Certainly the style practiced by our military-industrial complex is. That was the point made by Jonathan Schell in the Impotent Omnipotence piece I wrote about the other day. If there is one silver lining to this dark cloud in the Middle East, it's the dawning recognition in the corridors of power that after almost a century of anti-colonial, liberation-front insurgencies, well-led insurgencies almost always win against the much larger foreign occupying military powers.
That's not Vietnam syndrome; it's common sense. It was supposed to be the lesson the U.S. learned in Vietnam and the Russians in Afghanistan. Nuclear and conventional bombs, tanks, air power and massive deployments don't work against highly motivated, well-organized guerrilla insurgencies and terrorist networks. We've got to figure out a better way to resolve conflicts--the boot on the neck technique simply doesn't get it done. The NY Times has a piece discussing how the big thinkers in our military establishment are catching on:
"We are now into the first great war between nations and networks,” said John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, and a leading analyst of net warfare. “This proves the growing strength of networks as a threat to American national security.”
In a talk that Mr. Arquilla calls Net Warfare 101, he describes how traditional militaries are organized in a strict hierarchy, from generals down to privates. In contrast, networks flatten the command structure. They are distributed, dispersed, agile, mobile, improvisational. This makes them effective, and hard to track and target.
A net war differs from all previous wars, which were about brute confrontation of forces, mass on mass — what Matthew Arnold called bloody contests of “ignorant armies” meeting on the “darkling plain.”
Net war is the battle of the many, organized in small units, against conventional militaries that organize their many into large units. These network forces are not ignorant. They are computer literate, propaganda and Internet savvy, and capable of firing complicated weapons to great effect.
This is new thinking? A guerrilla insurgency is a guerrilla insurgency, and networks have always been a part of the guerrilla m.o. That such insurgencies have now adopted new technologies doesn't change the fundamental way they operate even if it enhances their effectiveness. If it's obvious to me, why isn't it obvious to our leaders? Because they have too much invested in doing it the old way. We have spent incomprehensibly vast sums of money to support a model of warfare based on conflicts between nation states, and crude though the logic might seem for those who want to believe in American high-minded purposes, there isn't as much money to be made in fighting insurgencies and terrorists. I am hard put to come up with any rational explanation for the stupidity of U.S. policies otherwise.
We have wasted all this money and all these lives because our model has
been flawed from the beginning. But, then again, our invasion of Iraq
never had much to do with fighting terrorism, did it? Our foreign policy is determined far more than most Americans want
to recognize by the the crony-capitalist collusion that we call the
military-industrial complex. It's the tail wagging the dog, and we'll
never have a sane foreign policy until the dog starts wagging the tail. And
the dog is the American people and what is in their best interest. The agenda of the crony capitalists running the K-Street show is not in their interests. The main question for me is whether the American people have the will to take back control of their country, or even if they do whether it's too late.
Be that as it may, I have thought from the beginning that the idea of a military response after 9/11 was ludicrous. That the fight against terrorism was more of a police action. This view was dismissed by Cheneys, Perles, and other hawks as wimpy, "liberal" thinking, of course. Real men invade countries and bomb and kill and assert their will on the evil foe. But maybe what we're finally learning is that it's about intelligence, not primarily force. We're dealing more in the province of the FBI or some international version of it. In fighting terrorists we're hunting for gangs, networks if you will, of very cunning, well-armed international criminals, and that requires smart police work--not armies, air power, and missile systems.
Terrorists are more like the mafia than they are like an army. The mafia has an economic agenda; terrorists have a political agenda--that's the main difference. It's an important difference because the terrorists' political agenda leads them to attack a broader range of "political" targets. The mafia are a threat only those who would thwart their economic interests. But the mafia we will always have with us in one form or another, as long as there is money to be made illegally. Terrorist have reason to fight only so long as they have political grievances.
But if there is no military solution for this problem, what is the it? It seems to me that the basic idea is to feed sanity and starve insanity. Right now our muscular militarism lacks intelligence and feeds the insanity, and so we make things worse.
In the Middle East we are dealing with an enormously complex and wrenching historical cultural process in which traditionalist Mulim socieIties are struggling to adapt to the modern world. It is not up to us to solve the unavoidable problems that are associated with social modernization. Each society has to work that out for itself. But we can help by supporting the factions within a modernizing society that seek to sanely, slowly grow their societies into the modern world. We are nuts if we think we can impose sanity on such societies; they have to develop it for themselves.
But our history in the Middle East has always been about what is in our interests and not the interests of the Muslim populations who live there. We've cared more about our own political (anti-communist) and economic (oil) agenda than we have about what is good for the people in the Middle East. The historical record is quite clear about this. The political grievances of the terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East are rooted in the political and economic policies of the U.S and other western powers dating back over a couple of centuries.
Our troubles, for instance, in Iran now can be traced to our deposing rather than supporting Mossadegh, and that in turn has roots in the British corporate interests. What we did was criminal, but it was all justified by the insane thinking that followed from the convenient logic of the cold war. The Iranians have real grievances, and they have real reasons not to trust us. And no matter how justified Americans feel American policy in the Middle East is, most Americans haven't a clue about what we've done there over the decades to make us unworthy of their trust. Our behaviour and policy has often been reprehensible, and what we're doing there now is part of that long, sordid narrative. That's how it's seen from the Muslim point of view. They have justifiable grievances. Everyone seems to see that except Americans.
I haven't written about the Israel/Hezbollah conflict in part because it depresses me too much to think about it. I recognize that the Israelis are in a desperate spot. I recognize that the Palestinian stupidity and stubbornness has undermined the saner, more moderate factions within Israeli society that want very badly to work out a fair solution to just Palestinian grievances. I recognize that sanity seems an impossibility, and so this kind of violence seems to be the inevitable insanity that must follow from the repeated rejection of sanity. I realize that all talk of proportionality seems an abstract, ivory-tower consideration when you feel as though your very existence is at stake.
I don't blame the Israelis because I see them as cornered animals with adrenaline-soaked brains acting predictably as any cornered animal would do. They are not in their right minds; none of us would be if we were dealing with what they are dealing with. They, unlike Americans, have an excuse. Their existence is in jeopardy. But the Israelis can't win by the use of brute force, because they can't beat a guerrilla insurgency for all the reasons adduced above. And I believe the increasing brutality of Israeli policies is directly associated with the frustrations that come with fighting unbeatable insurgencies. Increasing the level of violence simply won't work whether against Hamas or Hezbollah. And so this military action in Lebanon is in my mind as futile as our invasion of Iraq.
The Israelis have to find another way in Lebanon and with the Palestinians, and they can't do it alone. The forces of sanity in Israel need the support of a sane American leadership, and they will not get that for at least another two and a half years. Or maybe considering our history in the region, someone else has to step in. The whole thing is such a depressing, intractable mess that dates back to mistake after mistake after mistake made by the Western powers and Israel and the surrounding Muslim nations that sometimes I think the only solution would be to give everyone a drought of a memory-erasing potion.
In the long run what has to happen is similar to the program of reconciliation that was established in South Africa. Everyone, including powers like Britain and the U.S., has to own up to its crimes and ask for forgiveness. I know, considering the current players on the scene, the idea is risible. If it's ever to happen in the Middle East, it's decades off. In the meanwhile insanity rules.