The "America Needs JEDI" Edition

A brief, mostly-serious diversion from the madness

The Big Idea

This week’s been a hectic one in the More Stable Family, so I’m going to partially cop out and recycle some material. I promise it’s good! Two years ago, a book called “Strategy Strikes Back” was published, full of articles about strategy all grounded in examples from the “Star Wars” universe. It was an uneven (but very enjoyable) compilation, and I was mad to not be included in it, so I proceeded to review each article on my Facebook page. To put skin in the game, I concluded with my own proposed “Strategy Strikes Back” piece, “America Needs JEDI.”

This summer, the think tank New America hosted an essay contest on “new ideas in national security,” so on a lark I submitted “America Needs JEDI.” To my surprise, it passed into the finals among the top 20 percent of entries, though it did not get one of the top six prizes/mentions. New America announced the winners this week, so since they won’t be publishing “JEDI,” I’ll inflict it on you instead.

Let me assure you this essay is SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. It’s a real policy concept that could help promote a More Stable Union. I wouldn’t waste your time! I promise to get to something weightier next week—probably Federalism.

Quick note: my “JEDI” is an acronym, so when I talk about the “Star Wars” wizards I’ll use “Jedi.” My information about the Jedi Order comes from David Wallace’s “The Jedi Path,”  the canonical reference work on the Order.

America Needs JEDI

These are difficult and dangerous times for America. Our greatest challenges are at home, where increasing societal tensions are greatly complicating the effective and democratic function of our government. Foreign adversaries are both exploiting these rifts and actively working to widen them. There are many disparate causes for these trends, including demographic changes, increasing income inequality, climate change, and aggressive peer competitor states. 

There are certain structural issues within our government that complicate our ability to address these challenges, including, but not limited to: militarized policing that emphasizes “enforcement” over “justice” and thus deepens societal fissures; cultural fetishizing of the armed forces that weakens non-military tools of national power and places mental blinders on policymakers’ national security choices; and a deeply-internalized risk aversion that constrains the effectiveness of non-military tools even when diplomacy and development are given supposed primacy.

There is no one solution to these structural issues, and solving all of them will not solve all of America’s bigger problems. However, there is a way we could make meaningful progress in addressing the challenges above, while perhaps setting an example for the rest of the country to look to: unify the disparate groups of civilian national security professionals into a single cadre: Justice Enforcement, Diplomacy, and Intelligence—JEDI.

The JEDI would not be a new bureaucracy, but a merger of existing groups of federal employees into a unitary personnel system. It would include roughly the personnel currently serving in federal law enforcement, the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, and the analysts and operations officers of the Intelligence Community. Viewed as a single cadre, the resulting JEDI would be an important—and desperately lacking—civilian counterweight to the armed forces in resourcing and policymaking. 

The legendary Jedi Knights long have been described as the “guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy.” The ideas of guarding “peace” and “justice” match neatly with “diplomacy” and “law enforcement.” The Jedi Knights divided (or self-selected) into three broad categories: “Guardians”—basically galactic police; “Consulars”—diplomats and scientists; and “Sentinels”—lower-profile, more technologically-adept Jedi who lived incognito and monitored certain areas long-term as opposed to moving from mission to mission like the Guardians and Consulars. These categories correspond roughly to the FBI; Foreign Service officers and CIA analysts; and CIA case officers. 

Unlike the Jedi Order, JEDI recruits would enter at post-graduate level rather than childhood and be free to marry and live normal lives in American society. The JEDI would not be a monastic order. JEDI personnel would be spread among existing federal agencies, reporting to political leadership as the professionals in these fields already do. 

The heart of the JEDI would be a number of “academies” spread across the country, each teaching the same post-graduate curriculum over a two-year course including summers. Graduates would receive Masters degrees combining the attributes of the Fletcher School’s Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy with the FBI special agents’ training course, and a healthy dose of social work. The goal would be to create individuals with the analytic and diplomatic skills needed to approach foreign and domestic challenges with a peacekeeper’s mindset, and the tactical skills to survive and operate in dangerous environments at home or abroad. As James Mattis might put it, JEDI graduates would be optimized to, “be polite, be respectful, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

Like the Jedi Order, JEDI graduates could be mentored individually for the first several years by more experienced JEDI. Mid-career “knights” aspiring to senior career status could be expected to work with the Academies to select and train 3-4 “padawans” over the course of a “knight’s” career.

Also like those lightsaber-wielding magicians, most JEDI Academy graduates would not be selected to apprentice to one of these top organizations. In the Jedi, students not selected to be padawans were sent by the Reassignment Council to the Jedi Service Corps, split into Agriculture, Medical, Education, and Exploration branches. For the JEDI, Academy graduates could go into positions in other federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the Peace Corps, USAID, or be directly commissioned as Army Civil Affairs or Psychological Operations officers—branches that particularly need civilian outlooks and suffer from having to recruit their officers from within the Army.  All of these organizations would benefit from obtaining personnel with the JEDI’s unique combination of intellectual and tactical skills.

Graduates also could be dispatched directly to local law enforcement agencies for some number of years, or perhaps be subsidized to serve in them—a Teach for America for cops. These could be agencies operating under Justice Department consent decrees, or impoverished towns that cannot afford to hire quality personnel, such as the town in Ohio that nearly hired the murderer of Tamir Rice in 2014. This “cop,” Timothy Loehmann, already had been deemed unfit to be a cop by the first town he worked in. He lied about this on his application to the Cleveland PD, who fired him after Rice’s killing. Why would anyone hire a guy like Loehmann? Because when you are restricted to hiring from the small pool of state police academy graduates, poor communities cannot afford better. 

For an example of an “anti-Loehmann,” I give you Officer Patrick Skinner, a 10-year CIA Clandestine Service veteran who came home to join the Savannah Police Department and was featured in a May 2018 “New Yorker” article. Obviously, officers of his background and perspective are human resource unicorns; local police cannot expect to obtain such personnel without help. The JEDI could provide local police more Skinner-level personnel, letting them weed out their Loehmanns.

Abroad, our best intentions to lean forward with diplomatic and development solutions often are hampered by our excessive intolerance for risk to our personnel, which was disastrously elevated by the fallout from Benghazi. Both within State and USAID and among policymakers, the tendency is to see diplomats and development professionals as “civilians” who must be protected from danger as if they were dignitaries.

Too often, we end up falling back instead on military special operations forces to carry out intrinsically-diplomatic missions because we will not risk “civilians” to do the job—even though realistically such small special ops teams are not trained diplomats and are themselves quite vulnerable. I have worked myself with special operations forces who are the first to admit these limitations.

If our State and USAID Foreign Service personnel had FBI-level tactical training, we could change cultural and operational assumptions and practices. Diplomats trained as agents would be better able to calculate risks and more conditioned to face them, and policymakers knowing the diplomats are trained and could be armed might be more willing to incur risk employing them. Like their military SOF colleagues, JEDI might still be quite vulnerable. But at least they would be optimally qualified for their missions, and if the situation was more dangerous, they could be embedded within larger military units without slowing them down. They would be a reinforcement, not a dignitary needing protection at the expense of the rest of the unit.

Now, guns are not lightsabers. They cannot bounce bullets and bombs back at the enemy. Nor will our JEDI have magical healing powers. We will take casualties. In most countries, arming diplomats makes no sense and is unnecessary. But giving our diplomats tactical training, even if they remain routinely unarmed, will both improve their survival odds and improve how we evaluate their risks against national interest when we consider putting them in harm’s way.

Moving to the strategy and policy levels, it is a serious problem for sound policy-making that by law there is only one person on the National Security Council guaranteed to be a career national security professional: the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Having the only certain professional around the table be a career military officer is an inherently unbalanced way to generate wise national security decision-making. The JEDI would have its own statutory Chairman (“Grand Master” is not a good bureaucratic title in a democracy) who would be the CJCS’s civilian counterpart in the highest council of government. This role would be purely honorific, not linked to any particular agency, and based solely on personal prestige, rejecting any parallel to the bloated military Joint Staff and instead drawing her/his information and staffing from existing federal agencies.

Like the Jedi, four councils of senior JEDI executives could top the organization. A High Council led by the Chairman could provide general guidance for organizational design, as well as national security advice to the President and National Security Council. A Human Capital Council could oversee the Academies, recruitment, selection, and disposition of JEDI to their different agencies. A Peacekeepers’ Council could consist of senior and/or retired JEDI available for service as special envoys, commanders of complex civil-military operations, or as senior federal officials for homeland security emergencies. Finally, senior JEDI could subsume the National Intelligence Council to ensure policymakers have the highest-quality intelligence. These councils would replicate the High, Reassignment, Reconciliation, and First Knowledge councils of the Jedi Order.

A JEDI of top-quality career national security professionals could go far to restoring Americans’ confidence in government, both at hyper-local levels and in broader national security affairs.  It could enhance the prestige of civilian government vis-à-vis the military while creating broader practical diplomatic options for policymakers.  It would not fall prey to the monastic insularity that so wounded the Jedi Order. Like the young “Broom Boy” in The Last Jedi who looks to the stars while Force-pulling his broom to him, there are thousands of young citizens across the country ready to hear the JEDI call them to service.

Teri Kanefield nails a critical point: almost all of what Trump is saying is bluster he can’t follow through on. She’s right, so nothing he says should deter us from casting our votes. But she’s also wrong, in that it still matters if his own followers believe him and take up arms to support him.

Jonathan Chait illustrates how Republicans are less concerned about what Trump is doing than they are about how he makes it look bad.

A professional wargame designer lays out his idea of four possible civil wars for the U.S. He’s got great analysis, but as I’ve noted, I don’t think the American Civil War repeats that way, and I struggle to see the Russian Civil War or Rwanda. I think the Former Yugoslavia is a more proximate scenario, and if Trump wins, probably something more like Germany’s Night of the Long Knives combined with Kristallnacht.

Senator and Florida Man Rick Scott says, “Now, I’m just spitballing here, but what if we vote, and then don’t count the ballots?”

Jeremy Stahl has a great rundown on Democratic options if a contested election moves to Congress, but he still leaves out the impact of the 20th Amendment—unlike with Hayes/Tilden in 1876, there is an outcome if there is no outcome: Acting President Pelosi.

Donnie Junior is recruiting a militia. That doesn’t have any Uday Hussein vibe at all!

FOXNews’s data people have an excellent reputation, isolated from the opinion jackasses. Our democracy may depend on whether they maintain that independence.

Bernie Sanders gave a great speech laying out how to protect our democratic election. Remember, it starts with voting!

Just because Trump thinks our response to his threats is funny, doesn’t mean he’s joking.

Facebook’s Group system has made Facebook even worse. Facebook knew this, and expanded it anyway.

Security Sector Reform

Mary McCord’s great team has come up with a state-by-state factbook on laws regarding militias. Tl;dr, it’s illegal everywhere to form a paramilitary force outside of state authority. Your First Amendment and Second Amendment rights don’t mix.

Radley Balko has the takedown on the Breonna Harris case. In the narrow sense, the charging decision regarding the cops who raided her apartment was correct, though they still should be fired just for their staggering incompetence. But no one has looked into the misconduct of the officer who swore out the warrant or the judge who approved it.

Don’t be surprised there were anti-police riots in Kenosha. Be surprised they took this long.

The Fulcrum asks the important question: who do police think they work for?

Robert Evans and Jason Wilson are two of the best investigators against right-wing extremists out there. This piece covers their online penetration of a violent extremist group.

Good Reads

Vox’s Matt Ygleisias has a good description of how our system is cracking as it loses its democratic character with each passing year.

Read Buzzfeed’s spectacular reporting on banks’ FinCEN files—their global tracking of money-laundering. Our government does next to nothing to stop money-laundering, and it enables all the worst things we see in the world today, to the tune of trillions of dollars.

I listen to David French even when I disagree with him. He also did a great podcast this week with Ezra Klein, laying out the need for greater Federalism as long as we remain so polarized. Here, he’s calling for returning to pluralism as a value. I couldn’t agree more, but I do think this, like many American political issues, is an asymmetric problem. People on the Left may disagree with many of our fellow Americans, but we rarely reject the idea that they are American. Conversely, Right-wing views of the Left are suffused with assertions we are “foreign,” “un-American,” or not “Real American”—phrasing that marginalizes our views and voices.

James Hamblin discusses how we survive the COVID Winter. Assume you’re contagious; get a flu shot; buy an outdoor heater. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Ralph describes how we’ll slowly ease out of COVID.

Jeffrey Toobin has a good rundown of the legal challenges that could go along with this election. Even the Republican lawyer who led the fight in Bush v. Gore thinks Trump goes too far.

Tim Weiner lays out the case for concluding our President is a Russian agent. He also tells us about an agent who got away with it.

It is a point of pride in my family that we count John Marshall as an ancestor, but that doesn’t make the Supreme Court the American sovereign.

The Washington Post lays out how a violent rally organizes. I’m sure the Russia angle is totally coincidental.

The President of the United States threatened to shut down a foreign company unless it entered a deal with a business ally of his, and paid $5 billion to set up an educational program he couldn’t get Congress to fund. Not a banana republic!

Is your family unforgivably nerdy? When the civil war starts and we’re all sheltering in the rubble, entertain your kids with the RAND Corporation’s Hedgemony game!

Other ideas or contributions for MSU? Send them to monganjh1@gmail.com, and follow MSU on Twitter @MoreStableUnion. Share with all your friends so they can subscribe at morestableunion.substack.com. Please stay safe, healthy, masked, and distanced!

Loading more posts…