Tribune Editorial: Rep. Chris Stewart is fighting the wrong war

(Saul Loeb | AP file photo) Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, holds up a copy of the transcript of a phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

Chris Stewart wants to take an anti-tank missile to a cyberwar.

Vladimir Putin is happy to let him.

The Republican congressman from Utah’s 2nd District has made an unfortunate name for himself as someone who will not or cannot see the threat that Russian meddling has, is and — absent some rapid changes in policy at the federal and state levels — will pose to American democracy.

Predictably, Stewart was among those who was closed to the best brains of the U.S. intelligence agencies when they briefed members of Congress on the ongoing threat of Russian interference in the 2020 elections.

The former Air Force pilot and current member of the House Intelligence Committee apes the arguments of the White House in claiming that Russia can’t be a fan of the current occupant because, among other reasons, our president has done such anti-Russian things as send anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and otherwise beef up the conventional strength of the NATO alliance.

Stewart’s faith in this 21st century Maginot Line is distressing.

Putin is far too clever to try to match the United States and its European allies in a contest of troops, tanks, missiles and jet fighters. Why should he, when the real theater of modern warfare is the much more effective, and much cheaper, arena of cyberspace?

This asymmetrical warfare warmed up four years ago using such tools as Facebook feeds and Twitter trolls manipulating the information front. The many agencies and bureaus of the U.S. intelligence community, and the Mueller report, all came to the same conclusion.

All reported that the Russian government stepped into fray with the goal of boosting the president’s campaign. And all now warn that the same thing is happening again, with new tactics that include working from servers located in the United States (immune to snooping from American spy agencies that are only allowed to operate overseas) as well as actual hacks of not just political parties but official state and local election systems.

Arguments that Russia can’t really favor the current president over any of his Democratic foes, in 2016 or 2020, are willfully blind to the fact that Putin isn’t so full of himself that he thinks he can choose the leader of the free world. He doesn’t admire the wisdom and leadership of the president we have any more than he likes Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders, who, we are now told, is also the beneficiary of Moscow’s meddling.

What Putin wants is to sow just enough confusion and mistrust that whoever wins the election will be compromised and whoever loses will be unwilling to accept the results. The ability of the United States, via hard power or soft, to head off Russia’s designs on the former Soviet empire will then be severely weakened.

And our president is making it entirely too easy for their president to have his way. Witness how the White House has churned through national security advisers and national intelligence directors in search of toadies who will put their loyalty to the president ahead of their duty to national security.

The fact that Stewart was, reportedly, almost next in that line also suggests that neither he nor the president understand what is happening.