finance better than they do, but they still think of us as the drunk cosmonaut in Armageddon. Haven’t they been paying attention? Didn’t they see how smoothly we pulled off that Crimea operation, using information war to pave the way for the takeover? How we used cybersabotage to cripple electricity grids in Ukraine and knock the Estonians offline? How we use troll factories to push our own views of reality?
They just don’t get it. Nobody has to lecture us about the Soviets’ mistakes — we’re the ones who have paid the most for them. Those hapless commies didn’t understand how they were hemmed in by their own ideology. We’re so much smarter than that. We’re not trying to convince anyone of anything — we just want to take down our enemies. And you do that through confusion, chaos, and intimidation. So Hillary wants to push us around? She’ll think twice now. Especially because she really doesn’t know what we’re holding in reserve.
And as for Trump — the crazier, the better. The more erratic he gets, the more America’s allies will lose faith, and the more openings that creates for us. He’s the gift that keeps on giving. And if he ever gets too big for his boots, we’ll just remind him how we play. If he doesn’t know it from his own business dealings with our people, his campaign chairman will certainly pass along the message. I’m sure you recall, but Paul Manafort didn’t just work for President Yanukovych, our man in Ukraine; he’s also done a lot of deals with our oligarchs. So he already knows a thing or two about the way we do oppo research (the rather tame American translation of our word kompromat). And then there’s that Trump guy who used to work for Gazprom, and that ex-general who even goes on our propaganda shows.
Still, it’s surprising how many people in Washington still don’t understand. “New Generation Warfare” doesn’t seem to be a term there yet. It’s the twenty-first century, people. Forget about ideas. Forget about facts, for that matter. We’ll find friends wherever we can get them, on the Right or on the Left. The key is to sow division, cynicism, paranoia. We support Scottish independence and we support Brexit. We support the German far right and we support the former East German communist party. Whatever weakens NATO and the EU, it’s all good.
This isn’t about ideology. It’s about power, pure and simple. And nowadays power is all about information. You attack your enemies by getting inside their heads. So our rebel friends in Ukraine shoot down a civilian airliner? Confuse people by spewing out a cloud of bizarre conspiracy theories. Want to stun your opponents into silence online? Overwhelm them with a torrent of attacks from screaming bots.
And it’s fine to leave fingerprints all over the stuff we do. The fact that we were a bit sloppy about the DNC hack is no big deal. The people who believe it was us know anyway, and — as Trump has shown so dramatically during his campaign — the people who don’t want to believe don’t care. What’s important is that our potential targets know that we mean business. It’s like the way we sloshed radioactive poison all over London when we did the Litvinenko hit: the Brits can’t have any illusions about how we’ll treat traitors on their soil. Not that that’s stopped them from letting us launder our money there.
By the way, Vladimir Vladimirovich, I think you’ll be tickled to hear that some American liberals are accusing the people who see us behind the hack as indulging in “neo-McCarthyism.” Talk about useful idiots. Don’t they understand that Joseph McCarthy is a model for us? He divided the U.S. establishment against itself by spraying false accusations in every direction, smearing people without a scrap of evidence. Now that’s what I call information operations! The Soviets didn’t understand what a gift he was for them at the time. McCarthy was awesome. A lot like Trump, actually.
Now if only we could do something about the Olympics. But you can’t have everything.
In the photo, a man photographs a mural on a restaurant wall depicting Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin greeting each other with a kiss in Vilnius on May 13.
Photo credit: PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty Images
Christian Caryl is the former editor of Democracy Lab, published by Foreign Policy in partnership with Legatum Institute. Twitter: @ccaryl
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