“It’s the biggest issue going on in our politics right now, and there’s nothing,” says Clint Watts, an information warfare expert at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. When I ask him what the Trump administration has been doing to fight back against foreign influence campaigns, he groans. “No action. No plans, no execution, no willingness to do it.”
And that’s not just in the State Department — it’s government-wide. This should be priority No. 1. Yet there is only silence from the White House. What explains this startling apathy in the face of a clear threat?
Watts, a former Army officer and former FBI agent, has an interesting theory on this score. It used to be, he says, that we had a pretty clear message we could deploy against hostile propagandists. We used to talk proudly of our democratic values, our rights, our freedoms. But now, Watt says, the Trump administration is keen to de-emphasize what we once stood for — as demonstrated by Tillerson’s recent push to remove anything evoking democracy from the State Department’s job description. “The sad part,” says Watts, “is that the Trump message is pretty similar to the Russian message: anti-NATO, anti-E.U., anti-immigration, nationalist but not globalist.” He pauses. “That’s where we’re having the problem. You can’t counter what you agree with.”