How to Win in a Global War of Fractured Identity

In order to make this is as easy to digest as possible, I’ve started with three lists, followed by an analysis. This is just a rough draft, so please comment and question for the final draft.

What Putin Wants:

1. A break down in “world order” as defined largely by US leadership since WWII.
2. Russia cannot compete in a Cold War on a 1:1 basis and in accusing us of it, has forced us to deny it. That’s an ex of Russian reflexive control
3. Russia doesn’t need to build an alternative to “the West”. All it must do is break down the West. This is much easier and cheaper than building up.
4. A multi-polar, multi-vector, multi-faction war with no permanent coalitions who could strengthen to challenge them (This is why the UN, EU, NATO and US must be eroded)
5. More isolationist, more disengaged US is, easier it is for Russia to break down others.
6. A US without trust and common values makes us weak, and un-American, indeed a key component of our identity is our willingness to fight for right.
7. Putin is a tactician- not a strategist. Only a cohesive international strategy can defeat it — otherwise we can only react to tactics, never get ahead of them
8. “The Kremlin aggressively promotes an alternate ideological base to expand an illiberal world order in which the rights and freedoms that most Americans feel are essential to democracy don’t necessarily exist.” Putin’s Real Long Game
9. Russia fighting a non-linear war. We’re playing whack-a-mole in linear and lengthy traditional war, not realizing Putin has embraced the agile framework.
10. Putin is exploiting non-state actors and their tactics. The West hasn’t even realized non-state actors are changing the world, and accelerating the destruction of “Security Architecture”
11. Putin KGB restructured to the FSB, likely with bombing apts in 99, rejecting the liberal, democratic policies of Yeltsin. Economic strain led many people to believe this was good. A “strong” state.
12. “fail to realize is that the West is already at war, whether it wants to be or not. It may not be a war we recognize, but it is a war. This war seeks, at home and abroad, to erode our values, our democracy, and our institutional strength; to dilute our ability to sort fact from fiction, or moral right from wrong; and to convince us to make decisions against our own best interests.” Putin’s Real Long Game

Examples of:
A. US election
B. Veto Syrian Ceasefire in UN
C. Negotiate Ceasefire with Syria and Turkey only (undermine UN)
D. Invade Ukraine, Crimea, erodes territorial sovereignty
E. Support Assad in Russia- buys another warm water port, and ally in MidEast.
F. Inflame economic and immigration issues in Europe (Greece)
G. Undermine NATO- decrease protection for Balkans, Latvia,
H. Fund extreme right “nationalist” groups, including in UK to encourage Brexit, to decrease power of EU

How The US tacitly (at least) consents or participates:

1. US did not respond in Sept 2015 when Russia took direct military action in Syria
2. No sanctions until Dec 2016 for election cyber attacks, and then Trump says won’t enforce
3. US now threatening Europeans for not “paying up” for NATO and UN- alienating our allies, and decreasing our own power
4. Publicly stating we will not use hard power (yet we don’t even understand the soft game being played. Even if we did, freedom must be secured by hard power). Forgetting our own value (and identity) based in fight for right
5. “Fake news” inability to tell truth from opinion or lie
6. Weakening our own internal systems- the courts, agencies- think Intel, think EPA, think Army Corp of Engineers with DAPL= losing institutional strength and people’s faith in the system>> nothing to fight for. What’s the point?
7. Playing games with TPP and China- keeps China occupied from checking Russia too

All combine to so that Russia will have the most influence in the world by playing chief instigator in pockets across the world. There is no need for a physical or contiguous “bloc”. In fact, like with ISIL, it’s better if there isn’t because it’s costly to defend and build. Ideas and disbelief are cheap and bloodless, and any weakness or insurrection can just be moved.

So even if Trump or Congress decides to get tough on Russia, and investigate, it only weakens the US (I believe this is why Intel and Obama Administration waited so long to admit election tampering). Putin can admit it, and it only adds to his power!


First, we need to recognize there is a global war happening already. This is not a decision of whether or not we will declare war. In fact a “declaration of war” in itself is potentially outdated and unnecessary. It is a global war, and Syria is not separate from the Ukraine, or Iran or Turkey or anywhere else. We have to stop understanding the world through territorial sovereignty. That model is thousands of years old and it cannot compete with globalization. Even our efforts to maintain it, only accelerate its destruction.

Remember that humans are at core tribal creatures based in identity. Nationalism exploits that. Instability exploits that, fear, propaganda, etc. When we do not trust the outside or the outgroup, we turn inward, to the in-group. Folks who look like us, think like us, and the “other” is very scary when we feel instable. While we can find power and support in our tribes, we also increase the number of potential enemies. This helps Putin achieve his multi-vector war.

For thousands of years, power was traditionally based in the ability of a tribe, clan, kingdom and eventually a nation-state to defend its borders. If you claim it, and can defend its perimeter, it’s yours and you are legitimate. In this way, it actually makes sense to want to build a wall. That’s a natural, perhaps even bio-physical reaction. But an idea is not stopped by a wall, border patrol, a gun, a bomb or a drone. The idea will flow through the marketplace of the internet and anyone can “buy” it for free (think about lone wolf or white supremacist terrorism).

There are a couple ways to combat this. Traditionally, we’d build a bigger wall, a bigger army, and more longer distance missiles. Diplomacy worked because talking nicely works when you “have a big stick”. What non-state actors are showing us, and terrorists in particular, is that the biggest army is not effective against the needle in the haystack. Special Forces are, to some extent, but they are few and are over taxed and even the best special forces cannot find every suicide bomb. So while it’s still important to have a large, advanced military, our opponents are increasingly single, pockets, and low-tech. We’d do better to invest in analysis and psy-ops.

Which leaves us with values. The League of Nations was created as just such an organization. The Iroquois banded their tribes into nations and the 7 nations into a League. This was the same idea behind the UN and its predecessor the League of Nations, NATO and the EU- mutual support. Where these coalitions were successful was with a finite goal- the Iroquois fought the colonists for territorial control. The EU was motivated by almost exclusively, a uniform monetary system for ease of its members citizens between borders. The others had broader intentions, but only truly succeeded in specific missions.

The failure there was to connect people on a broader set of values. Values are not opinions and stances on issues but at the highest level of core beliefs- safety, liberty, shelter, freedom of movement and expression, right to legal representation and due process, that no one’s life is worth more than another’s.

So while the UN and NATO may cost the US an enormous sum of money, even if we 100% footed the bill, it would still be far less costly than the alternatives. We must band together, embrace the reality of permeable borders, incentivize good neighborly behavior and form tight relationships based not on assured mutual destruction, but on a shared risk model of construction, with vision and values, strategy parlayed directly into aligning tactics in a pluralistic global society. Out of many, One. Terrorism thrives in a nationalistic and fractured world. This is the antithesis of nationalism.

Writer, Principal Consultant at NOVATUM Consulting, Historian, Researcher, Pugilist, Politico