Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Long War

John Robb says we’ve entered the age of the “facile, agile, enemy.” He uses the situation in Iraq to make his several points. The first idea is concerned with the decentralized and autonomous groups of “zealots, patriots, and criminals”:

Unlike previous insurgencies, the one in Iraq is comprised of 75 to 100 small, diverse, and autonomous groups of zealots, patriots, and criminals alike. These groups, of course, have access to the same tools we do--from satellite phones to engineering degrees--and use them every bit as well. But their single most important asset is their organizational structure, an open-source community network very similar to what we now see in the software industry. It is an extremely innovative structure…


Indeed, because the insurgents in Iraq lack a recognizable center of gravity--a leadership structure or an ideology--they are nearly immune to the application of conventional military force. Like Microsoft, the software superpower, the United States hasn't found its match in a competitor similar to itself, but rather in a loose, self-tuning network.

This he calls “open source warfare,” and offers information on funding: the “terrorist-criminal symbiosis.” Certainly we can see that in Iraq, where much of the mayhem can be traced back to the release from jails in Iraq — along with political prisoners — a large cohort of opprotunistic criminals.

Illicit by Moises NaimMr. Robb’s second point details how the symbiosis fuels terrorism. For example, he says that Al Qaeda’s attack on Madrid was funded by the sale of Ecstasy. He quotes Moises Naim’s book Illicit to explain how globalization has fostered a huge network of criminal endeavor with a “technologically leveraged global supply chain” similar to Walmart (just another example of how the far Left is in the right book, on the wrong page — ed)

The tandem operations of terrorism and criminally acquired funding have permitted terrorists to fight large nation-states on the cheap and on an equal footing. The strategy is “systems disruption” — something we have discussed on this blog in the past. A country’s infrastructure is a fragile thing. Much of it relies on trust, prosperity, and the competency of those who maintain it. Terrorists, for very little money and few personnel, can disrupt this arrangement in a chronic way, destroying the alliance and loyalty of citizens who rely on the infrastructure which undergirds everyday life. Here’s how it plays out in Iraq, and may do elsewhere in the near future:

Over the past two years, attacks on the oil and electricity networks in Iraq have reduced and held delivery of these critical services below prewar levels, with a disastrous effect on the country, its people, and its economy.

The early examples of systems disruption in Iraq and elsewhere are ominous. If these techniques are even lightly applied to the fragile electrical and oil-gas systems in Russia, Saudi Arabia, or anywhere in the target-rich West, we could see a rapid onset of economic and political chaos unmatched since the advent of blitzkrieg. (India's January arrest of militants with explosives in Hyderabad suggests that the country's high-tech industry could be a new target.) It's even worse when we consider the asymmetry of the economics involved: One small attack on an oil pipeline in southeast Iraq, conducted for an estimated $2,000, cost the Iraqi government more than $500 million in lost oil revenues. That is a return on investment of 25,000,000%.

The tipping point for this kind of warfare and turmoil has been reached, according to Mr. Robb:

Now that the tipping point has been reached, the rise of global virtual states--with their thriving criminal economies, innovative networks, and hyperefficient war craft--will rapidly undermine public confidence in our national-security systems. In fact, this process has already begun. We've seen disruption of our oil supply in Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Colombia; the market's fear of more contributes mightily to the current high prices. But as those disruptions continue, the damage will spill over into the very structure of our society. Our profligate Defense Department, reeling from its inability to defend our borders on September 11 or to pacify even a small country like Iraq, will increasingly be seen as obsolete. The myth of the American superpower will be exposed as such.

What he proposes for the future is both agonizing and exciting. As he says, with the next “wave of adaptive innovation” taking hold:

…all of these changes may prove to be exactly the kind of creative destruction we need to move beyond the current, failed state of affairs. By 2016 and beyond, real long-term solutions will emerge.

I have omitted his middle term, a long and detailed scenario of what may happen. It is not anything you might put together on your own, though no doubt pieces of these ideas are floating around in your head even now.

Meanwhile, Nelson Ascher describes what he calls “the parasitic mindset” of the terrorists who undermine us by using things we have perceived as an integral part of our civilization — airplanes and skyscrapers, just to name two.

He thinks if we use the lessons learned in World War II — lessons the Israelis put to good use in 1967 — namely, that the enemy’s defenses must be taken out before we can begin to achieve our objectives, we can prevail.

In both those situations, the German and the Arab air forces, respectively, had to be destroyed in order to prevent them from being turned against us. We didn’t learn that tactical lesson until we got a toehold in “fortress Europe,” and that didn’t happen until 1944. Before that, RAF and US bomber crews had a high mortality rate. After we changed tactics — destroying the enemy’s aircraft on the ground, rather than attempting to hit their infrastructure — the tide of war changed.

Before September 11th we could not have perceived the parasitic nature of our enemy — or, in some of the more hardended cases on the Left — that we even had an enemy. Ascher takes up the metaphors of biology to describe the relationship between the West (really, just the Anglosphere) and those bent on our destruction as an opportunistic parasite on a formerly healthy host.

He says it began with oil, but then spread to everything else; that whatever we create, they in turn exploit, including our political corrrectness, surely one of the most poisonous ideologies — right up there with miltant Islam — since the rise of Communism. In fact, it could not exist without a socialist foundation. Socialist and self-hating.

Ascher warns us -- we aren’t dealing with idiots:

We’re dealing with a very intelligent foe whose mindset we haven’t yet fully began to appreciate. And, besides being at war, we’re also competing with them. They are quick minded and so we have to be even quicker. Unfortunately, they are the ones who are acting, while we are but reacting to them.

That’s the key: we’re still in reactive mode. Our military is smart, valiant and adaptive. But they need those in charge to change the tactics in order to achieve victory.

How to do that? Go back and read Mr. Robb’s “Open Source Warfare.” This is a battle on many fronts, but one of the most important is ingenuity, and we have that in abundance, if someone could just muzzle the politicians long enough.

Or, perhaps, as one could infer from Mr. Robb's forecast of things to come, politicans will simply become impotent. And perhaps gradually move on, as the centers of power become decentralized and open-source.

We can only hope.


Raw Data said...

I'll go back and re-read but this post strikes me at first reading as both accurate and supremely prescient.

Senescent Wasp said...

Robb's book and the concepts he illuminates have been getting a lot of attention in some circles. Some of it from people who frankly "don't get it" and are battalion centric.

Combating this type of warfare will take more than just "getting inside of the decision cycle" of the enemy. It will mean getting inside his computer, his Razer and his Blackberry as well. There is a certain kind of internal dynamic to cellular organization and a certain kind of logic in inter-cellular coordination as well.

All of this leaves spoor and sign that are unique to certain kinds of enterprise. The problem lies in the fact that you have to see the footprints almost before their dust has settled otherwise you are too far behind him.

This means that today's fighters are the odd ducks that inhabit the world where the edges of the terrorist/criminal world bleed into the larger world. These guys are almost reflexive information collection devices. They have huge stores of information, like the kids with the stacks of baseball cards who never traded much but were focused on larger stacks.

They are the Serpico's, the Popeye Doyle's, the nether world informants. Some of them carry badges; some don't. But, they are out there, everywhere. they know about the guy with the heavy Cheeto's jones who always goes to the same 7-11 at about the same time and they know that the guy is hinky. They instinctively understand networks because they are embedded in an informational systems very much like networks.

The trick will be plugging into this information matrix down at the level where current info war stops and goes home at five and comes back in next day in a clean shirt.

Nothing that goes on down at this level is pretty or technically elegant except the speed in which the information must go up to an appropriate action level and is acted upon. It is intrusive, and not really given to lawyerly scruples; and a good deal of it is morally ambiguous. The coin of the realm here is information and the guys who collect from the collectors are engaged in a kind of arbitrage. The good news is that it operates like any other market. The bad news is that not all the currency is clean nor is it all money. Operations like this make storefront fencing stings look like Wall Street.

But, if the largest concentrations of rats are in the sewers that's where you have to go if you are in the rat killing business. This is not sitting too well with certain segments of our war fighting aristocracy right now. Mostly this has to do with training little Johnny Jones from Smalltown to go down into the sewers. Johnny is usually not the same when he comes back up.

Scott said...

Interesting but is it really new. I
would suggest that in previous wars
WW2,e.g., the combatants were even
more vulnerable to terrorism owing
to the need for a continous supply
of industrial armaments but it never was anything but a nuisance.


Because the rules were different
then. Ethnic profiling was commonsense in the case of the US.
Enemy nationals were rounded up or
at least closely watched. In the
case of Germany, Europe could be
occupied and held with remarkably
little manpower because of the use
of ferocious punitive measures.

It is my fear that if the scenario
you suggested begins to happen,i.e.
impacts our economic well being the
veneer of restraint and PC will give way to a more vicious fighting
of the type we saw in WW2. Fallujas
will not be assaulted by US infantry but by our Air Force the
same as German and Japanese cities
were 60 odd years ago.

It will be up to the inhabitants of
areas occupied by our enemies to
bring them to heel.

Right now and for the foreseeable
future there is no Luftwaffe to
impede our air power. With PGM's
we need not even bombard enemy
cities into rubble to achieve a
ghastly result. Nature will do that
on its own. Swollen 21st century
populations cannot long survive on
19th century much less 10th century
technology and it as your writer
notes, it is remarkably easy to
turn the lights off especially when
you control the skies.

jeyi said...

Wretchard, for some reason you've repeatedly referred to Nelson Ascher (of Europundits) as Nelson Archer. Please do correct that.

Dymphna said...

jeyi --

I'm flattered that you think I am Wretchard, but if I were, I'd have spelled the name correctly.

Thanks for pointing it out; I've corrected it.

And really thanks for thinking I'm Wretchard. You made my week.

Dymphna said...

Mr. Wasp --

As usual, excellent analysis from the dark shadows, most of which we haven't even dreamed of.

Still, it makes me sad to think that Boyd is becoming obsolete. One hates to live long enough to see one's heroes cast aside.

Keep up the bad work. Somebody's gotta do it.

Moved Elsewhere said...

I think Robb may have overestimated the enemy. They aren't that smart and we aren't that helpless.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Nuevo Feudalism -- Chester at Adventures of Chester, Martin VanCreveld and Philip Bobbit have all written extensively on this theme and I have no doubt they are correct, and that we will have to adapt to this to survive.

I'm enough of a child of the 20th Century,and admirer of the 19th Century (and its creation, the Nation State), to find all this profoundly depressing, however.

Moved Elsewhere said...

provides a very different and, I think, well-informed perspective. I suspect that at least for a time the Islamic war against the West will subside. Jihadist resources are better spent on seizing power in Muslim nations thereby establishing new bases of operation. Osama and company made their moves much too early and have suffered grievous setbacks since.

The war envisioned by Robb makes for a good novel or movie. It may in fact come true although I think not. I strongly suspect that the future struggle will have much in common with the Cold War and will largely be fought in 3rd world Muslim countries. It is a lot easier to subdue Bangladesh than the U.S.A.

Dymphna said...

Mr Lydell--

Thanks for the American Thinker link. It appears to be in three parts, the last one appearing tomorrow. I've downloaded the first two and will wait for the third.

He might make a good contrast to Robb and Ascher. BTW, the book that Robb mentions, "Illicit" is written by a former editor of Foreign Policy mag. Don't know his other credentials...

Fellow Peacekeeper said...

Robb is clever, but the

"Swollen 21st century
populations cannot long survive on
19th century much less 10th century

Exactly. The Arab street thrives and breeds on non-native western technology.

Unfortunately, the Islamoids have found the west's achiles heel - basically we have to be nice to everybody.

So IEDs in Iraq are detonated by mobile phone, the same way the terror networks are organized - why on earth is there a mobile phone system in Iraq? Why are they not reduced to communication by carrier pigeon and traveling by camel?

The parasitic Islamoid can only survive and do damage if the west chooses to sustain him. And the west is choosing exactly that. Its like not removing a leech for fear of the poor creature starving.

One serious flaw in Robb's work is assuming uncontested the continuation of the liberal mindset (and globalization, immigration, multiculturalism, restrictive law enforcement ROE) despite continued assaults on the body politic.

Moved Elsewhere said...

I think you made a good point in that a successful international Muslim terrorist campaign depends on Western technology. That is also a weakness as communications and movements of people and money can be monitored and ultimately thwarted.

It is hard to organize world-wide Jihad with messengers carrying abroad pieces of paper containing the orders of those living in caves or in the villages in Northern Waziristan. Our enemies are not ten feet tall.

Mearcstapa said...

As Ascher says, it's our politically correct society that is our weak point. If we were the same ruthless, courageous people our pioneering ancestors were, we would brush them away like the flies they are.

It's all about the West's mindset.

And that doesn't leave me much hope.

Dymphna said...

Mearcstapa --

I wonder how much of our culture is caught in the pc mindset. The schools and the media, yeah. But I'm not so sure about the average person.

I talk to people who never heard of the cartoons, and don't even raise an eyebrow in interest. But if questioned on some pc nonsense, they dismiss it as "crap," to quote one fellow.

The pc people live on the edges of the country and they used to control all the modes of communication. That party is over, but it will take awhile for things to obviously change. Mostly those media/academcis talk to each other.

Mostly people dislike government, distrust the media, and otherwise go about living their lives as free of the entanglements as they can.

Moved Elsewhere said...

Violent Islamists are incredibly stupid and self-defeating. Quiet colonization and exploitation of Western liberalism serves their interests. Every violent and newsworthy deed they perform causes increasing alarm in those they could have otherwise peacefully defeated and absorbed. The resources they are squandering in opposing strength could have achieved vastly more in exploiting weakness.