Focal Points Blog

Israel Playing With a Fire It Expects the U.S. to Put Out

Reuel Marc Gerecht’s screed justifying an Israeli bombing attack on Iran coincides with the opening of the new Israel lobby campaign marked by the introduction of House resolution 1553 expressing full support for such an Israeli attack.

What is important to understand about this campaign is that the aim of Gerecht and of the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is to support an attack by Israel so that the United States can be drawn into direct, full-scale war with Iran.

That has long been the Israeli strategy for Iran, because Israel cannot fight a war with Iran without full U.S. involvement. Israel needs to know that the United States will finish the war that Israel wants to start.

Gerecht openly expresses the hope that any Iranian response to the Israeli attack would trigger full-scale U.S. war against Iran. “If Khamenei has a death-wish, he’ll let the Revolutionary Guards mine the strait, the entrance to the Persian Gulf,” writes Gerecht. “It might be the only thing that would push President Obama to strike Iran militarily….”

Gerecht suggest that the same logic would apply to any Iranian “terrorism against the United States after an Israeli strike,” by which we really means any attack on a U.S. target in the Middle East. Gerecht writes that Obama might be “obliged” to threaten major retaliation “immediately after an Israeli surprise attack.”

That’s the key sentence in this very long Gerecht argument. Obama is not going to be “obliged” to join an Israeli aggression against Iran unless he feels that domestic political pressures to do so are too strong to resist. That’s why the Israelis are determined to line up a strong majority in Congress and public opinion for war to foreclose Obama’s options.

In the absence of confidence that Obama would be ready to come into the war fully behind Israel, there cannot be an Israeli strike.

Gerecht’s argument for war relies on a fanciful nightmare scenario of Iran doling out nuclear weapons to Islamic extremists all over the Middle East. But the real concern of the Israelis and their lobbyists, as Gerecht’s past writing has explicitly stated, is to destroy Iran’s Islamic regime in a paroxysm of U.S. military violence.

Gerecht first revealed this Israeli-neocon fantasy as early as 2000, before the Iranian nuclear program was even taken seriously, in an essay written for a book published by the Project for a New American Century. Gerecht argued that, if Iran could be caught in a “terrorist act,” the U.S. Navy should “retaliate with fury”. The purpose of such a military response, he wrote, should be to “strike with truly devastating effect against the ruling mullahs and the repressive institutions that maintain them.”

And lest anyone fail to understand what he meant by that, Gerecht was more explicit: “That is, no cruise missiles at midnight to minimize the body count. The clerics will almost certainly strike back unless Washington uses overwhelming, paralyzing force.”

In 2006-07, the Israeli war party had reason to believed that it could hijack U.S. policy long enough to get the war it wanted, because it had placed one of its most militant agents, David Wurmser, in a strategic position to influence that policy.

We now know that Wurmser, formerly a close adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu and during that period Vice President Dick Cheney’s main adviser on the Middle East, urged a policy of overwhelming U.S. military force against Iran. After leaving the administration in 2007, Wurmser revealed that he had advocated a U.S. war on Iran, not to set back the nuclear program but to achieve regime change.

“Only if what we do is placed in the framework of a fundamental assault on the survival of the regime will it have a pick-up among ordinary Iranians,” Wurmser told The Telegraph. The U.S. attack was not to be limited to nuclear targets but was to be quite thorough and massively destructive. “If we start shooting, we must be prepared to fire the last shot. Don’t shoot a bear if you’re not going to kill it.”

Of course, that kind of war could not be launched out of the blue. It would have required a casus belli to justify a limited initial attack that would then allow a rapid escalation of U.S. military force. In 2007, Cheney acted on Wurmser’s advice and tried to get Bush to provoke a war with Iran over Iraq, but it was foiled by the Pentagon.

As Wurmser was beginning to whisper that advice in Cheney’s ear in 2006, Gerecht was making the same argument in The Weekly Standard:

“Bombing the nuclear facilities once would mean we were declaring war on the clerical regime. We shouldn’t have any illusions about that. We could not stand idly by and watch the mullahs build other sites. If the ruling mullahs were to go forward with rebuilding what they’d lost–and it would be surprising to discover the clerical regime knuckling after an initial bombing run–we’d have to strike until they stopped. And if we had any doubt about where their new facilities were (and it’s a good bet the clerical regime would try to bury new sites deep under heavily populated areas), and we were reasonably suspicious they were building again, we’d have to consider, at a minimum, using special-operations forces to penetrate suspected sites.”

The idea of waging a U.S. war of destruction against Iran is obvious lunacy, which is why U.S. military leaders have strongly resisted it both during the Bush and Obama administrations. But Gerecht makes it clear that Israel believes it can use its control of Congress to pound Obama into submission. Democrats in Congress, he boasts, “are mentally in a different galaxy than they were under President Bush.” Even though Israel has increasingly been regarded around the world as a rogue state after its Gaza atrocities and the commando killings of unarmed civilians on board the Mavi Marmara, its grip on the U.S. Congress appears as strong as ever.

Moreover, polling data for 2010 show that a majority of Americans have already been manipulated into supporting war against Iran – in large part because more than two-thirds of those polled have gotten the impression that Iran already has nuclear weapons. The Israelis are apparently hoping to exploit that advantage. “If the Israelis bomb now, American public opinion will probably be with them,” writes Gerecht. “Perhaps decisively so.”

Netanyahu must be feeling good about the prospects for pressuring Barack Obama to join an Israeli war of aggression against Iran. It was Netanyahu, after all, who declared in 2001, “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in the way.”

A Solution to Congolese Violence — or Empty Gesture?

As part of the sweeping financial reform bill signed into law this past week by President Barack Obama, a surprising legislative rider took effect seeking an end to the internal conflict plaguing Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The provision, which resulted largely from intensive lobbying efforts by the Enough Project to stop genocide, is designed to prevent destabilizing elements within the DRC from feeding off the country’s lucrative trade in precious metals. The DRC boasts rich deposits of tungsten, tantalum, and tin—metals commonly found in cell phones, laptops, video game consoles and other electronic devices—profits from which have long been seen to fuel the activities of non-state combatants there.

Supporters of the provision applaud its potential to help curb the hideous violence that has ravaged DRC for better part of the last fifteen years. Writing in the Huffington Post on Friday, Representative Howard Berman (D-CA)—Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs—championed the law’s commitment to limiting the profit opportunities that conflict minerals offer to armed groups within the country. The new law requires “that companies doing business in the Congo and adjoining countries disclose both the provenance of the minerals they use and the efforts they have taken to ensure that their dollars do not directly or indirectly support armed groups that employ rape as a tool of war and otherwise perpetuate the conflict…An important step,” Berman argues, “in changing the situation in that beleaguered country.”

But the unfortunate reality is that no matter how well-intentioned, the law will have little positive impact on the ground in Congo.

For starters, it presupposes a Congolese state capable of enforcing the law’s provisions. Under the regulations imposed by the legislation, electronics manufacturers must certify the origin of all minerals used in their products with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and comply with an order to produce yearly reports detailing their efforts to avoid purchase of so-called “conflict minerals.” Yet it is precisely an absence of the state in mineral-rich regions that allows the illegal trade in precious metals to flourish.

The vast majority of mineral wealth in DRC falls under the control of regional militias, directly and indirectly, rendering the state’s ability to regulate the flow of minerals into and out of the country practically nonexistent. According to reports detailing the mineral trade in DRC, rebels mine the metals and sell them to traders who then smuggle them across the border into neighboring countries. From there, the goods make their way along a complex string of exchange largely outside state purview culminating in their sale to transnational corporations. By the time the minerals have been converted into electronic gadgets, any attempts to trace their origin become Sisyphean.

Even if DRC possessed the state capacity to properly monitor the minerals and prevent warring factions from profiting off them, however, it’s far from clear that this would significantly reduce violence throughout the affected provinces. Mineral exploitation is a means of fueling conflict, not an end in itself. Until the broader issues wracking DRC—the continued presence of Hutu interahawame in Kivu, the incessant meddling of Rwanda in Congolese affairs, and land rights disputes, to name but three—are resolved, unabated violence in affected areas should be expected. Unfortunately, the United States has thus far demonstrated little interest in directly addressing these underlying causes of conflict in DRC.

And then there’s the larger problem of unintended consequences. Opponents of the measure argue that the hassles and uncertainty of verification will scare off potential investors, effectively saddling the country with a de facto trade embargo. If businesses do pull out of DRC, warns John Kanyoni—the head of the Association of Mineral Exporters in Congo—“thousands of Congolese will be jobless and might most probably (be) joining the armed groups.” Thus, the law could have the perverse effect of generating the very problems it seeks prevent.

These considerations aside, the new law constitutes a good faith effort to bring violence in the DRC to an end and force transnational corporations to reorient business practices that privilege the bottom line over human rights. It could be that, in the best case scenario, the law economically cripples warring militias in DRC, allowing local Congolese to enjoy a measure of safety that they currently are without.

But DRC needs much more than good intentions if it’s to emerge successfully from the ruins of state collapse. Above all, the country demands security. As we have discovered, unfortunately, assisting countries in this regard proves exceedingly difficult and politically fraught. Yet it’s of the essence. Until DRC is capable of performing the basic function of the Weberian state—monopolization of the use of force for the protection of civilians—the country will continue suffering under the heavy weight of social disorder. And any attempts by Washington in the meantime to bring the conflict in DRC to a close will do more to alleviate troubled consciences on Capitol Hill than actually bring about the meaningful change they purportedly affect.

NorK “Coup-Proofed” From Both Within and Without

Kim Jong il North KoreaThe Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School issued a useful policy brief on North Korea by Daniel Byman and Jennifer Lynd titled Keeping Kim: How North Korea’s Regime Stays in Power. The authors write:

“Predictions of the Kim regime’s demise have been widespread for many years, particularly in the 1990s. … Decisionmakers and analysts, however, often underestimate the power of tyranny. Like other dictatorships, the Kim regime relies on numerous tools of authoritarian control to stay in power.”

Along with cult of personality, juche (an ideology of the state and people relying on themselves), and use of force, the tool box includes Kim Jong-il’s use of . . .

“. . . perks and rewards to co-opt military and political elites. … Kim Jong-il has co-opted the military by bestowing on it policy influence and prestige, as well as a large share—perhaps 25 percent—of the national budget. … Nuclear weapons provide another tool for cultivating the military’s support. They bring prestige to an institution whose morale has been challenged by hunger [Hunger will do that. -- RW] and by its relative inferiority to South Korea’s military forces.”

Meanwhile, coining an alliterative term (see where emphasized), the authors write that . . .

“. . . the Kim regime has coup-proofed North Korean institutions in ways that deter, detect, and thwart anti-regime activity among these elites. North Korean military leaders are chosen for their political loyalty rather than military competence. Key positions are granted to individuals with family or other close ties.”

Anyone familiar with North Korea knows that states like China and South Korea resist destabilizing North Korea out of fear of war and/or an influx of refugees. The timidity, inertia, indecision, or restraint — call it what you will — may be even more paralyzing than with Iran and constitute another form of coup-proofing. Anyway, Kim has his tools. What tools then are available to those who would seek to moderate North Korea’s policies? Byman and Lind:

“Sanctions aimed at weakening North Korea’s broader economy are unlikely to exert much coercive pressure on Pyongyang; Kim Jong-il (like Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and many other dictators) protects his elite core while shifting the burden of sanctions to the people. A more effective economic lever with which to move the regime would be to directly threaten its access to hard currency and luxury goods, which it needs to bribe elites. Policies such as freezing North Korean assets overseas and embargoing luxury items are thus the most promising options.”

In other words, targeted sanctions, but with pinpoint accuracy. Kim Jong-il is noted for enjoying American movies. Let’s start by canceling his Netflix account and see what shakes out.

At Local Level, Secrecy Industry Puts a Damper on Neighborliness

In an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, Focal Pointers Bonnie Bricker and Adil Shamoo wrote about the Dana Priest and William Arkin’s Washington Post series on the exponential growth of the U.S. intelligence industry. They approached it from a perspective with which you may not be familiar, especially if there’s no intelligence complex near you (though that would be fewer and fewer of us, it seems).

“Marylanders in Odenton, Annapolis, Frederick and our home town of Columbia had their suspicions answered last week when The Washington Post published a three-part series about our unchecked, out-of-control expansion of the defense and intelligence operations that have grown since 2001. The expansion of this influential sector has been evident to us, as it has to Americans all around the country living near other defense and intelligence contractors and federal intelligence agencies. … How does the presence of almost a million individuals with top-secret clearances shape our society? How will our culture be changed when the possibility of government surveillance of citizens seems commonplace?”

The authors give us some idea.

“Living in an area populated by the workforce for these agencies and contractors, the presence of many people with various levels of security clearances . . . affects how neighbors and friends relate to one another. Talk about work life is virtually eliminated. Neighbors are interviewed about any possible suspicious activities of the intelligence employee on a regular basis. We watch some of the children of the neighborhood, once animated and engaging, grow up into silent adults as they gain coveted employment with these agencies and contractors. They are afraid of interacting with foreign-born neighbors from “target” countries. …

“The millions of Americans with varying levels of security clearances may shy away from a more participatory citizenship because of the need to protect their jobs. How does this affect our democracy? Will the ever-expanding breadth of this intelligence behemoth eventually create a silent citizenry?”

An even more silent citizenry, I might add. More and more, we seem to be living under the thumb of a kind of Stasi Light, with its attendant chilling effects on assembly and interpersonal communication. Read the op-ed in its entirety at the Sun.

The WikiLeaks Documents Are NOT the Pentagon Papers 2.0

Sunday’s WikiLeak deluge and the official response to it have reaffirmed my axiom for the digital age: too much information, not enough knowledge.

After the flood of more than 90,000 low-level classified documents splashed onto the front-pages of the Western world’s three leading newspapers, the U.S. government delivered a tongue-lashing to WikiLeaks, mainstream media wrote ominously of repercussions for Obama’s ability to secure Congressional war funding, and bloggers plunged into the data headfirst in the search for scintillating information.

And while a few morsels have surfaced here and there, what, on balance, have we learned? What has really changed? As it turns out, very little.

It comes as no surprise that the war is going badly, that civilian casualties have been downplayed, or that Pakistani intelligence maintains ties to militants operating in Afghanistan.

Former soldier and Center for a New American Security analyst Andrew Exum writes, “I have seen nothing in the documents that has either surprised me or told me anything of significance,” and calls comparisons to the Pentagon Papers “ridiculous.”

As for the stern lectures about the leak’s potential to cost lives or compromise national security, a Pentagon review of the documents “has so far found no evidence that the disclosure harmed U.S. national security or endangered American troops in the field.”

So much for that.

Glenn Greenwald, one of the sharpest progressive bloggers, linked to what he called “a very perceptive analysis” by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson that explains “how and why [the leaks] reveal clear official deception about the war.” But I found nothing of the sort in Davidson’s brief post, nor does she herself claim to have offered such an explanation.

One story, had the U.S. media evinced any interest in pursuing it, might have been the suppression of reports on civilian casualties and possible war crimes. But such pedestrian concerns carry little currency here, as blogger Sahar Habib Ghazi pointed out in a post that appeared in Pakistan’s major daily, Dawn:

“[I]nstead of focusing on the many war crimes, cover-ups and evidence of an occupation mentality in Afghanistan, most American news networks and publications have seized the opportunity to either berate WikiLeaks for divulging secret information or to point fingers at Pakistan…”

One reason the leak will not become Pentagon Papers 2.0 is that the contents tend to confirm, rather than contradict, the general trend of the news about the war in Afghanistan for anyone who has been paying attention.

But there is also another reason: we live in America 2.0. We are far removed from the era of social and cultural tumult that accompanied the Vietnam War. We have decided to shift the burden of our war-fighting from conscripted young men to a smaller, leaner, and better-trained all-volunteer force, which we have equipped with deadlier and more automated technology. Most Americans are more connected to their iPads than American soldiers or foreign civilians, the news of whose deaths briefly flash on the gadgets’ screens now and then.

So while we’re ceaselessly drenched in new information—leaks, Rolling Stone features, official reports, policy studies, investigations, blogs, up-to-the-minute news—we (collectively speaking) have no hard incentive to enhance our knowledge.

And as we’ve been repeating the same mistakes for the past ten years, in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, it certainly shows.

Conceding Failure of Pentagon Papers Critical to WikiLeaks’ Success Ending War

Almost as soon as the WikiLeaks story broke on Sunday, officials and commentators were making comparisons between these 91,000 documents and the Pentagon Papers, the 4,000 page classified study on Vietnam leaked by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971. The White House and other critics were quick to reject the analogy. Even supporters of WikiLeaks’ decision to release the documents are hesitant to put this event in the same league as the Pentagon Papers, which have come to hold such an important place in progressive history.

There are important differences between WikiLeaks’ potential influence on the war in Afghanistan and the Pentagon Papers’ actual influence on the war in Vietnam. But, contrary to the heroic story of the Pentagon Papers, these differences reveal the actual shortcomings of what happened in 1971. For all of their accomplishments, the Pentagon Papers were in key respects, a failure. Understanding the limits as well as the achievements of the Pentagon Papers is an important step in maximizing the potential influence of the WikiLeaks documents. This is one of those cases where the negative lessons of history are as valuable as the positive ones.

First, there is the claim that the Pentagon Papers actually revealed high-level secrets about the Vietnam War, while WikiLeaks hasn’t revealed anything that wasn’t already known to the public. In truth, however, aside from the details of what officials knew and when they knew it, there was not much in the Pentagon Papers that surprised ardent critics of the war. In many ways, the documents merely confirmed previous revelations of the war made by incisive and intrepid journalists. By 1971, David Halberstam and Seymour Hersh had already written books and articles that opened a window onto virtually every level of the war—from the National Security Council meetings of the Kennedy administration to the massacres at My Lai. These and other heavy-hitting journalists were concerned not only with the specific details of Vietnam, but also with challenging the Cold War consensus that fueled it.

By 1971, while the anti-war movement had severely weakened that consensus, it had not altogether broken it. In fact, in response to Nixon’s curtailment of the draft and initiation of troop withdrawals from Vietnam, opposition to the war actually subsided in the year that Ellsberg photocopied the classified documents and gave them to the New York Times and Washington Post. Contrary to the image of an America galvanized against the war, the Pentagon Papers were released in a time of relative apathy about Vietnam.

In addition to the lull in the antiwar movement, the influence of the Pentagon Papers was paradoxically limited by the scandal that their publication prompted. Almost from the beginning, the story of the war was marginalized by accounts of the government’s injunction against the newspapers. At a press conference on June 21, 1971, just one week after the Pentagon Papers were published, a reporter exclaimed, “We want to emphasize the issue is not the one of the Vietnam War but rather why didn’t management support freedom of the press.”

The landmark judgment on behalf of the newspapers was a major victory for the cause of a free press. However, it did little to further Ellsberg’s original intention—to end the war in Vietnam. Ellsberg himself has lamented this much in The Most Dangerous Man, the recent film in which he tells his story. The central failure of the Pentagon Papers is that they did not end the war in Vietnam, which continued for another four years.

For Nixon, of course, the Pentagon Papers were nothing less than fateful. Despite the fact that the documents covered events in Vietnam only up to 1968, before he took office, Nixon reacted to them as though he had been personally attacked. It was the leak of the Pentagon Papers that prompted the infamous Plumbers Unit whose first task was to break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. This would be good practice for the break-in of the Watergate hotel the following year. As Ellsberg notes, the biggest accomplishment of the Pentagon Papers was indirect. By sparking Watergate, it helped bring about an end to Nixon’s reign.

There are at least two ways to interpret the implications of this story for WikiLeaks. One is to conclude that, like the Pentagon Papers and Vietnam, WikiLeaks will not have a major impact on the war in Afghanistan. The American populace remains largely disconnected from the war, which is being fought by a post-Vietnam volunteer army. It is easy to envision how, in the coming days and weeks, the reporting and commentaries will shift the focus away from the war itself to follow the drama of WikiLeaks and the fate of suspected leaker, Bradley Manning.

But there are some signs that, in reporting on the WikiLeaks story, the press, at least, is breaking with the legacy of the Pentagon Papers. The lead story in the New York Times on Sunday night focused on the Pakistan intelligence agency and not the leak itself.

Subsequent coverage on the paper’s website has continued to highlight the content of the documents, even as it features stories about Assange and Manning.

Those who oppose the war in Afghanistan should keep the momentum going and use this disclosure to continue pressing the points about Pakistan’s cross-purposes, about corruption in the Afghan government and security forces, and about the real extent of civilian casualties. Only in this way can WikiLeaks help end the war, and in so doing, accomplish what Ellsberg could not.

Holding Israel’s Hand While It Attacks Iran

Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced H. Res. 1553, which states, as the National Iranian American Council explains, “that Congress supports Israel’s use of ‘all means necessary’ against Iran ‘including the use of military force’. … Nearly a third of House Republicans have signed onto the resolution . . . circulated by its lead sponsor, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX).”

As usual with a resolution, once it dispenses with the “whereas’s,” it gets to the “resolved” part.

“That the House of Representatives –
(1) condemns the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its threats of ‘annihilating’ the United States and the State of Israel . …
(2) supports using all means of persuading the Government of Iran to stop building and acquiring nuclear weapons;
(3) reaffirms the United States bond with Israel and . . . expresses support for Israel’s right to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran, defend Israeli sovereignty, and protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within a reasonable time.”

NIAC adds:

“Hawkish former Bush Administration official John Bolton recently laid out the game plan to prod Israel into attacking Iran . . . by framing it as an issue of Israel’s right to self defense. … Congress can ‘make it clear’ that it supports [preemptive] strikes and that ‘having visible congressional support in place at the outset will reassure the Israeli government, which is legitimately concerned about Mr. Obama’s likely negative reaction to such an attack.’”

Yeah, we don’t want Israel’s feelings hurt if the attack incurs the anger of the Obama administration. In fact, it’s up to the U.S. Congress to hold its hand throughout the attack.

NIAC composed a letter to House Republican leader John Bohener denouncing the resolution and calling on him, as NIAC writes, to “make clear whether a vote for House Republicans” in 2012 “is a vote for another disastrous war in the Middle East.” In the letter, the council addresses points that hawks seem to forget:

“The dangers of war. … would put so much at risk:
The lives of innocent Americans, Israelis, and Iranians
The Pro-Democracy Movement in Iran
U.S. National Security and the stability of Iraq and Afghanistan
The global economy, which relies on oil flowing through the Persian Gulf”

But you know how hawks and neocons think: The deaths of a few Americans and Israelis, not to mention a crashing world economy pale beside a nuclear attack by Iran. Besides, only the wimpy liberal-left worries about that stuff.

Consider taking a moment to sign NIAC’s letter:
Don’t Let Congress Green-Light Attack on Iran

The Wikileaks Release: Smile, You’re on YouTube!

The only amazing thing about the release by Wikileaks of 92,000 plus classified documents related to the Afghan war is that anyone would think it’s amazing.

What the story really tells us is how far out of touch US policymakers are with the world in which they purport to operate. Failure to understand strategic and operational environments is a fatal error in warfare, and failure to recognize that media is a strategic front is an example of just that kind of failure. As revelations of incompetence and stupidity in Afghanistan surge, it’s increasingly obvious that the ‘fog of war’ is largely between the ears of those in charge.

What these ‘best and brightest’ have failed to recognize is that we live in an open source world in which every person is a unique media channel. Where the bandwidth of each individual used to be constrained by geography and number of personal connections — like how many people are in your gossip circle at the local market — now it’s potentially everyone with a cell phone, iPad and / or internet access. The only question is when individual ethics, sensitivities or pathologies will trigger release of sensitive information over those networks.

We also live in the most documented era ever, and it’s only getting more so. For a variety of reasons, not least covering one’s butt when things go sideways, virtually everything is recorded. Everyone — whether cops beating suspects, politicians making ‘off microphone’ comments, CEO’s making shady deals or four star generals unloading in a bar — has to expect that anything shared or stored digitally may reemerge at some inconvenient time.

Finally, just about everything — at least in broad strokes — is already in the public domain if we want to look hard enough. This is why the recently revealed Russian spy ring didn’t need access to classified material — only a rigorous trawl-and-collate system for open source materials. As Stewart Brand said way back in 1984, ‘Information wants to be free.’ Only lotus eaters and politicians believe they can contain it indefinitely.

The hard reality is, if policymakers want to avoid the kind of blowback that occurs when inept, criminal or just plain stupid actions are revealed, it’s best not to undertake inept, criminal or just plain stupid actions in the first place.

Dinosaurs Can’t Dance: The Impending Extinction of the Nation-State

Nation-state extinct like dinosaursWhen I was a young philosophy student, my Marxists fellows discussed the ‘withering away of the state’ with an almost rapture-like awe. We would all, they assured me, be hunters in the morning, fishers in the afternoon, and poets in the evening.

Today, the nation state is clearly withering. But where Marx saw this as the logical result of a workers’ utopia and the perfection of humankind, it is precisely the failure to manifest that utopia and perfection that is both a primary driver, and a primary symptom, of the state’s demise.

This withering has profound implications for foreign policy. Counterinsurgency and nation building doctrines are based on enhancing the legitimacy of the state. If the state as a functional structure is circling the drain, then so are these policies – which might help us understand why nothing seems to work in Afghanistan. The basic assumption of creating a viable state is itself nonviable.

Complexity science heads don’t do – or even believe in – prediction. The world is too fluid and emergent for that. But we do track behaviors over time and play with scenarios, probabilities and trajectories. So let me climb out on my favorite limb with my trusty chainsaw and suggest that the nation state, as we know it, will go extinct over the next few decades.

There are several reasons for this. Most important is that the world is just too big, too fast and too interconnected / interdependent for states to effectively respond to emergent events. Their timelines are too long. They have to recognize the issue, consider the political benefits and pitfalls, decide on a course of action, draft and argue out legislation, fight over appropriations, determine the spin, brief the players . . . Meantime, the world has moved on and new crises have appeared, perhaps driven by the actions or inactions of the state(s) in question.

States also suffer terribly from ‘over prescribed’ structure. They have literally millions of rules, regulations, check and balances, as well as parallel layers of administration that often compete with and obstruct each other. Multiplied together, this induces paralysis.

Meanwhile, the world is continuously manifesting ‘butterfly effects’ – events that trigger something, which then triggers something else, which then triggers a whole cascade of effects. It’s iterative and emergent, and bureaucrats can do little but run in circles screaming and tearing their hair, while trying desperately to blame someone / something else for the fallout.

Another key factor is that states no longer have a monopoly on violence. We live in an open source world, and states can neither exclusively apply, nor effectively contain, violence as a policy tool. The loss of that control equates to a loss of prestige, which also means a loss of deterrence.

As state structures dissipate, they will be replaced by a variety of ‘post national’ entities. In the near term, these may be primarily parasitic – such as hybridized gangs, militias and crime syndicates – profiteering on the chaos of a governance vacuum. In the longer term, however, these emergent entities will likely become the new centers of innovation that define, design, prototype and ‘infect’ through their success the future shape of civilization.

There is no agreed upon language for this kind of emerging entity. I like the term, ‘Other Guys’ (OGs). They’re not government, not an NGO, not a political party. They’re just self-organizing networks of . . . other guys.

OGs stand outside the dominant system, even as they navigate and exploit it. They follow Bucky Fuller’s advice not to fight the existing reality – except as necessary to maintain freedom of action – but to build new models that make the old ones obsolete.

As state breakdowns become more obvious – whether military failures, bungled relief efforts, endemic corruption or unresolved financial and social crises – we can begin to see what the triggers are. How that varies by culture or region or GDP. Over what time period it plays out. And what emerges in its place.

That last is especially important, but so far, the answer is . . . a lot of different answers. Rather like William Gibson’s observation that, ‘The future has already arrived; it’s just not evenly distributed yet.’

There are, however, some basic organizing principles and common threads.

First, these emerging entities operate along ‘organic’ pathways. As with natural selection, multiple groups try multiple avenues, sometimes competing and sometimes collaborating. OGs arise to fill niches in the cultural ecosystem created when states vacate social space. Those that do the best job filling the voids in people’s lives – especially around security, livelihood, development and infrastructure – also fill the governance void.

The most successful OGs function as ‘constructive networks’, continually adapting and reconfiguring in response to changing conditions. They learn, unlearn and relearn, and continually co-evolve with their social / economic / ecological landscapes.

‘Positional’ or hierarchical leadership – think president, maximum leader or grand poobah – is displaced by group intelligence and open space / open source models. Titular leaders may remain, but the most effective will be more facilitators than commanders.

And while ‘isms’ may provide an initial rallying point, successful OGs are more likely to be entrepreneurial than ideological because, as Stafford Beer put it so beautifully, ‘Ideology is a very poor variety attenuator.’ It tends to make orgs non-adaptive – too often acting out of dogma rather than objective realities.

There are several OGs we can study to see how these variables play out.

Hezbollah may be the most visible example of a ‘first generation’ OG org. And – as a militia, political party, social welfare provider and upholder of the faith – perhaps the most diversified. The Hezbollah model, however, may not be replicable or scalable. Emergent outcomes are the result of complex interactions among initial conditions, rules and relationships, and Hezbollah has enjoyed some very fortuitous initial conditions and relationships.

Not least are a coherent narrative, a homogeneous population, an enemy to rally against, and allies with relatively complimentary goals and deep pockets. What it lacks is a true source of livelihood, which I’d argue is the one absolute essential. If you’ve got the gig, you can create the rest. Hezbollah is vulnerable due to its economic dependence on Iran and Syria.

Perhaps a better example is the La Familia Cartel in Michoacán. They produce and distribute methamphetamine, smuggle people, pirate DVDs and run a strong arm debt-collection service. (Their fulfillment rate is reputed to be near 100%. They kidnap defaulters.) They also collect ‘taxes’ for protection and buy politicians.

In exchange, the cartel provides drug treatment to mitigate the impact of their products within their territory, supports schools and clinics, keeps order and even does micro lending. (Word is their rates are lower than banks and turnaround time from application to funding is under 72 hours.) This is all wrapped in a quasi evangelical ideology and a Robin Hood aura, supported by social networking capabilities, and all underwritten by a solid gig.

Mara Salvatrucha – MS-13 – is an example of a geographically distributed model. It has a powerful Identity and primary loyalty. Members have their tats, Uzis and homies to demonstrate belonging. And they have drugs, theft, protection and smuggling as a gig.

There are two primary weaknesses to that model, however. Where it arose primarily to protect Salvadorians from other immigrant gangs, MS – 13 is purely parasitic today, so lacks the kind of popular support Hezbollah and La Familia enjoy. And it hasn’t decoupled from the larger system, so when that system goes into crisis, it has no ‘crumple zones’ to absorb the impact of a crash. The gang’s cash is still tied up in the global system, and they can’t eat it. MS 13 lacks deep resilience.

That lack of deep resilience is common to most of the current crop of OGs, and it’s often multiplied by a lack ‘requisite variety’.

The greater the diversity within a system – the greater the number of perspectives it can see and possibilities it can imagine – the more effective it is, and the more resilient it is to perturbations. But the composition and Identity of most OGs today are too narrow to support genuine resilience. Their goals are too small – even too personal – and don’t benefit the larger community, which will ultimately come to see them as the parasites they are. (Think Taliban.)

The fact is, if most of today’s OGs were decoupled from legitimate social and political grievance, they would be seen as simply criminal, and deserving of eradication. Since they are often able to mask themselves as crusaders against oppression – or simply as those who succeed in a system crafted to suppress them (Super Fly Syndrome) – they are often viewed as heroes. Admiration without remuneration, however, is not sustainable. OGs that don’t give back will go away.

Potentially more durable models are beginning to emerge in more affluent regions and neighborhoods. Not because the people there are smarter or more ambitious, but because it’s a lot easier to pursue transformation in a relatively stable environment where you have a significant degree of safety, and the necessary economic resources.

These new models are hyper local, scaling down to city block size or smaller. They feature components like local energy production and grids, with surplus power as an export product. Water capture and reclamation. Food production, including permanent production edible landscapes. Security is provided through self policing – whether through internal patrols or contract providers – with social governance enforced by ‘tribal’ models such as shunning and banishment.

These ‘urban village’ models create local institutions to capture and locally recirculate the big outflows of a typical community – interest, insurance, energy and food – and underwrite community livelihood. In so doing, they decouple from the global system and create the crumple zones that will allow them to weather external system shocks. (Citi goes, bust? Oh well. Our assets are in local infrastructure, local financial institutions, local currencies, seed banks, time banks, root cellars . . .)

In an OG world, the metrics for success are local, democratic and entrepreneurial, with a significant degree of insulation from external fluctuations. Self sufficient, self protective and self healing. Successful OGs will generate not only livelihood, but also safety, Identity, community and fun.

That’s what security means in the 21st century, and that’s what nation states can’t provide.

Which is why they’re heading for the dustbin of history.

Will Wikileaker SPC. Bradley Manning Be Redeemeed?

By now, you’ve heard about Wikileaks’s Pentagon Papers-esque document leal. Rather than add a few snowflakes to the media blizzard today, we’ll direct you to some of the best coverage. We’ve been following it at the Guardian, one of three outlets, along with the New York Times and Der Spiegel, on which Wikileaks dumped the documents. It’s hard to imagine the latter two improving on the Guardian, which sprang out of the blocks in fine form.

Here’s the Guardian’s home page for itscoverage: Afghanistan: the War Logs

And, to keep from overwhelming you’ll, we’ll just send you to three blogs for today. First, Siun at FireDogLake: Wikileaks’ Release of Secret Afghan War Archives

Next, Steve Hynd at Newshoggers: The War Logs: The Largest Pentagon Leak Ever

Finally, Glenn Greenwald at Salon: The WikiLeaks Afghanistan leak (Big “sic” to Salon for capitalizing the “L” in Wikileaks, not to mention repeating the word “leak” — just signs of how much everyone is rushing to jump on this story.)

Bear in mind that the man who transferred the documents to Wikileaks, SPC. Bradley manning, was taken into custody by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division in early June. Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter at Wired’s Threat Level report:

“When Manning told [infamous hacker and also a Wikileaker Adrian] Lamo that he leaked a quarter-million classified embassy cables, Lamo contacted the Army, and then met with Army CID investigators and the FBI at a Starbucks near his house in Carmichael, California, where he passed the agents a copy of the chat logs. At their second meeting with Lamo on May 27, FBI agents from the Oakland Field Office told the hacker that Manning had been arrested the day before in Iraq by Army CID investigators.

“Lamo has contributed funds to Wikileaks in the past, and says he agonized over the decision to expose Manning — he says he’s frequently contacted by hackers who want to talk about their adventures, and he has never considered reporting anyone before. The supposed diplomatic cable leak, however, made him believe Manning’s actions were genuinely dangerous to U.S. national security.”

In fact, whatever SPC. Manning’s motivations, they may be eclipsed by those of Lamo, whose credibility is considerably more questionable than Manning’s will ever be. (Most of that information I received “on background.”) Will Manning eventually be seen as the second coming of Daniel Ellsberg?

In the meantime, please include Focal Points among the sites you follow for analysis of the leak that is to leaks as Deepwater Horizon is to oil spills.

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