Trump-Putin summit anxiety; cyberwar without a rulebook; combating disinformation, and more

This is also why the cold-war framing of the summit, thanks to the choice of venue and grim talk by both administrations of a new low in relations, is off-beam. The summits Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev held in the 1980s looked in retrospect like surrender talks between an ascendant America and a broken rival. In great-power terms, the Helsinki summit, by contrast, is scarcely about Russia at all. It is more a test of whether American foreign policy can navigate the fissures in America’s democracy that the summit’s participants, separately if not in tandem, have widened.
The structural forces behind the Republicans’ Russia delusion make that a forbidding examination. Like most of America’s political problems, they flow primarily from high levels of partisanship. Despite occasional blazing rows, foreign policy was until recently fairly bipartisan. But that consensus had been softening in both parties. Mr. Trump has obliterated it. He has shown contempt for the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment and used foreign policy as a means for partisan point-scoring, including by dismantling whatever Barack Obama built. He also treats foreign policy as an instrument of his personal whims and interests. This is what the transactional edge he has inserted into American diplomacy boils down to. It is hard to imagine Mr. Trump focused on any policy, least of all the long-term alliance-building his predecessors were committed to, that did not promise a win for him personally. This has made foreign policy unprecedentedly politicized: how Americans feel about it is almost entirely determined by how they feel about the president. How they feel about Russia illustrates this especially starkly—because the implications of thinking that Mr. Trump is wrong and Mr. Clapper right, as many Democrats do, is that the president may be illegitimate.
Other reasons for Trump supporters’ willing suspension of disbelief on Russia’s malign intent are unique to Republicans. The most important is the fervor of their support for Mr. Trump’s blood-and-soil nativist policies. This is the main explanation for his hold on the right and the reason he can flip opinion on arcane foreign or economic policies so easily. American politics will remain fiercely antagonistic, polarizing the country on foreign and domestic policy, so long as it is defined in such visceral terms.
The Russian campaign was based on a simple appreciation of that fact. Many of its propaganda tools merely aped the sorts of chauvinist and ethno-nationalist sentiment that Mr. Trump and other right-wing politicians have long used to charge up their base. The hashtag #Hillary4prison was a Russian favorite. A Russian Twitter account published an illustration of Jesus arm-wrestling Satan, with the headline: “Satan: If I win, Clinton wins!” Another reason Republicans might choose to deny the existence of such propaganda is because to do otherwise would be to admit that they have been had, and not only by Moscow.
Once a display of strength, relations with Russia have become a mirror to America’s big weakness, the political threat from within. That is why Mr. Putin has been able to sow such chaos so cheaply; why he is getting away with it so easily; and why his meddling will surely continue. It is not clear what might break the cycle. But you can bet it will not happen in Helsinki.

The EU and NATO and Trump — Oh My! (Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy)
It is no secret that U.S. President Donald Trump has an instinctive animus against the European Union and NATO. He supported the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, reportedly advised French President Emmanuel Macron that his country should leave the union too, and [two weeks ago] falsely claimed that the EU was created “to take advantage of the United States.” (This last statement raises an obvious question: Does Trump know any history at all? The answer appears to be no.) He has long complained that NATO’s European members aren’t paying enough for defense and has offered only tepid support for the mutual defense clause that is at the heart of the NATO treaty.
So, it’s not surprising that both Europeans and Americans are now [watching] the NATO summit [taking place this week] with a certain foreboding. Coming on the heels of Trump’s petulant tantrums during and after the G-7 summit in June, and taking place just before he is scheduled to meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the summit could turn out to be the diplomatic equivalent of a 29-car pileup.
Unfortunately, Trump’s evident distaste for these institutions mostly reveals his own ignorance and lack of strategic acumen. Why? Because there is a connection between U.S. interests, its commitment to NATO, and the strength of the EU…. [T]he United States still has a continuing interest in peace in Europe, partly for economic reasons, but mostly so that Americans don’t have to spend much time worrying about that region and can focus on areas — most notably Asia — where the balance of power is more delicate and a potential regional hegemon, China, is apparent. For this reason, the U.S. role in Europe should be reduced gradually and in a cooperative spirit, so that NATO’s European members have time to adjust. Trump’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to diplomacy is exactly the wrong way to proceed.
And that’s where the EU comes in. The European Union and its predecessors were not created to rip the United States off, as Trump claims, but rather to help Western Europe generate the economic strength needed to stand up to the Soviet Union and to make war between Europe’s separate states unlikely-to-unthinkable. Given that the United States still has an interest in a tranquil Europe, a strong EU would be even more valuable if the U.S. security role in Europe were to decline.
For this reason, Trump’s simultaneous opposition to the EU and skepticism about NATO is both short-sighted and contradictory…. [U]nraveling the EU would accelerate the renationalization of European foreign policy and reignite security competition there, which would in turn force the United States to pay more attention to Europe than if Europe remained loosely unified and therefore mostly tranquil.
This brings us to the upcoming meeting with Putin. Unlike those who see the Russian president as the prince of darkness or Trump’s puppet master, I think 1) the West deserves an equal share of the blame for the deteriorating relationship, 2) it would be good if relations could be repaired, and 3) in the abstract, it makes good sense for Trump to talk directly to him to see if No. 2 can be achieved. If Trump were smart, however, and interested in a striking a good deal with Putin, he would want to show up in Helsinki later this month with a successful NATO summit and a united alliance behind him. This situation would give him maximum leverage and force Putin to match any U.S. offers with concessions of his own. By contrast, if Trump showed up with NATO in disarray, Putin would have already achieved a core strategic goal and would have little reason to do Trump any favors.
But as Mark Landler of the New York Times recently noted, Trump’s pattern of behavior thus far is the exact opposite. Instead of aggressively bargaining with foreign leaders, he simply offers autocrats unilateral concessions and get nothing but a photo-op in return. As befits an uncontrollable narcissist and former reality TV show host, Trump cares more about getting a big audience than getting good deals. He knows the world will be watching him in Helsinki — just as it was watching when he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore — and he probably also knows that you get bigger ratings by meeting with ruthless but colorful dictators than with the polite, well-meaning, democratically elected, and often boring presidents or prime ministers of America’s longtime allies. The national interest is irrelevant; it’s the Nielsen ratings that count.
By Trump’s standards, in short, his meeting with Putin will be successful simply by occurring, even if the famously disciplined Russian leader picks Trump’s pocket just as nimbly as Kim did.
What can head off this looming train wreck, now that Trump is by most accounts less interested in expert advice and increasingly inclined to trust his own flawed instincts? I don’t know, but we do know that the president is very sensitive to criticism and hates to be made fun of. If I were trying to steer him in the right direction, I’d tell him I was worried that leaders like Kim, Xi Jinping, and Putin were starting to laugh at his diplomatic naiveté, and that the only way to stop their snickering would be to spend a few days acting like a statesman rather than a stooge.

Greece to expel, ban Russian diplomats (RFE/RL)
Greece will expel two Russian diplomats and ban entry to another two over suspicions they attempted to undermine a deal between Athens and Macedonia last month, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reports. The deal Greece brokered with Macedonia last month that ended a decades-old standoff over its name. The two countries agreed to the renaming of the former Yugoslav republic’s name to North Macedonia. The deal is expected to pave the way for Macedonia to join NATO in a region where Russia and the West are jostling for influence.

What Trump’s Supreme Court pick means for the Russia probe (Darren Samuelsohn, Politico)
Kavanaugh could find himself weighing in on thorny legal issues related to Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, including whether a sitting president can be indicted.

Information operations are a cybersecurity problem: Toward a new strategic paradigm to combat disinformation (by Jonathon Morgan and Renee DiResta, Just Security)
Disinformation, misinformation, and social media hoaxes have evolved from a nuisance into high-stakes information war. State actors with geopolitical motivations, ideological true believers, non-state violent extremists, and economically-motivated enterprises are able to manipulate narratives on social media with ease, and it’s happening each and every day. Traditional analysis of propaganda and disinformation has focused fairly narrowly on understanding the perpetrators and trying to fact-check the narratives (fight narratives with counter-narratives, fight speech with more speech). Today’s information operations, however, are materially different – they’re computational. They’re driven by algorithms and are conducted with unprecedented scale and efficiency. To push a narrative today, content is quickly assembled, posted to platforms with large standing audiences, targeted at those most likely to be receptive to it, and then the platform’s algorithms are manipulated to make the content go viral (or at least, to make it easily discoverable). These operations are exploiting weakness in our information ecosystem. To combat this evolving threat, we have to address those structural weaknesses…but as platform features change and determined adversaries find new tactics, it often feels like whack-a-mole. It’s time to change our way of thinking about propaganda and disinformation: it’s not a truth-in-narrative issue, it’s an adversarial attack in the information space. Info ops are a cybersecurity issue.

Waging cyber war without a rulebook (Derek B. Johnson, FCW)
For years, security experts have warned of an impending cyber Pearl Harbor: an attack so big and bold that it cripples U.S. infrastructure and demands a military response. However, in interviews with former White House and executive branch officials as well as members of Congress and staffers involved in cyber policy, many expressed more concern about the potential for a Cyber Gulf of Tonkin: a misunderstanding or misattribution around an event that precipitates or is used as a justification for war.

GOP senators tell contradictory stories about Moscow trip (Andrew Desiderio, Daily Beast)
A key Republican came back from the Kremlin seemingly shrugging off Russian aggression. His colleagues are confused as hell by his talk. Inside a controversial mission to Moscow.

Giuliani works for foreign clients while serving as Trump’s attorney (Josh Dawsey, Tom Hamburger, and Ashley Parker, Washington Post)
Rudolph W. Giuliani continues to work on behalf of foreign clients both personally and through his namesake security firm while serving as President Trump’s personal attorney — an arrangement experts say raises conflict-of-interest concerns and could run afoul of federal ethics laws. Giuliani said in recent interviews with the Washington Post that he is working with clients in Brazil and Colombia, among other countries. Among the clients represented by Giuliani’s consulting firm is the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, whose mayor was a leading figure in the Party of Regions, the Russia-friendly political party at the center of the federal conspiracy prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. His firm worked for the mayor in 2018 and is expected to work for him again later this year, Giuliani said in an interview. Carrie Menkel-Meadow, a legal-ethics professor at the University of California at Irvine, said it is generally unwise for the president’s attorney to have foreign business clients, because of the high likelihood they will have competing interests. “I think Rudy believes because he is doing the job pro bono the rules do not apply to him, but they do,” Menkel-Meadow said.

Former Putin adviser has secret investment in US energy firm praised by Trump (Luke Harding, Guardian)
Vladimir Putin’s former chief of staff has a secret investment in an American energy company hailed by Donald Trump as creating jobs for American workers. Alexander Voloshin – who served as Boris Yeltsin’s chief of staff before working for Putin between 2000 and 2003 – has an undisclosed stake in American Ethane, a Houston-based firm that recently signed a multibillion dollar export deal with China.