Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Best Offense is a Good Defense

About a year ago, I wrote a short essay on the messianic statecraft of Paul Wolfowitz. It makes for very compelling reading.

Back in the bad old days of American impotence in late 1960’s and 1970’s, Wolfowitz began his meteoric rise by proclaiming that ongoing revolutionary changes in information technology could transform the nature of warfare itself. Computers and whiz-bang weapons systems would allegedly provide opportunities for offensive military action by virtue of their accuracy. Military precision, in turn, would free policy makers from the moral ambiguity that had served to constrain the untrammeled use of American power previously. In Wolfowitz’s Eden, the American hegemon is not merely the New Rome, but the New Jerusalem. American power is hence baptized and infused with a moral dimension, spreading "universal values" (abstract flim-flam like "democracy" and "freedom") while unconstrained by the collateral damage of war.

Unfortunately, Wolfowitz didn’t take account of the fact that technology tends to have a leveling effect. And new technologies have clearly democratized modern warfare, and empowered the practitioners of what William Lind has called Fourth Generation Warfare. Just as the printing press helped to undermine the dominion of the Catholic Church, new technologies and methods of warfare are slowly undermining the State’s monopoly on violence.

As far back as 1989, Lind pointed to the potential for technology-driven Fourth Generation Warfare. Lind wrote:

If we combine the above general characteristics of fourth generation warfare with new technology, we see one possible outline of the new generation. For example, directed energy may permit small elements to destroy targets they could not attack with conventional energy weapons. Directed energy may permit the achievement of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) effects without a nuclear blast. Research in superconductivity suggests the possibility of storing and using large quantities of energy in very small packages. Technologically, it is possible that a very few soldiers could have the same battlefield effect as a current brigade.

The growth of robotics, remotely piloted vehicles, low probability of intercept communications, and artificial intelligence may offer a potential for radically altered tactics. In turn, growing dependence on such technology may open the door to new vulnerabilities, such as the vulnerability to computer viruses.

Small, highly mobile elements composed of very intelligent soldiers armed with high technology weapons may range over wide areas seeking critical targets. Targets may be more in the civilian than the military sector. Front-rear terms will be replaced with targeted-untargeted. This may in turn radically alter the way in which military Services are organized and structured.


One clear lesson of the American failure in Iraq and Israel’s Lebanon debacle is that though Islamic militants are still decidedly low-tech, technology is now moving faster than the diplomatic and political resources to control it. Hezbollah’s success against Israeli tanks likewise demonstrates that missile technology is becoming democratized.

More ominous is a trend noted by leftist historian Gabriel Kolko. An increasing number of states can cheaply obtain near weapons-grade plutonium. "Within a few years," writes Kolko, "many more countries than the present ten or so – the Army study thinks Saudi Arabia and even Egypt most likely – will have nuclear bombs and far more destructive and accurate rockets and missiles."

All of this means that the United States would be much better off pursuing a defensive rather than aggressive strategy in the misnamed War on Terror. In On War, Clausewitz argued for the superiority of defensive war. "So in order to state the relationship precisely, we must say that the defensive form of warfare is intrinsically stronger than the offensive. This is the point that we have been trying to make, for although it is implicit in the nature of the matter and experience has confirmed it again and again, it is at odds with prevalent opinion, which proves how ideas can be confused by superficial writers."

In short, any foreign policy strategy should seek to insulate us from disorder. To quote Lind, "America’s grand strategy should seek to connect our country with as many centers and sources of order as possible, while isolating us from as many centers and sources of disorder as possible."

What the Iraq war has accomplished is little more than the destruction of a State, which created a vacuum exploited by the purveyors of disorder. Such actions "as the war in Iraq," says Lind, "tend to isolate us from successful states and run counter to our interests."

So the key is some degree of military retrenchment, and creating rapid-hitting Special Forces that can strike quickly and lethally. But we also must separate ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and seal ourselves off to a greater degree from the sea of humanity now fleeing disorder. Lind says correctly that disorder will naturally produce hordes of refuges and immigrants. Nevertheless, "accepting refugees from centers of disorder imports disorder."

A corollary to reconsidering our interventionist foreign policy is taking moves domestically to secure the nation. In a new book entitled Defeating Jihad, Serge Trifkovic argues passionately and persuasively that Islam is incompatible with Western mores, folkways, and institutions. Trifkovic endorses greater domestic spying on Muslims and supervision of Islamic Centers using a variation of McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950, denying security clearances to Muslims, and immigration policies that exclude all persons engaged in "Islamic activism."

Trifkovic's goal seems similar to Lind's--separating the United States from growing global disorder by emphasizing defense rather than offense. "The victory," says Trifkovic, "will not come by conquering Mecca for Americans but by disengaging America from Mecca and by excluding Mecca from America. Eliminating the risk is impossible. Managing it wisely, resolutely, and permanently is something attainable."

Conservatives pondering the existential crisis the West faces should be looking to the likes of Lind and Trifkovic for answers. Though their analysis may be flawed around the edges, they avoid the foolish nihilism and moral relativism of the Left without succumbing to the mindless interventionism of the Neocon Right.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Mark said...

Putting aside all the silliness wrapped up in the motives for the war, I have to say that this piece really hits the nail right on the head, Darrell!

It's actually the first reasonable proposal for an actual solution I've read.

And getting our tenticles out of the middle east will remove the real impetus for the attacks. Right now, we're aggravating their anger every day.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Darrell said...

Your remarks are very kind.

I agree that we need a less heavy foot in the Middle East. Being less dependent on Arab oil would be a place to start, and extricating ourselves from the suffocating impact of The Lobby has to be another objective.

How we get from here to there will entail some serious thinking, but the time has come to disengage militarily from the region.

8:27 PM  

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