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For more than a year, America has been in a hidden war that we are just now recognizing. Russia has attacked us in an information war. They did much to sow discontent and disrupt the 2016 elections and may have helped elect Donald Trump as president.

Why did they do this? Probably the best explanation is that Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, fears democracy and wants to make the leading democracy in the world seem to be failing. Also, it is obvious that Putin is trying to rebuild the old Soviet empire and the U.S. and NATO stand in his way. Anything he can do to weaken the Western alliance advances his cause. Indeed, Putin’s actions may reflect payback for losing the Cold War.

So far, the information war has gone very well for Russia, possibly far better than they dreamed it would. To put it bluntly, the Russians probably helped elect an incompetent president of the United States who is pro-Russia.

For his part, Donald Trump is repaying the Russians by denying they are a threat and by doing absolutely nothing to counter their meddling. Trump has even refused to execute the sanctions imposed by Congress on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election.

The 2018 off-year elections will be a different story. No national offices will be on the ballots. The Russians will have to try to influence the elections for the US Senate and House of Representatives, which means 468 separate elections — a big job. They will probably focus on helping the candidates who are the most disruptive — the ones who play on the gullibility and prejudices of voters. So look for them to help candidates who are anti-immigrant, super nationalistic, white supremacist, anti-Muslim, pro-NRA, and pro-Russia — in other words, Trump supporters.

Two questions need to be asked at this point: What is the connection between Trump and Putin, and what is it that Trump is so desperate to hide?

It is a good bet that when the Mueller investigation concludes, it will reveal something pretty shady and maybe even impeachable. The question then becomes what will Congress do? If it is a Republican Congress, they might do nothing. The Republicans have shown an amazing flexibility in basic principles in order to take advantage of the Trump presidency. If the 2018 elections yield a Democrat majority in Congress, the game changes and Trump might well be impeached. Voters and candidates should keep this in mind, as well as being on the lookout for Russian meddling.

And what can we as a nation do about Russian meddling? In 2016, the Russians had a troll farm in St. Petersburg, where dozens of hackers worked in 12-hour shifts spreading lies and false rumors about the Democratic candidate for president. It is still operating.

If we had a competent president to lead in the information war, we could counter attack. Russia would be extremely vulnerable to the same kind of hacking and disinformation campaign they used against us. However, in the case of Russia, U.S. operatives would not need to lie or dissemble. The truth would work.

The government in Russia is a corrupt oligarchy. Putin systematically eliminates his political opponents, often by assassination. The economy is weak and dependent on oil. Putin is possibly the richest man in the world while the standard of living for most Russians is barely above poverty. All of this could be revealed to the public through social media.

Russia is not a fertile ground for democracy, but its people have to be yearning for better lives. They are being oppressed miserably by Putin and the oligarchs. Surely these potential causes of unrest can be exploited by our own information offensive, maybe even to the point of overthrowing Putin.

David Conrad, of Murphysboro, is a retired SIUC professor of history and the author of several books.


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