War And Peace
A special report
Thursday, July 4, 2002
Fear has become part of our everyday lives. It''s reinforced every time we pick up a daily paper or switch on the news.
Because the terror threat is aimed at all of us, not as individuals but as Americans, it is up to our government to deal with it. President Bush''s response has been to declare a vaguely defined War on Terror-a military crusade which, he says, will last a lifetime.
In recent weeks, the president''s already hot rhetoric has escalated frighteningly. He now warns Iraq and America''s other unnamed enemies that first-strike nuclear annihilation may be imminent. For some of us, these words are more terrifying than the attacks of September 11.
Beginning with this issue, the Weekly will present a series of articles about local involvement and local responses to the War on Terror. This week, Andrew Scutro visits two prominent military strategists at the Naval Postgraduate School, and Sue Fishkoff profiles several longtime peace activists.
VirtualWorld War 07/04/02
According to a strategist at the Naval Postgraduate School, terrorism calls for a new type of warfare. But the Bush administration seems intent on fighting Gulf War II. By Andrew Scutro
They''re watching World War III quietly unfold from the second floor of Root Hall at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
Outside, on the campus, the grounds of the old Del Monte Hotel follow the gentle curves and leafy lines of a tranquil city park. Inside, the second floor corridor of Root Hall is long, straight and stark, home of the benign-sounding Defense Analysis Department. Some of America''s cutting edge war theorists work here.
Tacked to doors and bulletin boards along each wall are terror-war news clippings, political cartoons and insider stuff like the group shot of a scruffy, well-armed U.S. commando team in Afghanistan, a photo the likes of which maybe a handful of people have seen. In one dark end of the hall lurks the hollow husk of an air-launched sea mine, the Mark 65, designed to plug harbors and sink ships. It''s as big as a casket, with enough legroom to cradle 1,350 pounds of high explosives.
The professors here teach courses like "Psychological Warfare and Deception," and subjects such as counterinsurgency, information war, irregular war and ethnic conflict.
The department is sponsored by the Special Operations Command in Tampa, headquarters for a contemporary knighthood: Green Berets, Delta Force, Navy SEALs and Air Commandos-the anonymous soldiers who do Washington''s dirty work, often in the dark of night.
At mid-career, the leaders of this brotherhood come to Monterey, 35 to a class, to study their art and craft at NPS. These are the people who prosecute the ongoing terror war, a war that to the public eye is dim and fuzzy, terrifying and confusing.
To the eyes looking out from the second floor of Root Hall, it''s all very clear.
As of now, the war game has changed. For a time, the national mainland, "the homeland," has been comfortably impervious to threats of war from elsewhere. Throughout the Cold War, a fragile "peace" was kept by the knowledge of Mutually Assured Destruction. The U.S. position was essentially defensive: Attack us, and we will blow you off the map.
But now it is clear that the threat of a violent U.S. reaction is not enough to stop the nation''s new enemy. Provoked by September 11, America is on the warpath.
President George W. Bush''s administration is adopting a preemptive strike policy in which the U.S. will seek to knock out enemies first. Three weeks ago, at West Point''s graduation ceremony, Bush said, "In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action."
After the Cold War, the United States tried to be the world''s policeman. Now it will be the Terminator, a sophisticated terrorist-hunter of the meanest sort. This new understanding has appeared in the national press, and the guys on the second floor are in on the new plan. This will be an aggressive nation, unleashing a war machine that can crush its enemies wherever on earth they might be.
Exactly what that machine will look like is the source of an ongoing debate among defense thinkers. Confronted by a new, elusive and nearly invisible enemy, some call for new tactics and a reconfigured force that''s arranged more like a terrorist network than an armored division. But that fight challenges a military establishment that is still organized and equipped to fight enemies which no longer exist.
Iraq appears to be the first target. Whether or not it''s bluffing meant to spook Saddam Hussein, President Bush has been obviously threatening war with Iraq for many months. It''s in the paper every day. Though it hasn''t been shown that Saddam sponsors terrorism, his refusal to allow weapons inspectors into his country fuels suspicion he''s holding the kind of tools coveted by terrorists. That, apparently, is cause for action.
One plan outlines what some generals are said to call "Gulf War Lite," a scaled-down version of Operation Desert Storm, in which large tank formations will roll into Iraq like they did in 1991, with F-18s and B-52s overhead.
According to the Powell Doctrine, developed by then-General Colin Powell to avoid Vietnam-style entanglements, America does not commit ground forces unless it can pulverize the foe with overwhelming firepower and make a tidy, fully resolved exit. But a Gulf War do-over has two glaring flaws. Like Desert Storm, getting forces in place takes time, which forfeits surprise. Plus, Iraq is thought to have chemical, biological and maybe nuclear weapons, to which massed ground forces would be vulnerable. Throw in regional tension among other Arab countries, along with the Israeli tinderbox, and it''s a dicey proposition.
A professor on the second floor of Root Hall, John Arquilla, has stood up to argue for a less conventional choice.
Arquilla''s office is the typically cozy nook of an academic. It''s got a saggy couch for visitors, the requisite desk with insurmountable stacks of reports and copies, file cabinets and long shelves crammed with books. His shelves happen to be packed with books on every manner of war, both real and imagined.
A serious scholar with a measured if affable manner, Arquilla worked for Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf''s Central Command during Desert Storm. Besides being a professor in the Defense Analysis Department for the last 10 years, he works occasionally for the Rand Corporation, a sort of catchall think tank that''s been a brain trust to the national security apparatus dating back to 1946.
As a war scholar, Arquilla has written numerous books about the future of conflict, technology and the evolution of terrorism. He''s also read a few. In conversation, Arquilla will compare trends in modern warfare to the raiding tactics used in the Peloponnesian War.
He believes, in no uncertain terms, that we are in the midst of a world war.
"This is a hidden war," he says. "We don''t quite know who we''re up against. We don''t know what''s going to happen next. That''s why it''s hard to stay on guard all the time. Because it doesn''t look like a real war, and yet more Americans have been killed on our soil than at any time since the Civil War."
In his latest book, Networks and Netwars (published in November, 2001), Arquilla and his academic partner David Ronfeldt depict a future in which America''s enemies are not nations, but networks of people using available technology to communicate and coordinate for devastating surprise attacks.
Arquilla predicted years ago that in a world where no nation can match America''s global military might, enemies would make terrorism a form of warfare. Rather than attempt to build aircraft carriers and tank divisions to confront us, they would construct high-tech networks that utilized both the technology and the logic that fueled the late ''90s economic boom-all of them efficient, simple and cheap. Terrorist networks would be structured like the World Wide Web-decentralized, geared up and as efficient in their exchange of information as a global corporation.
They would then "ride the rails" of American technology and global connectivity right into America''s vulnerabilities.
Attacks would take the form of computer virus campaigns that cripple systems weekly, or infrastructure sabotage via remote, electronic manipulation of dams, power grids and emergency communication systems. Or worse. As has been reported, U.S. troops have discovered in Afghanistan evidence of plans for weapons of mass destruction and detailed infrastructure information about American cities.
In fact, to Arquilla''s dread, his long-held theories of network warfare have been proven correct.
Arquilla did not experience the shock felt almost universally on September 11. His reaction was analytical. He recalls that, at seeing the televised carnage, "My understanding was that the Great Netwar had begun, and that we were up against a network that would be very hard to defeat."
Arquilla''s ideas have two applications that could be relevant in the War on Terrorism. One calls for the U.S. terror-fighting apparatus to uproot terrorists as they use technology like the Internet to communicate. He hints at secret Web technology that can track network use by keystroke. Not only is it efficient, he says, it avoids the civilrights violations encumbering other government systems, such as Carnivore and Echelon, which act as huge electronic dragnets, snaring the innocent along with the evil.
Arquilla also advocates an offensive arm of the military that is highly mobile, hostile and lighting fast in its exchange of information.
"We''re going to have to learn to think like these networks," he says. "The best organizations of the future will think like a street gang, swarm like a soccer team and organize like Wal-Mart."
The U.S. has little hope of infiltrating terror cells with actual agents. Spy satellites can only do so much, and prevailing surveillance systems work like vacuum cleaners, not lasers. Arquilla proposes bridging the gap between human spies and technology. "We have to create a virtual human intelligence that''s Web- and net-based," he says. "We can do both well, and do good, because we can be less intrusive on people''s civil rights."
Just as the military lesson from early in the last century held that it takes a tank to fight a tank, Arquilla says, "It takes a network to fight a network." He points to some little-publicized successes late last year in which anti-terror agents in Singapore were able to use a network mentality to detect, surveil, then pounce on an Al Qaeda bomb plot in progress. Forty suspects were arrested.
"The biggest part of the war now, I think, in the wake of Afghanistan, is trying to track the distributed nodes of the Al Qaeda network in the 60 countries in which they operate around the world. And the goal here is less to destroy or capture as soon as we detect something, and more to monitor and to exploit. As we learn more about where these operatives are, we can swarm them all at once."
The notion of destroying a target by "swarming"like angry bees from multiple directions with lightweight and deadly assault teams is the second thrust of the network warfare idea.
The target might be an Al Qaeda operative communicating from a cybercafe in Sri Lanka, or terrorist troops moving across a ridge in Central Asia. Once detected they''re in the crosshairs, perhaps for study-then-destruction, or just destruction.
A version of this has already played out in Afghanistan, where special forces troops guided bombers with the help of unmanned spotter drones circling above. The sensor network, the drone, is wired to the shooter network for immediate results. Off-site commanders can watch the battle unfold as it happens.
It''s this new style of warfare Arquilla advocates that could make the large-scale air war and tank battles of the Persian Gulf War and World War II obsolete.
There is also an ethical and moral element to the swarming strategy. Like the network surveillance systems Arquilla advocates, a swarm attack focuses on specific targets and avoids the collateral damage which claims innocent civilian lives.
"The real debate about the next phase of the terror war is, if a diplomatic solution fails with regard to Iraq, what kind of military campaign will unfold?" he says. "I and some others of like mind believe the campaign should look more like Afghanistan and less like the last Gulf War. There are few risks in that, and the potential gains are really quite enormous."
Swarming is the exact opposite of the overwhelming-force fundamentals of the Powell Doctrine. Rather than precede an attack with the kind of massive, strategic-bombing missions that often inadvertently kill civilians, swarming is precise. The specificity reduces indiscriminate brutality.
"If we refight the Gulf War it would be a very bloody affair with strategic bombing and lots of fighting on the ground," he says. "We should move from Desert Storm to Desert Swarm."
The kind of futuristic ideas advocated by Arquilla had been embraced by retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing, who, until last week, served as President Bush''s special advisor on terrorism. Downing had been advocating for a swarm style of attack on Iraq, which reportedly conflicted with Pentagon generals who prefer the Powell Doctrine''s mass attack version. On Thursday, June 27, Downing resigned his post. (When he was head of Special Operations Command in the early ''90s, Downing was also in charge of the Defense Analysis Department-the second floor of Root Hall.)
Arquilla was angered and saddened when he heard the news that Downing was gone.
"I think it''s sad his voice won''t be heard in the high councils of the administration at this time," Arquilla says.
Directly next door to John Arquilla''s office is that of another professor, a former Green Beret colonel who''s seen this particular war up close.
Hy Rothstein spent March in Afghanistan after moving up to the second floor for the last six months. A square-jawed scholar warrior, it''s not hard to picture Rothstein toting a carbine, though these days he goes to work in loafers.
He graduated from West Point in 1974 with an engineering degree and became a paratrooper in the crack 82nd Airborne. He joined the Special Forces and went to El Salvador as a military advisor in the 1980s, then held various special forces commands and planning positions before retiring three years ago.
A Ph.D. candidate in international relations, he now teaches courses in covert operations, psychological warfare and combating terrorism. He also specializes in Consequence Management, a field he describes as a growth industry.
"How do you deal with the consequences of a weapon of mass destruction?" he says. "How do you react? What do you do? That''s something that''s becoming more important than ever before."
While Rothstein was in Afghanistan, he saw a battleground where very old methods and the newest techniques of war, such as satellite-guided bombs, are being used simultaneously.
"It''s almost medieval," he says. "There are mud castles that are scattered on the terrain, and in these mud castles there are people-all of whom possess weapons. Control of a particular piece of terrain is very much dependent on the range of their weapons. There are local strongmen who control their region by force. They have the power to do that. Some of these local chieftains have a vision of greater Afghanistan, others don''t. They''re violent. If they don''t like what someone else is doing, they''ll do something against that other person."
He ran into a lot of friends in Afghanistan, as special forces soldiers and the CIA got there first, ran the initial campaign and are still there training local forces and hunting Al Qaeda. With battles won by solo commandos calling in air strikes via robotic spyplanes, it''s an evolution of war to the kind of high-technology network approach Arquilla advocates from the adjacent office.
Rothstein says the actual combat has shifted from a conventional rout of the Taliban to an unconventional pursuit of Al Qaeda, who are believed to be dispersed in the mountains nearby. With 7,000 troops and an army corps headquarters on the ground, the U.S. expects to stay for some time.
Now Rothstein is watching for what Phase Two of the war will be. Obviously, it is likely to take place in Iraq, although the strategy is being debated.
Bush''s switch to a first-strike policy has massive consequences.
"With the right blend of force, I think Saddam Hussein can be toppled off his perch rather quickly," Rothstein says. "But that type of strategy is not easy; it''s not easy to come up with that plan. It really is an art.
"It''s dangerous to assume that template [used in Afghanistan] will succeed in other places. It may or it may not."
Rothstein, who has made war his life, sleeps well at night. He doesn''t toss and turn about a panic bomb being lit off in downtown San Francisco or viral sabotage of our electric power grid. He''s confident. While his neighbor Arquilla finds terrorism "the most important strategic threat in the world," Rothstein finds Al Qaeda a "nuisance."
He finds the prospect of terrorists successfully using a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon in the U.S. to be remote, a task too complex.
What Rothstein does worry about is telling his students the things they need to know to win. He takes an ultra-practical, if fatalistic, view.
"The only thing that keeps me up at night are thoughts of how I can teach better," he says. "I don''t fear very much. The worst thing that can happen is you die. And that''s not much. People die all the time. Just do what you gotta do."
Heading into the Fourth of July weekend, only about a third of Americans are confident the U.S. is winning the Terror War, according to a recent poll. It''s hard to know what to think when there looms in the background the dark thoughts that something might happen-that, as a ranking senator on the intelligence committee said recently, "They could hit us any day."
It''s acknowledged that Al Qaeda cells are likely imbedded throughout the country and more operatives reportedly have infiltrated this spring via container ship. (Arquilla, who saw the news report, notes that one container was found to be disturbingly well equipped.)
A huge part of the hidden war is psychological. Both sides are battling to control sympathies and emotions and to define the conflict as either a war of civilizations, or as President Bush says, a war for civilization. The stakes could not be higher.
What they''re doing on the second floor of Root Hall, at the Pentagon and elsewhere, is devising ways to turn that around. As Rothstein says, to change the "calculus," to both eliminate terrorists and force other enemies to rethink malicious plans.
How that will be done in Phase Two is still being debated. The sudden departure from the White House last week of Gen. Downing may signal that the more conventional Powell Doctrine-the doctrine of Big War embraced by those who have not accepted the nimbler network approach-have prevailed.
Downing''s resignation last week was very bad news to Arquilla. It fueled suspicions that the Bush administration is moving closer toward a Gulf War II, and away from confronting the widely dispersed terror network that actually attacked the country.
If the Bush administration continues down the path of a mass assault on Iraq, the consequences are proportionally larger than under the more nimble "swarming" approach Arquilla advocates.
"The decision to focus on states and not networks is troubling," Arquilla says. "If military action against Iraq is coming along, I''m concerned about the tendency to engage in strategic military thinking when we have alternatives that are less costly, less risky and more effective."
In a war in which so much remains invisible, what will become apparent in the coming days will be telling. The direction this war takes could not have higher stakes. The next move has global consequences.