Brave New Review

I have a degree in computer science but you don’t want me writing code for your mission-critical app. What attracted me to the field (besides the prospect of a fat paycheck upon graduation) was the lack of ambiguity; your code works or it does not, 1 or 0, there is no “sort of.” I don’t deal with ambiguity all that well. When offered the chance to know the gender of each of my children while they were in the womb my answer was definitive and affirmative. My wife? Not so much. Consequently, I got surprised 66% of the time.

That’s part of the reason why I enjoyed John Robb’s Brave New War so much: Point raised, supporting data, analysis, point made. No $.25 words, no fluff. It’s a 188-page narrative of what is going wrong and where things are headed if we don’t get our **** together as far as how we think about the conflicts of the now.

Most recent conflicts of substance are mentioned and sharp lines are drawn between the conclusions of those conflicts and the old school victories most of us pine for longingly. The last big, good war is something our grandparents saw; the future is small, precise, cheap and ugly.

The motivation for the adversary of the future? Well, money is a factor for some of course, but there is also another set of goals that few pushing the buttons in Washington DC have been able to get their heads around (I smell ambiguity). How do you deal with an enemy that doesn’t want territory, political power, or titles? What does he want? He merely wants you in a state of disrepair, dysfunction and disruption. Not outrageously so, just enough to reduce your legitimacy and effectiveness so that he can do what he wants regardless of your silly notions of nation and state. No beach to storm, no flag to plant, no treaty to sign. It’s like asking for a Venti-sized latte at Caribou Coffee; good for a cock of the head and a bemused look, but it won’t get you a drink.

If you are a regular visitor to John’s primary blog Global Guerrillas you are no stranger to his theories. What the book does is a great job of tying everything up into a neat package. If you are not familiar with his work, the book is an excellent primer and you should hit the blog afterwards for both in-depth coverage and to watch how accurate  GG theories can be.

Comparisons are going to be drawn between Robb’s work and that of Tom Barnett of Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action fame. Both men are proven right to one extent or another every day. I’m not a professional strategist so my parsing of points is going to be more cleaver-like than scalpel; suffice it to say that their work is complimentary in many areas save for issues related to the roles of government and the long-term.

Tom is Pooh Bear, John is Eeyore.

Don’t get me wrong: John is not a no-hope sort of guy. I like books that offer solutions and John provides several (some of which are being carried out in limited scale today). Like most works of this nature however, I found it a little . . . je ne sais quoi with regards to politics.

Read or listen to enough strategy/strategists and you get the impression that this place called “Capitol Hill” is some abstraction. A strategy is to an extent a theory and theory runs smack-dab into a brick wall of reality once legislators come into play. I mean, I live and breath issues related to intelligence and intelligence reform. I was sure reform legislation, in the wake of the fiasco that was 9/11, was going to be worth a damn.

I can be such a maroon some times.

I don’t care how much sense anyone’s theories makes, or how much of a say the enemy has (and they can have quite a lot to say), politicians have a say too and generally it doesn’t make a lot of strategic sense. The Department of Everything Else Act? Good luck with that. The military reforms necessary to craft a force capable of combating Global Guerrillas? Ha! A book I’d pay full list price for? A strategy to get the 500+ yahoos on the Hill to actually consider an issue above and beyond re-election.

A Black Swan that makes Congress irrelevant? Hey, watch it; people get disappeared for thinking like that.

I buy a lot of books, though not as many as I used to since those children of previously unknown gender entered the mix. Some I feel compelled to, some because they are bargains, some because I tell myself that one day I’ll actually start reading for pleasure again. There aren’t a lot of books that make me recall a 12-year-old self aching for the next issue of The Invincible Iron Man to hit the shelves.

Well done.

9 comments for “Brave New Review

  1. April 24, 2007 at 11:05 PM

    ” like Zen’s too. However, all actors want freedom of movement while free-riding on public goods”
    Thanks Dan !
    Many want. Few achieve.

  2. April 24, 2007 at 11:28 AM
  3. April 24, 2007 at 11:19 AM

    I like Zen’s too. However, all actors want freedom of movement while free-riding on public goods.
    Global guerrillas seem to be willing to trade a tremendous amount of goods in exchange for free movement, however. Thus they are similar to states with Realist foreign policies — balance-of-power cells that view preventing the emergence of a local hegemon as their method of security.
    Shlok — could you provide a link?

  4. April 24, 2007 at 10:42 AM

    Dan – The Hollow State brief should connect the dots.

  5. April 23, 2007 at 10:24 PM

    Sorry Dan, I got caught up in something and could not elaborate further. Zen’s explanation is as good as any, though if I were to re-tool my own post it might read:
    The enemy doesn’t want territory, political power, or titles. What he does want is you in a state of disrepair, dysfunction and disruption. Not outrageously so, just enough to reduce your effectiveness so that he can do what he wants. GG’s aren’t looking to pull a Don Corleone (do what you have to until you can go legit); GGs view “legit” as a suckers game. Who wants to deal with all the headaches of being President or Prime Minister when as kingpin your power can span the globe and you don’t have to worry about oversight committees or elections?

  6. April 23, 2007 at 9:14 PM

    I would interpret Robb’s argument as ” Global Guerilla’s want freedom of action within/among/between states while free-riding on whatever public goods the state remains able to provide, if only the fig leaf of sovereignty”

  7. April 23, 2007 at 4:12 PM

    If the point isn’t clear it is my clumsy explanation, not John’s writing.

  8. April 23, 2007 at 3:50 PM

    “How do you deal with an enemy that doesn’t want territory, political power, or titles? What does he want? He merely wants you in a state of disrepair, dysfunction and disruption. Not outrageously so, just enough to reduce your legitimacy and effectiveness so that he can do what he wants regardless of your silly notions of nation and state.”
    This is a thing I have not understodd from John’s blog, and I hope the book addresses. The “what he wants” in the last sentence is presumably territory, political power, titles, or cash. So then what’s the point of the “He merely wants you in a state of disrepair” segue?

  9. April 23, 2007 at 9:47 AM

    Excellent review. I’m on page 100 -should finish it tonight….

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