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Archive for October, 2007

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007


” To summarize, we seek to radically change the cultures and political systems for much of the world, to halt foreign revolts and civil wars of which we do not approve, to bring global peace and prosperity, to make friends (even with those states whose rise we seek to restrain), and to “transform” our so far unreformable national security apparatus. Those who thought President Bush was kidding about these learned better in the months following our invasion of Iraq.”

– Fabius Maximus

For some time now, an author whose nom de guerre is “Fabius Maximus”, after the ancient Roman general of the Punic wars, has been a regular and at times, prolific, contributor to the Boydian and 4GW school oriented Defense & the National Interest. Fabius, who comments here at Zenpundit on occasion, also set off one of the most popular, if heated and controversial, threads at The Small Wars Council, catching the attention of noted COIN strategist Col. David Kilcullen. Kilcullen’s theories later became a subject of frequent critique from Fabius in his DNI articles.

While I had hoped to meet Fabius in person at Boyd 2007, he did not attend and I am not privy to his identity or professional background. Fabius’ arguments must rise or fall entirely on their own merit and he has been content to engage his critics on this basis at the SWC and elsewhere. Clearly he is a member of the 4GW school and is an admirer of Col. John Boyd, William Lind, Dr. Martin van Creveld and Dr. Chet Richards but has not shrunk from advancing his own ideas or original criticisms.

Recently, Fabius completed his tenth article in a series on America’s Long War for DNI and, as Fabius has entertained and enraged members of the community of “reform” defense intellectuals and COIN practitioners, it is timely for us to take stock of his strategic argument:

The Long War Series – from DNI’s Fabius Maximus Archive

Part XOne step beyond Lind: what is America’s geopolitical strategy?
Part IX4GW at work in a community near you,
Part VIIIHow to accurately forecast trends of the Iraq War,
Part VIIKilcullen explains all you need to know about the Iraq War,
Part VIThe bad news is that Lind’s good news is wrong,
Part VThe Iraq War as a warning for America,
Part IVBeyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq,
Part IIIStories or statistics? Read and compare to find the truth!
Part IINews from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!
Part IAmerica takes another step towards the “Long War,”

I have read the roughly 20,000 words offered here previously and I re-read them for this post. I have also read most of the authors of the original works that Fabius Maximus cites in his series. Therefore, I feel qualified to offer a few observations in regard to the strategic paradigm that this body of work represents and the assumptions, clearly stated as well as implicit, upon which it is built.

Many of the specific analytical criticisms of American policy and performance in Iraq and Afghanistan made by Fabius are incisive, some are rather questionable and a few are brilliant. I encourage you to read his efforts for yourself rather than simply accepting my word for it. What interests me most though, given the scope of the series, are his premises. As I discern them, they are:

That 4GW is the environment in which we find ourselves conducting operations – and doing so quite poorly at that with a military predisposed toward 2GW offensives. Or irrelevantly on the strategic level where we happen to be executing COIN well on the tactical level.

We cannot significantly affect the internal dynamics of alien societies that we understand poorly or not at all, regardless of the carrots or sticks used. We are marginal factors at best.

American war policy is being constructed on the false analogy of the Cold War model.

Al Qaida is more phantom than menace.

War is the wrong conceptual metaphor and the wrong operational-bureaucratic response to the conflict in which we find ourselves.

Our response, which serves bureaucratic and factional interests at homes, undermines our global strategic position and wastes our economic strength.

A better grand strategy for America is nonintervention and reducing friction with the rest of the world. Or failing that, at least bolstering states, any states, rather than collapsing them into failure with military attack or other pressures ( Lind’s “Centers of Order vs. Centers of Disorder”)

If George Kennan argued for “Containment” of Soviet Communism in his “X” article the best descriptor of the grand strategy of Fabius Maximus might be ” Conservancy” – dialing down our kinetic response to terrorism to the surgical level and recognizing this contest as more ideological conflict than war and, in general, recognizing our limitations in attempting to become masters of the universe. Many readers would associate this paradigm with the Left but I believe that to be incorrect. Instead, reflecting a deeply paleoconservative reading of history and American traditions in foreign policy that historian Walter A. McDougal called “Promised Land” and others “city on a hill” and ” isolationism”.

The virtues of “conservancy” as I interpret Fabius is that it minimizes both costs and future commitments for the United States, leaving us better able to afford to deal with strategic threats to vital national interests, when unanticipated threats arise, as they surely will. It would serve as a reality check on statesmen to pursue fewer, more coherent, simpler, more easily realizable and markedly cheaper objectives, which will have far higher probability of success ( as opposed to say, attacking Iran while engaged in Iraq. Or perhaps invading Russia in winter or fighting a land war in Asia. Some folks around PACOM with a few years ago with uber-journalist Robert Kaplan’s ear, thought an unprovoked war with China was a splendid idea). When forced to intervene, our footprint will be light; more like British frontier agents of old or the 55 advisers in El Salvador in the 1980’s than the invasion of Iraq. As a nation, our foreign policy would stay on the good side of the diminishing returns curve.

The drawbacks include, in my view: being flatly incorrect about al Qaida’s potential to initiate attacks on the operational or strategic level specifically, and about the threat of radical Islamist-Mahdist movements in general, when coupled with increasing capacities to leverage against complex systems ( see John Robb’s Brave New War); underestimating the geopolitical ripple effect of the U.S. shifting to a conservancy posture, upending the global security arrangements upon which the calculations of statesmen currently depend. The unanticipated consequences of the latter are large. Within two to three levels of unfolding decision-tree possibilities, any potential response by the U.S. is simply swamped. We benefit by the status quo. Changing our position imposes costs.

I invite Fabius Maximus to respond as he likes and I will publish his remarks here, unedited. Readers are invited to offer their own critique in the comments section.

Monday, October 29th, 2007


Blogfriend Critt Jarvis has reinvented his online presence and returned to some of his original intellectual concerns from back in the days when he was a founding member of The New Rule-Sets Project, later purchased by Enterra Solutions. Critt is jumping off a post by Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion and extending the argument with “Steve Rubel is right, do you know why ?“:

“He’s right. Here’s why. Web portals are social networks, and social networks aggregate to a global conversation market.

Like global or world cities — for example, New York, Paris, Tokyo, London — where, from the transparent nexus of culture, governance, infrastructure, commerce, and fashion, we expect to consistently have a really good time,

The global conversation market has the necessary resources to accommodate a global social network.

For a really good time in the global conversation market …

Find your portal to social networks

Web portals provide stability in social networks, requisite to emerging conversation markets.
Web portals provide growth of social networks.
Web portals provide resources for social networks.
Web portals provide infrastructure for social networks.
Web portals provide money for social networks.
Web portals provide rules for social networks.
Web portals provide security for social networks.

And remember this

Absent stability, there’s no conversation market.
Absent growth, there’s no stability.
Absent resources, there’s no growth.
Absent infrastructure, there’s no resources.
Absent money, there’s no infrastructure.
Absent rules, trust me, there’s no institutional investor money.
Absent security, the rules don’t work.

For me, the social networking wars are over. What I need to do now is find my place in the portals. Which makes me wonder, What is going to happen to Twitter?”

One of the interesting things about Critt is his ability to embed a large number of important concepts at the implicit level in his writing. Critt’s primary interest for the past few years has been facilitating “global conversation”; that is people to people connection on a global scale of magnitude. An interest that is congruent with his expertise in technical platforms as tools of communication.

These platforms and by extension, the portals that serve as gateways, represent rule-set systems that offer maximum connectivity and transaction of a certain kind with a minimum of friction and direct cost. These are rule-sets for the enjoyment of “ordered liberty”. For example, Second Life provides the user with system access and tools with which to communicate and create but within these strong minimalist confines, citizens of Second Life primarily must self-regulate. This contrasts with the fairly stringent, proprietary, ethos of other MMORPG like Everquest or World of Warcraft.

These services, while entertaining, stifle user creativity and innovation via techno-paternalism. Arguably, in an economic sense, these companies have a business model that opts for maintaining hierarchical control over outcomes within their system over maximizing the growth of their market share or the growth of the user-market itself by limiting user transactions by orders of magnitude. Ultimately, as Web 2.0 concepts permeate the wider global culture, this position becomes self-defeating – the creation of virtual ghettos.

Mr. Jarvis understands that, in the long run, it’s a road to nowhere.

Sunday, October 28th, 2007


Very short today. Working on several posts right now.

Michael Tanji at Threatswatch – “Self Defense is National Defense

Permanent Innovation Blog – “Mind Mapping Permanent Innovation

Thomas P. M. Barnett – “The Map at State

Chirol at Coming Anarchy – “Turkish Options

That’s it!

Saturday, October 27th, 2007


Saturday, October 27th, 2007


La Cosa Nostra, the Italian mafia of Big Al Capone and Lucky Luciano is on the skids these days.:

“The mob’s frailties were evident in recent months in Chicago, where three senior-citizen mobsters were locked up for murders committed a generation ago; in Florida, where a 97-year-old Mafioso with a rap sheet dating to the days of Lucky Luciano was imprisoned for racketeering; and in New York, where 80-something boss Matty “The Horse” Ianniello pleaded to charges linked to the garbage industry and union corruption.

Things are so bad that mob scion John A. “Junior” Gotti chose to quit the mob while serving five years in prison rather than return to his spot atop the Gambino family.

At the mob’s peak in the late 1950s, more than two dozen families operated nationwide. Disputes were settled by the Commission, a sort of gangland Supreme Court. Corporate change came in a spray of gunfire. This was the mob of “The Godfather” celebrated in pop culture.

Today, Mafia families in former strongholds like Cleveland, Los Angeles and Tampa are gone. La Cosa Nostra — our thing, as its initiates called the mob — is in serious decline everywhere but New York City. And even there, things aren’t so great: Two of New York’s five crime families are run in absentia by bosses behind bars.

….The oath of omerta — silence — has become a joke. Ditto for the old world “Family” values — honor, loyalty, integrity — that served as cornerstones for an organization brought to America by Italian immigrants during the era of Prohibition.

“It’s been several generations since they left Sicily,” says Dave Shafer, head of the FBI organized crime division in New York. “It’s all about money.”

At the peak of the mafia’s power, the 1950’s, it had only 5000 “made” members but it was deeply entrenched in a powerful national labor movement, was entwined in a numerous big city Democratic machines ( notably Chicago’s notorious old 1st Ward, where Sam “Momo” Giancana’s minions hustled out the ghost vote for JFK) and enjoyed the tolerance of the immensely powerful FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover, who had a taste for the track and shady associates in his off-hours. The mafia not only had mystique and physical force at their disposal, they had the political juice, having in classic Boydian fashion, strategically connected themselves to as many other centers of power as possible.

What happened to the Mob sbsequently is a lesson for all those who study the potential of networks vis-a-vis states. Despite their fluidity and adaptivity, networks are not ten feet tall. They can be disconnected and isolated. Their internal cohesion can be disrupted. Their OODA loops can be disoriented and only in the rarest of circumstances can networks stand toe-to-toe in the open with the massive power of state hierarchies. They are beatable with patience, strategic thinking, consistency and time.

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