Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Of Which Non-State Actors Do You Speak?

The United States military intelligentsia is decidedly uneasy these days [ a .pdf from a .mil site, so be ware].

In their hearts, they know where the rot is, but their motivations are twisted by their own biased vision.

First, about the author:

Michael Vlahos is principal professional
staff at the Johns Hopkins
Applied Physics Laboratory. For over
20 years, his teaching and scholarship
have been marked by singularly
creative thinking about world change,
the Internet, culture, and war. Since
2001, Dr. Vlahos’s primary focus
has been to help the defense world
understand and respond effectively
to the Muslim world in the context of
broader shifts in society and identity.
A graduate of Yale College and holder
of a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of
Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University,
Dr. Vlahos has written eight books
and monographs, among the latter
Terror’s Mask: Insurgency Within
Islam (2002) and Culture’s Mask:
War and Change After Iraq (2004).
He has also published more than
80 articles. His forthcoming book,
Fighting Identity , will be published by
Praeger in 2008.

So the D.o'D. depends on a Yale trained "physicist" (but really not- see his qualifications and job description) to understand about Islam instead of the likes of Juan Cole. Now you know why we're in trouble. But his credentials sure smell like CIA, don't they?

Dr. Vlahos has some intelligent things to say to us. I'll examine this first, before the huge flawed premise that pulls the rug out from under him. As you will see, he glimpses the problem, and then attacks the shiny bait that the very problem he identifies dangles before him.

First, the outline of the paper:

We are at the mercy of our own, rigid (nation-state) “rule sets.”
The “fit” between us and the enemy works to his advantage.
America paradoxically comes to embrace the role of enabler.
American denial—the threat of our identity defeated—immobilizes us.

They are overflowing with identity-power—ours is in short supply.
War for them is a celebration of identity—battle is a transcendence.
The American Way of War has been transformed into a management ethos.
In the war of identities, we are a hook to their fit— and our identity is weaker.

Western technology becomes their identity-enhancer, their mobilization.
Western technology is worked selectively to shape their “fit.”
A looser and less rigid culture of war means more adaptability, more creativity.
The U.S. response as “technical solution” is a waste that works against us.

There is a bona fide sighting of the real enemy, amidst the unease about Islam. Please allow a little editing:

The American Way of War has been transformed
into a management ethos.

There is the number of the Beast. Michael Vlahos can't or won't see it as the problem, outside of what it's done to the military. Yet he sees the outlines of the problem on the society at large:

...We Americans, 21st-century Romans, find ourselves ineffective against the barbarians we call non-state actors. the non-state fighters are like Melville’s Moby Dick: they “heap” us, they task us. Yet we can achieve nothing against them.
Something is happening here, and we need to take it onboard. But doing so means throwing off our narcissism and certainty of entitlement. It is a heavy burden to shrug off. But shrug it we must.

...the “american Way of War” enshrines triumph through military “transformations.” they are divine tokens of our superiority. Even better, “like-us” challenges from others are met by all-out U.S. out-performance.
German combined arms innovation between the world wars led to “Patton beats Rommel.” Ditto Japanese carrier aviation. Ditto Soviet atomic rockets.
Ditto too the Soviets’ vaunted “military-technical revolution.” How we outdid them! But our paradigm of military “revolution” is steadfastly both technology-driven and self-focused. the american way of war is all about “like-us” or “kin-enemies” also doing like us. We always win out in the end, and win big.
Today’s transformation, however, has nothing to do with us, except perhaps in how the new innovators take on our technologies—and target our vulnerabilities. The innovators here are emerging societies and alternative communities—not “kin-enemies” but aliens, “stranger-enemies.” They drive this transformation of war.

Since classical antiquity there have been two eras in which non-state actors dominated war. One was the time of antiquity’s end, from the 5th to the 7th centuries. The second was at the end of the Middle ages and the very beginning of modernity, in the 13th and 14th centuries. these were tumultuous times, of course, but also periods in which identity was shifting and migrating…these were transition periods, between-times, bridging old establishments to new. consider what
was happening:

°¥ International relationships were marked by migrations of peoples, economic big changes, and “outside” shocks like grand pandemics and abrupt climate change.
°¥ Societies were shaken by new ideas and new movements, leading to new collective consciousnesses and thus new identities.
°¥ The very nature of ruling authority was shifting in people’s minds, moving rapidly from established forms to new claims.

We have entered another such world environment. The key features of non-state ascendance in war are—

°¥ Ineffectiveness of the nation-state order in deploying and using military force.
°¥ Greater energy and battle focus among nonstate actors than nation-states.
°¥ Selective technology equalizations that, combined with tactical creativity, make non-state fighters equal to our Soldiers on the battlefield.

...In war we focus on the enemy and how to defeat him. We pay little attention to how our needs and expectations shape war, and almost none to how our relationship with
the enemy shapes war’s outcome.

The way we do things in war now works against us. This is because how we do things now “fits” enemy practice in ways that make non-state resistance more productive. Our battle “fit” with the enemy actually advances their goals. But we cannot
admit this because we are committed to the belief that what we do is the only possible recipe for “victory.”
We are stuck working against ourselves.
Thus our “fit” with the enemy fills us with uncertainty and hesitation. We not only cannot control the outcome of military intervention, but we cannot describe practically how to achieve “victory” or even military effectiveness. For example, we are told—years after we were promised a military victory in Iraq—that “success” now is not really military, but political. Does this mean we “win” (after tens of thousands of casualties) when the insurgents we were fighting finally take political power?

The “american Way of War” is locked into a sacred dramatic narrative culminating in “victory.”
This is because american wars are at root celebrations of identity. Victory is the fulfillment of war’s liturgy, where sacrificing the purest among us somehow
renews and strengthens us….

I know. There's nothing like an academic chickenhawk who sees people as gamepieces in Risk, is there? But hold on to your tinfoil, pilgrims. That's what gives you a different identity than this confused Imperial.

……however we spin our non-state wars, we feel we have lost, because in terms of our expectations and mythos, we have. Perceived battle and campaign failure in turn creates even higher levels of anxiety and greater loss of confidence. this is pure strategic opportunity for all-or-nothing non-state fighters.

...the wars of our non-state “between-times” are, above all, wars of identity. Because we put our faith in controlling rule-sets where technology is the talisman of victory, we cannot see how identity-power instead is the decisive factor in war today.
Identity-power has come into full play. It is not simply that Western military units are forced to fight the enemy’s war, and in the enemy’s battle environment. Far more significantly, we fight as world managers against mythic heroes sacrificing themselves for “the river” of their particular humanity. Entering into their “fit” means also entering into a world where we cannot escape the role they create for us in their grand drama.
In their drama of identity, the role we play—evil, weak, even inhuman—is central to a cultural ritual almost primitive in its emotional intensity and passionate symbolism. We come (on the surface at least) bearing “policy” and “administration” into a world (as described in classic ethnographies) of primitive warfare.
But that warfare is primitive only in the sense that its connection to the sacred ties today’s fighters to the earliest human societies. In terms of how such
warfare affects us, it is highly sophisticated. To an extent undreamed of in classical war, where we “fit” an enemy mirror-image of ourselves, in the
stranger-milieu we are at their mercy. Furthermore, our weapons’ sophistication is less a factor today than it has been in two centuries—due in part to a surprising leveling of technology. In the warrior face-to-face, their meaning trumps our meaning.
Their passion and piety overrules our dispassion and reason...

What dispassion and reason? What you display in your dirty war for oil is a lot more like blindness and fantasy, sir.

In all this, I hear a lot of bird-whistle calls for good Christian Crusaders with a Right World View.

... above all they make us their enablers.
In the new “fit,” we become agents of their story.
Moreover, our world authority legitimates and anoints them among those they seek to convert. We become their secret weapon.

Why can we not see this? Here, the enemy creates another paradox: by challenging our own identity, they pull us into an emotional co-dependency. We may have gone in thinking clinical experience, clinical outcome. But their riposte is a manhood challenge.
Their very resistance inflames our nation’s spiritual need to prove its battle-worthiness and warrior ethos. We cannot resist their challenge. they
hook us into their “fit”. . . and we are finished.

Military intelligentsia have some pee-pee worthiness issues, don't they?

We are finished because our angry lash-out makes us even better helpmates. Practically, this means that we sustain what motivates them—the evil other, the american dark enemy. Yet we also ratify their necessary story: that they are the frontline struggle against the evil invaders of Islam.

There it is, the weak premise that sends the reasoning into the ditch. There is no perception the the enemy is not Islam, but the management philosophy that sends armies to war for profit.

The management philosophy of profitable war robs America, and by extension, its armed forces of identity. The rule of steel applies: a sword is only as strong as the will of the hand that wields it. And the real strength ain't in Conan the Barbarian's muscles, pilgrim.

Lets cut to the chase:

…But here is where our great nation faces a deadly vulnerability. As we fight identity, we are not merely weakening our own. We should also be mindful of how few of our own—like late Rome and late Byzantium—are willing to fight for us.
We have assigned the entirety of our security to a demographic slice, a society of Soldiers, a noble warrior-class. It is superbly equipped and lavishly accoutered, yet, notwithstanding and above all, it is so small. and it is also all we have.
What Romans discovered in the later 4th century is that risking such an army is existentially dangerous.
The emperor Julian took Rome’s most superb army ever into the place of the two rivers, the place we call Iraq. There, he lost that army. Fourteen years later, a scratch-built force and a bad leader lost whatever was left at Adrianople—the beginning of the end.
The mind-numbingly huge world of emerging global non-state humanity can suck us dry as surely as 4th-century Iraq did Rome, and with equally prefigured consequences. We, in contrast, are no longer prepared to do battle collectively, as a people, like in prehistorical times. Some of us are, and they fight daily for us.
This is the lesson, is it not? Fighting our enemies’ fight means fighting their identity and helping them on the path to realization. But their path may also be our road to ruin. We must conserve our strength and so preserve our way of life.
This war has been a warning. We should take it.

Dr. Vlahos sees the shape in the dark, but not its true appearance.

The non-state actors he speaks of that threaten his identity as an American aren't the people of Iraq. They aren't the Islamists, or the "civilized" liberal bloggers who sap all the war wind out of his Company venture, and mock his "...noble warrior-class" with non-Roman non-muscular ideology.

It's the armchair self described nobility who abuse the identity and ideals of America by plunging it into endless war for the sake of a blank check, who send kids to fight and die for oil and resources that could be easily replaced by the technology Dr. Vlahos views with such ambiguity.

Dr. Vlahos has met the non-state actors who threaten America, and they're in his own mirror.


Anonymous said...

I found Dr. Vlahos's comments to be very insightful and ones I had never considered before. He is warning us that we cannot win the GWOT, and to even attempt it is playing into the hands of the enemy. I think he is correct in this logic, but I also think his message will be ignored by the powers that be, who are so self-assured in the "rightness" of what they do that they could never realistically even consider what Vlahos is trying to say. I am not so sure I agree with your assessment of Vlahos. He appears to be trying to bring some sanity into this insane, never-ending GWOT.

kelley b. said...

His advice would be far more sane than what's going on now.

But basically he's an Imperial. He wants to return to the glory days of the Greatest Generation, with an entire nation mobilized to spread the American Way.

That Way was always based on self-delusion.

The only way to create such a Crusading force in the 21st Century would be to embrace the values of Dominionism.

That, I am pretty sure, would leave smoking radioactive embers of half of the cities of the world, and plunge the survivors into a Dark Age of Faith-based Orwellian government.