John Schindler, the former NSA official and professor at the US Navy Academy, has a theory of "special wars" -- basically running wars like the Russians do in order to be able to fight them.
Except, I'm quite sure neither he nor any supporters would like that reductive description of the concept.
I love John Schindler's stuff -- don't get me wrong. I always marvel that someone that young who didn't directly fight the Soviets in the dissident trenches understands so much about them and their methods, and is even able to teach others about it methodically. It restores my hope in the NSA after Snowden, which for me, like CableGate, is at least in part about the failure of government to keep out the adversarial hacker culture that accompanies wikification and moving life online.
Schindler has been absolutely right on Snowden and all things related to it, so I take seriously any theory he comes up with about how to fight the Russians better, especially now that they have really gone full-tilt into enemy mode. I'm all for containment, Cold War, deterrence -- the works because all of that is required with this kind of real threat to the West.
So how hard will it be to put "special war" over politically, given the Obama "progressives" and what is to come if they succeed again in 2016?
I've been thinking about it since last year, and have questions about it:
Ever since I heard of Schindler’s “special war” theory last September, I’ve pondered whether I like it or not — but then, war isn’t something you “like like” – as you do a Facebook kitty. There’s the Catholic theory of “a just war” which should have as its goals the ending of war. Does it fit?
I wonder how some of its aspects are to be distinguished from what used to be called “CIA dirty tricks” — and maybe it’s not. For those who don’t want to endorse drones and mass killing, “special wars” is an attractive alternative. And indeed, any moral person has to ask why we wouldn’t opt for “special wars” that are more efficient, require much less troops, seem brainier, and are more pin-pointed. That is, a drone might have “collateral damage” or hit women and children or wedding guests while going after the fighters who deliberately mingle among them — there’s lots of angst about drones become of the remoteness of the operation of them. Then massive numbers of troops — as in the “surge” in Afghanistan — that just seems to get lots of our soldiers killed, and not win the war anyway — precisely because we live in the age of “special wars” which the Russians and the Taliban for that matter are really good at.
So wouldn’t we rather have an intelligence agent parachute in and assassinate the Pakistani ISI operative who is sustaining the Taliban, or infiltrate a political party, or get inside the prime minister’s office, or whatever it is that you do, instead of massing troops around borders and trying to drone away militants. In the old days, that’s what the CIA did, and it worked in some places, but it got a bad rap.
That’s my question then. Once “special wars” gets going, how will it deal with the bad rap? The Russians and even some Ukrainians think the US has mercenaries parachuted into southeastern Ukraine already (we don’t); what if we start really doing that sort of thing?
Next, there is so much wrong with the military — scandals in the top leadership, suicides, massacres of civilians, PTSD– as I’ve noted before, I think this is a mismatch between the reality of what war is, and the PR campaign that the armed forces insist on retaining, which implies that you “learn a skill” and “get a job” through the military — meaning that the poor people who come into this setting think their goal is to get a skill and be assured of a job, instead of going into dangerous places and killing people. So that begs the question: can we make “special wars” with *this* army?
In general, I’d like to see less contractors in the armed services and government in general — most problems we’ve had — think of Snowden – are related to them. So would “special wars” be done with contractors? I think it would be better to have permanent, trained, regular armed services doing this.
We also need more HUMINT, foreign languages, education — how will that be assured? Can existing academies like West Point create the cadres of the “special wars” or does some other academy have to be created?
Finally, what about the moral problem of “becoming like them”? The Russians are good at “special wars” because they’re cynical nihilists exploiting illiberal ideas like nationalism or Eurasianism. Can you get good at “special wars” and remain decent?
So basically, it comes down to this: if Schindler means that we should get better at fighting the Russians who use this whole array of Bolshevik methods, from disinformation to masking to lying to agitation and propaganda -- by using more counter-intelligence and counter-propaganda, I'm for that. But how much will we be lying, cheating, disinforming, faking, masking, ourselves then?
Would it involve committing terrorism against civilians?
That is, I'm for exposing propaganda, calling out lies, vigorously challenging all the bullshit coming out of the Kremlin and broadcasting much more of it than we do. I'm for getting a lot more clever about dealing with this ruthless enemy in the Kremlin. Some of that requires clandestine work that the public will have to take on faith needs to be done, and the less they know about it, the better. But how to get that through in the age of Snowden, where the default of most young people is to distrust government and imagine the US is the greatest evil in the world?