Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Monday, January 30, 2006

The False Paradise of Military Technology

Ralph Peters writes in NRO today the many problems with the current revolution in military thinking in the U.S. Two points struck me as particularly prescient.

First among these is his take on what a future military conflict with China would likely entail; and as he points out, some of the greatest threats aren't those we most often consider:

Even in preparing for "big wars," we refuse to take the enemy into account. Increasingly, our military is designed for breathtaking sprints, yet a war with China--were one forced upon us by events--would be a miserable, long march. For all the rhetoric expended and the innumerable wargames played, the best metaphor for a serious struggle with Beijing--perhaps of Homeric length--comes from that inexhaustible little book, Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, with its pathetic image of a Western gunboat lobbing shells uselessly into a continent.

Given the comprehensive commitment and devastation required to defeat strategically and structurally weaker enemies such as Japan and Germany, how dare we pretend that we could drive China to sue for peace by fighting a well-mannered war with a small military whose shallow stocks of ammunition would be drained swiftly and could not be replaced in meaningful quantities? Would we try Shock and Awe, Part II, over Beijing, hoping to convince China's leaders to surrender at the sight of our special effects? Or would our quantitative incompetence soon force us onto the defensive?

We must be realistic about the military requirements of a war with China, but we also need to grasp that, for such an enemy, the military sphere would be only one field of warfare--and not the decisive one. What would it take to create an atmosphere of defeat in a sprawling nation of over one billion people? A ruthless economic blockade, on the seas, in the air, and on land, would be an essential component of any serious war plan, but the Chinese capability for sheer endurance might surprise us. Could we win against China without inflicting extensive devastation on Chinese cities? Would even that be enough? Without mirror-imaging again, can we identify any incentive China's leaders would have to surrender?

The Chinese version of the counterrevolution in military affairs puts less stress on a head-to-head military confrontation (although that matters, of course) and more on defeating the nation behind our military. Despite the importance Beijing attaches to a strong military, China won't fall into the trap that snared the Soviets--the attempt to compete with our military expenditures. Why fight battles you'll lose, when you can wage war directly against the American population by attacking its digital and physical infrastructure, its confidence and morale? In a war of mutual suffering, which population would be better equipped, practically and psychologically, to endure massive power outages, food-chain disruptions, the obliteration of databases, and even epidemic disease?

Plenty of Americans are tougher than we're credited with being, but what about the now-decisive intelligentsia? What about those conditioned to levels of comfort unimaginable to the generation that fought World War II (or even Vietnam)? Would 21st-century suburban Americans accept rationing without protests? Whenever I encounter Chinese abroad I am astonished by their chauvinism. Their confidence is reminiscent of Americans' a half century ago. Should we pretend that Chinese opinion-makers, such as they are, would feel inclined to attack their government as our journalists attack Washington? A war with China would be a massive contest of wills, and China might need to break the will of only a tiny fraction of our population. It only takes a few hundred men and women in Washington to decide that a war is lost.

As for our military technologies, how, exactly, would an F/A-22 destroy the Chinese will to endure and prevail? How would it counteract a hostile media? If we should worry about any strategic differences with China, they are the greater simplicity and robustness of China's less developed (hence, less fragile) infrastructure, and a greater will to win in Beijing. No matter how well our military might perform, sufficient pain inflicted on the American people could lead a weak national leadership to a capitulation thinly disguised as a compromise. Addicted to trade with China, many in America's business community would push for a rapid end to any conflict, no matter the cost to our nation as a whole. (When Chinese fighters forced down a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft on Hainan Island several years ago, American-business lobbyists rushed to Capitol Hill to plead for patience with China--they had no interest in our aircrew or our national good.)

The Chinese know they cannot defeat our military. So they intend to circumvent it, as surely as Islamist terrorists seek to do, if in more complex ways. For example, China's navy cannot guarantee its merchant vessels access to sea lanes in the Indian Ocean--routes that carry the oil on which modern China runs. So Beijing is working to build a web of formal and informal client relationships in the region that would deny the U.S. Navy port facilities, challenge the United States in global and regional forums, and secure alternate routes and sources of supply. China's next great strategic initiative is going to be an attempt to woo India, the region's key power, away from a closer relationship with the United States. Beijing may fail, but its strategists are thinking in terms of the out-years, while our horizon barely reaches from one Quadrennial Defense Review to the next.

Even in Latin America, China labors to develop capabilities to frustrate American purposes, weaken hemispheric ties, and divert our strategic resources during a Sino-American crisis. We dream of knock-out blows, while Beijing prepares the death of a thousand cuts. The Chinese are the ultimate heirs of B.H. Liddell Hart and his indirect approach: They would have difficulty conquering Taiwan militarily, but believe they could push us into an asymmetrical defeat through economic, diplomatic, and media campaigns in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Latin America--while crippling the lifestyle of America's citizens.

It's become another cliché to observe how much of our manufacturing capability has moved to China while we tolerate, at our own business community's behest, Beijing's cynical undervaluation of its currency. If you don't think this matters, try to go a single week without buying or using a product made in China. A conflict with Beijing might be lost on the empty shelves of Wal-Mart. Indeed, Beijing's most effective international allies are American corporations. In the Second World War we famously converted our consumer industries into producers of wartime materiel. Will a future president find himself trapped by our defense industry's inability to produce consumer goods in wartime?

A war with China would be a total war, waged in spheres where our military is legally forbidden to engage, from data banks to shopping malls. How many readers of this magazine have participated in a wargame that addressed crippling consumer shortages as a conflict with China dragged on for years? Instead, we obsess about the fate of a pair of aircraft carriers. For that matter, how about a scenario that realistically portrayed the global media as siding overwhelmingly with China? The metastasizing power of the media is a true strategic revolution of our time--one to which our narrow revolution in military affairs has no reply.

Oh, by the way: Could we win a war with China without killing hundreds of millions of Chinese?

Secondly, his point of view on the threat posed by false realities and the anti-American vitriol which is constantly and quickly spread through the world-wide media is worth considering and I believe very close to today's reality:

Many of us have struggled to grasp the unreasonable, even fanatical anti-Americanism in the global media--including the hostility in many news outlets and entertainment forums here at home. How can educated men and women, whether they speak Arabic, Spanish, French, or English, condemn America's every move, while glossing over the abuses of dictators and the savagery of terrorists? Why is America blamed even when American involvement is minimal or even nonexistent? How has the most beneficial great power in history been transformed by the international media into a villain of relentless malevolence?

There's a straightforward answer: In their secular way, the world's media elites are as unable to accept the reality confronting them as are Islamist fundamentalists. They hate the world in which they are forced to live, and America has shaped that world.
It isn't that the American-wrought world is so very bad for the global intelligentsia: The freedom they exploit to condemn the United States has been won, preserved, and expanded by American sacrifices and America's example. The problem is that they wanted a different world, the utopia promised by socialist and Marxist theorists, an impossible heaven on earth that captured their imagination as surely as visions of paradise enrapture suicide bombers.
The global media may skew secular, but that doesn't protect them against alternative forms of faith. Europeans, for example, have discarded a belief in God as beneath their sophistication--yet they still need a Satan to explain their own failures, just as their ancestors required devils to explain why the milk soured or the herd sickened. Today, America has replaced the horned, cloven-footed Lucifer of Europe's past; behind their smug assumption of superiority, contemporary Europeans are as superstitious and irrational as any of their ancestors: They simply believe in other demons.

One of the most perverse aspects of anti-Americanism in the global media and among the international intelligentsia is that it's presented as a progressive, liberal movement, when it's bitterly reactionary, a spiteful, elitist revolt against the empowerment of the common man and woman (the core ethos of the United States). Despite their outward differences, intellectuals are the logical allies of Islamist extremists--who are equally opposed to social progress and mass freedom. Of course, the terrorists have the comfort of religious faith, while the global intelligentsia, faced with the death of Marxism and the triumph of capitalism, has only its rage.

Human beings are hard-wired for faith. Deprived of a god, they seek an alternative creed. For a time, nationalism, socialism, Marxism, and a number of other-isms appeared to have a chance of working--as long as secular intellectuals rejected the evidence of Stalin's crimes or Mao's savagery (much as they overlook the brutalities of Islamist terrorists today). The intellectuals who staff the global media experienced the American-made destruction of their secular belief systems, slowly during the Cold War, then jarringly from 1989 to 1991. The experience has been as disorienting and infuriating to them as if we had proved to Muslim fanatics that their god does not exist.

America's triumph shames the Middle East and Europe alike, and has long dented the pride of Latin America. But the brotherhood of Islamist terrorists and the tribe of global intellectuals who dominate the media are the two groups who feel the most fury toward America. The terrorists dream of a paradise beyond the grave; intellectuals fantasized about utopias on earth. Neither can stomach the practical success of the American way of life, with its insistence on individual performance and its resistance to unearned privilege. For the Islamists, America's power threatens the promises of their faith. For world-intellectuals, America is the murderer of their most precious fantasies.

Is it any wonder that these two superficially different groups have drifted into collusion?
The suicide bomber may be the weapon of genius of our time, but the crucial new strategic factor is the rise of a global information culture that pretends to reflect reality, but in fact creates it. Iraq is only the most flagrant example of the disconnect between empirical reality and the redesigned, politically inflected alternative reality delivered by the media. This phenomenon matters far more than the profiteers of the revolution in military affairs can accept--the global information sphere is now a decisive battleground. Image and idea are as powerful as the finest military technologies.

We have reached the point (as evidenced by the first battle of Falluja) where the global media can overturn the verdict of the battlefield. We will not be defeated by suicide bombers in Iraq, but a chance remains that the international media may defeat us. Engaged with enemies to our front, we try to ignore the enemies at our back--enemies at whom we cannot return fire. Indeed, if anything must be profoundly reevaluated, it's our handling of the media in wartime. We have no obligation to open our accounts to proven enemies, yet we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by platitudes.

This doesn't mean that all of the media are evil or dishonest. It means we need to have the common sense and courage to discriminate between media outlets that attempt to report fairly (and don't compromise wartime secrets) and those whose track records demonstrate their hostility to our national purposes or their outright support for terrorists.

We got it right in World War II, but today we cannot count on patriotism among journalists, let alone their acceptance of censorship boards. Our own reporters pretend to be "citizens of the world" with "higher loyalties," and many view patriotism as decidedly down-market. Obsessed with defending their privileges, they refuse to accept that they also have responsibilities as citizens. But after journalistic irresponsibility kills a sufficient number of Americans, reality will force us to question the media's claim that "the public has a right to know" every secret our government holds in wartime.

The media may constitute the decisive element in the global counterrevolution in military affairs, and the video camera--that insatiable accomplice of the terrorist--the cheap negation of our military technology. (And beware the growing capability of digital technology to create American "atrocities" from scratch.) We are proud of our ability to put steel precisely on target anywhere in the world, but guided bombs don't work against faith or an unchallenged flood of lies. We have fallen in love with wind-up dolls and forgotten the preeminence of the soul.

We need to break the mental chains that bind us to a technology-über-alles dream of warfare--a fantasy as absurd and dated as the Marxist dreams of Europe's intellectuals. Certainly, military technologies have their place and can provide our troops with useful tools. But technologies are not paramount. In warfare, flesh and blood are still the supreme currency. And strength of will remains the ultimate weapon. Welcome to the counterrevolution.

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