When I happen to read two articles on two successive days that say essentially the same thing, I take notice. On Tuesday night before going to sleep — I usually read in bed for some while before turning out the light — I saw that the entire Foreign Affairs issue is devoted to “World War Web: the Fight for the Internet’s Future”. The first article makes a strong case that after guiding the growth of the internet for five decades, the U.S. has ceded that leadership to China. We are falling well behind.

Wednesday morning’s online FP — Foreign Policy — has a piece entitled “The Trump Administration Just Threw Out America’s Rules for Cyberweapons”. Perhaps out of his pathological need to overturn anything done by the Obama administration, the Trump administration has just reversed a set of guidelines about the use of cyberattacks toward a foreign adversary. The Trump administration has also hollowed out the State department’s cyber team, ditto for the White House team that used to run cyberspace policy. Now, all of that is concentrated in the hands of another crusty and out of date old man, John Bolton. What has replaced the process put in place during the Obama years? Nothing.

We’ve been focused on Trump’s endless drama-by-tweet, his daily attacks on perceived enemies and his presidency-as-reality-tv-show — and now on his likely criminality. As a result, we’re missing the fact of his badly outdated world view and complete incompetence to lead on issues affecting the worldwide web. Trump doesn’t even use email. China is investing huge sums in cyber capability, and Trump is trying to bring back coal.

The things that have in recent years brought about some change in cyberwarfare — broad based diplomatic talks between President Obama and Chinese President Xi JinPing as well as the Iran deal — have either been overturned or are things for which Trump has no patience.

Read this paragraph summarizing what needs to happen, starting immediately, for the U.S. to begin to regain ground. Then think about how likely it is that the Trump administration will do anything remotely like this.

Then think about how you’ll vote in November.

Ultimately, even more than focusing on tools and rules, the United States has to acknowledge a difficult reality: For the last two decades, the country’s strategic focus and investment has concentrated disproportionately on terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything else has been secondary, including responding to those who are threatening the country through cyberspace. No set of rules, cyberweapon, or deterrence strategy alone is likely to change the calculus of China, Russia, or any other country. In fact, the only reported instances where the United States appears to have curbed the use of malicious cybertools have been when it has built cyber concerns into broader discussions, including Obama’s agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015, in which China agreed to certain limits on theft of U.S. intellectual property through cyberspace, and through the Iran nuclear accord. Both reportedly produced changes in each country’s pattern of digital confrontation. This suggests that mitigating the harm from rampant digital insecurity will depend less on building more capabilities or plans in cyberspace. Rather, it will depend on integrating them into grand strategies for dealing with today’s adversaries.”

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