What are Americans supposed to think when their leaders contradict one another on the most basic question of national security—who is the enemy?
This is happening every day on the floors of the House and the Senate, in committee hearing rooms, on television news programs, and in President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.
Is Russia the enemy, or was the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election just a slow-motion attack on the president and his supporters?
Are Russian fake-news troll farms stirring up resentment among the American electorate, or are mainstream-media outlets just making things up?
U.S. military commanders, national-security officials, and intelligence analysts have a definitive answer: Russia is an enemy. It is taking aggressive action right now, from cyberspace to outer space, and all around the world, against the United States and its allies.
But the public has been slow to catch on, polls suggest, and Trump has given Americans little reason to believe that their president recognizes Russia’s recent actions as a threat.
All the uncertainty is part of Vladimir Putin’s plan.
America’s confusion is both a product and a principal goal of a qualitatively new kind of warfare that the Kremlin is waging—a campaign that systematically targets a democratic but politically divided society whose economy, media environment, and voting systems all depend on vulnerable electronic technologies.