Small Wars Journal

Russian "Hybrid War: The U.S. Needs a Post-Mueller Reality Check

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 2:47pm

Russian "Hybrid War: The U.S. Needs a Post-Mueller Reality Check by Leonid Bershidsky - Bloomberg View

The conspiracy narrative wasn't borne out. Now Americans should dismiss the idea of a Russian "hybrid war."


In “Gruffalo,” Julia Donaldson’s children’s book, an enterprising mouse casts an oversized shadow to scare a powerful but naive monster. It’s clear now that the myth of a Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin conspiracy presented the Russian president as an exaggerated threat, when he is more of a mouse. American Russia watchers should be looking for other mistakes of this kind.


The concept of a Russian “hybrid war,” fought simultaneously with weapons, cyber intrusions and propaganda, is a good place to start this reappraisal.


The conspiracy theory about Trump as a Russian asset was grotesque and implausible, the plot of a cheap Cold War-era spy thriller. The narrative was built on the shakiest of foundations: A retired British spy’s unattributed fantasies, an obscure Russian lawyer’s lobbying efforts in the U.S. on behalf of her client, a real estate project that never even got as far as serious discussions and, most recently, on a campaign manager’s decision to share some polling data with a Russian national.


Yet serious people chose to believe it, as they once believed in the might of the Soviet empire. As the Soviet Union fell apart, I remember many conversations with American visitors astounded to discover how wrong they’d been once they saw how much of the giant’s supposed power had been a Potemkin village. I’m not sure Americans were all that easy to deceive then or now, though: It just fit certain political agendas to see Russia as a mighty adversary.


That’s the case with the “hybrid war” narrative, too: It sustains an industry of information warriors. But the narrative is as flawed as the conspiracy theory of Trump as a Russian asset was…

Read on.