One of the major themes in Creating Chaos – now in edit and still scheduled for publication in September – is the dramatic reversal of roles between the United States and Russia which has occurred in the second decade of the 21st Century. Creating Chaos is primarily a study of political warfare but there is always a shadow side to such competitions, deniable military action via surrogate forces, detached military or paramiliary forces under commercial cover. During the 20th Century, especially the Cold War era, deniable military action was largely a practice of the United States.
There were a variety of reasons for that, perhaps the most significant being that with America’s failure to comprehend the forces of nationalism and populism – instead seeing virtually all political change as an effect of a global communist movement – the Russians had the advantage of most often being invited into countries where regime change had occurred. In fact since the U.S. (other than under President Kennedy) failed to understand or cope with nations who pursued policies of neutrality, the Soviet Union was also able to extend its influence via trade and military sales agreements as America backed away from neutral nations and most often moved to covertly bring about new cycles of regime change with the intent of replacing neutral governments.
While that assessment may offend some, I think I make the case for it in considerable detail in Creating Chaos so I will leave the defense of that assessment to the book. The corollary to the American geopolitical stance, which most often opposed regime change, was an extended series of covert military operations, most often conducted by CIA field officers, exercising control over exiled, expatriate or local volunteers. Generally speaking, the success of those operations was limited and the long term effect on America’s image was negative, to put it mildly. If that sounds like sour grapes you only need to compare the international image of the United States immediately following World War II to perceptions during the 1960s and 1970s.
A broad and objective look at the practices of deniable military action, and the covers used to conceal it (which virtually never fooled anyone) are contained in both Shadow Warfare and to a lesser extent in Creating Chaos. That exploration includes the variant which uses military contractors and “volunteers” as surrogates for formal military deployments. The history of contractors such as Blackwater in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya tell that story effectively. Reliance on contractors and paid local forces is dicey at best, illustrated by the failure of the British security contractors (almost never discussed) and paid local militia (discussed even less) in Benghazi, Libya. And when you have to send in either the military or contractors to protect the leaders of new governments you have put in place, as both Russia and the U.S. did in Afghanistan, it’s a clue you made a really bad mistake in the first place.
Strangely – or perhaps not – what we see happening in the 21st Century is one more example of nations and leaders being totally unable to learn from history. Of course neither East nor West seems to be able to learn simply to stay out of Afghanistan. But today it seems that the new Russia may be proving itself to be as blind to history as the United States has shown itself to be time and again. That story is also a major part of Creating Chaos, and if you are not following the new tactics of Russian use of detached military, of “vacationers” and now of deniable military contractors, you are missing it. It has been visible in the Ukraine, obscured by the political conflicts there, but is becoming much easier to see in Syria.
And in Syria, matters are progressing to the point that U.S. military operations are directly opposing surrogate forces led by deniable Russian fighters, deniable to the extent that they are operating as military contractors. It’s a familiar cover but this is the first time in a long time – since Korea and possibly at a far more minimal level in Laos – that U.S. military forces are engaging and killing Russians. Given the national news of the day, you are not seeing this in the major media, but you can find a good in depth analysis at the link below: