� Infinity, Hell & Hope | Main | Race & SATs (Only) Again �

November 03, 2003

James Bovard & The Cell War

I watched Brian Lamb interview James Bovard last evening on C-SPAN. The publication of Bovard's volume 'Terrorism and Tyranny' proves that we are just beyond the Monday morning armchair and into geek-level analysis. Lamb attempted quite deliberately to show that Bovard is not a crank. Bovard would fit righteously into the blogosphere. So I give him the benefit of the doubt. The good news is that we will inevitably parse Administration words and discover how lousy a manager Bush is. The bad news is that Bovard is no ideologue, which means that he is likely to shift the debate and thinking of non-partisan intellectuals off of the superhighway and into the backroads, and so I've been inspired once again to look at the big picture.

Cells vs States
Bovard's stellar point is obvious once considered, which is that 'state sponsored terrorism' has generally been interpreted because of GWB's rhetoric, as the compliticy of governments in the harboring of terrorist cells, training camps & notorious individuals. And so a War on Terror invites nations to broad police actions in cooperation with other nations. The problem with this is that nations themselves - governments partake in terrorist operations. If you look at the sum total of people killed by 'terrorists' by the generally accepted definition, Bovard counts about 8000 since 2001. But if you choose to examine the death toll attributable to duly constituted governments (OK governments recognized by the UN) you easily exceed that figure by two orders of magnitude. Declaring war on states which are not direct threats to America in the traditional 'national interest' sense is a use of disproportionate force if you are really trying to get the cells. In the name of a war on terrorism, you have problems throwing the state out with the terrorist bathwater. And so, according to Bovard, shaky with Afghanistan and dead wrong on Iraq.

Right after nine-eleven, I was saying that the most important development in WW3 is the breakdown of the nation-state. That was premature. I do believe Powell made a good case that nations matter, tangential to the Bush Administration definition of state-sponsored terrorism, and now Bovard seconds the motion. Yet the police actions of America's War on Terror tracks closely to a paranoia about cell-based organization and asymmetrical war. The targets are smaller and more mobile than we expected, and the collateral damage is significant. As I weighed in for patience on the ground war against Iraq, I was quite willing to support an international police action against cells. I'll now refer to the latter as the Cell War as distinct from the State Wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.

The civil libertarian in me is getting riled over the notion (because it's so damned secret, nobody has facts) that the Bush Administration is desparate to hide the collateral damage in the Cell War. Bovard chronicles many sources .

Whose Intelligence?
It is also rather difficult at this point, while political accusations go back and forth, to determine how adept any international coaltion might be at gathering and employing the kind of intelligence that would abet the purposes of the Cell War. Who can be trusted? Chalabi? Tenet? The Pakistani intelligence service? The BBC? Wilson? If no reasonable intelligence can be gathered, and that which is gathered cannot be wisely used and shared amongst an internation coalition in the Cell War, then what do we do about terror?

Part of me wants to say that we react only. If Al-Aksa and Hamas, Al Qaeda and Hezb'Allah and the rest of the secret cells are responsible for only 8000 deaths, what say we give it the same press as malaria?

On the other hand, if we open up intelligence and enable citizens to work within the current system, rather than grant extraordinary powers to the same alphabet soup of government agencies who have left us vulnerable in the first place, we might find a better way to fight at the level at which cells operate. Posses of vigilantes might do a better job than armies. Our 52 card deck of Iraqi's Most Wanted proved that rather handily. No PATRIOT Act necessary.

Look Forward
The problem with parsing words on Bush's justifications is that geopolitically astute people should already have had their own reasons for toppling or appeasing Saddam Hussein. This is why the Bush Lied crowd is so annoying to me. Of course he lied, he's a democratic politician and half-assed emperor. Who are you to merit his full disclosure? The more important question is whether or not he is using the resources of the Empire properly. We won't know that until the new Iraq is done. It still makes sense to debate and discuss the proper direction and implementation of the Wars on Terror, but debating the ways and means of disclosure? Understand that it was inevitable the George W. Bush would not run a tight ship under these kind of crisis conditions, that we all should have known when he was elected. The bottom line is how much does our pacification of the Middle East cost and is it worth it? That doesn't seem to be the kind of debate we are hearing.

Posted by mbowen at November 3, 2003 02:21 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Hi, I just wanted to let you know that you're one of the most interesting reads on the Web. Thanks!

I would give Bush some credit for a relatively tight ship in some ways-- can you think of a president in recent history (i.e. without the collaboration of the press) who's had a more disciplined public face?

Operationally, they also seem to be able to change course when it's clear something isn't working. Of course, this is a reactive style of management that can fail easily when an extreme three standard deviation event makes its inevitable appearance.

I must ask: what exactly would a tighter ship look like, and would it be agile enough to handle these rough seas?

Posted by: Christopher at November 3, 2003 03:35 PM

This matter on outing Valerie Plame is a complete and total outrage. I find it inexcuseable.

Bush himself is not leading. The neoconservatives, which which I happen to agree in terms of geopolitical direction are setting the Bush agenda. These are not his ideas nor has he shown that he can put his foot down and bring people in line.

The conflict between the State Department, The Pentagon and the Intelligence services is a complete clusterfuck, and one of the results is that Colin Powell has gone from being an American Hero to a non-entity as the result of working for GWBush.

Wesley Clarke is a serious challenge because Bush cannot and will not reign in Rumsfeld whose take-no-prisoners approach to policy has inflamed a great deal of emnity at the Pentagon. So it turns out that his skinny army won the battle of Baghdad but is losing the war. American soldiers hate working for Rumsfeld.

George Bush does not speak to the American people often enough or with enough detail, and his press secretaries have made a mockery of whitehouse communications.

I don't think anyone can honestly say that the Office of Homeland Security is a good idea. When is the last time we've heard anything from Tom Ridge?

This is a White House totally dedicated to political spin control, and they're not fooling anyone of substance. We are not hearing strong ideas from the top worthy of the executive branch. We're just seeing power grabs and interagency fighting. I think GWBush is a nice guy, but he hasn't earned that chair.

Posted by: Cobb at November 3, 2003 04:15 PM