Saturday, May 08, 2010

Stop your 20th-century thinking!! (2 x UPDATED)

2nd UPDATE: 4:05 p.m. EDT: Here's a New York Times report on the Sec. Gates' speech.

1st UPDATE: 4:00 p.m. EDT: Let's give Defense Secretary Robert Gates for not shying away from the need to think with 21st-century realities. This comes from's Mike Allen:

In a Richter-rattling speech on the 65th anniversary of V-E Day, at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, in his native Kansas, Defense Secretary Robert Gates at 2 p.m. ET will call for an UNSPARING look at the military's budget, including such sacred cows as whether repetitive or overlapping commands and organizations could be combined or eliminated, and whether the officer and Defense Department structure could be flatter, more effective and less costly. Everything is on the table except force structure (deployable military units, equipment and operational support.) Gates will acknowledge that his predecessor, Don Rumsfeld, also tried a war on waste.

ORIGINAL POST: The man accused of attempting to set off a bomb in Times Square is the face of terrorism and war in the 21st century.

This statement from General Sir Rupert Smith, who from 1998 through 2001 served as the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, summed it up well:

It is now time to recognize that a paradigm shift in war has undoubtedly occurred: from armies with comparable forces doing battle to a strategic confrontation between a range of combatants . . . using different types of weapons, often improvised. The old paradigm was that of interstate industrialized war. The new one is the paradigm of war amongst the people . . . [It] can take place anywhere: in the presence of civilians, against civilians, in defense of civilians. (The quote appeared in the introduction to this report by the National Strategy Information Center.)

Deposited -- perhaps forever -- in history books is the idea of a war being fought between large armies representing nation-states. That's not to say a large-scale war cannot happen ever again, and it certainly doesn't suggest strong, capable military forces must not be prepared for battle. Rather, it does indicate that anyone who views Faisal Shahzad or people such as him to be renegades or isolated actors, and that preparation for the next "big" war is where America's military and intelligence community ought to focusing on are not considering the new geopolitical realities.

John Arquilla of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School suggests it is not just private citizens who are slow to grasp this paradigm shift: In the U.S. case, senior officials remain convinced that their strategy of "shock and awe" and the Powell doctrine of "overwhelming force" have only been enhanced by the addition of greater numbers of smart weapons, remotely controlled aircraft, and near-instant global communications. Perhaps the most prominent cheerleader for "shock and awe" has been National Security Advisor James Jones, the general whose circle of senior aides has included those who came up with the concept in the 1990s. Their basic idea: "The bigger the hammer, the better the outcome.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as the results in Iraq and Afghanistan so painfully demonstrate."
(To read his full analysis, click here.)

Consider some of the new realities:
1. Isolated actors -- such as Shahzad -- can inflict more damage to the United States (or its interests) than ever before. They cannot be easily identified; they can work alone (or in a very small group); and they are more likely to claim to represent a religious/moral/cultural identity than a country. Consider the number of suicide bombers who perform their acts of hatred throughout the world (including a January 2010 bombing in Pakistan that killed more than 100 people; and the February attack on pilgrims in Karbala); these people are citizens of a particular country, but they do not represent in any official capacity that nation.

2. The tools of terror are becoming smaller and harder to detect. Men wearing vests loaded with explosives can kill dozens of people, as they did in March in Pakistan. You'll recall an attempt to blow up an airplane with liquid explosives has prevented all of us from carrying a sizable amount of any liquid through airport security stations. You can add the cyberwarfare and other efforts associated with "new technology" to this list, and the threat grows exponentially. China is but one nation accused of engaging in such state-sponsored practices.

3. Returning again to the aforementioned NSIC report, "one key factor in the
evolution now under way is that half of the nearly 200 countries in the world are weak, failing, or failed states. These states often have little control over major parts of their territory. They cannot provide security or deliver major services to large segments of their population. They are vulnerable to whoever can mobilize the population and armed groups—terrorists, criminals, insurgents and militias—within their territories. Afghanistan and Pakistan are among the most dramatic examples, but many other regions face similar problems" (pg. 1).

Perhaps most galling is the instantaneous "blame game" that exists in Washington, where people such as Shahzad are used as political fodder to suggest the president is weak on terror. (And the president in this case refers not only to President Obama; if you are astute enough to follow politics, you know attempts at domestic terror in the U.S. when President Bush was in office was a sign that "this president is doing all he can to make the world hate us.")

It is naive to think such political rhetoric will disappear. But it certainly would help educating the public if our politicians and media not only stopped thinking in 20th-century war ways, but stopped the ridiculous rhetorically blasts that serve no one.

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