Poland's Daughter


'Terror and Consent'

Philip Bobbitt: Terror and Consent
Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-first Century
(Philip Bobbitt)

Shortly after I took up my study of War in the Modern World, David Betz pointed me to a book by Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles, which I duly acquired. Reading it took me the better part of a year, and in the end I was a bit disappointed. Hindsight is famously 20/20, and Bobbitt's tale of how societies evolved into nation-states, and how those were now evolving into "market states," was endlessly fascinating and mostly convincing. It was when he used this paradigm to forecast the future that it seemed to fall apart. What good is a template that can only predict the past?

But ah! Dr Bobbitt has now dropped the other shoe: Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century. He argues that "Wars against Terror" (a subtly different formulation than the Bush administration's "War on Terror") will define the 21st century, much as the Long War of 1914-1991 defined the 20th. Here are some notes:

"I believe that almost every widely held idea we currently entertain about twenty-first century terrorism and its relationship to the Wars against Terror is wrong and must be thoroughly rethought...." (p.5) (For example: that one can't make war against terrorism; that its "root causes" are poverty etc.; that it is a police and not a military problem.)

The campaign against al Qaeda has been fairly successful: "Much of the senior leadership ... has been killed or detained. Nearly 3,500 of its fighters are either dead or in prison. Two-thirds of the persons known to intelligence agencies at the outset of this war have been sequestered. The planners behind the ... attacks on American embassies in 1998, the USS Cole in 2000, and the September 11 atrocities have been killed or arrested, along with Osama bin Laden's regional coordinators in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. What remains of al Qaeda's leadership ... is in hiding." (p.13-14)

"It hardly matters whether the forces of destruction arise from militant Islam, North Korean communism, or Caribbean hurricanes. Rather the sort of terror that threatens [us] ... is endemic to the unique vulnerabilities of globalized, networked market states." (p.19)

Based on their past experience, "Europeans assure Americans that terrorism is nothing new, and that, with proper police and investigative work, it can be managed. This assurance ... assumes that terrorism is fundamentally unchanged.... The end of the ideological wars of the twentieth century nation states ... and with them the end of great power sponsorship of national liberation movements ... have brought forth a new form of terrorism, an unusually horrific homunculus, the unintended creation of the technology-wielding twenty-first century market state." (p.44)

"[Ayman] Zawahiri ... explicitly recognizes that the decisive historical shift was not September 11, 2001, but the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, which increased the power and influence of the U.S., and thus also the stability of the regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that were supported by the Americans," and to whose destruction he and bin Laden were committed. "The al Qaeda strategy had to be to attack the United States directly in the hope that it would abandon the states it had supported....
     "In many respects it was Zawahiri who made al Qaeda into the first market state terrorist organization: his use of outsourced suicide bombers; his choice of their targets ... ; his use of heroic videos and tape recordings of the martyrs; his disdain for claiming responsibility for an attack ...; his recognition that violence against the United States could be used as a rallying call to unite Muslims globally." (p.79)

"Mullah Omar and his ally bin Laden did succeed in provoking the U.S. and its allies into [attacking Afghanistan]. But as they scuttle from cave to cave, remembering the good old days when a child could be shot for flying a kite or a woman stoned for reading a magazine, one wonders whether they do feel they have in fact taken the `first trick,' as Sir Michael [Howard] puts it, by having been thrown out of Kandahar and Kabul by a campaign in which aerial bombing played a decisive role." (p.131-32)

"Both terrorism and warfare are undergoing a radical transformation. The large-scale, `industrial' warfare of nation states is being replaced by the targeting of civilian populations as a direct objective, rather than a collateral cost. The purpose of this warfare is not to seize territory ... but rather to terrorize a civilian population into acquiescence." (p.132)

Incident at Muc Wa

"What caused the Wars against Terror, however, was a war for terror, and what caused that onslaught was the emergence of market states, a development that enraged and empowered those who created al Qaeda.
     "Two new factors brought forth the asymmetric attacks.... First was the overwhelming conventional strength of the United States and its allies....
     "The second factor was the source of that strength: a relatively open and increasingly globally linked society whose wealth derives from its exploitation of information. Both of these factors are a consequence of the victory of the parliamentary states in the Long War [1914-1990] of the twentieth century that defeated fascism and communism.
" (p.134-35)

Bobbitt calls preemptive wars preclusionary: "This is the meeting point between market state terrorism and war. The war aim is to protect civilians and their officials so that, behind this military shield, the political development of governance based on consent can take place outside a climate of terror. Preclusion is the `new deterrence,' i.e., it will be the central doctrine of warfare for the states of consent." (p.138)

"The American attempts to halt terrorism by arrest, rendition, and trial may even have inadvertently weakened our defenses against the attacks of September 11 because ... this approach prevented information being shared between prosecutorial agencies like the FBI ... and other agencies such as CIA and the White House. Realizing we are fighting a war and not just pursuing criminals shifts the focus to strategy, which does not seek to correct matters after the fact, as do prosecutions, but rather tries to anticipate and neutralize hostile action before the fact." (p141)

"Terrorism involves the use of what would otherwise be ordinary criminal acts--arson, kidnapping, extortion, murder--for political goals." (p143)

Force protection: "For many reasons, the citizens of a market state are more sensitive to the value of individual life and less tolerant of sacrifice." (p149)

"The forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere are simply not configured, trained, or deployed principally to protect civilians; to battle street by street with light arms; to mingle with the population.... [T]hey are too few ..., they rely on ... tanks and planes ..., and they are not trained for this kind of war.... [T]hey are not the sort of force required to restore and maintain law and order." (p.153--obviously written before the changes wrought in Iraq by Bush, Gates, and Petraeus)

The Wars against Terror don't resemble the World Wars of the 20th century, but they do "look very like the kind of wars that have been characteristic of most of human history." (p.157, quoting Chris Brown)

Post-9/11: "We are at war no less than when a conventional state surprised the U.S. with an attack in 1941, and we have been attacked now for much the same reason. Now, as then, the U.S. aroused fear that its global presence could threaten the ambitions of a messianic movements that only wanted a free hand in their drive for regional subjugation and dominance. Then as now we face a long and bitter struggle. We should make no mistake: this is war." (p.177)

"Consider the October 2001 invasion of Aghanistan. Are we better off now than we were the day before we intervened? Probably not.... "[W]hat will be true of the U.S. and the U.K., should they develop along market state lines, will also be true of al Qaeda.... They, too, will employ self-financing operations, rely on coalitions of the willing, and seek preclusive victories." (p.214)

"There are a number of fundamental and mistaken assumptions about the ends and means of terrorist violence....
    "* The belief that terrorism is ... only about means and not ends, and ... that one cannot ... discriminate between the use of violence to deter violence and the use of violence to deter lawful activity.
    "* [the belief] that 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter'....
    "* [T]he inability to imagine that theatrical violence in its hands of al Qaeda ... can be an end in itself.
    "* The conclusion that violence that inevitably harms civilians ... amounts to no more than terrorism in different hands." (p.351)

"Terrorism is the pursuit of political goals through the use of violence against noncombtants in order to dissuade them from doing what they have a lawful right to do." (p.352)

The Only War We've Got

"Terror can be an end in itself.... In the case of al Qaeda, the goal of the terror network is the destruction of Western values in any area where these can have an impact on Muslims. Rendering persons too frightened to act lawfully on their basic values is both an end and a means, for such a situation of terror ... is roughly equivalent to the total destruction of Western values." (p.357)

In Spain after the Madrid train bombings, "Terrorism had become the extension of diplomacy by other means, and, regrettably, it had succeeded.... It was a sickening day for democracy, made more so by the jubilation of those candidates" who were thereby elected to office. (p.395)

"It is because America is so very vulnerable and at the same time so ubiquitously and overwhelmingly powerful that twenty-first century global terrorism has arisen. In this sense, the U.S. is [terrorism's] root cause, and this would remain true even if American policies vis-a-vis Israel or Iraq or Iran changed." (p.400)

Of the "Bush Doctrine" as articulated in the 2002 National Security Strategy: "There is a good deal of sense in the proscriptive, anticipatory elements, though they are wildly controversial at present....
    "Prescriptively, the Bush Doctrine asserts the need to reform the political societies of the world by introducing democracy and the recognition of human rights where these are currently suppressed, especially in the Middle East. By contrast, there is a good deal of support for [this] proposition....
    "The difficulty with the Bush Doctrine is that the prescription (advance democracy ...) and the proscription (states that threaten the U.S. ... render themselves vulnerable to American intervention) are not entirely in synch with each other." (p.433)

"Polling in many countries allied with the U.S. ... indicates that free and fair elections would bring the most violent anti-Western elements to power." (p.436)

The Bush Doctrine "is not a doctrine at all. It tells us what we might do ... but not ... on what basis we should act. It tells us what we are seeking ... but not what we plan to do to bring this about." (p. 439)

"We are entering an era of turbulent and even dangerous change, such has occurred less than half a dozen times in the last five centuries." (i.e., when new forms of the constitutional state have arisen) (p.440)

Detention of terrorists and enemy combatants: "Why didn't the U.S. government simply decide what sort of rules it thought appropriate, propose these as amendments to the Geneva Conventions, and obey them in the meantime?... Why didn't the human rights community acknowledge that the old rules are not really meant for the present situation ... and propose new rules?" (p.464)

"It is already the case ... that smallpox DNA can be ordered through the mail, sequenced with publicly available technology, and weaponized by infecting a willing squad of suicide bombers." Ten such agents could infect 2.2 million people in 180 days. (p.476)

"I offer this provocative proposed rule: a state of terror can never be sovereign.... Persons within a state of terror may prosecute armed struggle against the State [without being considered terrorists].... Other states may lawfully intervene against such a state to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, genocide, or international terrorism, or to forestall mass human catastrophes ignored by the regime--all indicia of states of terror." (p.482)

"If U.S. allies like France and Germany had wished the Iraqi project to succeed, there is much they could have done.... That instead every step was taken to delegitimize the Coalition presence implies that some states ... are willing to sacrifice human rights, antiproliferation, and democratization projects like Iraq in order to frustrate the U.S." (p.489)

"The dominance of the nation state ... will slowly ebb until ... its legitimacy collapses. It is our task to manage this transition, knowing that in the past such transitions have been accompanied by the great violence of epochal wars, often begun by civil wars such as the civil war now raging within Islam." (p.518)

"It is the U.S., our global presence, our overwhelming armed power, and our example, as one of the first emerging market states, that is the principal driver behind this new form of terrorism. Those who oppose the United States ... confront an adversary they cannot attack by traditional military means...." (p.525)

"There is something slightly contemptible about the wish to detach one's country from any member of the alliance that has been threatened or stricken in order to concilate Islamic terrorists." (p.536)

"We may think that it is the United States that today disturbs [our world's] tranquility because we measure our anxiety against the most peaceful recent past. We should instead measure our states against the alternative future of a world without the global but benign ambitions of America." (p.538)

"When we finally determine to take up the Wars against Terror in earnest, we will face a threat to mankind that is unprecedented and is potentially measureless in its tragedy." (p.547)

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