Saturday, October 23, 2004

To continue the examination of Dr. Barnett's deleted scene on System Perturbation that I began in Part I. and Part II. we're going to look at the rules # 4-6 today. As usual, Dr. Barnett's text is in bold, my commentary is regular text.

"What's really at risk in a System Perturbation?

Rule #4: In response to System Perturbations, horizontal systems tighten up vertically, but vertical systems tighten up horizontally?

After 9/11, a horizontal system like the United States will tighten up its rule sets by forging more comprehensive cooperation between local, state and federal agencies, or along vertical lines of authority. Horizontal systems like the U.S. naturally fear that their distributedness is their weakness, when in reality, it is their strength. But tightening up along vertical lines only makes sense, sort of defense-in-depth philosophy that is more logical than, say, states coming together per se. In a vertical system you tend to see the opposite sort of response: when the Great Leader finds his rule under attack, he starts reining everyone in because he is never quite sure who to trust. So you see crackdowns on untrustworthy groups and more palace guards. That was basically Saddam Hussein's tack across the nineties after the U.S. booted Iraq out of Kuwait: he kept creating new, ever more trustworthy troops to surround him, and he put those troops under his most trusted relatives. More generally in response to 9/11, we saw plenty of vertical political systems around the world use the excuse of the global war on terrorism to target dissidents, separatists, and the like, reclassifying everyone as a terrorist and seeking the U.S.'s blessing for that designation. So what is at risk here is basically the civil rights of citizens the world over, because a vertical shock can easily send even the most horizontal systems over the top in their search for security."

That strikes me as a reasonable analysis and one we really need to pay attention to on the margins because the down the line costs are surprisingly high in a lot of ways. Giving obnoxious enablers of Islamist terrorism like Cat Stevens the boot is about right. With Tariq Ramadan , a famous scholar with somewhat shady connections, we wander into a gray area in terms of cost-benefit analysis to U.S. policy. When budding scientists and mathematicians from India, China, South Korea, Russia- many of whom after studying in American universities decide to stay here permanently and contribute to our economic and technological preeminence - decide a U.S. visa isn't worth the security restrictions hassle, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Somehow I think we can take precautions to screen out young Islamist males belonging to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaida without targeting 180 I.Q. Asian physicists and genetic engineers. Long term this trend represents an economic disaster far worse than 9/11 - we depend on foreigners to fill about half of our annual hard science Ph.d slots - there are no " substitute goods " for these kinds of brains. If they aren't here, they're not here and critical opportunities simply get lost.

Visa and security policies needs to be reevaluated to target - yes target - only Islamist activists and their financial supporters with the precise specificity once reserved for likely Eastern bloc spies. We did not search grandmothers, wheelchair bound Dutch parapalegics and elderly Congressman at airports in order to prove that we were not discriminating against Slavs when we were looking for KGB agents. Visa entry and security screening needs to be removed from the hands of gumshoe bureaucrats at Homeland Security and PC fools like Norman Mineta and handed over to FBI and CIA counterintelligence professionals.

Rule #5: Vertical scenarios scare horizontal systems more, while horizontal scenarios scare vertical systems more.

People living in horizontal systems typically enjoy significantly larger amounts of freedom, and so it is easier to slap a vertical scenario like a terrorist attack on an open society than a closed one. Naturally, people living in more horizontal systems understand that vulnerability and fear vertical scenarios, or the bolt-from-the-blue, far more than horizontal scenarios, or some slow-developing problem against which you can mobilize your network of resources. 9/11 really shocked America, even though the death total was fairly small when you compare it, say, to deaths from car accidents each year (40 to 50 thousand), but those death unfold in small increments, spread out across the land, whereas 9/11's victims died all at once. Plus, Americans understand the risks of driving; we know those rule sets. But 9/11 triggered the response of "People just shouldn't have to die that way," meaning it offended our sense of rules regarding warfare. Bolts-from-the-blue like 9/11 tend to haunt U.S. strategic planners, because we know there is little we can do to prevent an enemy from getting that first sucker-punch in on America, whereas in a long, knockdown drag-out fight, we are very confident that we will prevail. Vertical systems tend to fear horizontal scenarios more, say, like the slow build-up of resistance to rule. Soviet Russia went nuts over individual dissidents like Andrei Sakharov, because they feared he would slowly "poison" the minds of an entire generation, making both rule and reform impossible. They were right to be afraid. Similarly, the political leadership in China runs scared when a Falun Gong movement develops secretly on its own, using the network connectivity of the Internet to spread its gospel. When several thousand Falun Gong disciples showed up one morning on Tianammen Square, what was frightening to the Chinese leadership was less their non-violent protest than the their obvious self-organizing capabilities. So if horizontal systems fear political assassinations, vertical systems live more in fear of grass roots movements.

Horizontal scenarios based upon economic trends or memetic ideological appeal are also extremely difficult, though not impossible, to reverse or check. For the WOT we need to bear in mind that al Qaida is a vertical system but Islamism is a horizontal one that goes back actually to the late 19th and early 20th century - Jamal ad-Din al Afghani's Ittihad-i Islam, Muhammed Abduh, Rashid Rida and Hassan al Banna's Muslim Brotherhood among others. It has taken at least four generations of increasing militancy and ideological reification to produce intelligent, highly capable, moral monsters like Osama bin Laden and an Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They did not spring out of the earth solely because the United States supports Israel and invaded Iraq or because the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The political programming - the Islamist "rule-set"- as it were, was ready to go when the Muslim world faced the twin System Perturbations of the Shah's fall and the invasion of Afghanistan.

These kinds of horizontal scenarios can be stopped - the American Populist movement with it's alternate model of anticapitalist communitarian economics and fiat money was destroyed at the ballot box by the major parties and by the logic of the industrial revolution and free market efficiency. National Socialism and Fascism were utterly discredited by their bloody defeat in WWII. Socialim and Communism suffered a devastating blow - but were not destroyed completely as a force in world politics - by the collapse of the USSR.

While each of these horizontal scenarios took decades to reach a crisis stage and decline the second and third examples involved ruinous economic and human costs - it was a lot of expensive hard power over many years to gain those results. Fortunately, the first example gives us a clue to the virtue of PNM theory's " Connectivity " and the ability to provide, in Dr. Barnett's words, a " Happy ending " of a " Future worth creating ". The Populists failed here and did not take up arms or become terrorists because the same economy that was tormenting farmers with gold standard deflation and monopoly transport costs also provided cheaper consumer goods, competing ideas and an alternate means of rising in life through urban industrialization. That is precisely what we need to start doing in the Gap and it's why Dr. Barnett's PNM is striking a chord across a deeply divided America - it's a comprehensive explanation, it isn't the dark prospect of nothing but perpetual war and people who are already connected in the Core intuitively know it will work.

Of course, there's not a few " implicit villains " out there who fear it will work. Something worth recalling because as PNM spreads throughout the public mind some of the attacks on it are going to get pretty shrill, become intellectually dishonest and frankly, personal. Self-interests are being challenged here of established, powerful, selfish, insider elites who like the Gap just as it is - quite sick but a reality of politics.

Rule #6: Vertical scenarios harm vertical systems more, while horizontal scenarios harm horizontal systems more.

This rule simply says that Rule #5 is basically wrong, despite what people in both systems tend to believe. In reality, vertical strikes can do little damage to truly distributed systems. If someone wipes out the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court one afternoon, nothing would really change in our country in terms of our ability to maintain rule. Yes, it would be a huge shock, but it would not be hard to replace all those leaders rather quickly. I could find you 535 ex-senators and representatives living within a ten-mile radius of the Capitol itself who could easily step back into rule, tell me how hard it would be to find nine lawyers in Washington who think they are smart enough to sit on the Supreme Court! But even beyond those facile examples lies the reality that we have 50 "farm teams" around the country, each complete with their own set of executives, supreme courts, and legislative branches. You if you wipe out our national leadership you do not really kill our capacity for leadership, because we have got more political leaders than we can count! What really stresses out horizontal systems like the U.S. are the horizontal scenarios that never seem to end, like a Great Depression, which really only ended when the vertical shock of Pearl Harbor put the country on another pathway. In contrast, vertical systems like Saddam Hussein's regime can really be dismembered quite profoundly simply by taking out the leadership. Remember the "most wanted" deck of cards? That said we really needed to nail only about 50 bad actors in Iraq and we would have eliminated the bulk of the Baath party rule.

I'm not sure here to the extent to which I agree and disagree. Earlier I stated that problem of " marginality " or " tipping points " at which a horizontal system crosses the threshold in which the accumulated stress triggers an irrevocable downward, accelerating, systemic death spiral. I still expect that principle to be true because it has universality in organized systems - everything tends toward entropy eventually. After re-reading this passage though I'm now inclined to think that such a tipping point is more likely to be reached by a combination of intersecting horizontal and vertical scenarios than a set of vertical scenario attacks acting in unison. Then again, I think if enough vertical scenarios hit a horizontal systems " choke points" you can get a similar effect.

Well done Dr. Barnett ! You're knocking me off my usual perch of analytical certainty - I'd really like to hear some input on this particular rule from some of the very bright people out there who check in here at Zenpundit regularly, even the ones who don't always feel inclined to leave comments. My brain needs to be kick-started here with some differing perspectives.

Part IV will be in the works soon.
My hipshot reaction is that these rules are too facile. I'm working on a more detailed response. In the meantime I think I outright disagree with Rule #6:

Rule #6: Vertical scenarios harm vertical systems more, while horizontal scenarios harm horizontal systems more. I suppose this depends on what the meaning of “is” is. What does it mean to harm a system? Is it the same as disrupt?

Let's take a single example: Russia. Is there any disagreement that, at least until very recently, Russia has been a vertical system? But Russia has been thoroughly disrupted by both vertical and horizontal scenarios and all within a 75 year period. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 is a clear instance of disruption by a vertical scenario. Well and good. The implosion of the USS-were in the late 1980's is a pretty clear disruption by a horizontal scenario. I think a better rule would be that unstable systems have as much to fear from vertical as from horizontal scenarios. A corollary might be that stable systems have little to fear from either vertical or horizontal scenarios.

I like your reference to instability a lot - a system already out of sync with itself , losing the ability to self-regulate, enforce internal rules or have it's internal rules losing popular legitimacy - increases vulnerability.

Excellent !
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