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Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006


As I promised, here are some bloggers commenting on the Barnett-Robb dialogue of yestersday:

Curtis Gale Weeks at Phatic Communion -“Barnett Against Connectivity: Or, How I Survived High School

Dan of tdaxp -” Cheeky? Maybe. Thrilled? Definitely!

Shloky – ” Clash of Titans” and ” More on Disruptive Innovation

Have to add Shloky to the blogroll. Special thanks to Curtis for pointing out how I was screwing up my permalinks :O)

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006


Nepal’s Maoist insurgents send out a mild-mannered, computer engineering, nerd type to charm the Western media into complacency ( not a very high bar to surmount, historically speaking, for Communist guerillas) and the guy can’t get out two minutes of talking points before breaking into a glassy-eyed trance, reverting to type, and praising Stalinism and China’s Cultural Revolution.

Think what the scary Maoists are like in a rural village at night.

Curzon has a firsthand report at Coming Anarchy.

Monday, May 22nd, 2006


Dr. Philip Bobbitt , author of The Shield of Achilles.

A grand tip of the hat to Eddie of the excellent Navy blog, Live From the FDNF for sending me this gem.

Sunday, May 21st, 2006


Link Preface:

Primary loyalties in Basra” by John Robb

Robb’s weak day” by Thomas P.M. Barnett

Barnett Bites Back? ” by Federalist X

Barnett Dings me Too” by John Robb

Unpacking the connectivity straw man” by Thomas P.M. Barnett

The Global Platform: Connectivity can be both Good and Bad” by John Robb

DC, a commenter, asked me the following question:

“where you stand on the basic difference between JR / TB, as it looks, on whether the US is (i) in principle capable of connecting a country like iraq or (ii) whether in principle such difficult/complex ‘imperial’ tasks are beyond a modern democracy itself wired to media and system that enforces transparency to a large degree and therefore inevitably torpedos difficult projects…”

First, I have to allow myself a caveat that I understand Thomas Barnett’s ideas probably better or more comprehensively than I do John Robb’s for the simple fact that Robb’s book hasn’t come out yet and I have not had the same opportunity to enjoy his laying out a methodical argument. John’s blogs have given me a decent grasp, I think, on his strategic analysis but the book will give me a better one. So, while I will do my best, I am more than open for correction from John if he believes I’ve misunderstood or forgotten an important aspect of Global Guerilla theory.

My interpretation of the basic differences between Tom Barnett’s and John Robb’s approaches to analysis is determined first, by selection of perspective and timeline; secondarily, through the emphasis of a particular operational dynamic, though there remains a lot of overlap between the two ( my kingdom for a venn diagram designed by Dan of tdaxp !).

As an object will look different when viewed with a telescope or with a magnifying glass, a geopolitical situation can give you a significantly different concern depending on what point of the strategic hierarchy you care to view it. Barnett and Robb are both experts and capable of giving you chapter and verse on Iraq, or Afghanistan or wherever from the tactical level upward to the enunciation of grand strategy. By inclination, education and background, Tom tends to focus on long term strategic outcomes and grand strategy while John is generally more over the board but definitely edges toward tactics, grand tactics and scenarios with shorter time horizons ( incidentally, this focus is better suited to blogging as a medium. I expect John’s book will be more strategic in outlook than some of his daily readers of his blogs are used to, but that’s just an intuitive guess on my part).

In terms of dynamics, Robb frequently refers frequently to the negative potentialities and implications of systemic disruption, an approach I once categorized as entropic. Dr. Barnett tends to look beyond tactical disruptions until you reach the “Big Bang” level of magnitude, a full-fledged system perturbation. Tom’s focus on the effects of connectivity is an investigation into nonzero sum outcomes, an evolutionary and somewhat economically deterministic perspective. John too recognizes the power of the evolutionary paradigm in his discussion of “open-source” developments, though on military topics he’s usually talking about something destructive like rebels or terrorists becoming more efficient at wrecking havoc.

Are Barnett and Robb writing about mutually exclusive variables? No. Are these variables all interacting at once at varying and constantly changing degrees of scale and situational importance ? Yes. Is the interrelationship of the variables perfectly discernable and easily conveyed ? Hell, no ! That’s what they are arguing about. You’re an impressive intellect if you can get even part of the comprehensive picture right most of the time ! There’s a lot of room to debate even if you agree on a conclusion.

Now for the second part of DC’s question:

Do democracies have the grit or persistance to endeavor to undertake long term and comlex tasks of strategic policy without undermining themselves through the intrinsic nature of media drenched democratic politics ?

Democracies are more politically resilient than we tend to give them credit for being. Containment was undertaken for a half century despite numerous catastrophes and misfires along the way. One of the worst debacles, American involvement in Vietnam, was by itself a seventeen year project. European integration was nearly fifty years. German reunification, from Brandt to Kohl was twenty years. Democracies can muster longitudinal will to carry out a policy with greater endurance than can tyrannies but what democracy cannot guarantee is that the policy will be carried out with either wisdom or ultimate success The media is a factor, yes, but not a primary variable. It is a method of communication, the content of the message still matters and facts of a certain strategic importance can neither be finessed nor spun.

Iraq has been carried out, after the initial, brilliant, military operations, about as poorly as can be imagined short of the destruction of the American Army. On the other hand, if you look at Kurdistan, you see how “connecting” the Gap might work when the Core’s efforts are in sync with the aspirations of the residents we are trying to help ( if anything, the Kurds are far more enthusiastic than we are, given our sensitivity to the concerns of the Turks and Saudis) instead of in violent opposition to a significant minority.

The learning curve has been costly.


More posts today… I will try to update if /as more develops…other bloggers besides Tom or John who are also commenting can email me a link and I will include your two cents as well.

Unpacking the connectivity straw man (II) ” by Thomas P.M. Barnett

Barnett and Robb ” by John Robb

The dangers of the blogosphere dialogue” by Thomas P.M. Barnett

Sunday, May 21st, 2006


Steve at ERMB has already commented on the most recent post* by Wiggins at OSD, entitled “ Of Moral Resilience and Technical Resilience” where Wiggins wrote:

“There are two related ideas here. One way to understand them is as two aspects of resilience. The first issue is resilience on what Boyd would call the moral level. The second issue is resilience on a technical level. There is a complex feedback loop between these two aspects of resilience; it leads to both excitement and confusion. This is my attempt to explore that relationship. Be warned, my enthusaism might overwhelm my clarity.

Moral resilience is what Boyd focused upon late in his life and a topic that Chet Richards has expanded upon in Certain to Win. The issue they consider is why certain organizations have been able to consistently prevail against adversity. They have concluded that success depends upon maintaining internal cohesion while disrupting the cohesion of your adversaries. When Mark discusses the importance of consilience, I see him implicitly recognizing this. It is not sufficient to just bounce back quickly, because such a strategy is inherently reactive. It abdicates iniative, conceeding the most important factor to one’s competitors. “

Very much in agreement. Moreover, Wiggins direct reference to Colonel John Boyd’s ideas allows us to move the resilience ball further down the field from the organization or group (moral resilience) to the individual(psychological resilience). In Patterns of Conflict, Boyd summarized the “Essence of Moral Conflict” which relates directly to a group’s resiliency:

Essence of Moral Conflict

Negative factors

* Menace:
Impressions of danger to one’s well being and survival

Impressions, or atmosphere, generated by events that appear ambiguous, erratic, contradictory, unfamiliar, chaotic, etc.

Atmosphere of doubt and suspicion that loosens human bonds among members of an organic whole or between organic wholes


Internal drive to think and take action without being urged

Power to adjust or change in order to cope with new or unforeseen circumstances

Interaction of apparently disconnected events or entities in a connected way

As a military theorist, Colonel Boyd was concerned primarily with collectives – the enemy, one’s own forces, the uncommitted civilian population – into which individuals and their behavior were perforce subsumed. However, Boyd’s elements of moral conflict and some of his other ideas can also help explain an individual’s psychological resiliency or lack thereof, being affected by extrinsic factors like social relationships and shared values.

When an organization goes beyond a mere functional objective and deliberately inculcates a coherent and identifiable set of values in its members, it is engaged in building moral resilience. We are familiar with many examples – the cadet honor code at West Point, Bushido of Japan’s medieval samurai, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence – all of which were adopted by large numbers of followers and expressed within such groups not only with a common vocabulary but with mutual understanding.

These programs of moral resilience were reinforced by the dynamics of a social network so that individuals, when put under stress or hazard, would face not only a trial of their conscience but the expectations of their peers, superiors and subordinates that they live up to the movement’s ideals. Psychologically, this would tend to increase individual resiliency in the following ways:

* Reduction of Uncertainty:

There is no moral confusion only a moral choice. Values, once deeply internalized represent a cognitive frame through which all situations are evaluated. Paralysis is avoided and the individual moves quickly to decide and to act ( Conversely, uncertainty is increased not by increasing the level of stress – many hard-core believers in a cause will welcome sacrifice as proof of their devotion – but by delegitimizing the underlying values that provide the resilience).

*Reduction of Anxiety:

As the individual enjoys the benefits of moral resilience their response to stress is less. Their thoughts are focused, clear, determined to adapt, overcome or if need be, accept the consequences of a situation in a way that does not betray their values (Conversely, the way to raise the anxiety level here is not through a frontal attack but by offering temptation ).

*Increase in Motivation:

Resilient individuals faced with a challenge or a threat are apt to react by fighting back – to take the initiative, as Boyd suggested- while identifying all the more closely with the value-set that provides the core of their moral resilience. Persecution seldom does anything but reinforce the ideological intensity of the group being oppressed ( Conversely, a lack of friction with the outside world -despite the best efforts of group leaders to incite it – can often instigate a devastating cycle of ideological de-escalation and complacency among the membership. A Zen proverb relates that if you wish to fence in your bull, you give him a large meadow).

Moral resilience operates on multiple levels. First, at the level of an organization as a result or product of what Colonel Boyd described as:

“A grand ideal, overarching theme, or noble philosophy that represents a coherent paradigm within which individuals as well as societies can shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances—yet offers a way to expose flaws of competing or adversary systems. Such a unifying vision should be so compelling that it acts as a catalyst or beacon around which to evolve those qualities that permit a collective entity or organic whole to improve its stature in the scheme of things.”

Secondly, as the membership internalize the values of the “unifying vision” and acquire moral resilience which in turn produces psychological resilience in the form of the individual’s behavioral response to stress or threat.

Thirdly, moral resilience is itself an attractive meme, a ” beacon” that draws support in the form of new members ( a “catalyst”) or the admiration of uncommitted observers. Or perhaps, repeated demonstrations of moral resilience may have a daunting effect or undermine the morale of adversaries and competitors.

Resilence operates across a spectrum of dimensions and by overlapping your levels of resilient scenarios they will become mutually reinforcing.

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