The Washington Post editorial board recently argued it was time to stop asking Hillary Clinton about her email server. "The Hillary Clinton email story is out of control," it said. This is not an issue, it's a distraction.
Judging from the amount of time NBC’s Matt Lauer spent pressing Hillary Clinton on her emails during Wednesday’s national security presidential forum, one would think that her homebrew server was one of the most important issues facing the country this election. It is not. There are a thousand other substantive issues — from China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea to National Security Agency intelligence-gathering to military spending — that would have revealed more about what the candidates know and how they would govern. Instead, these did not even get mentioned in the first of 5½ precious prime-time hours the two candidates will share before Election Day, while emails took up a third of Ms. Clinton’s time.
Yet the same Washington Post published an AP article only the day before describing Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter's warning of the danger posed by Russia's hybrid war. "Hybrid war", as the AP article suggested is the process by which the political institutions of the West are themselves attacked.
Asked later at his news conference what he meant by Russian interference in “our democratic processes,” Carter said he was referring to what some call Russia’s use of hybrid warfare — “interference in the internal affairs of nations, short of war.”
“This is a concern across all” of Europe, he said.
Asked whether he had been referring specifically to the U.S. presidential election, he said: “It’s not a concern in the United States only; it’s a common concern” throughout Europe.
Octavian Manea and Mark Galeotti in the Small Wars Journal (it's a PDF) say Putin's "hybrid war" just is another name for corruption in international politics. "In this context, war is a political instrument ... of making the other side do what you want it to do." The main tools of hybrid warfare are bribery, blackmail and disinformation.
Their [the Russians] concept of the West is one where you really can buy politics. If there is a handful of people that you need to convince, how are we going to convince them? It might be by invading a province of that country, or it might simply be by bribing them. ... We live in an era of the insurgency of the mind. This is not about encouraging people to blow up post offices. It is not even about encouraging people to take a particular position. Back in the Cold War period, Soviet propaganda aimed to persuade everyone else about the rightness of their position, of the Soviet way of looking to the world. The interesting thing is that the modern campaign has been flipped around. It is not about convincing anyone else of a Russian point of view so much as to undermine people’s belief in any point of view, to create an environment in which no one can be quite sure about anything.
It is in Ashton Carter's context that Hillary's email server and the Clinton Foundation stories takes on significance. As one commenter put it on Twitter "calling it an email story is smart. It is a corruption/ treason/ coverup / lying story really." Whether or not Hillary was actually the target of bribery, extortion or disinformation the existence of unaudited communications channels with foreign politicians and institutions designed to accept donations is significant. For these must surely represent a point of vulnerability to hybrid warfare. That it's Hillary's server and Clinton's foundation is incidental. It is the existence of the pathway which is significant because it admits a blade which can cut either way.
It's an institutional issue, not merely a personal one.