Matthew d’Ancona: Now let’s look at one of the many intellectual provocations in your introduction, principal amongst which was your pointed decision to talk about the wars on terror in the plural. Now what’s interesting about that is that in America with the neo-conservative movement and in this country with the Prime Minister’s advocacy of the war (singular) on terror, there’s an attempt to do precisely the opposite, which is to argue that there is in fact a historic and lethal convergence going on, which must be impeded, between three things: the proliferations of weapons of mass destruction, the continued existence and ambitions of rogue states, and fundamentalist Islam. And the strategy, such as it is in the West, hugely controversial as it is, is to try and do something about those three factors. Now I take it from your use of the plural “wars” on terrors that you do not accept that analysis, and also that further you are trying to disaggregate the war on terror as it is perceived in popular parlance.
Philip Bobbitt: I think that’s right. What would you do for example with the anthrax attacks? Do we think that a rogue state mailed them, do we think they are an example of proliferation to some other entity, such that something like the NPT might have prevented it, do we think it’s anything to do with Islam? Well it may be linked to the Al Qaeda attacks. It’s always troubled me that the anthrax letters were mailed from Trenton, New Jersey and Boca Raton in Florida, both place where there were dormitories for the 9/11 terrorists. But the general thinking in the law enforcement agencies in the States is that it had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. I don’t know. I want a concept of warfare that doesn’t depend upon my knowing. I don’t mean that you have to give up on what I call the demand side of terrorism and the threats that you’ve mentioned are very real threats, and I am not complacent about them. But I think you have to have also a supply-side strategy, you have to be able to defend yourself when you don’t know who is hitting you or you can get hit again. Matthew has very kindly asked me about the title of this book, which has undergone several changes now and have not decided on the right one yet. At one point I was going to call it A Plague Treatise for the 21st Century; as you know, plague treatises were written 13th/14th centuries by physicians and clerics and they talked about a phenomenon that they by and large didn’t understand. They didn’t have germ theory. I don’t think we really understand the operation of terror in the 21st century. But this much I think we do understand, that we have to build up our immune systems. We cannot simply win this fight by going after our adversaries and attacking them and killing them.
Later we have ..
Matthew d’Ancona And on that note, one of the things that struck me, thinking about your attempt to marry the concept of the market state with the new context is that - I mean, I’m probably one of the last five people in Britain who thinks the Iraq war is a good idea, but to use your analysis, it was not a good outing for this germinating idea of the market state for several reasons. For instance, it encouraged the idea that the market state pedals false information, in the manner of a company to clients. That the Halliburton connection encouraged the notion that there were market elements is rather bigger then the accountable democratic state dimension. The horrors of Abu Ghraib, in which there were these mysterious private contractors engaged in acts of torture, again encouraged the idea that the state is simply contracting out acts that it would normally not have been willing to do in order to avoid accountability. So I wondered if you might say something about how you see the aftermath of Iraq, with reference to your analysis?
Philip Bobbitt You also might have mentioned extraordinary renditions as another example of outsourcing by the states. You’ve put it perfectly. The crucial part of a diplomatic and military campaign for a market state is to unify strategy and law. The nation state separated them. It professionalised both. The military people are often heard to say you wouldn’t want a politician to do brain surgery, Mr President; you don’t want a civilian to do warfare either. Leave it to the pros, we’ll do it, you give us the goal, we’ll achieve it if we can. This kind of separation was characteristic in many, many areas of professionalisation in the 20th century. In the 21st century just the opposite is going to happen, because you’re trying to protect civilians, rather then kill enemy soldiers, as your first objective. You must bring the law into the closest possible coordination with strategy, and what this administration has done, and I support the war in Iraq, what they have done is heartbreaking, because they have steadily removed the greatest source of their power, which was the rule of the law. You may think of Abu Ghraib as a battle and we lost. Guantanamo is a battle that we have lost. It will cost us lives, it will cost us political influence, and above all it may cost us, our strategic objectives. Not simply by ignoring it but by having a studied contempt of the law, and not just international law, which needs desperately to be reformed, but for even our domestic laws. The administration has kicked away what should have been its strongest prop. It baffles me. And it angers me.
In Bobbitt's view the entire West was engaged in one continuous war from 1914 to 1989 in which actual fighting was interspersed with attempts to bring law into line with strategy. During that period all the Presidents attempted to build institutions which tried to capture the experience of the preceding conflict. And whether this was reflected in the League of Nations, the UN, NATO, rapproachments to China or arms negotiations of various kinds there was a correspondence between physical warfare and law. Although I do not entirely agree with all Professor Bobbitt's views he is correct, I think, in suggesting that for the first time this has not happened. The War on Terror, which has dealt with the most profound problems of the 21st century, has been curiously sterile institutionally. That's not to say that the last five years have been totally barren; but even when the alliances with India, Central Asian States and the Patriot Act are figured in they still fall short (I think) of a framework within which to meet the future in the style of containment consensus of the post World War 2 years..
It was as if the current administration spent its energy trying to get around the constraints of old institutions -- like the United Nations and what has been called "Transnationalism" -- rather than trying to build better ones. The result is that after five years of epochal conflict the world is left with only the tatterdemalion shadows of 20th century concepts and institutions rather than the solid beginnings of new ones. This is most reflected in the curious instability of American politics, divided between a Democratic Party attached to the concepts of the 1960s and a Republican Party attached to -- at best a new attitude, at worst a few personal figures but to nothing institutionally embodied -- which may at the next turn of an election lead to wildly oscillating results. The power of law is that it changes the rules; and despite America's great victories in the field the rules have not been changed.
It's not widely appreciated that surveillance, gun control, rules for detention, conditions of interrogation are stricter in Europe than in the United States. British Secretary of Defense John Reid, for example approvingly points to extension of the period in which persons may be detained without charge and suggested the amendment of the Geneva Conventions. The Blair government is seeking legislation to force businesses to hand over their encryption keys to authorities. This after it asked Microsoft to engineer a crypto backdoor into Windows Vista the better to spy on possible threats. And when accusations of running "secret prisons" in Europe were leveled against America, the unasked question is why in Europe and not in America? Because the rules are different in Europe, where for good or ill law has been brought into line with strategy perhaps more than it has been in the United States.
In his introduction to The Shield of Achilles Bobbitt extensively quoted Homer's account of Hephaestus' forging the hero's shield. On it's brazen surface were emblazoned noble cities, wedding feasts, scenes of justice, armies, fallow fields, "estates where harvesters labored, reaping ripe grain", vineyards, cattle and finally the great band of Ocean's River, a fitting rampart to "that great and massive shield". For allegorically the Shield of Achilles is about all the defenses of civilization: culture, faith, arms and commerce. That it should be encompassed by Ocean's River is America's final blessing, but it is only the outermost rampart. Alone the Ocean, unbuttressed by faith, culture and commerce is empty. Bobbitt's curiously unexamined response to d'Ancona reflects his concern about how Western Civilization, though girded by bronze has become curiously hollow, without powers of recovery.
What would you do for example with the anthrax attacks? Do we think that a rogue state mailed them, do we think they are an example of proliferation to some other entity, such that something like the NPT might have prevented it, do we think it’s anything to do with Islam? Well it may be linked to the Al Qaeda attacks. It’s always troubled me that the anthrax letters were mailed from Trenton, New Jersey and Boca Raton in Florida, both place where there were dormitories for the 9/11 terrorists. But the general thinking in the law enforcement agencies in the States is that it had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. I don’t know. I want a concept of warfare that doesn’t depend upon my knowing. I don’t think we really understand the operation of terror in the 21st century. But this much I think we do understand, that we have to build up our immune systems. We cannot simply win this fight by going after our adversaries and attacking them and killing them.
If the Long War of 1914-1989 consisted of fighting interspersed with institution-building there is no reason why the conflicts of the 21st century should not be similar. Those who remember running from their offices in Manhattan or away from Capitol environs on September 11, may if they are honest recall, not without some embarrassment, how far they were prepared to go under the goad of fear to strike at the unknown enemies attacking them then. The years 2001 to 2005 have diminished the first danger and it would be uncharitable to fault an administration responding to the crisis for neglecting what were apparently secondary issues. But they are secondary no longer. The political elite on both sides of the aisle have left the world with none of the defenses on the Shield of Achilles other than armies. Law, institutions, and above of all our thinking have not been adjusted to experience. What then shall we do with our greater power, our sharper sword, our greater reach if another surprise attack comes in the night and we have nothing else but the sword?