Saturday, October 15, 2005

It is great fun for me to see two brilliant minds clash. And I saw this one coming. :o)

John Robb of Global Guerillas has an op-ed in the New York Times ( you have " arrived" as a pundit when you get your NYT op-ed) that forecasts an El Salvadorized exit of American forces from Iraq:

"Given this landscape, let's look at alternative strategies. First, out-innovating the insurgency will most likely prove unsuccessful. The insurgency uses an open-source community approach (similar to the decentralized development process now prevalent in the software industry) to warfare that is extremely quick and innovative. New technologies and tactics move rapidly from one end of the insurgency to the other, aided by Iraq's relatively advanced communications and transportation grid - demonstrated by the rapid increases in the sophistication of the insurgents' homemade bombs. This implies that the insurgency's innovation cycles are faster than the American military's slower bureaucratic processes (for example: its inability to deliver sufficient body and vehicle armor to our troops in Iraq).

...What's left? It's possible, as Microsoft has found, that there is no good monopolistic solution to a mature open-source effort. In that case, the United States might be better off adopting I.B.M.'s embrace of open source. This solution would require renouncing the state's monopoly on violence by using Shiite and Kurdish militias as a counterinsurgency. This is similar to the strategy used to halt the insurgencies in El Salvador in the 1980's and Colombia in the 1990's. In those cases, these militias used local knowledge, unconstrained tactics and high levels of motivation to defeat insurgents (this is in contrast to the ineffectiveness of Iraq's paycheck military). This option will probably work in Iraq too. "

I can't be too hard on Robb here because, frankly, I foresaw the same " controlled civil war" possibility ten months ago. On the other hand, Robb may be getting more than a little carried away by following up on his op-ed by predicting that Iraq will then yield a Global 1980's Lebanon. More as to why in a moment.

Dr. Barnett caught Robb's editorial today and has offered a serious rebuttal on his blog:

"Remember, super-empowered individuals can rule vertical scenarios temporarily, but it takes states, and all their resources, to rule horizonatal ones. In short, don't confuse disruption capacity with rule-making capacity. To believe the former rules all is to engage in what that battle-tested revolutionary, V.I. Lenin, called the child-like belief that the right bomb in the right place at the right time changes everything. Modeling ourselves on OBL's and Al Qaeda's infantilism isn't the answer. Building the bigger open-source net is. This is my A-to-Z rule set on processing politically bankrupt states.

Creating better rules is how we win. By doing so we attract good citizens and good states, slowly but surely. Killing symmetrically is gratifying, but ultimately pointless. Reformatting their world so that their cause dies is the real victory. Not a matter of making it like our own, but simply making it connective in a deep sense with the outside world, so that individuals can choose their level of connectivity no matter what the authorities say or do.

So I say, bet on numbers. Bet on bigger networks. Bet on growing the Core and, by doing so, restricting the enemy's operating domain."

There are major divergences in perspective between these two theorists beyond a simple classic pessimist vs. an optmist.

Robb is arguing that the operative Rule-set within the battlespace that is Iraq ( actually everywhere) has changed to our disadvantage and that of all nation-states. He is also an "Entropist" - Robb along with other key 4GW thinkers like William Lind are betting their chips that the global system is increasingly suffering effects under the Law of Entropy and is winding down. Agents of centrifugal disintegration and systemic disruption are thus superempowered because their efforts are in sync with the general momentum of the times. The wind is at bin Laden's back, as it were.

Barnett is arguing that the Rule-set within the battlespace is totally irrelevant; what matters is the power and legitimacy to write the Rule-sets that shape and determine the battlespace. In other words, al Qaida might attack on ground of their own choosing but we can ultimately determine what ground matters and al Qaida cannot. Moreover, Barnett is an
" Evolutionist" - he's betting on the Darwinian nonzero sum outcomes that undergird the formation and perpetuation of complex systems .

The larger the scale the less valid becomes Robb's argument because the battlespace ( Iraq, Chechnya, Colombia, wherever) will resemble less and less a closed system that would permit progression to complete breakdown. Human beings are social and economic creatures, they bias their actions toward aggregating added value. In terms of market conclusions, the larger the crowd, the wiser it is.

Globalization trumps guerillas.


John Robb rebuts Dr. Barnett's rebuttal. Disputes holding pessimistic views, aligns with Thomas Friedman's " Flat world". An excerpt:

"Our dispute is solely on how we get there. It isn't a contest of light (light) and dark (pessimistic) views. We are both optimistic about the future...

...This viewpoint translates into our approach to solutions. He's sees Iraq as a non-attempt at state-sponsored nation-building and I see it as the best attempt that this approach could muster."

Go read the whole thing at Global Guerillas.
*groans* "The Law of Entropy"? Entropy isn't "disorder", it's a measure of energy dispersion. I swear, if I had a nickel for every time someone took abusive artistic license with physics like that... [/pedant]

But more seriously, I agree. Robb offers good analysis, but like all 4GW mavens he tends to lose sight of the big picture. The last sentence of his op-ed was such a blatant nonsequitur that I have to wonder what the hell he was thinking. It amounts to saying "we screwed this up, so we shouldn't learn to do it better." I mean really, what the hell?

There is one valid point, which is that top-down structures are often clumsy and not especially robust. One of my complaints about the execution of this whole venture was that there was far too little "local ownership" in the sense of bringing people, businesses and governments from the region into the reconstruction process. After all, they have more incentive not to see Iraq fall into chaos than Americans do. The primary goal of any nation-building operation should be to create and maintain security rule-sets and encourage the private sector to do the rest. (See Hayek and Iraq by Max Borders for the kind of thinking that's needed.)
hi Matt,

Ha ! I figured that I'd be hearing from you ;o) Philo people love well-defined terms.

Yes, I know entropy is not disorder nor is a political system a perfect analog to a strictly physical one so there's a fuzzy aspect here to my usage of Law of Entropy but consider a few things:

a) Collapsing polities not only become disordered they also disperse energy - people flee, capital flees, stored energy in the form of useful infrastructure break down or are destroyed. Money is a store of value and in a sense, of energy. Gross reductions in GDP like Russia in the 1990's are a crude measure of this kind of effect.

b)Systemic efficiency is reduced as governmental and societal networks are attacked and nodes are eliminated, connections are broken. More energy is required to do less and less which leaves fewer resources to do other things. Some of those other things stop getting done and represent an added loss because without proper maintenence, you can lose the entirety of your investment in some cases of infrastructure.

c) " Entropy" has a history of being used in two different contexts - I think von Neumann pointed this out to Richard Feynmann. I used the older colloquial one because it is what most people think entropy is anyway and it allowed me to get my point across quickly.

I'm sure Dr. Von agrees with you that my " abusive license" gets away from entropy in the strict physics sense but I thought it was useful enough as a parallel ( PNM isn't strictly biological evolution either).
One of the problems I've had with war critics who take lines such as Robb takes is their seemingly inevitable need to portray one success by the enemy as total success, and one failure by our side as total failure. (One upgraded bomb succeeds at causing damage: the US can't keep up with the enemy's technological advance. The US takes 6 months to armor 130,000 troops and all their vehicles: the US is hopelessly inept with technology or logistics or both.)

That's crap.

I know, I know, it's a metaphor. It just happens to be a concept that gets misunderstood a lot and drives me up a wall, just like evolution, Heisenberg uncertainty, and Godelian incompleteness. Raaawwwrr, philosopher smash... :P


Yeah, it's frustrating. On the recent referendum day, the insurgents best attacks were to wound a few people and cut off power in Baghdad. Robb made a post about that without providing any context to show what small beer it was. I expect idiot journalists to do that, but Robb has no excuse.

Sharp people like Robb make a lot of good points, and they could use that knowledge to make constructive suggestions as to what methods would make for better nation building (like Fukuyama has done), but instead they just make the unjustified leap to saying that we should just stay home and never come out at all.

But more seriously, I agree. Robb offers good analysis, but like all 4GW mavens he tends to lose sight of the big picture.

Robb's Global Guerrillaism is not a 4GW philosophy. If anything, it is a new form of 3GW.

First, 4GW is fought in the moral sphere. The purpose of 4GW is not to physically destroy your enemy (except in extreme circumstances), but remove your enemy's will to fight. 3GW's actions, by contrast, focus on removing an enemy's ability to fight. Robb criticizes 4GW.

Global Guerrillaism's flaw is that it is Clausewitzian: it wants to attack the strong-point of rich states -- money and technology -- with money and technology. See here for money, here for tech.

3GW, by contrast, focuses on decisive battles (which means attacking the schwerpunkt, even when 3GStrategists dissemble) and the physical sphere.

Dan tdaxp
Nice primer Dan !

The Big cheese must have left you a moment to breathe today ;o)
Yeah, there's only so much Big Cheese I can take.

I'm at UNL to live, learn, and round-off teaching ability. Being told "No one who knows anything about international law could say that" in response to an honest question is not part of that.

I am lucky to have spent a large fraction of my life around people smarter than I am. I enjoy this. I'm also used to cocky smart guys -- I don't think Col would mind that description too much. These men can also be very informative.

But there's a class of guy who grew used to being the smartest person in a room, and so coasts by on arrogance and insults. These men are not worth my time.

Dan tdaxp
I have to add that there's a little bit of IL worth knowing, but not much beyond the inner concentric circle of strong general acceptance. Most of it is a complete academic fantasy that has zero effect on real world policy making.

Even at the lowest common denominator, however, egregious violatons not going to cause states to chuck aside their interests. Iran seized our embassy - you don't have any bigger IL breach than that - nations did not flock to our side, not even our allies.

As for BC, his response indicates that he became comfortable and has stopped thinking.
I discuss this topic daily myself. I also have a website that talks about business services human resource related things. Go check it out if you get a chance.
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