PART IV – THE BOUNDARIES OF SYSTEM PERTURBATION
Reviewing rules # 7 – 9 from Dr. Barnett’s Deleted Scene on System Perturbation. As before my remarks are in regular text, Dr. Barnett’s in bold:
“Where are the boundaries in System Perturbations?
Rule #7: Vertical scenarios are always preceded by horizontal scenarios that generated the preconditions for system shock.
This one I definitely stole from the complexity guys. Their basic point is that no vertical shock occurs in a vacuum. With 9/11, there were a host of horizontal scenarios on our side that led to all that lax security and our government’s downplaying the threat from Al Qaeda. So looking for that one “smoking gun” is always an illusion, despite the fact that we always pretend to ourselves that we have really found one, like the FBI “Phoenix Memo.” To believe that one little memo should have turned the tides on all those long-term horizontal scenarios is just fantasy. You cannot turn conventional wisdom on its head without a serious shock. On Al Qaeda’s side, 9/11 was the culmination of a slow build-up of capabilities and demonstrated strikes over the years. This group did not appear out of nowhere, nor did their grievances.
Amen. Dr. Barnett has provided grist here for historians like myself where one of the great difficulties when asked by someone outside of the field for an explanation of a historical event is to give one that has brevity yet respects the complexity of multiple-causation. Almost every significant event in the history of the earth – at least as far as I can authoritatively speak- is a result of multiple causation of unfolding horizontal and vertical scenarios. Political partisans and ideologues in particular prefer simple, single-causation, explanations that are usually correct only to a limited and compartmentalized extent and often become dangerously wrong when subsequently extrapolated into a demagogic slogan.
I suppose an exception might be examples of divine revelation that became slow-moving System Perturbations – Muhammed’s vision, Constantine and St. Paul’s conversions, Buddha’s enlightenment but even here the spread of new religions occur within a social and historical context. The collapse of Roman power, the destruction of Temple Judaism, the political disorganization of Vedic-Hindu India and vertical organization of dynastic China all provided a space for these belief systems to triumph as rival rule-sets over earlier moral systems.
Rule #8: Vertical scenarios are invariable followed by horizontal scenarios that generate preconditions for future shocks.
This one sort of says, “Be careful what you wish for.” Japan attacks Pearl Harbor and hopes it will shock the U.S. into rapid defeatism. Instead, we respond with the Pacific Campaign, or a methodical dismantling of Japan’s empire. Hitler thought Germany might conquer Russia with the same blitzkrieg that overwhelmed Poland and France, and he got the Battle of Stalingrad and the Siege of Leningrad instead. Al Qaeda thought America would be shocked into isolation after 9/11, and got a Bush Adminstration hell-bent on transforming the Middle East. Of course, as part of that transformation, we invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime. That was the “big bang” America put on the Middle East as a whole. But that vertical shock invariably creates its own horizontal scenarios like leaving tens of thousands of U.S. troops trapped in Iraq for the long haul, pulling in jihadists from all over the world to try and kill the “infidels,” and forcing the U.S. into an accommodation with the UN it had long sought to avoid regarding postwar Iraq. What new vertical shock comes out of that maelstrom of horizontal scenarios? Good question.
Sir Isaac Newton wrote: “Forces always occur in pairs. If object A exerts a force F on object B, then object B exerts an equal and opposite force -F on object A” or as every school child calls it ” Every action has an equal and opposite reaction “. If you remove the critical term ” equal” and substitute the phrase ” probable set of ” you have a good, analagous, ” Law of Blowback ” to Newton’s Third Law, for unfolding vertical and horizontal scenarios.
” For statesmen, every action has a probable set of opposite reactions “
If we are going to act strategically in the context of everything else – which means thinking systemically – we need to be aware that systems exist as a set of interconnections and automatically there will be a feedback loop of sorts for every gross disturbance that is out of sync with the pattern of the system’s usual internal actions. This is not a Chalmers Johnson type argument for policy paralysis and geopolitical inertia – such advice is worthless as well as politically motivated. Policy makers though should take into consideration the Law of Unintended Consequences and the Law of Diminishing Returns when planning a move so as to minimize the extent of any worst-case scenarios. The current situation in Iraq where the Leviathan planning was superb and the System administration planning was incompetent argues the case eloquently.
Rule #9: The potential for conflict is maximized when states with differing rule sets are forced into collaboration/collision/clashes.
This rule basically defines America’s dilemma in pursuing this global war on terrorism: we will constantly be getting into bed with countries whose rule sets do not go well with our own, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or even Syria. How does America cooperate with essentially non-democratic states to spread democracy? Then again, if you want converts, you better work among the sinners, yes? But even tougher questions abound in response to 9/11. You could say, for example, that in pursuing this war on terror, America is basically adopting the Israeli approach of an-eye-for-an-eye, which is problematic for most Americans. Israel may, for religious and cultural reasons, be comfortable with that Old Testament approach, but America is basically a New Testament-style democracy, where the “golden rule” of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” drives most of our rule sets. As I stated earlier, I think the Core-Gap division forces some genuine bifurcation in our security rule sets, and yet, there is no pasting over the reality that this war on terror will cause very profound rule set clashes within America itself.
For a very timely example of this clash of rule sets within America itself, see the new Foreign Affairs article entitled -ironically- ” The Sources of American Legitimacy “ a moderate sounding but extremely radical thesis from two Transnational Progressive scholars Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson. Their argument is so dangerous to American national security and so inimical to Dr. Barnett’s vision of ” Connecting the Gap ” that it requires a post on it’s own to explain – as indeed TM Lutas and JB at Riting On The Wall have already done. Reader’s Digest version – they argue International Law is properly the handmaiden of tyrants and genocidaires who are legitimate sovereigns but American “legitimacy” is rooted in our cession of sovereignty to the opinion of the world community as interpreted by unaccountable NGOs, transnational organizations and activists like Tucker and Hendrickson. A more perverse, self-interested, revisionism masquerading as orthodoxy- outside of Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists- cannot be imagined.
The Core has to come together on rewriting the Rule-set for handling 4th Generation warfare opponents like al Qaida and this will mean engagement with our real( Britain, Japan, Israel, Australia), putative (France, Germany) and potential( Russia, China, India) allies. The Bush administration has been great at identifying the new rules we need and rebuffing outrageously stupid demands from the implicit villain community by indentifying their conduct for what it is – hostile. Now however the next step is demonstrating the same diplomatic finesse with Europe and at the UNSC that put together a regional consensus for six power talks on North Korean nuclear weapons programs. The great redeeming value of some of the implicit villains overseas is that many of them as a result of their corruption and cynical self-interest can be bought off, rather cheaply in fact as Saddam demonstrated.
Recall the case of Admiral Darlan and Operation Torch. Let’s buy some of the decadent ones off long enough to diplomatically isolate those implicit villains who are ideologically the immovable objects in our path so we can get on with the business of winning the war the making a future worth creating.