Lyndon Johnson simply couldn’t believe that short brown people in pajamas and rubber sandals, aka the Viet Cong, could defeat the full military might of the United States. That they did is what we’ve come to understand as asymmetrical warfare.
Now the Trump administration, filled as it is with old white guys who long for the 1950’s when the United States had a massive economic advantage over a devastated Europe and Russia, are about to make the same mistake. They are pumping up military spending, but a direct frontal attack on U.S. forces is not what we have to fear, with or without a buildup.
What we have to fear is the next round of asymmetrical warfare. Emboldened by their success at muddling the U.S. election and tipping the scales toward Trump and away from the hated Hillary, Russia has shown that it can hack into our critical infrastructure.
“On March 15, the Department of Homeland Security together with the FBI announced that Russian government hackers infiltrated critical infrastructures in the U.S.—including “energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors.” According to the DHS-FBI report, malicious Russian activities have been ongoing since at least March 2016. The Russian malware, which has been sitting in the control systems of various U.S. utilities, allows the Russians to shut off power or sabotage the energy grids. And they have done it before: The same malware that took down Ukraine’s electrical grid in 2015 and 2016 has been detected in U.S. utilities. The potential damage of a nationwide black out—let’s say on Election Day—would be significant, to say the least. And while Russian trolls and bots have captured public attention, they are already yesterday’s game. As I write in a recent Brookings paper, the future of political warfare is in the cyber domain.”
You don’t need bombs or ships or planes or highly weaponized military divisions to shut down our power grid. Once again we are fighting the last war, and Trump’s resistance to looking honestly at Russian interference in the 2016 election means we won’t change course any time soon.