Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Last of the Global Commons

The foundation of American power, wrote Gary Posen in 2003, was far deeper than a mere preponderance in its current military or economic power. It lay in what he called the Command of the Commons -- made possible by "all the difficult and expensive things that the United States does to create the conditions that permit it to even consider one, two, or four campaigns".

The U.S. military currently possesses command of the global commons. Command of the commons is analogous to command of the sea, or in Paul Kennedy’s words, it is analogous to “naval mastery.” The “commons,” in the case of the sea and space, are areas that belong to no one state and that provide access to much of the globe.  Airspace does technically belong to the countries below it, but there are few countries that can deny their airspace above 15,000 feet to U.S. warplanes. Command does not mean that other states cannot use the commons in peacetime. Nor does it mean that others cannot acquire military assets that can move through or even exploit them when unhindered by the United States. Command means that the United States gets vastly more military use out of the sea, space, and air than do others; that it can credibly threaten to deny their use to others; and that others would lose a military contest for the commons if they attempted to deny them to the United States. Having lost such a contest, they could not mount another effort for a very long time, and the United States would preserve, restore, and consolidate its hold after such a fight. ...

The United States enjoys the same command of the sea that Britain once did, and it can also move large and heavy forces around the globe. But command of space allows the United States to see across the surface of the world’s landmasses and to gather vast amounts of information. At least on the matter of medium-to-large-scale military developments, the United States can locate and identify military targets with considerable fidelity and communicate this information to offensive forces in a timely fashion. Air power, ashore and afloat, can reach targets deep inland; and with modern precision-guided weaponry, it can often hit and destroy those targets.

Mastery of the sea, outer space and the air: these concepts are easy enough to understand -- what other "Commons" could there be? But as anyone who lives in this information age can testify, all of us now live on the edge of a pathway to other conciousnesses connected by the one thing as influential in the 21st century as the Mahanian sea was in the 19th: the Internet. Today, the Internet provides the highway for many of the essential activities of modern life: email, file-sharing, audio and video streams, VOIP telephony and the World Wide Web. Yet unlike the sea, cosmos and air which are primeval, the Internet is wholly man-made, and though it belongs "to no one state" it provides "access to much of the globe". Is the Internet another one of the Global Commons and what would it mean to command it? The story of the Internet began with the launch of the Soviet Sputnik in 1958.

The USSR's launch of Sputnik spurred the United States to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA) in February 1958 to regain a technological lead. ... J. C. R. Licklider ... saw universal networking as a potential unifying human revolution. ... Licklider recruited Lawrence Roberts to head a project to implement a network, and Roberts based the technology on the work of Paul Baran who had written an exhaustive study for the U.S. Air Force that recommended packet switching ... to make a network highly robust and survivable. After much work, the first node went live at UCLA on October 29, 1969 on what would be called the ARPANET, one of the "eve" networks of today's Internet. .

In its present form, the Internet is a highway made up of physical hardware, but equally important, of standard protocols which allow the hardware to be used in a consistent way. Together they enable the world to communicate in a way unthinkable even a few decades ago. One way to understand the distinction between hardware and standards which allow universal comprehension is to consider the terms "Internet" and the "World Wide Web". As Wikipedia puts it:

The Internet and the World Wide Web are not synonymous: the Internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks, linked by copper wires, fiber-optic cables, wireless connections, etc.; the Web is a collection of interconnected documents and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. The World Wide Web is accessible via the Internet, as are many other services including e-mail, file sharing.

Today, both the Internet and the information standards which govern information flows on it are under the immense strain of its own success. The original design, premised on a world of fixed computers connected by wiring has been patched up to accommodate mobile devices and to host services for which it was never envisioned -- with less and less success. In fact, researchers at Stanford University believe that the Internet in its present form is doomed to die, which is why scientists and private industry are reinventing it all the time, often without the knowledge of the public or of governments. In a paper called a "Clean-Slate Design for the Internet", Nick McKeown and Bernd Girod of Stanford describe just one of the many initiatives to find a new architecture for the global network.

The current Internet has significant deficiencies that need to be solved before it can become a unified global communication infrastructure. Further, we believe the Internet’s shortcomings will not be resolved by the conventional incremental and “backward-compatible” style of academic and industrial networking research. ...: “With what we know today, if we were to start again with a clean slate, how would we design a global communications infrastructure?”

The Stanford scientists ask, “how should the Internet look in 15 years?” They think the future Internet must be:

  1. Inherently secure against malware like viruses;
  2. Support mobile end-hosts like mobile computers, cellular telephones and embedded chips;
  3. Able to allow the market to price services offered on it in a rational way;
  4. Support "anonymity where prudent" and "accountability where necessary"; and
  5. Able to become virtual itself. The underlying hardware should present a logical representation of itself to every device connected to it. The physical network will wear a "skin" that devices will perceive and it will be able to change under that skin so alterations can be made to it without shutting the network down in much the same way that a computer's software can be updated while you keep working.

But just as the original Internet, conceived in the depths of the Cold War, was unintentionally a network with a First Amendment time bomb ticking inside it -- so too is the Stanford project, and several other initiatives currently underway charged with implicit subversion. An Internet where the protection of "anonymity" was built into the design, whose utilities supported a market valuation of the services it offered, that offered connectivity to mobile devices would be nightmare to totalitarian governments.  Worst of all, a fully programmable, virtual Internet could potentially become anything at all, the ultimate horror scenario for any organization addicted to control. If today's Internet is already a threat to the established order, it will be as nothing to tomorrow's Internet, poised to let JCR Licklider's dream of universal networking become a reality -- in a form much more sophisticated and powerful than even he could have imagined.

Just how powerful it might become is illustrated by efforts to transform one major protocol of the Internet -- the World Wide Web -- from a sea of undifferentiated links into a tagged store of information where information can be gathered, assembled, processed and disseminated automatically. John Borland in the MIT Technology Review writes that todays Web is as disorganized as libraries before the Dewey Decimal System. What was needed, some argued, was a way to allow software agents to get a grip on information, both to bar objectionable material and to find what was truly sought.

Nor was it just librarians who worried about this disorder. Companies like Netscape and Microsoft wanted to lead their customers to websites more efficiently. Berners-Lee [the originator of the World Wide Web] himself, in his original Web outlines, had described a way to add contextual information to hyperlinks, to offer computers clues about what would be on the other end. ... the idea of connecting data with links that meant something retained its appeal. ... To use an old metaphor, imagine the Web as a highway system, with hyperlinks as connecting roads. The early Web offered road signs readable by humans but meaningless to computers.

General-purpose metadata ... would be a boon to people, or computers, looking for things on the Web. ... the idea of a "semantic" Web [emerged] which not only would provide a way to classify individual bits of online data such as pictures, text, or database entries but would define relationships between classification categories as well. ... To go back to the Web-as-highway metaphor, this might be analogous to creating detailed road signs that cars themselves could understand and upon which they could act. The signs might point out routes, describe road and traffic conditions, and offer detailed information about destinations. A car able to understand the signs could navigate efficiently to its destination, with minimal intervention by the driver. ...

In articles and talks, Berners-Lee and others began describing a future in which software agents would similarly skip across this "web of data," understand Web pages' metadata content, and complete tasks that take humans hours today. Say you'd had some lingering back pain: a program might determine a specialist's availability, check an insurance site's database for in-plan status, consult your calendar, and schedule an appointment. Another program might look up restaurant reviews, check a map database, cross-reference open table times with your calendar, and make a dinner reservation.

Immediately efforts to structure the Web provoked a debate which illustrates how the struggle over the mastery of information commons is decided. It is decided by negotiation and standards established by those who use it. At the heart of the debate lay the question of whether the World Wide Web could ever, even in principle, be completely tamed: whether in fact it was better to leave it in unstructured free-form. The way the debate is being resolved describes how the Internet itself changes.

Proponents of an unstructured World Wide Web argued that its looseness was not a disadvantage but its key strength.

"People forget there are humans under the hood and try to treat the Web like a database instead of a social construct," says Clay Shirky, an Internet consultant and adjunct professor of interactive telecommunications at New York University. ..."The world is not like a set of shelves, nor is it like a database," says NYU's Shirky. "We see this over and over with tags, where we have an actual picture of the human brain classifying information."

The proponents in both the "structured" and "unstructured" camps went forward according to their chosen strategies, while remaining compatible with the least common denominators of the World Wide Web. They created islands of varying richness within the same highway network. Some took the tack of letting humans continue to classify and add information in their own chaotic, but creative way.  "The socially networked, tag-rich services of Flickr,,, and the like are already imposing a grassroots order on collections of photos, music databases, and Web pages. Allowing Web users to draw their own connections, creating, sharing, and modifying their own systems of organization, provides data with structure that is usefully modeled on the way people think, advocates say." But for others it made sense to organize their information stores in structured ways that would facilitate access and manipulation -- as well as add value.

Life scientists with vast stores of biological data have been especially interested. In a recent trial project at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University ... clinical data was encoded using Semantic Web [structured] techniques so that researchers could share it and search it more easily. ... Citigroup's global head of capital markets and banking technology, Chris Augustin, is heading an initiative to use semantic technologies to organize and correlate information from diverse financial-data feeds. ...

One of the highest-profile deployments of Semantic Web technology is courtesy of Joost, the closely watched Internet television startup formed by the creators of Skype and Kazaa. The company has moved extraordinarily quickly from last year's original conception, through software development and Byzantine negotiations with video content owners, into beta-testing of its customizable peer-to-peer TV software ... Joost's ... infrastructure also means that users will have wide-ranging control over the service ... People will be able to program their own virtual TV networks--if an advertiser wants its own "channel," say, or an environmental group wants to bring topical content to its members--by using the powerful search and filtering capacity inherent in the semantic ordering of data.

In the end, both the structured and freeform camps will probably coexist on the World Wide Web, which is itself being built over an evolving Internet. "Semantic Web technologies add order to data from the outset, putting up the road signs that let computers understand what they're reading. But many researchers note that much of the Web lacks such signs and probably always will. ... No one knows what organizational technique will ultimately prevail. But what's increasingly clear is that different kinds of order, and a variety of ways to unearth data and reuse it in new applications, are coming to the Web. There will be no Dewey here, no one system that arranges all the world's digital data in a single framework."

But an Internet in which the users themselves impose "different kinds of order" and "reuse it in new applications" creates an information commons commanded by an implictly American model. Although not under the authority of any US government agency, such an Internet would be almost natively American and consequently confer an advantage upon a society whose institutions and traditions are already configured to use it. Even the evolution of the Internet and its protocols is taking place in an alarmingly non-governmental way, an idea which justly horrifies the United Nations. As a result, the UN has embarked upon a program of mandating "governance" over the Internet, in a manner reminiscent of King Canute exercising his dominion over the sea with a program whose narrowness and bureaucratic cast is self-evident.

Four options for the management of Internet-related public policy issues were proposed in the Final Report of the WGIG, finalised during their fourth meeting, and presented to stakeholders on 18 July 2005 in preparation for the November 2005 meeting in Tunis, Tunisia. These proposals all include the introduction of an open Multi-stakeholder based Internet Governance forum to give greater voice to the stakeholders around the world, including civil society, private sector and governments. Each model also included different strategies for the oversight role, currently held by the United States Department of Commerce.

The proposed models were:

  1. Create the Global Internet Council (GIC) consisting of governments and involved stakeholders to take over the U.S. oversight role of ICANN.
  2. Ensure that ICANNs Governmental Advisory Committee is an official forum for debate, strengthening its position by allowing for the support of various governments.
  3. Remove the U.S. oversight of ICANN and restrict it to the narrow technical role, forming the International Internet Council (IIC) to manage most aspects of the Internet administration.
  4. Create three new bodies:
    • The Global Internet Policy Council (GIPC) to manage "internet-related public policy issues"
    • The World Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (WICANN) to take over from ICANN
    • The Global Internet Governance Forum (GIGF), a central debating forum for governments.

The UN "governance" program, in comparison to the intellectual fecundity of the Internet itself, is almost comically sterile; almost like an idiot seeking to take charge of a font of creativity. Yet for all the ham-handedness of the United Nations, it's basic fear is well-founded. In a world where America already dominates the Commons of the Sea, Outer Space and the Air, can other countries allow the establishment of an Information Commons, the Internet, whose design emphasizes the free flow of information, privacy and enterprise? Every tyranny and theocracy on the planet must regard it as an intolerable danger. On the other hand, do they have a choice?


Blogger Elijah said...

Thank u for the article.

Concerning the topic, Mr. Escobar has a somewhat darker view

Globalistan:How the Globalized world is dissolving into liquid war

5/10/2007 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Chester said...

I agree that we have unrivaled control of the sea, air, and space. I also agree that the internet is evolving in a manner that seems to portend a dramatic degree of US influence to say the least.

The problem today though is this: There has been no ground commons for some time. Nations have had borders which were, to a large degree, inviolable. But to the insurgent, terror, and criminal groups of the 21st century, those borders mean less and less. In other words, there is now a new commons to worry about: the ground -- perhaps the original commons.

The US most certainly does not dominate the ground. This is what is kicking our butt. Sure we can lob Tomahawks or JDAMs wherever our heart desires. But we can't control foreign cities -- at least not for very long. We're finally figuring it all out, a la Ramadi. But the techniques necessary are still misunderstood by far too many -- within the military, the political class, the media and the general public.

Our command of the other commons no doubt gives us power. But other groups and states will make great use of our seeming lack of desire and/or ability to control ground.

5/10/2007 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Brock said...

Excellent article, Richard. The kind that keeps me coming back to the Belmont Club.

Don't get too Fukuyaman with your post titles though. Currently the USA (well, together with Britain, perhaps) also controls the financial commons through its dominant economic position, global currency and power to compel banks and financial institutions around the world.

I can also imagine a commons operating in a biological / Darwinian space, where the microbes that travel by air and water serve our purposes. Our (and Europe's) open-source community is also establishing a OS/software commons based on Linux and other standards which are just as anathema to the UN and control-seeking governments of the world as the Internet, since any citizen or subject with access to them can use them without fear of governments having compelled a singular entity like Microsoft or Cisco to have built in back doors or controlling modules. This OSS commons will extend to the hardware itself with the advent cheap fabrication technologies.

Cardozo Bozo

PS - Chester: very good point. The insurgents infiltrate our commons of human transport: our roads and airways. They operate beneath the envelope of military power.

5/10/2007 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger dla said...

America may dominate, but it is America that is advancing the technology to transform societies and enhance people's lives. The UN is an impotent cesspool of have-nots intent on gaining world power more than enhancing their societies.

The have-nots will whine - they always do. But the real advancements in humanity will come from the nation controlling the commons.

5/10/2007 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I was reading some comment a week or so ago about all the differet Muslim jihadist sites. The complaint was that essentially the jihadists have their very own internal version of the internet since they are all in Arabic; that the murderous fanatics don't have access to the wealth of information and other-thinking available on the internet because it's all in English.

The author of this particular whine seemed to think that the way to resolve this to better educate the jihadists would be for the rest of us to learn Arabic and start posting our stuff in Muslim-speak rather than English.

I think it's easier and more effective to just kill 'em.

5/10/2007 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Hope Muntz said...

As anybody who's ever taught a class of teenagers knows, 'control' is no use unless you're willing to use it. A perfect (if silly) example, IMHO, was on last week's episode of 'The Unit', when 2 characters were parachuted into Pakistan to 'paint' a target house for a missile strike (I guess aimed at some Al Qaida guys). The first example of how our mindset has become modern or whatever (and I'm not saying that's a bad thing) was that one of them risked the mission and his life to rescue a kid outside the house--the second was: WTF were they doing down there at all? Why not just blow up the whole village if you're seriously fighting a war? After all Harry Truman dropped nukes on two cities in a similar situation, and he's like some big hero now to both parties--doesn't Bush always refer to how he's trying to copy him?

My point is that war is like fighting a serious illness--you use the best antibiotics you have in massive doses and don't stop till you''ve given the full round. Then if one drug doesn't work, you try another. Using that metaphor, control of the air is like having really great diagnostic tools, giant MRI scans for instance, but never actually attacking the disease itself. Scare enough adolecsent guys with a big dose or two and instead of linking to jihad sites they'll stick to online porn, making control of that particular 'commons' irrelevant.

Just saying.

5/10/2007 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Our investment in satellite and network infrastructure has paid off amazingly well. Holding the strings to the Internet and things like GPS pays off mostly because there is very little threat that we would use it as a weapon, but no one can use it against us. It's win-win because, no matter what they say, people trust us -- more than they trust themselves. Who's really pushing to let the UN control these things other than the UN? Other countries would like to be independent of our countrol precisely because they want to be free to make threats, and to have those threats taken seriously.


The intellectual commons is largely controlled by the US and its allies simply by our vast intellectual productivity. The Web is basically a poisoned apple for our enemies. Yes, they can use it, but it will change them. Their linquistic and ideological barricades are not enforceable. And yes, I do think we should take the trouble to breach those barricades. This is part of the Long War.

We are also gaining, bit by bit, a measure of control over our borders. Without inhibiting the free flow of legitimate traffic we are gaining the ability to identify and restrict our enemies.

5/10/2007 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Al-Qaeda seeks to gain control over this commons. Yet, a barbarian can only assume the reigns of empire when he assimilates sufficiently to the civilization he conquers. Otherwise, the empire falls apart and passes like sand through his fingers.

Like the Nazis, al-Qaeda is caught between its desire for empire and its desire to "purify". The very influences it seeks to destroy are the ones that made the early success of Islam possible. Mohammed learned trench technology from a Persian convert. During the Umayyad dynasty, Christian technocrats maintained the empire while Muslims fought on campaign. Were it not for the cooperation of non-Muslims, an Islamic empire would not have been possible.

The Islamist desire to eradicate our culture, even as they try to appropriate our technology, makes their desire for an Imperium functionally impossible. Al-Qaeda may be able to kill large numbers of people and even establish control over the Arabic-speaking portion of the commons, but its power is ultimately derivative because it lacks curiosity. All it offers is entry into a new dark age, a new age of ignorance. Afghanistan under al-Qaeda (and its Taliban puppet) was functionally less advanced in its bathroom technology than ancient Carthage.

Here's a quote from "A Fish Called Wanda".

Gorillas do read philosophy. They just don't understand it.

5/10/2007 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...

"They operate beneath the envelope of military power." currently exercised, I would add.

5/10/2007 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger Aquarium said...

Yet, a barbarian can only assume the reigns of empire when he assimilates sufficiently to the civilization he conquers. Otherwise, the empire falls apart and passes like sand through his fingers.

Usually barbarians destroy and move on to other areas to destroy, leaving behind theopen pit fires and stick huts they're use to. I'm not sure I ever heard or read about barbarians doing alot of stidying of the culture they just destroyed?


5/10/2007 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger Aquarium said...

stidying = barbarian for studying.

other errors assigned to crumbling, conquered "civilizations"

5/10/2007 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger ricpic said...

If the U.S. is so all fired economically dominant in the world how come it's the Europeans and Asians who come here for cheap vacations, cheap goods, cheap real estate, not the other way around?

5/10/2007 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

Would it be fair to say that one “common” would be an understanding of cultural identity? Are such countries as the UK, Australia, and the US part of shared culture called the “West”? Certainly, many prominent intellectuals have and do think so.**

Interestingly, while Islamic crusaders, such as internationally affiliated Wahabbists are convincing Muslims across the globe of the necessity of a unified caliphate, some in the West are denying the very existence of a cultural construct known as the “West”. What a jarring coincidence, especially with the recent election results in Canada, Australia, Germany, and France.

So, is there a West?

Jacques Barzun
Alastair Bonnett
Charles Freeman
Francis Fukuyama
Samuel P. Huntington
Alfred Kroeber
Carroll Quigley
J. M. Roberts
Arnold J. Toynbee

5/10/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...


I think your characteriziations are a bit loaded, but I'll try to answer:

Cheap goods: the US enjoys an extremely effective transportation and distribution system and US wholesales and retailers benefit from vast economies of scales and efficient operations. This leads to being able to buy in large bulk and get products to market at a lower rate. On top of that, lower value added taxes. I guess the question is how could you equate goods costing more in the US as being an indicator of economic power.

Cheap vacations? Compare to where? Even dismissing this question we come again to thinks such as a very well-developed tourist industry, efficient transportation system, etc.

Cheap real estate? I'm not sure how you've come to this conclusion but the US is a huge country, the third largest in terms of land area. US cities are often considerably more spread out than cities in many other areas creating higher expenses for commuting but a lower price for land, all other things being equal.

Another way to look at it is like this: going on a vacation with lots of amenities and a shopping spree would be much more costly in a place like Antartica or the middle of the Sahara. That shouldn't lead us to believe that those places are necessarily economic powers.

And even in places that are developed, if the costs of doing business are higher there due to structural inefficies of a critical kind, you'll pay more.

5/10/2007 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...


Semper Fi

Have you returned(?) to blogging?

5/10/2007 05:40:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

Unless idiocy is a “common”, this is UNBELIEVEABLE.

From Israel Matzav: Ehud Fled

“Ehud Barak is currently running second in the Labor party primary race”


“Pursued by a few hundred Hezbollah guerrillas, Israeli soldiers flee Lebanon in a panic. In their haste to get out, they leave behind armored vehicles, rocket launchers, and ammunition…”

“For 25 years, at great risk to themselves, the men of the SLA helped keep Israel's northern towns safe from terrorism. The enclave they patrolled was the closest thing Lebanon had to a free zone, a small swath of territory not dominated by Syria or Shi'ite extremists. Israelis are famous for never leaving a man behind. But they left these men behind, and it is a betrayal many will not survive.”
___Jeff Jacoby

5/10/2007 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Welcome back Chester,

The ground commons is also the human commons,and you are right in saying America's writ does not run there. Two things to think about though. One access point to the ground or human commons is through organization. I've been following Bill Roggio's account of the Anbar and Diyala Salvation Councils with great interest, as well as wondering what role the PRTs are playing in Iraq.

I understand that the State Department is now putting some "high quality" personnel into the PRTs, and that characterization is a serious, not an ironic one. But it is a measure of how far there still is to go that many State Department FSOs sent to the PRTs are not as familiar with Iraq as their military counterparts -- and that those have only gained the knowledge from the on-the-job training, which I suppose is another word for trial-and-error.

Apart from organizing as a entry point into the ground commons, the Internet provides one too, but I will argue it is less immediate than organizing because it affects enemy echelons further back. It's a kind of intellectual deep-strike. A few posts ago I looked at a Singaporean study of the traffic on Jihadi sites and the extent to which the Internet is a watering hole for the Middle Eastern radical types is striking. The point is that the Internet too is a portal into the ground or human commons.

It would be interesting to put all these ideas together and I hope to do this in the next post.

5/10/2007 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Israel Matzav's reprint of Jacoby's observation of the price of betrayal of one's allies is central to the discussion of the control of the ground commons, or whatever you want to call winning in the human environment, as opposed to technologically controlling outer space, the upper airs, the oceans and cyberspace.

When we betray our allies, as some propose be done today, there may be sound reasons for doing so, but there is always a cost. And very often that cost more than outweighs whatever benefits may momentarily accrue. At rock bottom, an Anbar or Diyala Salvation Council or any arrangement where people throw in with America depends on trust. Trust that both will see things through up to the agreed point. Once that trust is betrayed our credit rating goes down.

We all know how hard it is to have a bad credit rating. Can't rent a car, book a hotel room, get a DVD at the rental store or get mail order. Bad credit means you become a zero, a nothing, a nada. You wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy. And yet many statesmen think letting our allies down has no downside. But it does. And if we are prepared to throw people to the wolves it had damned well be worth it.

As Israel Matzav notes the bill comes due eventually. Not today or even tomorrow, but someday. With interest due.

5/10/2007 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Wretchard, you make a wonderful point about betraying our allies and the inevitable cost that will follow. When Jimmy Carter betrayed the Shah of Iran he fired the starter pistol for the Islamisist Movement.

What is needed in order to win the war in Iraq is to seize the semantic high ground. Don't call it a "war" call it "reconstruction". We are not "killing terrorists" we are "protecting the innocents". Don't call it "military funding" call it "foreign aid".

Done properly, we can get the same brain-dead bleeding hearts who want us to send troops to Darfur in the midst of their civil war to support our actions in Iraq.

5/10/2007 06:43:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

It has occurred to me that directly counterorganizing against the enemy has a hidden price. In creating an Anbar or Diyala Salvation Council we create one more power center in region rife with divisions, whether tribal, ethnic or religious.

But in retrospect, that was the way it was going to be anyway; always e pluribus unum with different divisions from the familiar federal. Maybe like Lebanon or maybe like nothing we've seen before.

I think the cardinal sin in any approach to "winning" in the chaotic ground or human environment is to believe linear solutions are possible. Clearly we do not, possibly we cannot know where the solution will lie. The important thing is to be able to react so quickly there's a chance of staying on top of events. I seem to remember some MIT AI researchers solved the problem of robotic walking by realizing that humans do not stand, but are always in the process of falling and shift their anatomy dynamically to suit.

And before I lose the thought, I should mention coming across an argument that in certain logical systems of sufficient complexity the outcome is unpredictable even though the the processes it obeys are logical. The example given was Turing's Halting Problem. He showed there are algorithms which exist in principle which we do not know will reach a solution until we run it. And the Halting Problem, it turns out, is in some sense equivalent to Godel's undecidability result. I guess I should stop there and avoiding cluttering the thread with useless musings.

5/10/2007 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

Wretchard wrote:

"I think the cardinal sin in any approach to "winning" in the chaotic ground or human environment is to believe linear solutions are possible. Clearly we do not, possibly we cannot know where the solution will lie."

I agree, particularly if we're talking about doing something more than breaking a state. Putting something together afterwards is clearly much more complex, even moreso in a hyper-connected world.

What I've been troubled with is how this applies for Western nations where gaining and then maintaining the support of the population is critical to entering into a conflict and then sustaining the effort. It would seem that voters want to know what getting into a conflict will cost and when it will be over. A hard question to honestly answer if you don't believe linear solutions are possible.

5/10/2007 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

I am ashamed to admit having missed these two articles by Chester at TCS. They go to the anti-body analogy used by Wretchard earlier.

Al-Qaeda for the Good Guys: The Road to Anti-Qaeda

Realizing Anti-Qaeda


5/10/2007 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The political system only pretends to aspire to linear solutions because it is convenient in the blame-game. But in actually they make it up as they go along. Entitlements, immigration and, as this article shows, nuclear deterrence in the terrorist age.

The International Herald Tribune describes the strategic debate over how to retaliate against an unattributed nuclear attack when the source of the fissile material may be unknown, known to knowingly provided or suspected to be stolen. Some theorists believe a "calculated ambiguity" would provide flexibility to cover all cases while being bound by none.

The phrase "calculated ambiguity" as used above is priceless. What it actually means, I think, is "we don't know what the f**k we're going to do if a nuke goes off in New York City. That's why we can't announce what we're going to do. But we're going to think about it if it happens."

Consider that for a moment. Commanders are expected to plan for an exit strategy when they begin a ground campaign and keep to a schedule. But no one can say at all what course of action to take if your city gets vaporized. We affect linearity. In practice it will be all we can do to keep the wheels turning and hope we can think of something.

5/10/2007 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...


Few barbarians understand the cultures they conquer. Yet, there is a huge difference between a barbarian who converts to (or at least tolerates) the local religion and assimilates to the local culture (and takes a local wife!), and a barbarian who vents his religious antagonism against the local population and refuses to assimilate.

There are many stories of barbarian assimilation, to the extent that it can be seen as the rule, not the exception. Clovis's conversion to Catholicism cemented his control over Gaul. Viking raiders assimilated to Slavic culture (the Rus) and French culture (the Normans). The Norman rulers of Ireland assimilated to Irish culture, much to the annoyance of the English crown. The Mongols assimilated to Chinese (the Yuan dynasty) and Persian (the Jalayrid dynasty) cultures once they conquered them. The Manchu dynasty of China was an apartheid state run by Manchurians, yet the majority of the Manchus became Sinified over the centuries. And likewise, the Crusaders assimilated so thoroughly to the culture of their Levantine subjects that much of the West no longer recognized the Crusader States as part of Europe.

In contrast, the Saxon invasion of England was what modern journalists would call "ethnic cleansing". One could say the same thing for the ancient Gaulish invasion of northern Italy, to the extent that Lombardy was once called "Cisalpine Gaul".

The problem we face is not merely that al-Qaeda seeks to conquer, but that these Muslim invaders refuse to assimilate to the populations they seek to conquer. They neither understand the genius of our culture nor do they seek to emulate it; they merely seek to use our weapons to destroy us.

5/10/2007 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...


When we betray our allies, as some propose be done today, there may be sound reasons for doing so, but there is always a cost.

This isn't merely an international question. The time will come when the Democratic Party comes into power. How can it credibly wage war then? If the Democratic Party has a track record since 1960 of turning against every war that lasts over two years, how eager will Americans be to fight when they know their leaders will inevitably turn against the war after they have voted for it?

For example, Darfur. If our troops come into Darfur, Sudan will become a magnet for al-Qaeda, and our troops will become targets for suicide bombers. Sudan is a day's drive from Cairo, the world center for the Muslim Brotherhood. And imagine the sight of a cell phone video posted on YouTube catching an American soldier torturing a janjaweed militiaman! Given all of this, am I supposed to believe that the very liberals who adamantly demand the invasion of Darfur now won't turn against the war once it does sour? And given al-Qaeda's desire to give us a bloody nose, I can guarantee the war will go sour.

5/10/2007 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

When the Christians are gone there will be a "One World" government and the religious "commons" worldwide will be called Christianity but it will actually be something else. The Anti"CHRIST" will rule over some very dark s***t. And according to the book of Revelation, if those days had not been cut short no flesh would survive on the entire earth.

Israel is already back in the land after 2000 years and a lot of time has passed since Truman recognized Israel. Things are moving along precisely as the Bible describes it. There is no reason to be ignorant about what's coming. Harry Reid is a "Night of the Living Dead" character for real. Your women and your children rule over you.

It is late in the day. Every nation in the world where the Jews have been driven will come to a total end but Israel alone will survive and be saved.

If you think evolution is science you have not received a love of the truth.

Hold on! It's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Nice thread.

5/11/2007 12:12:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...

Ah, the West as global common…

“If poetry holds a mirror to our inner life, then the inner life of Westerners is profoundly different from that of Muslims, as different as the concepts of a God of Love who exalts the humble, and Allah who loves the strong and rewards the victorious.

He creates his world - if "create" is the right word - with death as his starting point. Death is the one elixir, the redeemer. Life itself is only a death running its course. A person's clothes are his shroud; his house is his grave, his life his death, and his death his true life ... the truth is that the most evil of trees if the one which has borne human beings. Life is a sickness whose cure is death.

[H]e helps explain the remarkable willingness of Arabs to kill themselves to inflict harm on their enemies. Caught between a stifling traditional past and a threatening and unwished-for modernity, the Arabs in Adonis' judgment cannot properly form a personality and are susceptible to nihilism…”

Are the Arabs already extinct?

In ceding to Islam the argument for a distinct and superior Western culture, the West surrenders one of its strongest weapons, its unrivaled success in all dimensions of the “Global Commons.”


5/11/2007 07:36:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 05/11/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

5/11/2007 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Aquarium said...

Points well taken. I believe that there are too many examples of barbarian conquest to generalize their behavior after asssaulting an area.
Today in certain areas of Compton,CA there are hordes of unassimilated hip hoppers, Mexifornians, and remnants of the Symbionese Liberation Army. In Dearborn, Mich, the American "Mecca" more mosques of unassilimilated barbarian Islams exists than any area outside Dearborn Mich.
Do you want thin crust or thick on that pizza?

5/11/2007 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...


Thanks for the link to that Arabic poet. It was a fascinating read. What a nightmare those Muslim Arabs inhabit: their death is their life. You can't make this stuff up.

Adonis is this poet's pen name and is of course the name of the Greek god of male beauty. Perhaps this is some kind of a sign that within Islam or the Islamic Arabic mind there is the stirring of kinder things. The prospect of a Walmart in Bagdad and all that that implies. Little kindnesses sometimes go a long way. The Greeks conquered much of that area many years ago.


5/11/2007 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Aquarium said...

Kassam, Boy Bomber.
Janet Cooke, NYT May 10, 2007

Kassam, a young boy of eight wants to follow his late older brother,Kareem, as a suicide bomber against the Jews of his homeland Palestine. His parents are proud and have hired Michael Moore to film the blast. Dupont in an attempt to redeem themelves for making napalm during Vietnam have donated plastic sheeting to keep the flying fleshy parts from hitting the family.

Since Kassam is too young to understand the "72" Virgins concept he has been promised a new donkey in paradise. But how did it come to this?
Kassam was recruited by his parents when the local Imam showed up with a guarantee of unlimited 7.62x39 AK ammo to shoot in the air once Kassam was on his new ass.
They would also receive a Sony Betamax VCR.
Kassam is now being fitted by Sean Penn Palestinian Outfitters and Riggers for his custom C-4 vest.
Kassam's parents help him choose the "rusty nails" model for it's sharpnel inserts.
"We are very happy for Kassam" said his mother. "Kareeem was his idol and Kassam is happy to join him in Paradise on his ass"

Kassam's father, who fought in the fifth and sixth last wars against the Jews is also very proud. "Today I will slaughter a goat for our victory dinner" Kassam will "fulfill the thrill" and "leave a chill" tomorrow in the Jewish Market of The Gefilte Fish."

Kassam was eager to finish filming his martyr tape so that he could join his friends in planning the weekends alleyway soccer game.

His friends, having heard the news are now calling him Clueless Kassam.

Reporting from a mud hut..Janet Cooke, NYT.

5/11/2007 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger ricpic said...

Janet Cooke inadverdently hits on the truth!

5/11/2007 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger ricpic said...

D'oh! Inadvertent. I'm dumber than Janet Cooke. (Is that possible?)

5/11/2007 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Habu said...


It must have been a cousin of Janet Cooke since she wrote for the Washington Post and won a Pulitzer Prize fro "Jimmy's World"

5/11/2007 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Darren Duvall said...

While Al Qaeda are barbarians as Alexis points out, taking the Long View of the barrenness of the Islamist culture and technology isn't all that reassuring in the medium term (i.e., the rest of my life)

Yes, they don't innovate -- but we have innovated plenty. There are things we have that are easily converted to destructive purposes, things that are to our mind not particularly sophisticated. The atom bomb is a 1940s science project, it's not a particularly good example given the very long logistical tail of centrifuges and plutonium extraction, but it's an example. The things we invent are invented in an environment of social challenge and the negative implications of technology are often identified and weeded out on the trip from the lab bench to the shelf. We invent processes, but our society often exerts control over the use of the processes so that the eventual use is in concord with our respect for life. Sticking with the nuclear bomb as an example, we not only invented it we went on to make it three orders of magnitude more destructive -- but we haven't used it since the first two of three prototypes we fired. The same system that creates the toys controls the utilization of the toys, often to less-destructive ends.

The risk from the Islamists is that they can take the processes we've invented and use them without the corresponding societal controls. Nuclear weapons are at this point beyond their industrial base, but biological weapons are not. The West invented gene splicing and gene analysis and spread the technology all over the world, but you can use the technology without adopting the ethos necesssary to create it, just like you can make a car bomb without making the car. How much simpler a world it would be if you couldn't make the former without manufacturing the latter.

The Long View is in our favor, and I do see Islamism as a dead-end society. Nevertheless, the Long View may be punctuated with severe societal disruptions along the way using the very technology we ourselves provide. It just doesn't take a lot of R&D to turn a boon into a bane, and it's dangerous to assume that our discarded weapons aren't still potent.

5/11/2007 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

An EcoInterlude:
Gaia, Goats, and Grazing.

Man must pay when the commons is mandated to be maintained as
"a natural ecosystem"
(a well-managed commons (overseen by natural men) being beyond the pale)
"The goats kept the darn brush down," Joe Voci, 85, told a Times reporter.
That did not sit well with Bob Rhein, director of media relations at the conservancy, which has contended with goat-related controversies for decades.
The group removed the goats only after considerable study, Rhein said today.

"We studied what was happening, and the grazing pressure was just too much for the natural ecosystem to fend with," Rhein said.
"Plants that should have been there just weren't anymore."
He added,

"The natural ecosystem was not rebounding. But it is now. Ask anyone."

And on Catalina, for better or for worse, the natural ecosystem includes plants and shrubs that burn.

5/11/2007 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

A May Comet Out Back

Spring rushes in the dark trees.

A Comet too tiny to see

By the Big Dipper's cup - the lower tip -

By tiny degrees.

A jet flies over.

The odd cloud wisp is lit by the city.

binoculars one can see


The dark branches of an oak tree

Tumbling past the Big Dipper,

Spread across the night,

The star-cornered cup and curved handle

That no hand gripped

To dip rain

But a comet
slipped through like rain.

The dog bays a basso ghoul

To chime with a distant yowling fire truck.

The wind rolls the trees to husk them

Of their red buds.

And all the
night breathes

With the leaves unfurled--Come!-- like

Butterflies from their cocoons.

It is the noon of Spring's night.

The Milky
Way sheathes the plants

With milk

Dogwoods, azaleas, the blooming quince

Burst with stamens and petals.

Still, beneath the electric yellow

Of street
lamps -- the bushes growl orange.

Winter's dead, howl by morning--

To leave the damp ground by summer cicadas.


5/11/2007 08:27:00 PM  

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