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Posted June 27, 2008
The Rules are Changing
Philip Bobbitt's previous book, 'The Shield of Achilles', traced the development of the modern political order from the 'Princely States' of the renaissance through the changes occurring due to the power of electronic financial networks and NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders. In it, Bobbitt laid a new foundation for understanding how a State's ways of Law and War are intertwined with its history and its identity. 'Terror and Consent' picks up where the previous book left off. The title refers to States of Terror and States of Consent, that is, States whose internal and external foundation are in the first case violence and fear and in the second consent (at the ballot box and in the making of treaties). But it is not only States that are involved but NGOs of consent (such as the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders) and NGOs of terror (such as Al Qaeda and the Shining Path). This is the world that Bobbitt sees us entering. Thomas Barnett, in 'The Pentagon's New Map', divides the States of the world into the connected, networked, functioning group and the disconnected and impoverished group, arguing that the connected States can overcome the disconnected States by offering them the benefits of joining the connected world. (A gross simplification, but sufficient to the point.) Bobbitt turns this around: States and non-States of Terror can use this very connectedness against States of Consent, as we are seeing now in the USA with foreign intrusions into electrical power grid operations, banking networks, and Defense computers. He traces the history of A. Q. Khan to show how a network of rogue technologists can sell the capacity for Mass Destruction as a turnkey product. He shows how the laws we have erected to protect civil liberties and civil rights are being turned against us with the intention of destroying us. On these two foundations, our history and our present, he begins his analysis. His goal is finding clarity (moral, strategic, and legal) in our present confusion. Our enemies have, in John Boyd's terms, gotten inside our decision cycle we must sort out our situation so that we can choose actions that will achieve our ends and frustrate our enemies' ends. And to do that, we must understand what our enemies' ends are in the first place. What Bobbitt aspires to, and largely achieves, is what von Clausewitz called Critical Analysis: the separation of the problem into its basic elements along lines that find simplicity, offer understanding, and allow action directed effectively towards a goal. Moral, legal, and strategic choices interlock with choices of means and ends. It is not necessary to agree with his conclusions in detail to apply his analysis, but it is hard to disagree with his findings about the mess we are in and the choices we face in trying to get out of it. The tools he provides will allow us to understand the likely strategic consequences of our choices, and this alone takes us well beyond our present situation. Consent and Terror is, in my opinion, a foundation text for our current strategic and legal dilemma. What it is not is an easy read. The issues are thorny and many threads and instances are needed to show how our old understanding fails and to test the new understanding Bobbitt offers. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend it to everyone who hopes for a bright future and who is willing to spend a few nights of reading and thinking to further that end. The terrorists hold every citizen of a State of Consent responsible for what that State does. They are not wholly wrong to do so. Bobbitt has served in the Department of State and the office of the National Security Advisor under both Democratic and Republican administrations. No matter where you stand politically, some of what he says will be disturbing. But his logic is hard to refute, and you should be prepared to contribute by serious criticism, not reflex.
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Posted October 31, 2009
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