Liberals have been cheering, albeit subtly, for the terrorists in the Middle East, especially since Osama bin Laden became the figurehead for Al Qaeda in the middle 1990s. While not quite praising him, some of the Left have used his organizational style to praise the effectiveness of a new type of conflict management, called “Netwar”. While the concept of Netwar is interesting and a valid innovation in some ways, it is not everything claimed for it, nor has Al Qaeda properly conducted a Netwar worthy of the name.
Netwar is not commonly understood outside of academia and think tanks, but in essence, Netwar is generally identified as a conflict managed through a decentralized command, bordering on diffused-authority. Netwar also involves the conditions of autonomous reaction, which enables “swarming”, an attack/defense action where all available forces converge where they are needed in effectively an instant response. The common interpretation by academics is usually that Netwar is more spontaneous than a defense can react to, and adapts to the enemy in such fluid motion to qualify as a significant force multiplier. The academics almost always make statements to the effect that governmental or military organizations (e.g. “state actors”) are unable to counter a functional Netwar effort. My contention, after examining real life conditions, is that Netwar is a sometimes-useful term for discussing tactics, but it should not be confused with strategic value, nor should bias be allowed to occlude significant facts from the discussion.
Since cheering for an organization which has tortured and murdered thousands of innocents, the academics shy away a bit from openly praising Al Qaeda, yet the implied respect for the terrorist group’s methods and structure is made evident by the way in which media and symposiums baldly claim that the group’s nature and almost egalitarian practices means that the Coalition forces cannot achieve their main objective, to wipe out Global Terrorism as a strategic threat. The bias in favor of the Left is further evidenced by studies of Netwar conflicts, such as the one by the RAND Corporation released in 2001; the report specifically pits the presumed ‘nonstate’ Netwar actors against an archaic and slow-responding 'Hierarchical State' actors; the report goes so far as to use the timid responses by the Clinton Administration as examples of contemporary American military abilities and postures. The Middle Eastern terrorists are favorably compared to such other Netwar cases as the 1999 “Direct Action Network” shutdown of the WTO conference, the actions of drug cartels in Colombia during the 1990s, and the rebels of East Timor in 1999. Such a one-sided and hasty assumption reflects the bias inherent in the practice, more than a little like judging a prize fight by only the first punch thrown. Arrogance has invalidated more than a few academics, and so it is here.
Netwar is a valid phenomenon to consider, but the issue should be seen in greater scope and better focus than the academics have been willing to consider up to now. For instance, the American military in Operation Desert Storm, especially the Armored forces, was a perfect example of Netwar well-designed and executed. Iraqi forces had far greater numbers, but the American tanks cooperated in seamless action, and their GPS-assisted navigation and communication not only avoided tank traps and bottlenecks, but also allowed U.S. forces to move rapidly and change plans on the fly; intercepted Iraqi communications released after the war showed disbelief that the Americans could move and adapt so fast as they did. And long before the term “swarming” was developed, AirLand doctrine taught on-scene commanders how to bring maximum force to bear on a selected target. It is a foolish mistake to compare modern American doctrine and training with any other nations, and a fatal one for a military commander opposing an American force. The mistakes which allowed Al Qaeda to survive and thrive prior to the 9/11 attacks were political, not military, and a matter of character much more than tactics.
In the time since the 9/11 attacks, the clear superiority of American Doctrine has been made evident by the results. Afghanistan is free from the Taliban, and women have voted there for the first time in that nation’s history. Saddam Hussein is sitting in a prison cell, on trial for some of his many atrocities. Uday and Qusay are quite dead, having failed to understand what it meant to be the focus of an American “swarm”. A number of infamous terrorists from recent history are also dead, including Abu Nidal and Carlos “The Jackal”. Most of Al Qaeda’s leadership is either dead or captured, including the noted and particularly vicious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, amongst whose personal effects are significant intelligence prizes, including significant evidence that Al Qaeda is in desperate straits. Obviously the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have been much better at Netwar than the academics ever suspected “state actors” could manage, but what of Al Qaeda? In their case, what the academics called Netwar turned out instead to be merely Roachwar.
Roaches are the bane of any homekeeper; as soon as you see one you know there are many more in hiding, and it’s very difficult to get rid of them all. And if you take down to that level, what roaches do appears to be a lot like Netwar. After all, what one roach knows all roaches know, their communication is instant and they have been “swarming” when they felt like it for thousands of years. But any individual roach is not all that hard to kill. And roaches, like Al Qaeda, are not really all that adaptable. And more to the point, no matter how many roaches you are going up against, if you are serious about the matter you certainly can control the problem, and while it takes a while and some serious effort and thinking, the critters can be eradicated. Al Qaeda is proving to be much the same; carriers of a serious (moral) disease and numerous, indefatigable in their appetite and possessing no mind comparable to a normal person, that you might reason with them. But in the end, the imitation is no match for the real thing, and no roach ends up as anything more than a dirty carcass. So also Al Qaeda, if we are resolute and support the men clearing the Middle East of their infestation.