and the Present Danger: A Perspective for the American Left (page
2 of 2)
By Carl Davidson
New Thinking on
There is, in
fact, an important discussion going in the U.S. military on the
concept of “netwar.” Spurred by RAND Corporation analysts
John Arquilla and David Ronfelt, the non-traditional terrorist and
drug cartel threats to peace and security require equally non-traditional
responses. Arquilla introduces his views in a recent interview with
the Foreign Policy Association:
we are seeing is a kind of dark league of networked non-state actors
who have a great deal of capability to do harm. They capitalize
upon a trend that is about a century long now, beginning with the
rise of high explosives that has seen the increasing destructive
and disruptive power of small groups. So some years ago, David (Ronfelt)
and I came up with the notion that networks would fight in a particular
way against hierarchical states, and other large institutional actors,
and so we called that “netwar.” The idea being that
these networks didn't need a territory of their own, so that they
distribute themselves across a global grid, could strike at will,
could mass when they choose, and would hold the initiative, would
remain shadowy, perhaps we wouldn't ever know exactly who they were,
and that they could cause a great deal of increasing harm over the
years. We caught this glimpse of netwar some years ago, and now
I am afraid to say we are living in this period. The terror war
is indeed the first full-blown netwar.”
al-Quaida, in information theory terms, as a “network of networks”
chained together as a global “hybrid peer-to-peer network.”
Most computer networkers will know exactly what he means. But to
put it briefly, it means each widely distributed cell or node can
communicate directly with any other cell, yet at the same time gain
access to and share centrally stored resources. There is also a
high degree of redundancy, meaning that taking out one or even several
nodes or resources doesn’t necessarily bring down the whole
Ronfelt argue that “it takes a network to defeat a network,”
meaning that traditional military hierarchies are not very effective.
The December 2001 Wired Magazine sums up their theory in five points:
Intelligence. This means information needs to be shared and open,
although without compromising sources. National and bureaucratic
firewalls won’t do. Case in point: A Middle Eastern man was
detained in Minnesota on the tip of a flight school that had become
suspicions because he paid cash and only wanted to learn to steer
747s, not takeoff and land. He was in jail on Sept. 11. But he was
also at the same time being sought by French intelligence, who knew
he was an extremely dangerous member of an Algerian terrorist group
linked to al-Quaida. The U.S. and the French did not know about
each others efforts on this matter until way after the fact.
Learn to Swarm.
This is where small, dispersed forces quickly concentrate for attack,
rather than the slower maneuvers of larger force structures. The
Sept 11 hijackings are an example, as were the embassy bombings
in Africa. The negative example on the other side is what the Soviets
did in Afghanistan, bringing in large forces that could be bled
Attack the Core.
Although a peer-to-peer network, al-Quaida has core resources in
training centers, money and leadership. Disrupt these, and the overall
network is knocked down several levels. The local nodes are then
easier to pick off.
Al-Quaida demonstrated the damage that could be done by fanatically
combining boxcutters, know-how and the internet. Star Wars-type
missile and anti-missile systems are a sink hole for resources and
relics of a different era. It may be more cost-effective to spend
more billions on the Peace Corps.
all have a narrative, a story they tell about themselves to unite
internally, bring in recruits and expand their supporters. Not only
does their story need to be discredited and disrupted with accurate
information, an honest counter-story needs to be projected by the
that we have a terrible event that occurred a month ago,”
said Arquilla to the FPA, “but it is also one that should
galvanize us to build a global network to confront terror. We have
this opportunity to do so before terrorists can strike with, say,
nuclear weapons. I think that is the real stakes in this conflict…I
would suggest that as much as religious belief is a basis for cohesion
in al-Quaida, so we can build an international network, and indeed
a national network within our own country, that can fight nimbly
against al-Quaida, and it can be held together by this overarching
mission statement, which is ‘We must defeat terror, before
it acquires weapons of mass destruction.’ I don't know how
much time we have to wage that war, but I have a real sense of urgency
about it. It seems to me that the real glue in a network is the
belief and the loyalties of its members. Al-Quaida achieves this
through religion and kinship ties. I believe global civil society
and our various allies around the world can achieve a similar level
civil society methods of obtaining victories against terrorism and
wider war-political mobilization, public discussion and education,
participation in homeland defense, investigation and exposure, legal
indictments and economic sanctions-are tedious and will try our
patience and courage. There will be considerable contention and
debate on how to proceed among the various class and social forces.
Sometimes we will win and sometimes we will lose to other elements
in the broad alliances we will find ourselves in. But these political
and democratic methods are essential groundwork if our final victory
is to affirm the values we want to defend in the first place.
terrorism opposes our democratic values. It is basically a political
and psychological weapon to manipulate, twist and control mass consciousness
of both friends and enemies. The control of symbols and meanings
are extremely important to its craft. With ruthlessness and stealth,
it creates violent, irrational spectacles that shatter the ordinary
rational patterns of life, spectacles that evoke fear in the enemy
camp and courage among friends and allies-the more violent, intimidating
and daring the spectacle, the greater the fear, disruption and admiration
to be evoked.
also judo-like in its inclusion of the enemy’s immediate reaction
to the initial deed in its broader plan of changing public perception
of the enemy among its potential friends. Terrorists often hope,
for instance, to provoke an indiscriminant, violent response from
the authorities so as to further expose the repressive, class character
of the state in the minds of those they hope to win over, neutralize
or agitate into greater confusion and division.
Laden is playing this political game with considerable skill.
In less than 20 years, he has transformed himself from an oil-rich
Saudi playboy into an anti-Western hero in the eyes of millions
of Islamic youth around the world. The only way to defeat him
and unravel his organization is to turn that equation around.
His “freedom fighter” status must be changed to
“criminal and mass murderer” through a protracted
and resourceful public opinion battle, especially among his
sympathizers. Some of the friends of al-Quaida know where the
terrorist “heros” are hiding, in the Afghanistan
mountains as well as in their safe houses in other countries.
But if the hero status is stripped away and the more sinister
nature revealed, even former friends can be convinced to give
them up and help bring them to justice.
and anti-terrorism, then, is all about “winning hearts
and minds.” As British military historian Sir Michael
Howard puts it, “Without hearts and minds one cannot obtain
intelligence, and without intelligence terrorists can never
be defeated.” Every military and economic action has to
be measured with this yardstick. An air war can destroy its
military targets, but it can still be turned into overall defeat
with unacceptable civilian casualties. In the end, al-Quaida’s
forces have to be seized or destroyed on the ground. But it
is next to impossible to do so amidst a civilian population
that has been enraged and alienated by indiscriminate attacks
destroying their lives and livelihood.
It is also
important to be clear about where the front lines are in this
conflict. Strategically, they reach far beyond Afghanistan.
The most important political battle exists all along the fault
line revealed by the hundreds of thousands of Islamic youth
that turned out in the streets in demonstrations supporting
bin Laden, the Taliban and “jihad” against the West.
The fact that the mullahs were rallying the poorest of the poor
against the richest of the rich did not make the political thrust
of these events any less reactionary.
demonstrations reveal is the depth of the problem: Corrupt and
anti-democratic regimes persist throughout the Islamic world
in a context where the medievalist, fascistic opposition to
their rule is often far stronger than any democratic, progressive
is certain. Strategically, the America of Empire is part of
the problem, not part of the solution. To secure oil for bankrupt
energy policies, it has spent billions after billions, decade
after decade, to bankroll militarism in both Israel and the
Arab oil-producing countries. Playing power politics in regional
conflicts, it has manipulated Iraq against Iran, then Iran against
Iraq-all the while indifferent to a million dead on the battlefield
and mutual ruin of the peoples concerned. In the name of the
Cold War, it went to every length to destroy a progressive Islamic
left and nurture a traditionalist Islamic right. Globalization
and technology, which hold the promise of overcoming North-South
inequality, have expanded in the face of deep unemployment and
harsh living conditions throughout the Islamic world.
a globalized world with instant communications, it is impossible
to have excessive opulence alongside grinding poverty without
something, sometime, somewhere, exploding,” said William
Van Dusen Wishard, a former official in the Commerce Department
and president of WorldTrends Research.
on the other hand, can be part of the solution. With all the
resources of civil society, of a broad movement against terror
and war, we can severely limit, in the short run, the harm the
American Empire could do by ignoring civilian casualties and
suffering, expanding the war to Iraq or Iran, one-sidedly encouraging
Israel against Palestine, or aggravating divisions between India
and Pakistan. As an American left, we would do best to build
a broad consensus, here and abroad, around the following points:
War. Opposition to the hard right’s efforts to subvert
the global coalition against terrorism by invading Iraq
and Iran. Change can be brought about in these countries
by other means.
the attack on civil liberties, especially Bush’s new
military tribunals. Oppose torture of prisoners and other
detainees. Respect for the U.S. Bill of Rights at home and
the UN Declaration on Human Rights abroad.
an UN transitional government in Afghanistan that support
basic human rights and would be representative of all Afghan
nationalities. Support the development of oil and gas pipeline
resources that would primarily benefit the peoples of the
region, rather than the energy companies.
the food, medical and other nonmilitary sanctions against
Iraq. These do little to weaken Hussein and cause great
suffering to the people of Iraq.
Palestinian Statehood and oppose Israel’s ongoing
seizure of Palestinian land through its “settlement”
to secure and then eliminate all weapons of mass destruction,
especially nuclear and bacteriological weapons.
for a Green Energy and Transportation Policy. Shift tax
subsidies from nonrenewable carbon-based energy to wind,
solar, geothermal and other renewable resources. Shift tax
subsidies from air travel to high-speed intra-city rail
In the long
run, we can do even more. Since we are not constrained by a
lust for profit or hegemony, we can take on the global plunderers
who think global equality is a race to the bottom and everything
human is a commodity. But this doesn’t mean making alliances
with the anti-modernist attack of the mullahs on globalization.
There is a positive, progressive high road through globalization
and beyond that can bring the benefits on modern science, technology
and culture to the vast majority of humanity.
But we can’t
do so by ignoring the present danger. It is said that the mistakes
and tragedies of war are caused by generals who try to fight
today’s conflicts with the battle plans of the previous
war. Today the same danger faces the peace movement; it must
not make itself a prisoner to old ideas formed when the only
enemy was at home and the just cause was on the other side.
Davidson ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is the editor of the cyberMarxist
journal, cy.Rev available at www.cyrev.net. He is also a national
committee member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy
and Socialism, although this article does not necessarily reflect
the views of CCDS. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was a national
leader of the student and peace movements.