Many of my friends in Chestnut Hill are incensed by Donald Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon to a seat on the National Security Council. They say Bannon is a man who incites bigotry through the internet, a purveyor of twisted truth who panders to alt-right nativist attitudes. Most Hillers I’ve talked to, and the overwhelming majority of media pundits, charge that someone as outrageously political as Steve Bannon has no place in the innermost sanctum of American strategic thinking. They seem to have forgotten Clausewitz, who wrote that war is a form of politics, rather than vice versa.
Vladimir Putin certainly understands this strategic concept and has weaponized the internet in the political wars to devastating effect. Bannon’s political strategy is much like Vladimir Putin’s use of lies and misinformation in ways that inflame and legitimize right wing opinion while delegitimizing Establishment information sources. If Trump is interested in combating Putin, than there are few people as well suited to the challenge as Steve Bannon.
The internet technologies have forced a reinvention of warfare as surely as did earlier technologies like gunpowder, aircraft and telegraphy. In 2016, we and our allies lost decisive battles because Russia seized on the new information technologies and used them in highly effective ways. American international policy seeks above all to maintain the strength and stability of the NATO Alliance.
Since the annexation of Crimea in 2012, diplomats and war strategists have been writing about the effectiveness of Putin’s cyber and information strategies. Here’s a quotation from a 2015 NATO publication, CYBER WAR IN PERSPECTIVE,
“Russian strategic culture focuses on war as a political activity; for cyber power to have a truly strategic effect, Russia believes that it must contribute directly to shaping political outcomes by altering the political perceptions of their opponents to better suit their interests. If one also accepts the idea that Russians are especially adept at understanding the political and strategic impact of new technologies, it is possible that they have grasped the real strategic opportunities created by the information revolution – opportunities that might be given short shrift by analysts shaped by different strategic cultures.”
Wars need ruthless generals. Ulysses Grant and George Patton, shining stars in America’s Warrior Hall of Fame, were absolute bastards who cared nothing for soldier blood or government treasure. And wars need grand strategists. Steve Bannon may be no more lovable than Attila the Hun, but he has the right qualifications for modern war and may be the only smart appointment Trump has made.