Monday, April 14, 2008

Niall Ferguson on Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent

"Gunsight Fixed on Terrorist"
Christoph Niemann

On Sunday this past weekend, I read Niall Ferguson's review of Philip Bobbitt's recently published book on Islamist (and other) terrorism, Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century (Knopf, 2008). The review, "Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent: Rethinking the future on fighting terror," can be read online in the International Herald Tribune (April 11, 2008).

Ferguson, a rather credentialled guy himself ("a professor at Harvard University, a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford") tells us just how credentialled Bobbitt is:
Philip Bobbitt . . . divides his time among Austin, Texas; New York, where he teaches law at Columbia; and London, where he has lectured in war studies . . . . Bobbitt was an associate counsel to President Jimmy Carter, legal counsel to the Senate's Iran-Contra committee and a senior director on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. ("Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, para. 2 and 4)
I wonder what Bobbitt does in Austin . . . oh, he's at UT's School of Law. Okay, well, at any rate, from some of those biographical details, one would expect to encounter a liberal Democrat (and maybe one does), but whatever his politics, he certainly sounds like a maverick thinker insofar as Ferguson accurately describes Bobbitt's views:
Bush's instinct was not wrong. In this war, we do need pre-emptive detention of suspected terrorists; we do need a significant increase of surveillance, particularly of electronic communications; we do need, in some circumstances, to use coercive techniques (short of torture) to elicit information from terrorists. ("Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, para. 13)
Hmmm . . . I'll have to read this book myself to see Bobbitt's specific arguments.

Now, if you're thinking that you've heard of this guy Bobbitt . . . somewhere . . . as was I, then Ferguson will remind you:
In his last book, "The Shield of Achilles" (2002), Bobbitt advanced a bold argument about the history of international relations since the time of the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). His central argument was that, in the aftermath of the Cold War, the traditional post-Westphalian ideal of the sovereign nation-state had become obsolescent. In the increasingly borderless world we associate with globalization, something new was emerging, which Bobbitt called (and continues to call) the "market-state." ("Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, para. 5)
As a trained historian who hangs around with political scientists, I'm certainly familiar with the argument, if not the author, of this earlier book. Perhaps my friend poli-sci friend at Yonsei University, Myongsob Kim (Kim Myong Sob), has even cited it for one of our co-authored papers, for we do note the decline of the "post-Westphalian . . . sovereign nation-state."

So, what is this new "market-state" up against in our post-post-Westphalian world? Ferguson explains Bobbitt's view:
Bobbitt's central premise is that today's Islamic terrorist network, is like a distorted mirror image of the [post-]post-Westphalian market-state: decentralized, privatized, outsourced and in some measure divorced from territorial sovereignty. The terrorists are at once parasitical on, and at the same time hostile toward, the globalized economy, the Internet and the technological revolution in military affairs. Just as the 14th-century plagues were unintended consequences of increased trade and urbanization, so terrorism is a negative externality of our borderless world.

The Black Death was, of course, a natural disaster. Al Qaeda is different. Its members seek to undermine the market-state by turning its own technological achievements against it in a protracted worldwide war, the ultimate goal of which is to create a Shariah-based "terror-state" in the form of a new caliphate. Osama bin Laden and his confederates want to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Precisely because of the nature of the market-state, as well as the actions of rogue nation-states, the key components and knowledge are very close to being available to them. ("Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, para. 8-9)
This sounds like an excellent book to read before embarking on a course that I may be teaching at Yonsei University next fall that I've tentatively titled "Multiculturalism in Europe: Political Implications" and described as follows:
In his book Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, Robert Kagan argues that Europeans believe that "Europe is turning away from power . . . [and] moving . . . into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation . . . . a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Immanuel kant's 'perpetual peace'" (page 3). But is Europe's self-perception realistic, or merely self-delusion? European integration has drawn into the EU a collection of distinct nations, each with its own unique culture, making the EU a genuinely multicultural political entity. These various nations, however, largely share the same civilizational identity, as Samuel Huntington (Clash of Civilizations) would observe and RĂ©mi Brague (Eccentric Civilization) would seek to define. Yet, continuing, large-scale immigration from various parts of the world may be introducing a more radical version of multiculturalism as communities with other than Western civilizational identities begin to emerge and to practice, if not outright demand, cultural autonomy. Do these emerging communities pose political difficulties for the European paradise of peace? Are the Paris riots a harbinger of multicultural -- perhaps even civilizational -- conflict to come? This course will focus upon these and related questions.
Bobbitt's arguments about the direction that history seems to be taking as it leads us toward the future are worth knowing about for a course that intends to look carefully at the post-post-Westphalian Europe of self-effaced nation states.

Some intellectuals have seen in this decline of the nation-state a shift of power from the Atlantic -- the Western-centered age of "Atlantic man" -- to someplace further East as Asia rises in power and influence, but not Bobbitt:
Philip Bobbitt . . . is Homo atlanticus redux . . . . His new book, "Terror and Consent," is in many ways a manifesto for a new Atlanticism, not just a reassertion but a reinvention of the dominant role of the trans-Atlantic alliance. ("Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, para. 8-9)
Seeing how that turns out will be interesting, but meanwhile, I think that I'll have to read this book.

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At 9:47 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Not that the study of Islam, Islamist, or terrorism as defined by Jihad isn't important, but the effects of drug cartels and huge gangs, internal and external of the US are more horrendous. I know many American don't deal or acknowledge that this is happening, they are satisfied that the "war on drugs" is taking care of it. There are not 4 or 5 people or a crowd being destroyed by a suicide bomber. It is the murder daily of our youth, one by one. The drugs brought guns to neighborhoods and a certain culture with it. In some neighborhoods drugs have brought day to day terror, with the likes of gangs, such as La Familia. The cartels now are expanding there production to include methamphetamines. With more drug to move in the market, more lives are at stake. Columbia's government and judicial system could hardly function at one time, due to the assassinations by the drug cartels(sometime in the guise of revolutionaries). Is this any different than Iraq?

Now that I'm done with my rant, it is scary to think that to fight terrorism, no communication will be private and that warrants will disappear. Some experts don't realized that the gangs that are in Federal prisons can run their operations from there, without the use of cell phone, faxes, or computers. Their networks rely on people and their minds ability to memorize. Do the FEDs think the Islamist are not as smart?

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I hadn't realized that conditions are so bad, Hathor. I guess that I'm sheltered by living in relatively peaceful Seoul.

When I lived on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley, just across the street from where Oakland's city limits started, I saw the consequences of the crack wars and heard gunshots at night -- twice in front of the house where I lived. So, I knew that times were terrible then. Apparently, conditions have grown even worse.

Drugs and terrorism intersect, for some Islamists see no moral problem about dealing in drugs for the 'infidels' to use, and some terrorist groups have links to Latin American gangs.

Possibly, Bobbitt has some things to say about this, for he doesn't talk only about Islamism, apparently.

Jeffery Hodges

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