March 08, 2007

Worst Case Scenario Global Guerrillas  Iraq

Rolling Stone convened a panel of experts and asked them about Iraq. All agreed that the war is lost. The only question is how bad is it going to get. The experts: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Clarke, Nir Rosen, General Tony McPeak, Senator Bob Graham, Ambassador Chas Freeman, Paul Pillar, Michael Scheuer, Juan Cole.

Best case scenario: Civil war in Iraq and a stronger al Qaeda. Most likely scenario: Years of ethnic cleansing and war with Iran. Worst case scenario: World War III. A few quotes:

Graham: I believe the chance that the chaos in Iraq could bring countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia into the mix is in the forty to fifty percent range. The big danger is what I call the August 1914 Syndrome. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo — what would have been in the scale of history a minor event — set in motion activities that turned out to be beyond the ability of the Western powers to control. And they ended up in one of the most brutal wars in man's history by accident. If the Saudis come in heavily on the side of the Sunnis, as they have threatened to do, and the Iranians — directly or through shadow groups like Hezbollah — become active on behalf of the Shiites, and the Turks and the Kurds get into a border conflict, the flames could spread throughout the region. The real nightmare beyond the nightmare is if the large Islamic populations in Western Europe become inflamed. Then it could be a global situation.

Rosen: Iraq will be the battleground where the Sunni-Shia conflict will be fought, but it won't be limited to Iraq. It will spread. Pandora's box is open. We didn't just open it, we opened it and threw fuel into it and threw matches into it. You'll soon see Sunni militias destabilizing countries like Jordan and Syria — where the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood is very strong. It took about ten years for the Palestinians to become politicized and militarized when they were first expelled from Palestine. You're likely to see something like that occurring in the huge Iraqi refugee populations in Syria and Jordan. King Abdullah of Jordan is resented for being an American stooge and an accomplice with Israel. I'm convinced that the monarchy in Jordan will fall as a result of this, and Israel will be confronted with a frontline state on its longest border with an Arab country.

Scheuer: I can't help but think we've signed Jordan's death warrant. The country is already on a simmering boil because of the king's oppression of Islamists. It could turn into a police state like Egypt, or an incoherent, revolving-door-type government like Lebanon is becoming now.

Rosen: You're going to see borders changing, governments falling. Lebanon is already on the precipice. Throughout the region, government officials are terrified. Nobody knows how to stop it. This is World War III. How far will it spread? Anywhere there are Islamic movements, like in Somalia, in Sudan, in Yemen. Pakistan has always had Sunni-Shia fighting. The flow of Iraqi refugees will at some point affect Europe. [...]

McPeak: This is a dark chapter in our history. Whatever else happens, our country's international standing has been frittered away by people who don't have the foggiest understanding of how the hell the world works. America has been conducting an experiment for the past six years, trying to validate the proposition that it really doesn't make any difference who you elect president. Now we know the result of that experiment [laughs]. If a guy is stupid, it makes a big difference. [Emphasis added]

Too bad generals don't speak that frankly before they retire.

In some ways, they may be underestimating the dangers. People still tend to think in terms of nation-state actors, but globalization melts borders. Globalization supports a free flow of people, funding, ideas, ideologies, techniques and technologies (including techniques and technologies for guerrilla war), and it weakens people's loyalty to the nation-state. More and more, people identify with their religious, ethnic, or tribal group. So on one level, globalization unites the world, but, paradoxically, it atomizes it at the same time. All of this is a recipe for a decentralized, entrepreneurial, "open source" form of war by what John Robb calls "global guerrillas" not acting on any nation-state's behalf. As in Iraq. August, 1914 may not be the best analogy. More like, Lord of the Flies.

Pandora's box, indeed.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:13 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

February 02, 2007

Fool Me Once Global Guerrillas  Iran  Iraq  Politics

The influence of Israel (via AIPAC) on US politics is enormous, and that influence is pushing us towards war with Iran. The Democrats are, if anything, more in AIPAC's debt than the Republicans. On Iraq, the Dems are making gestures, at least, of opposition, but Iran is another story. Digby has a very important post on this subject. It deserves to be read in full, but let me just highlight a few things.

First, Hillary Clinton speaking the other night at an AIPAC dinner (IHT):

Calling Iran a danger to the U.S. and one of Israel's greatest threats, U.S. senator and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said "no option can be taken off the table" when dealing with that nation.

"U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons," the Democrat told a crowd of Israel supporters. "In dealing with this threat ... no option can be taken off the table."

And John Edwards, speaking in Israel (RawStory):

Although Edwards has criticized the war in Iraq, and has urged bringing the troops home, the former senator firmly declared that "all options must remain on the table," in regards to dealing with Iran, whose nuclear ambition "threatens the security of Israel and the entire world."

"Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons," Edwards said. "For years, the US hasn’t done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran. As my country stayed on the sidelines, these problems got worse."

Their rhetoric is utterly indistinguishable from the White House's. So much for the opposition party. Digby says he's "starting to get agitated" about the Democrats' approach to Iran. He calls it "discouraging," a misguided political strategy. But it goes way beyond just a strategy. It's who the Democrats are. Unfortunately.

All the hysteria about Iran getting a bomb is wildly overblown. As Jacques Chirac put it:

"Where would Iran drop this bomb? On Israel?" he asked. "It would not have gone off 200 metres into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed to the ground."

Iran doesn't want to nuke Israel. The Iranians want a deterrent, so they won't be attacked by the US and/or Israel. The US attack on Iraq — but not North Korea — has proved the importance of a deterrent. Especially, if you've been designated a member of the "Axis of Evil." In any case, international inspections could keep a rein on an Iranian weapons program. But, as was the case with Iraq, the US refuses to take yes for an answer and let inspections do their work.

The final, horrifying irony is that an attack on Iran is certain to be far more dangerous and destructive to Israel than would be a situation where Iran is sitting with a bomb or two as a deterrent. As Digby says:

It is very unfortunate that it came to this. But you also have to recognise that as unpalatable as it might be to have another nuclear armed nation in a volatile region, it doesn't really take us much closer to the end of the world or even the end of Israel, despite all the kooky talk coming from Ahmadinejad.

Attacking Iran, however, just might. The repurcussions of such a move would cut the last frayed ties with many allies, finally destroy all of our moral authority and convince the world that we are a super-power to be contained, not an international leader that can be relied upon to behave rationally. It is a disasterous strategic move on virtually all levels that only someone with a puerile "might makes right" strategic vision would even contemplate.

As John Robb says, a war between the US/Israel and Iran "would quickly destabilize every state in the Middle East and allow them to fall prey to open source war like Iraq." I.e., we'd have not just one Iraq on our hands, but many. Failed states, torn apart by tribal guerrillas, jihadists, and criminal gangs, as in Iraq. It's hard to imagine what centripetal force would ever put those Humpty-Dumptys back together again. There are right-wingers in Israel — and here in the US — who embrace that scenario: if the other nations in the Middle East collapse, Israel will be left to dominate the region. But it's lunacy. Once those atomizing forces are put in motion, chaos will be inexorable. These people are playing with matches in a world of gasoline.

But more and more people seem to buy that Iran is "on the brink" of getting nukes (plural), that that's "unacceptable," that the Iranians are madmen, worse than Hitler, etc., etc. Why? Because that's what they're saying on the teevee? It's exactly the same script that was used to sell Iraq, but for some reason a lot of people think this time it's on the level. Please.

The people telling us what to think about Iran are the same people who lied through their teeth to get us into Iraq. They are the same people who were absolutely wrong about what the outcome of that would be. Everything they have ever said on the subject was a lie or wrong. Everything.

What are we, suckers?

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January 13, 2007

Rice: Bush Authorized Raids On Iranians Global Guerrillas  Iran  Iraq

Condoleezza Rice says Bush personally authorized aggressive raids against Iranian targets in Iraq. NYT:

A recent series of American raids against Iranians in Iraq was authorized under an order that President Bush decided to issue several months ago to undertake a broad military offensive against Iranian operatives in the country, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.

"There has been a decision to go after these networks," Ms. Rice said in an interview with The New York Times in her office on Friday afternoon, before leaving on a trip to the Middle East.

Ms. Rice said Mr. Bush had acted "after a period of time in which we saw increasing activity" among Iranians in Iraq, "and increasing lethality in what they were producing." She was referring to what American military officials say is evidence that many of the most sophisticated improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.'s, being used against American troops were made in Iran.

Ms. Rice was vague on the question of when Mr. Bush issued the order, but said his decision grew out of questions that the president and members of his National Security Council raised in the fall.

The administration has long accused Iran of meddling in Iraq, providing weapons and training to Shiite forces with the idea of keeping the United States bogged down in the war. Ms. Rice's willingness to discuss the issue seemed to reflect a new hostility to Iran that was first evident in Mr. Bush's speech to the nation on Wednesday night, in which he accused Tehran of providing material support for attacks on American troops and vowed to respond.

Until now, despite a series of raids in which Iranians have been seized by American forces in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq, administration officials have declined to say whether Mr. Bush ordered such actions.

The White House decision to authorize the aggressive steps against Iranians in Iraq appears to formalize the American effort to contain Iran's ambitions as a new front in the Iraq war. Administration officials now describe Iran as the single greatest threat the United States faces in the Middle East, though some administration critics regard the talk about Iran as a diversion, one intended to shift attention away from the spiraling chaos in Iraq.

In adopting a more confrontational approach toward Iran, Mr. Bush has decisively rejected recommendations of the Iraq Study Group that he explore negotiations with Tehran as part of a new strategy to help quell the sectarian violence in Iraq. [...]

In the view of American officials, Iran is engaged in a policy of "managed chaos" in Iraq. Its presumed goal, both policymakers and intelligence officials say, is to raise the cost to the United States for its intervention in Iraq, in hopes of teaching Washington a painful lesson about the perils of engaging in regime change.

Toward this end, American officials charge, Iran has provided components, including explosives and infrared triggering devices, for sophisticated roadside bombs that are designed to penetrate armor. They have also provided training for several thousand Shiite militia fighters, mostly in Iran. Officials say the training is carried out by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. [...]

This week, American forces in Iraq conducted at least two raids against suspected Iranian operatives, including the raid in Erbil. The United States is currently detaining several individuals with Iranian passports who were picked up in those raids. [...]

A defense official said Friday that such raids would continue. "We are going to be more aggressive," he said, referring to the suspected Iranian operatives. [Emphasis added]

There seems to be a fundamental misconception at work here: that if insurgents are succeeding against the US military, there has to be a nation-state behind them, pulling the strings. This is 19th century thinking in a 21st century world. See the previous post.

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All The King's Men Global Guerrillas  Iraq

John Robb, of Global Guerrillas, sees globalization as a force that fosters the disempowerment and, eventually, the disintegration of nation-states. Globalization is the atomizing context within which Iraq is disintegrating, and Iraq is but one example. So long as US leaders (and leaders of nation-states generally) fail to face up to the new world in which they're living, they're doomed to fail. Which brings us to Robb's take on Bush's "new" plans for Iraq:

[T]he failure of these periodic efforts [to tweak tactics in Iraq] may be due to an inability to revisit a key assumption upon which the present US effort is based: that strong states tend to form naturally if provided the right minimalist conditions. I believe the opposite is true: that states, once broken, tend to remain hollow and in perpetual failure. The reason is that in the current environment minimalist conditions yield social disintegration (we will see this minimalist/disintegration paradigm repeated world-wide, even in the absence of war, as globalization continues to rapidly grow and spread — which fatally undermines any argument that the success of globalization means that "we win," if "we" means the US and nation-states in general) and the ascendent military in the hands of those [global guerrillas] who would disrupt the state rather than form it. If this revised assumption is correct, it is safe to conclude that building a stable Iraq would require a level of effort that is beyond our ability to provide... [Emphasis added]

Globalization and global communications networks dissolve borders. As that happens, people's loyalties shift from nations to things that still have meaning in a world without borders: tribes, religious and ideological groups, like-minded communities. When a nation breaks down, it's pretty much Humpty Dumpty time. All the King's men — even 20,000 more of them — can't put Humpty Dumpty together again.

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January 08, 2007

Bio-Weapons For The Masses Future  Global Guerrillas  Science/Technology  War and Peace

Computer technology advances exponentially, as described by Moore's Law, the observation that computing power per unit cost doubles every 18 months or so. Biotechnology is increasingly an application of computing, which is one of the reasons why it, too, advances exponentially. Nanotechnology, ditto.

The rapid evolution of biotech means that before long — within a decade, certainly — individuals and small groups worldwide will have the means to develop pathogens as weapons of terror. They won't need to get their hands on anything exotic — nothing comparable to trying to acquire fissile material for nukes — and the tools, skills, and knowledge will be readily available because of their importance to private-sector biotech.

John Robb, of Global Guerrillas, draws on Robert Carlson's work to make some of his usual congent observations about what's coming. Robb:

  • [Carlson provides] evidence that biotechnology is improving at rates equal or better than Moore's law. These "Carlson Curves" plot the reduction in cost and the improvements in productivity available to individual practitioners. This means that very soon, in less than a decade, the technologies necessary for individuals to build catastrophic pathogens will be cheap and widely available. "Labs on a chip" are in the offing.
  • The knowledge and information necessary for developing catastrophic pathogens will be globally dispersed. As Carlson points out, work that used to require a PhD a couple of years ago is now accomplished by lightly trained technicians. Further, the low capital costs of laboratory development and its importance to the private sector means that this training and technology will be widespread. Finally, most of the information necessary for even extremely dangerous pathogens is available online.
  • There are no material barriers to the production of biological weapons. While certain reagents are currently controlled, the manufacturing processes for these materials and their widespread usage pose few barriers to circumvention. Unlike nuclear proliferation, there aren't any natural choke points.
  • Robb suggests further that, analogous to what has been happening in the realm of Internet computer crime, criminal networks will arise that will "actively produce weapons of bioterror for profit, and thereby become critical contributors to the global open source war now underway."

    For centuries, states held a monopoly on the means of large-scale violence. Globalization is bringing that monopoly to an end. In an era when the collective knowledge of humanity is increasingly available to anyone with an Internet connection, when people and goods are free to move pretty much anywhere in the world, overnight, and when weapons of mass destruction suddenly can be microscopic applications of ubiquitously available technology — all bets are off.

    This is a recipe for scenarios with a potential lethality perhaps limited only by perpetrators' consciences. Given that large numbers of people have no conscience, it's not an encouraging picture.

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:56 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    December 28, 2006

    Blowback Global Guerrillas

    I don't know anything about Somalia, but a more knowledgeable reader pointed me to a post at NonArab-Arab (as Arabic-speaker who monitors the Atab press) that makes a lot of sense. This is an excerpt from a much longer post:

    As Abu Aardvark likes to frequently say, Bin Laden and co these days are less about being an organization out to carry out direct attacks (though that still persists) as they are about changing the world view of as many Muslims as possible into believing the "Christian Crusaders" are out to destroy Islam. That, I believe, is a far more important battle than any bullets, smart bombs, suicide bombs, or phantom- or real-WMDs. It is also the essence of why the Bush Administration is such a set of royal screw-ups, why things keep getting worse everywhere Bush and co stick their noses in the Islamic and Arab worlds, and why Somalia is poised to become yet another disaster for US foreign policy...[T]his is going to be yet another Bushie disaster because the important thing in the long run for creating peace, stability, freedom to not allow Salafi Jihadists (who have zero chance of ever winning power militarily or at the ballot box) to "win" by letting their "clash of civilizations" worldview become the guiding worldview of the majority of Muslims and Arabs. The actions of the US and its allies in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, etc. all are massive examples which give credence to this worldview. US support for secular dictators throughout the Islamic world is another. Now it looks like Somalia will be added to the list (and once again, the US public will be sleeping as it happens and left ignorantly pondering "why do they hate us" the next time something nasty happens as a result).

    Look at it from the point of view of your average dude on the streets of Cairo, Casablanca, Damascus, Karachi, Jakarta, or wherever else. You don't have to agree with this view (I for one don't), but this is how it looks to them today:

  • Shariah [Islamic law] is considered a positive ideal for how law and order should be administered.
  • Somalia was in anarchy until recently some religious Somalis banded together to implement Shariah. In so doing they brought back peace, stability, and justice where they had power.
  • The US saw the rise of "true Muslims" and wouldn't tolerate it.
  • The US first tried to stop these Muslims from doing their good by re-arming thugs and warlords, but that failed.
  • When that failed, the US turned to Christian foreigners (Ethiopia) and aided them in a war to wipe out the good Muslims who were just trying to bring back peace and justice to their country.
  • Bin Laden had been saying for years that the "Crusaders" were out to harm Islam in Somalia, and suddenly it looks like his warning was right all along and coming to open fruition.

    Even though this version of events is frought with error and over-simplicity, it has enough truth, and the Bush Administration's policies are so genuinely dangerous and aggressive, that one has to ask, what in the world could they possibly say to turn the tide of public opinion in the Islamic world to their side of things? Answer: nothing. Once again, actions matter more than words, and US actions here are just plain wrong. That's not to say the other actors are pure and right (they're not), but it means that the sheer stubborn-headed automatic resort to the ugliest uses of force (direct or proxy) by the US and its allies instead of recognizing that there are genuine non-Qaeda interests and issues at play that need to be worked with in a complex manner — that therein lies the real problem. Bush's "gut" and Cheney's "one percent" self-induced-fear-mongering are the real sources of the problem here.

    In are likely to take a course something akin to the US in Afghanistan but with Ethiopia playing the role of the US and the [Shariah] Courts Union the role of the Taliban. Ethiopia may win hands down at first, but then the real action starts to build up in a guerilla war that has implications beyond just the borders of Somalia. A Christians-attacking-Muslims dynamic will be an easy propaganda drive for the Courts and attract foreign fighters with fresh and nasty skills acquired from Iraq and Afghanistan though local Somali fighters will undoubtedly be the bulk of the troops. [...]

    Folks, the point is simple: the Bush doctrine creates conflict and war everywhere it goes that convinces people in the Muslim world that Americans are out to get them. That in turn fuels conflict (for you Americans: that means it makes you less safe, not more safe) and makes the world a worse place. Somalia is about to become the next totally unnecessary-but-tragic example of this. And Americans are barely even watching. Get ready for another bit of blowback, as if we didn't have enough on our hands already. [Emphasis added]

  • In short: Somalia is poised to become another magnet and training ground for stateless global guerrillas (John Robb's phrase), à la Afghanistan and Iraq. Just what the world needs.

    The US goes stomping around the Islamic world, brutal, clueless, self-defeating: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed..."

    We're being ruled by lunatics. Blowback is inevitable.

    [Thanks, Miles]

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:06 PM | Comments (3) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    October 27, 2006

    Into 5GW Global Guerrillas  War and Peace

    The nature of war is changing rapidly, morphing into what might deserve to be called "fifth generation warfare". Read John Robb's discussion, here. No point in my summarizing it: it couldn't be more succinct. The US leadership doesn't understand what's happening to them, and they are doomed therefore to fail. Being a "superpower" no longer guarantees victory, if it ever did. It's more likely a case now of "the bigger they come, they harder they fall."

    Essential reading.

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:30 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 12, 2006

    Rationalizing Our Way To Disaster Global Guerrillas  Iraq  War and Peace

    John Robb talks sense, as usual:

    We are now at the start of a long process of rationalization over the US defeat in Iraq. The most common of these rationalizations include: if only we had "...not disbanded the Baathist army," "...sent in more troops," or "...become better at nation-building." However, in each case the approach is one dimensional, since we tend to view ourselves as the only actors on the stage. The actions and reactions of the opposition are discounted and explained away as fluff and background noise (those pesky terrorists...).

    A better, and more sane approach, is to embrace the concept that war is a conflict of minds. There are two sides. For every change in approach there will be counters mounted by the opposition. In the case of Iraq, that opposition was extremely difficult to beat since it was organized along the lines of open source warfare. This organizational structure gave it a level of innovation, resilience, and flexibility that made it a very effective opponent. Given this, the simplest explanation for the outcome in Iraq is that we were just beaten by a better opponent (the Israeli's seem to be getting this, why can't we?).

    The real question we should be asking ourselves is whether or not our maximalist goals in Iraq could ever have been achieved given the capabilities of the opposition and the limited levels of commitment we were able to bring to to bear on the problem. I suspect the answer is no. The goals didn't match our capabilities and there weren't any simple tweaks to our strategy that would have changed the outcome. This was a difficult way to learn this lesson, but given our tendency towards rationalization, I doubt that it will be learned at all.

    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. [Emphasis added]

    There's a fundamental irrationality in the Pentagon's approach to fighting this new kind of war: namely, its reliance on high-tech weapons — i.e., machines that kill — instead of methods that produce a political outcome. No amount of killing will produce the desired political outcome. Working at a political level is hard work, though — all those languages to be learned, and so on. Not much money in it, either. Way more fun and way more profit in building high-tech weapons, even if, in the long run, they cannot win. The weapons makers still get paid regardless, and if there's anything humans are good at, it's rationalizing their own self-interest.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:50 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 19, 2006

    Brutality Corrupts Global Guerrillas  Palestine/Middle East  War and Peace

    Israelis are asking themselves why the IDF in Lebanon has failed to achieve the kind of decisive victory that was seen in past wars. One answer, surely, is that modern national armies are ill-equipped to defeat increasingly sophisticated guerrilla forces intermingled with supportive civilian populations. All the smart bombs in the world aren't much help if there aren't any suitable targets.

    Tom Segev, writing in Haaretz, suggests some other hypotheses. The most interesting of these is "the internal connection between the quality of the IDF's functioning in Lebanon and the occupation and the oppression in Gaza and the West Bank." Segev:

    There is a generation of soldiers whose main military experience involves the oppression of the Palestinian population in the territories; they have not been trained for real war.

    Like the chief of staff, the soldiers of the occupation have developed infinite arrogance. Every private is a king in the territories: If he so wishes, he allows a Palestinian to go through the roadblock; if he so wishes, he orders him to remove his pants. The power of the occupation has implanted a profound contempt for the Palestinians in many soldiers, and this is the essence of their experience as soldiers.

    The Palestinian terror and its suppression have also granted legitimacy to a very serious systematic undermining of the Palestinians' human rights. The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from their homes, as though it were permissible routine, was carried out in this spirit as well. As opposed to the past, there was almost no protest in Israel... [Emphasis added]

    Actions have consequences. Chickens come home to roost. Brutality blunts and weakens the perpetrator. If you act like oafish goons, before long you become oafish goons. You forget who you were before.

    Israeli brutality vis-a-vis the Palestinians is bad enough, but what the US is doing in Iraq is far worse. The impact on our national character is already being felt. The longer we continue, the more hideous the consequences will be. Call it karma, if you like, or just call it psychology. But one way or the other, we will pay.

    [Thanks, Miles]

    Posted by Jonathan at 07:19 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 14, 2006

    John Robb On What's Coming Global Guerrillas  Iran  Palestine/Middle East  War and Peace

    John Robb, the guy to read on fourth generation warfare and the rise of loosely-affilated, globalized, non-state forces that he calls global guerrillas, has posted an ominous analysis of what lies in store. Scary stuff. I don't know that I agree with all of it, but it's essential reading, so I'm taking the liberty of reproducing it in full:

    As most readers of this blog already know, its focus is on putting the jigsaw pieces of a mega-trend together: the rise and evolutionary improvement of non-state foes. In this blog, we've tracked and analyzed everything from 9/11's terrorism to Iraq's open source warfare to Afghanistan's black globalization to Nigeria's system disruption to Hezbollah's fourth generation warfare. It's been a wild ride. Unfortunately, this process of evolution has caused a big problem. With each improvement in the capabilities of non-state groups, states have become more confused. Worse yet, they are blaming each other for the problems they are encountering with these groups.

    This tension and confusion has now reached a tipping point, akin to the situation that preceded WW1. Nation-states, confused and locked into antiquated mindsets, are likely to stumble into a global war. To wit: Israel's loss to Hezbollah and the US loss of Iraq to civil war puts both countries into an untenable strategic situation. Instead of blaming themselves for an inability to reach victory, they are priming themselves for a confrontation with the perceived 'source' of the problem: Iran. As it stands right now, war with Iran is likely inevitable. It really doesn't matter whether it is caused by a US (or Israeli) air campaign against Iran, an Iranian pre-emptive special operation, or a simple error: it's on the way.

    For better or worse, this impending war will not follow a familiar pattern of conflict we are used to. It will quickly evolve into something much more chaotic, an epochal conflict between non-states and states over control of vast sections of the globe. Here's how. Any attack on Iran will be constructed in a way to force regime change (my belief is that it will be an airpower EBO [effects-based operation — an attack on essential infrastructure] as we saw twice in Iraq and in a pale replica: Lebanon). When this doesn't occur quickly, and as regional chaos spreads due to Iranian counter-attacks the conflict will escalate to a ground invasion. At that point, the Iranian state will cease to exist in any recognizable form. A plethora of energized non-state foes will populate the landscape in its stead. These groups won't yield, and will bog the invasion down into a never ending counter-insurgency.

    Stretched to its limit, the US and its remaining allies will not be able to stop the process of self-replication that will occur. Non-state global guerrillas, armed with the evolved capabilities analyzed on this blog, will begin a process of regional destabilization that will sweep many of the nearby autocracies into the dustbin of history. This process will in turn create more armed non-state groups and thereby more foes. Further, this war will quickly expand beyond the Middle East as these forces make attacks on global targets and other non-state groups take advantage of the resulting economic and social chaos.

    Western nation-states, to bolster defenses against this chaos, will throw up barriers and enact measures in many ways akin to those of police states and totalitarian governments. This round of globalization will end, which will cause economic contraction, resource shortages, and chaos. [Emphasis added]

    Strangely enough, our best hope for avoiding a catastrophe may lie with the military officer corps. The civilian leadership seems completely out of touch with the military realities, and they have shown that they don't much care what the public thinks. But if the military leadership can keep their wits about them, perhaps they can take the craziest options off the table. Let's hope they read John Robb.

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:35 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 11, 2006

    Jets And Nets  Corporations, Globalization  Global Guerrillas  War and Peace

    Globalization is everywhere eroding the power of nation-states. Capital flows where the terms are most favorable. Corporations pick up stakes and move where labor is cheapest and environmental regulation most lax. Nations play ball or they find jobs and money flying out the door.

    Globalization undermines nation-states in another way as well: by abetting insurgencies by "global guerrillas" (John Robb's term). The nation-state's monopoly on military violence is rapidly coming to an end. As the US is learning in Iraq, and Israel in Lebanon, all the high-tech weaponry in the world doesn't count for much when your adversary is not a nation-state but a loose affiliation of guerrillas fighting a fourth-generation war. The US/Israeli style of war is actually counter-productive, since it produces a failed state where 4GW adversaries thrive.

    Just as capital and corporate operations flow where the terms are most favorable, global guerrillas — and, more importantly, their know-how — flow where their enemies are most vulnerable. An essential point here is that global communications mean that global guerrillas themselves don't have to physically move from place to place to be effective. Their example moves freely, and local guerrilla "entrepreneurs" watch and learn. Know-how moves around the world at the speed of light. It's akin to "open-source" software development, as John Robb emphasizes.

    It is paradoxical, and more than a little ironic, that the technology trends that have abetted Western hegemony may finally prove its undoing.

    Science-fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling, ever the master of the pithy phrase, has an excellent article along these lines at Wired, where he talks about the power of "jets and nets":

    If there are two technologies that have shaped the life I lead today, they're jets and nets. Affordable airfare lets me go where the action is — wherever adventure beckons, necessity compels, or duty calls — without having to establish residency anywhere. And the Internet lets me do business and stay in touch no matter where I find myself.

    Cheap flights and ubiquitous worldwide communications are the stuff of globalization. Ready travel lets people oppressed at home taste the joys of free society, while the Net exposes them to the ideas and customs underpinning that social order. The effect is viral, spreading liberal values and economic growth to benighted dictatorships and hopeless pits of poverty. So it's difficult to grasp that these two innovations might also be an imminent menace to Western civilization. Yet that's the counterintuitive thesis of UK rear admiral Chris Parry, a Falklands vet, former commander of HMS Fearless, and the British military's go-to guy for identifying emerging threats.

    During a recent briefing at the time-honored Royal United Service Institute — the oldest military think tank in the world, founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington — Parry imagined a future, circa 2030, in which the war on terror is still rolling along and the terrorists are winning. He describes a world so ripped up by nets and jets that sovereign nation-states like the UK are collapsing economically, politically, even physically. Then there are the people of that future, who hop from country to country and bear allegiance to none. "Globalization makes assimilation seem redundant and old-fashioned," he noted, pointing out that, rather than dissolving into the melting pot of their host nations, immigrants are increasingly maintaining their own cultural identity. Jets and nets make this possible. "Groups of people are self-contained, going back and forth between their countries, exploiting sophisticated networks and using instant communication on phones and the Internet." The result, Parry says, is "reverse colonization," in which the developing world's teeming masses conquer Western nations, as surely as the Goths sacked Rome.

    It's easy to pigeonhole Parry as an isolationist — and, indeed, much of the public response to his speech came from anti-immigration wackos who said, "We knew it all along." But he has plenty of forward-thinking company in these ideas. According to a loose school of "fourth-generation warfare" theorists, connected, globe-trotting terrorists are a bigger threat to the world order than hostile nations are. The technological drivers of globalization have enabled stateless barbarians to seize the initiative. You can't keep them out by blocking the border, and the harder you smash the failed states that nurture them, the more they thrive. At the first sign of weakness, these new-wave Vandals will log on to urge their diasporic compatriots to attack you on your own soil. Failing that, they'll hop on the next flight, pick up their baggage, and sidle into Starbucks to download the latest instructions from Abu Ayyub al Masri.

    Parry paints a grim picture. Still, his vision gives me an affirmative feeling about the future. If civilization is to overcome barbarism, its leaders must outthink the marauders. And the sturdy admiral's foresight is a bold step in that direction. "An analysis of trends and drivers can only go so far," he writes. "We also need to expect the unexpected — shocks will occur." He's not saying, "Kick the Arabs out of Europe"; he's saying we need to anticipate the emergence of stateless aliens and rethink how host societies can integrate them. That's a rare display of intellectual flexibility in a government official. Compare it with the Pentagon's reflexive tendency to lash out when challenged (if we can't kill bin Laden, we’ll crush Saddam) and with the Bush administration's plaint that nobody could have expected airliner attacks, Iraqi intifadas, or crumbling levees. We'll stop being blindsided when we grasp tomorrow's shocks better than the bad guys do — and that's a positive, not a negative, scenario. [...]

    We live in a deeply paradoxical age, and it will take serious mental agility to navigate the years to come. Capable and imaginative people, both inside and outside of barbarity, are beginning to realize this. And for every person who does, civilization gains a better chance of survival. [Emphasis added]

    There's a much bigger potential positive that may come out of all this, though not without our being subjected to considerable turbulence and suffering in the meantime. Namely, as nation-states begin to realize that they cannot defend themselves militarily from 4GW resistance, they may come to understand that their best defense is to finally deal positively, in good faith, with the underlying causes of resistance. In fact, that may turn out to be their only defense. It's like the bumper sticker says: no justice, no peace. So, for example, the way to defend against Palestinian resistance is to give the Palestinians what they should have been given long ago: a state of their own.

    There's a reason why the US and Israel are attacked, but Sweden, say, is not: people have real grievances against the US and Israel. That is the source of the violence. It's likely, of course, that the US and Israel will continue to try to solve the problem militarily, but it's a losing battle, one that may, in the end, reduce US and Israeli power to tatters. Nation-states that insist on beating their heads against the wall will fall away, like General Motors, which insists on continuing to build yesterday's cars in today's (or tomorrow's) world.

    Turbulent times lie ahead as things become increasingly fluid and the pace of change continues to accelerate. Stay alert out there. Adapt, or go extinct.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:19 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    June 20, 2006

    Iraq: Millions Of Barrels Dumped Disasters  Environment  Global Guerrillas  Iraq

    So, how's that Iraqi reconstruction coming along? Check this out. NYT:

    An environmental disaster is brewing in the heartland of Iraq's northern Sunni-led insurgency, where Iraqi officials say that in a desperate move to dispose of millions of barrels of an oil refinery byproduct called "black oil," the government pumped it into open mountain valleys and leaky reservoirs next to the Tigris River and set it on fire.

    The resulting huge black bogs are threatening the river and the precious groundwater in the region, which is dotted with villages and crisscrossed by itinerant sheep herders, but also contains Iraq's great northern refinery complex at Baiji.

    The fires are no longer burning, but the suffocating plumes of smoke they created carried as far as 40 miles downwind to Tikrit, the provincial capital that formed Saddam Hussein's base of power.

    An Iraqi environmental engineer who has visited the dumping area described it as a kind of black swampland of oil-saturated terrain and large standing pools of oil stretching across several mountain valleys. The clouds of smoke, said the engineer, Ayad Younis, "were so heavy that they obstructed breathing and visibility in the area and represent a serious environmental danger." [...]

    ...He added that at least some of the black oil was already seeping into the river.

    Exactly how far those pollutants will travel is unknown, but the Tigris passes through dozens of population centers from Baghdad to Basra. In the past, oil slicks created when insurgents struck oil pipelines in the Baiji area have traveled the entire length of the river.

    As much as 40 percent of the petroleum processed at Iraq's damaged and outdated refineries pours forth as black oil, the heavy, viscous substance that used to be extensively exported to more efficient foreign operations for further refining. But the insurgency has stalled government-controlled exports by taking control of roadways and repeatedly hitting pipelines in the area, Iraqi and American officials have said.

    So the backed-up black oil — known to the rest of the world as the lower grades of fuel oil — was sent along a short pipeline from Baiji and dumped in a mountainous area called Makhul.

    A series of complaints handed up the Iraqi government chain were conveyed to oil industry officials, and as of last weekend the fires had at least temporarily stopped, but black oil was still being poured into the open valleys, according to Mr. Younis, who works in the province's Department of Environment and Health Safety. [...]

    But with few options for disposing of Baiji's current production of black oil and so much at stake for the Iraqi economy, it is unclear whether the government will even be able to hold the line on the burning at Makhul. A United States official in Baghdad, speaking anonymously according to official procedure, said earlier this month that Baiji was still turning out about 90,000 barrels a day of refined products, which would yield about 36,000 barrels a day of black oil.

    Iraq's refineries will grind to a halt if the black oil does not go somewhere. "Unless we find a way of dealing with the fuel oil, our factories will not work," said Shamkhi H. Faraj, director of economics and marketing at the Iraqi Oil Ministry.

    The dumping and burning has embarrassed ministry officials and exposed major gaps in the American-designed reconstruction program, even as President Bush appeals to the international community for much more rebuilding money in the wake of his visit to Baghdad. [Emphasis added]

    This is how a modern insurgency can bring a country to its knees: isolated, relatively low-risk actions by small teams that hit the country's economic infrastructure at key points where the effects cascade and are magnified manyfold. Blow up an oil pipeline here, sabotage a refinery there, and in the end, you've got the government dumping millions of barrels of heavy oil into valleys and reservoirs. The downward spiral feeds on itself.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:17 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 16, 2006

    Our Security Future Future  Global Guerrillas

    The most interesting and perceptive writing that I've seen on the future of insurgency and war in an economically globalized and networked world has been coming from John Robb, both at his personal blog and his more formal Global Guerrillas site. He's got a book in the works, and he's just published an article at Fast Company that provides a good introduction to his ideas. Excerpt:

    The conflict in Iraq has foreshadowed the future of global security in much the same way that the Spanish Civil War prefigured World War II. 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, sadly, and results in decision-making cycles much shorter than those of the U.S. military. 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.

    The second insight Iraq gives us is that the convergence of international crime and terrorism will provide ample fuel and a global platform for these new enemies. Al Qaeda's attack on Madrid, for example, was funded by the sale of the drug Ecstasy. And Moisés Naím, in his new book, Illicit, details how globalization has fostered the development of a huge criminal economy that boasts a technologically leveraged global supply chain (like Wal-Mart's) and can handle everything from human trafficking (Eastern Europe) to illicit drugs (Asia and South America), pirated goods (Southeast Asia), arms (Central Asia), and money laundering (everywhere). Naím puts the value of that economy at between $2 trillion and $3 trillion a year. He says it is expanding at seven times the rate of legitimate world trade.

    This terrorist-criminal symbiosis becomes even more powerful when considered next to the most disturbing sign coming out of Iraq: The terrorists have developed the ability to fight nation-states strategically — without weapons of mass destruction. This new method is called "systems disruption," a simple way of attacking the critical networks (electricity, oil, gas, water, communications, and transportation) that underpin modern life. Such disruptions are designed to erode the target state's legitimacy, to drive it to failure by keeping it from providing the services it must deliver in order to command the allegiance of its citizens. 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....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%.

    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.

    Then, inevitably, there will be a series of attacks on U.S. soil. The first casualty of these will be another institution, the ultrabureaucratic Department of Homeland Security, which, despite its new extra-legal surveillance powers, will prove unable to isolate and defuse the threats against us. (Its one big idea for keeping the global insurgency at bay — building a fence between Mexico and the United States, proposed in a recent congressional immigration bill — will prove as effective as the Maginot Line and the Great Wall of China.)

    But the metaphorical targets of September 11 are largely behind us. The strikes of the future will be strategic, pinpointing the systems we rely on, and they will leave entire sections of the country without energy and communications for protracted periods. But the frustration and economic pain that result will have a curious side effect: They will spur development of an entirely new, decentralized security system, one that devolves power and responsibility to a mix of private companies, individuals, and local governments. This structure is already visible in the legions of private contractors in Iraq... [Emphasis added]

    Go read the rest. Robb foresees a privatized, decentralized, do-it-or-buy-it-yourself security future that will be familiar to readers of science fiction. Much of it is dark and dangerous, but he tries to end on a hopeful note:

    By 2016, we may see the trials of the previous decade as progress in disguise. The grassroots security effort will do more than just insulate our gas lines and high schools. It will also spur positive social change: So-called green systems will quickly shed their tree-hugger status and be seen as vital components of our economic and personal security. Even those civilian police auxiliaries could turn out to be a good thing in the long run: Their proliferation — and the technology they'll adopt — will lead to major reductions in crime. [...]

    On the national level, we'll see a withering of the security apparatus, but quite possibly a flowering in other areas. Energy independence and the obsolescence of conventional war with other countries will reduce tensions between the United States and the rest of the world. The end of oil will also force corrupt states, now propped up by energy income, to make the reforms they need to be accepted internationally, improving life for their people.

    Perhaps the most important global shift will be the rise of grassroots action and cross-connected communities. Like the Internet, these new networks will develop slowly at first. After a period of exponential growth, however, they will quickly become all but ubiquitous — and astonishingly powerful, perhaps as powerful as the networks arrayed against us. And so we will all become security consultants, taking an active role in deciding how it is bought, structured, and applied. That's a great responsibility and, with luck, an enormous opportunity. Choose wisely. [Emphasis added]

    Wild times ahead. Scary times. Challenging times. We no longer have the luxury of time to sit by and wait for the national government to make it all better. Government, as is becoming all too obvious, can't, or won't, in its present form, respond with sufficient agility — at least not at the national level — to cope with the ever-accelerating pace of events. We've all got to get up and get busy if we want to help drive outcomes in a positive direction. No big, centralized, top-down plan required. Find something to do and do it. Share what you learn. Learn from others. Network. Create an open-source insurgency for peace.

    Update: [3/17, 11:57 AM] Here's a NYT op-ed that Robb wrote last October. A good summary of Robb's views regarding Iraq.

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:45 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    January 24, 2006

    Nigerian Attacks On Oil Infrastructure Continue Global Guerrillas  Peak Oil  War and Peace

    Following up on two earlier posts about the ability of global guerrillas to significantly impact the world-wide price of oil via attacks on oil infrastructure — now that the world has no spare oil production capacity to speak of — here's an item on the ongoing guerrilla campaign against Nigerian oil exports. AP:

    Camouflage-clad attackers raided an Italian oil company's riverside offices in Nigeria on Tuesday, sparking a gunfight that left nine people dead before assailants fled by speedboat into the oil-rich delta's waterways.

    The attack on Agip's offices in the southern oil center of Port Harcourt is the latest in a recent rash of violence across the restive Niger Delta that has killed nearly two dozen people, cut petroleum production in Africa's largest oil exporter and helped push up prices of crude worldwide. [Emphasis added]

    They know exactly what they're doing and why: hitting the West where it's most vulnerable. We have to assume this is only the beginning.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

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