[…] Despite some esoteric aspects, the so-called Russian hacks, as promoted by interested parties in politics and industry, are firmly in the tradition of Cold War threat inflation. Admittedly, practitioners had an easier task in Selin’s day. The Cold War was at its height, America was deep in a bloody struggle against the communist foe in Vietnam, and Europe was divided by an Iron Curtain, behind which millions chafed under Soviet occupation.
Half a century later, the Soviet Union is long gone, along with the international communist movement it championed. Given that Russia’s defense budget is roughly one tenth of America’s, and that its military often cannot afford the latest weapons Russian manufacturers offer for export, resurrecting this old enemy might seem to pose a challenge to even the brightest minds in the Pentagon. Yet the Russian menace, we are informed, once again looms large. According to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Russia “has clear ambition to erode the principled international order” and poses “an existential threat to the United States” — a proclamation endorsed by a host of military eminences, including General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his vice-chairman General Paul Selva, and NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander, General Philip Breedlove.
True, relations with Moscow have been disintegrating since the Bush Administration. Yet Russia achieved formal restoration to threat status only after Putin’s takeover of Crimea in February 2014 (which followed the forcible ejection, with U.S. encouragement, of Ukraine’s pro-Russian government just a few days earlier). Russia’s intervention in Syria, in the fall of 2015, turned the chill into a deep freeze. Still, the recent accusation that Putin has been working to destabilize our democratic system has taken matters to a whole new level, evoking the Red Scare of the 1950s.