Saturday, April 23, 2005

Compound Fever

Bill Lind has something to say regarding the current vigilante (or what you will) effort to keep illegal immigrants from crossing America's border with Mexico.

I don't so much wish to draw attention to Lind's praise of this per se (partly because my gut reaction is one of mild suspicion and partly because I don't know enough about this particular situation to judge whether he has got it right or, um, not. What I do quite like is this bit:

A common mistake that many analysts and commentators make is to think that Fourth Generation forces must replace the state or at least the government. A recent study issued by the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency by Max. G. Manwaring, illustrates this error. It says right up front, on page 2,

Although gangs and insurgents differ in terms of original motives and modes of operation, this linkage (between gangs and insurgents) infers that street gangs are a mutated form of urban insurgency. That is, these nonstate actors must eventually seize political power to guarantee the freedom of action and the commercial environment they want.

I would argue that, on the contrary, many Fourth Generation actors, not just gangs, will deliberately not take over the government or overturn the form of the state because they will benefit greatly by operating within the state, below the radar of the state’s armed forces. In effect, the hollowed-out sovereignty of the state is their best protection, especially against the armed forces of the United States or other outside powers. The current situation in Columbia provides an example. If the FARC or the drug lords took over the Columbian government, they would immediately make themselves subject to American attack or other action by the world community. Operating as they do, like viruses within the body of the state, they are protected by Columbia’s sovereignty.

I like Manwaring's work a lot and I don't believe that Lind in any way invalidates it. Lind's take on this particular issue has much to commend it, however. It's paradoxical and kinky. This is a Good Thing..


Blogger J. said...

Lind may have an interesting argument, after you get past that first paragraph and its remarkable racism. However, why associate every non-state actor with 4GW? isn't it the case that sometimes a thug is just a thug? Reading Hammes' "The Sling and The Stone," it would appear that all successful practioners of 4GW do indeed intend to replace the government. They just hide it well during the first two of three phases.

I would argue that Lind got it wrong here. Just because 4GW practictioners, thugs and criminals use the same tactics on the battlefield, i.e., low-tech scuffles rather than set battlepieces, doesn't make them all alike.

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Noel Maurer said...

This piece is ludicrous. Why did you link to it?

If the maras aren't strong enough to start offing opponents with impunity in El Salvador, which has had remarkable success in controlling its gang problem, where in the name of God does Lind get the idea that they can accomplish this in the United States?

After all, city governments in the United States have succeeded in controlling gang violence, often with ease.

So the assumption behind the premise is counter to fact. (Lind himself seems to realize this at the end, when he says that it would not be in a gang's self-interest to start killing people randomly, which implies that state authorities in the U.S. can swat them like the ... um ... street gang they are.)

But the piece is far worse than that.

Lind's "evidence" about MS-13's intentions comes from a Washington Times article. The only evidence in the article is Gilchrist's statement that "he has been told." There is no other evidence of this. Zip. Zero. Nada.

OK, the basic assumption (that gangs operate with impunity with the U.S.) is contrary to fact, and the factual premise (that the gang in question is even thinking about targeting the vigilante group in question) is just a rumor.

Which, of course, brings us to the definitional problem pointed out by the previous poster. Even if we grant Lind his factual lunacy, defining street gangs and organized crime as 4GW removes whatever use the 4GW concept might have had. All of a sudden, the Viet Cong and Al Capone become like things. Or, if you think that's unfair, FARC and Latino street gangs become like things. Uh ... I can see the similarities. What I fail to see is the usefulness of a definition of 4GW that fails to recognize the distinctions. As in, among other things, street gangs are very easily contained by a halfway organized state.

At which point we arrive at the epistemological problem, which is that Lind presents a completely non-falsifiable argument. If MS-13 goes after the Minutemen, it's war! But if MS-13 doesn't go after the Minutemen, then "that too may be an act of war, and a highly sophisticated one"!

In short, you linked to a confused piece written by someone who is utterly racist and quite possibly clinically paranoid. ("Suicidal insistence on open borders"?)

I suppose Lind must have some credibility among the strategic studies community, which greatly worries me.

I am at a loss as to why you would link to this fellow, rather than simply state the idea you find interesting, which is that 4GW actors might not want to seize control of the state.

I am at a further loss as to why you would couch your post with the words "I don't so much wish to draw attention to Lind's praise of this per se (partly because my gut reaction is one of mild suspicion and partly because I don't know enough about this particular situation to judge whether he has got it right or, um, not."

I guess it's irony, right? Man, I hope so. But it's damn subtle irony about a total crank, even if there is a substantive idea buried down there under the quite hideous logical, factual, and ideological dreck.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

Noel, I link to it because if you get an idea from somewhere else it's considered good form to give a heads up to the fact.

What would not be good form would be for me to read a Bill Lind article, think, "Hey! He makes a point about the notion that sustaining a situation in which the state's monopoly on violence and control is impaired but in which the government itself retains in place as an impotent husk may actually be more advantageous than overthrow! I like that!" and then to simply come on here and go, "Hey guys! Here's a crazy idea! Maybe in some instances sustaining a situation in which the state's monopoly on violence and control is impaired but in which the government itself retains in place as an impotent husk may actually be more advantageous than overthrow!"

As for Lind's personal politics, I don't feel that this is the forum for me to comment in depth beyond noting that I don't consider myself a soulmate. I reject the notion that he is a "crank", I believe that his track record in the military sphere points away from this, though I don't claim and never have claimed that he is right in all things, or even a majority of things (equally extreme recent pronouncements include the assertion that the US may be forcibly driven out of Iraq by a conventional land invasion by the Iranians).

On the street gangs as warfare issue, if you'd care to check out an earlier post of mine on defining war, you'll note that I do not, in fact, support the idea of, say, Al Capone as 4GWarrior. Quite the opposite in fact. What I DO think has potential merit is the notion that actual 4GW practitioners may find their interests better served by never QUITE overthrowing the state and that paradoxically, "victory" in overthrow may actually prove to be one step past the culminating point of victory.

I'm very sorry that this has apparently sent your blood pressure sky high.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Noel Maurer said...


Fair enough. I certainly agree with your point about attribution. I also understand that you don't define street gangs as 4GW actors, and I apologize if it seemed that I conflated Lind's definition with yours. My surprise, in fact, came from my understanding that you did not truck with Lind's implicit definition of 4GW practioners.

I also cop to having my blood pressure go through the roof. I do appreciate your understanding on that point. After all, it's a bit odd for a patriotic descendent of wetbacks to be told that his ancestors were an existential threat to the United States.

Still, the substantive problem with Lind's argument holds: as he presents it, it is a tautology.

If I may ask you, then, how does one make wheat from Lind's chaff? What testable hypotheses emerge from the idea that 4GW actors might prefer to stop short of control of the state? Alternatively, would a 4G warrior with victory conditions short of control of the state still fit your definition of a 4G warrior?

7:23 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

If I may interject, and I am sure Anthony has better answers/examples, but perhaps Al Qaeda/bin Laden in Khartoum and Afghanistan are examples that might offer good case studies for testing hypotheses relating to the benefits of having de facto political autonomy (authority?) without the messy business of de jure international legal status. For instance:

HH1 Autonomous linked networks prefer to retain flexibility and not become burdened with responsibilities that detract from their standard MOs.

HH2 Autonomous linked networks prefer de facto legal status over de jure status because such de jue status would assign them responsibilities that might undercut their stated IO goals about their promises and objectives.

Of course, I am of the opinion that the whole 4GW moniker is so broad that it is almost useless. However, I have already posted on this here, so I won't waste more keystrokes.

10:03 AM  
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Normal Blood Pressure

10:43 PM  

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