When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

June 22, 2004

Celsius 488

Bravo Romeo Delta

I don't normally like to gratuitously link to Slate or to Lileks, since they're not things that generally need more exposure for them to get their word out.

In this case, I will make an exception. Lileks links to Hitchens' critique furious stomping of Mike Moore's latest installment in his Leni Reifenstahl legacy film series, Fahrenheit 9/11. The title of which, incidentally, has the author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, really pissed off.

Just in case you get it in your head that Hitchens is some sort of right-wing hack, take a look at his dyslogy of Reagan.

One excerpt that did catch my eye was this one:

The same "let's have it both ways" opportunism infects his treatment of another very serious subject, namely domestic counterterrorist policy. From being accused of overlooking too many warnings—not exactly an original point—the administration is now lavishly taunted for issuing too many. (Would there not have been "fear" if the harbingers of 9/11 had been taken seriously?) We are shown some American civilians who have had absurd encounters with idiotic "security" staff. (Have you ever met anyone who can't tell such a story?) Then we are immediately shown underfunded police departments that don't have the means or the manpower to do any stop-and-search: a power suddenly demanded by Moore on their behalf that we know by definition would at least lead to some ridiculous interrogations. Finally, Moore complains that there isn't enough intrusion and confiscation at airports and says that it is appalling that every air traveler is not forcibly relieved of all matches and lighters.

This was interesting as it ties back to the question of "Out of Context Problems."

Scott of Demosophia writes in the comments here about whether or not such problems are inevitable or not. I am very much of a similar mind to Rumsfeld on this issue (check out the link, it also points to some good stuff on the theory of ignorance):

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know.

This set of unknown unknowns do, in my terminology, contain the entire set of Out of Context Problems. Now, the reasonable question is one of whether or not can reasonably anticipate any such problems. This question is fundamentally one of strategy.

A really good resource on this is Edward Luttwak's book, On Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace. IN this book, he writes about the Clauswitz's culminating point and the paradoxical logic it entails.

More concretely, if one continues to pursue a given successful mode of attack indefinitely, it reaches a point of diminishing returns and ultimately becomes hazardous as an opponent develops countermeasures. But implicit in this notion and the paradoxical logic associated with it is that it necessarily implies the existence of unforeseeable modes of attack - the opposites of culminating points. These are, in large part, what B.H. Liddell Hart spoke of when he wrote about the indirect approach (and two fundamentals) in his book on strategy:

  1. Direct attacks against an enemy firmly in position almost never work and should never be attempted
  2. To defeat the enemy one must first upset his equilibrium, which is not accomplished by the main attack, but must be done before the main attack can succeed.

Specifically, he wrote:

In strategy the longest way round is often the shortest way there; a direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, whereas an indirect approach loosens the defender's hold by upsetting his balance.
The profoundest truth of war is that the issue of battle is usually decided in the minds of the opposing commanders, not in the bodies of their men.

If, on the one hand, we take the idea of the culminating point, and on the other, the indirect approach, we see that the objective of a commander is to create unknown unknowns for his opponent. If they are spectacularly good at it, then they might be able to create an Out of Context Problem for their opponents. Granted, in warfare, Out of Context Problems are the exception rather than the rule, but that alone should not mean that we ought to forswear attempting to spring such treats upon our opponents or that we should be utterly flabbergasted when they do the same to us.

To wit, this business with assigning blame for 9/11 is discussed here by CVE, and is essentially one of the two points to Moore's latest polemic. But both the commission and the film still stridently deny the existence of the fundamental point - as long as humans have human opponents in matters of war, they will be blindsided. And sometimes being blindsided is completely, totally, unalterably unavoidable.

This isn't to say that dereliction of duty gets a pass in my book, but rather that being taken by surprise is a fundamental, endemic part of warfare. We got snookered on 9/11. Will we get hit again? Yes. Is it avoidable? No. But what will be different is that this time countermeasures are thinkable. Will they be sufficient? No. Could they ever be sufficient? As long as folks like Moore go around with such great support and acclaim for their senseless blame-slinging, then the west in general, and the US in particular lack the intestinal fortitude to actually carry out the steps necessary to counter the threat.

But is this that bad? Well, in a really, really long view, no. Going back above to the bit about paradoxical logic and the culminating point of success, we can safely assume that we will continue to be hit until our countermeasures become sufficiently robust to counter that entire tactical mode. The big difference that 9/11 made, is that now we are aware that we are competing on this particular front.

Or, by way of tired analogy, December 7th, 1941 didn't spell the last naval defeat of the US in the Pacific by a long shot, but it notified the US that they were indeed in a naval war in the Pacific. And at the end of the day, the Japanese High Command was presented with an Out of Context Problem of their own: atomic weapons.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at June 22, 2004 05:25 PM

Retaliatiory Launches

Excellent post....let me ruminate on it for a bit.

Posted by: Rusty Shackleford at June 23, 2004 01:38 AM

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