Logo

Terror and Consent: The Wars for The 21st Century

September 17, 2008

Terror and Consent: The Wars for The 21st Century

Introduction

JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to welcome our members and guests and to thank you for joining us.

This morning our speaker is Philip Bobbitt, who has combined his experience in law, his service at the White House under three different administrations, and his expertise as a military strategist in a remarkable new book, Terror and Consent: The Wars for the 21st Century.

In it he encourages us to rethink our ideas about the war on terror, the nature of a state, and international law. This book builds on his previous publication, The Shield of Achilles, which Professor Bobbitt presented here at the Carnegie Council in 2003. However, unlike his earlier work, which dealt with the past, Terror and Consent focuses on the present and our future challenges.

It has been said that intellectual confusion is at the bottom of every historical crisis. After reading Professor Bobbitt's book, I believe he might agree with this idea, in that it too suggests that our understanding of terrorism and the meaning of the war on terror are mired in confusion, which, if not addressed, could be the beginning of an ongoing historical crisis.

In Terror and Consent our guest writes that "almost every widely held idea we currently entertain about 21st century terrorism and its relationship to the wars against terror is wrong and must be thoroughly rethought." 
The main thrust of his book is concerned with the idea of the transformation of the state, the nation-states that dominated the 20th century and based their legitimacy on a promise to improve the material welfare of its citizens, to the turn today, which is towards a market-state that promises to maximize the opportunity of the people.

Professor Bobbitt argues that, just as the nature of states has changed over time, so has the form of terrorism. He tells us that the terrorists whom you and I are most familiar with were associated with a nation-state; they were national in their focus in their agenda. Today, the nation-states are morphing into market-states, and from this has emerged a new form of terrorism, which is global, decentralized, and relies on outsourcing in the same way as does the market-state.

Terrorists of this era, such as al-Qaeda, want to bring down the established state and enthrone another form of authority by turning its adversaries from states of consent into states of terror. The question is whether the change will result in triumph of the states of consent, which are law-abiding, respect human rights, and fight for the safety of its citizens, or states of terror that are designed to create psychological conditions that prevent the workings of a free society.

As we prepare to elect a new president, we have an important opportunity to assess once again what this war on terrorism means and how it should be fought. There is a need for new ideas from people who are not afraid to take a stand or rethink the status quo. Accordingly, I invite you to join me in listening to one such person, who has thought about these ideas and believes we must change the way we evaluate public policy if we want to be successful in our struggle against terrorism both at home and abroad.

Please give a very warm welcome to one of the most thoughtful strategic thinkers on the state of our modern world, Philip Bobbitt. Thank you for joining us.


Remarks

PHILIP BOBBITT: That was such a good summary, I don't know there's much left for me to say.

But I can give you one thing that wasn't in that summary. I want to read to you from a poem by Czeslaw Milosz, which begins this book. It's called "Poem for the End of the Century." When I first read it, I was working on this manuscript. I asked myself: when does a century end?

I started working on this, I suppose, right about the beginning of the 21st century. But in the book that I had written before, which was the occasion of my last visit here, I argued that the 20th century began in 1914 and ended in 1990. This is a thesis argued by other historians too, but for somewhat different purposes.

Since 1990, almost 20 years ago, since that century ended with the end of this very long conflict between parliamentary states, fascist states, and communist states, three ideas have captured the popular imagination.

The first is associated with Francis Fukuyama, called The End of History. He was quite unfairly taxed with this title, and it is a common thing to hear people patronize the idea by saying "of course history doesn't end." But he knew that. What he meant was that the dynamic of history in the 20th century, which was the product of this conflict between fascism, communism, and parliamentarianism, had ended with a consensus in 1990 in the Charter of Paris that free markets, free societies, human rights, and representative government were the legitimate paradigm for states. This was widely agreed upon, and this consensus would last as far as the eye could see. The title The End of History, as many of you probably know, comes from Hegel, who thought the same thing in 1802 after the battle of Jena.

This idea of the global consensus around one paradigmatic constitutional form ran straight into the conflict in Bosnia, and it became clear that the consensus was not itself sufficient to permit—or even to treat—this huge crisis right in the center of Europe.

That idea, the idea of a consensus, dominated the administration of George H.W. Bush. It animated many of his great achievements, and it ultimately led to some of his greatest disappointments.

A second idea, another one that I'm sure you're familiar with, is called the virtuous circle of globalization. It's usually associated with The New York Times writer Tom Friedman. It holds that there is a kind of virtuous cycle: freer societies will liberate women, who will have smaller families and contribute to the prosperity of the society; greater prosperity can lead to greater trade; freer trade will lead to even greater prosperity; which will lead to even freer societies that will make even freer markets which will be even wealthier for their societies, and so on.

This idea dominated the presidency of Bill Clinton. You could say that it was the shiny side of globalization, because as an idea it, too, came up against a very harsh reality on September 11, 2001, and we saw a dark side of globalization.

The third idea, again that I think everyone in this room knows well, is called the clash of civilizations, after an article written by Sam Huntington in Foreign Affairs magazine and later a short book of that name. It held that in the future conflicts would not be ideological, as they had been in the century preceding, but they would be cultural instead, and that the fault lines of conflict would lie upon the geographic edges of the great national cultures—the Hindu culture, the Slavic Orthodox culture, the Euro-North American culture, and so on.

This seemed to speak to a Bosnian crisis, because in Bosnia you had three historic cultures, all abrading each other, almost as if they were cultural plate tectonics—the Slavic Orthodox tradition, the Renaissance Roman Catholic, and the Muslim traditions—all coming together in a fault line that ran somewhere near Sarajevo.

It also seemed to say something about September the 11th, because the atrocities committed by the terrorists on that day seemed to have arisen from a Muslim culture, an Islamic culture, really quite foreign to the culture they attacked. This idea has dominated the presidency of George W. Bush. But it, too, I think has run aground in Iraq, where the principal conflict is not really between different cultures but within Islamic culture, between Sunni and Shia.

So when did the century end? If it ended in 1990, as I argued in my last book, has a new one begun? I don't know if I can answer that. You'd have to answer it, because you are living in that period, that pause, after an old century has died but before new ideas have begun to really characterize a new century. I think all three of these remarkable theories are really more typical of an interregnum than of the future to come.

Now let me read you that passage I promised you:

A Poem For The End Of The Century
By Czeslaw Milosz

When everything was fine
And the notion of sin had vanished
And the earth was ready
In universal peace
To consume and rejoice
Without creeds and utopias,

I, for unknown reasons,
Surrounded by the books
Of prophets and theologians,
Of philosophers, poets,
Searched for an answer,
Scowling, grimacing,
Waking up at night, muttering at dawn.

What oppressed me so much
Was a bit shameful.
Talking of it aloud
Would show neither tact nor prudence.
It might even seem an outrage
Against the health of mankind.

Well, what was keeping me up at night? What was I muttering about? What I was so worried about was the growing conviction that the ideas that had served us so well in the 20th century that it ended that century in triumph for the parliamentary democracies were going to cripple us in the 21st century.

Now, we all know how failure can lead to success—we think of that as education, although a kind of expensive one—but we don't often appreciate how success can lead to failure. I thought that our successes would put a dead hand around our thinking and that this grip would keep us from coming up with new ideas to cope with some novel problems.

You heard in the introduction this rather bold claim, but I'll repeat it now, that I believe that practically every widely held idea we have about 21st century terrorism and its relationship to warfare is wrong and must be thoroughly rethought; that the looming combination of a global terrorist network, weapons of mass destruction, and the increasing vulnerability of enormous numbers of civilians requires something like a basic transformation of our thinking.

I'm going to conduct a thought experiment with you. This is how I ask you to play along. I'm going to list a number of propositions about 21st century terrorism and wars on terror that I think are wrong but that I believe to be widely and tenaciously held. I want you to ask yourself if you don't believe some or most of these, or maybe even all of them. There are a couple dozen of them. I got a letter from my old tutor at Oxford. He said, "I only believe nine."

Well, let me try these out on you.

    • That terrorism has always been with us, and though its weapons may change, it will remain fundamentally the same: a weapon of the weak seeking to wrest political control from the strong.

 

    • That because terrorism will always be with us, there can be no victory in a war against terror.

 

    • That the very notion of a war on terror is, at best, a public relations locution, like the war on drugs or the war on crime or the war on poverty, because there is no enemy state against which such a war can be waged. Do most of you believe that? One of my students sent me a headline from a satirical magazine that said: "Flash from War on Drugs: Drugs win."

 

    • That terrorism cannot be an enemy, the subject of warfare, because it is a method, a technique, even if a sinister one.

 

    • That because terrorism is a technique, not an ideology, it is therefore always a means to an end.

 

    • That because terrorism is only a means to an end, that is, it is not distinguished by the pursuit of any particular goal—the Provos and the Loyalists in Northern Ireland are both terrorists, but they pursue diametrically opposed political goals—because of this, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. I'm sure everyone has heard that.

 

    • That the root causes of terrorism lie in conditions of poverty, economic exploitation, the neglect of health and education, and in religious indoctrination. It can and should be reversed before wars against terror can be won.

 

    • That terrorism is best treated as a problem of crime, by law enforcement officials, and not as a matter for defense departments, which are inappropriate when there are no battlefield lines or armies to confront.

 

    • But if, on the other hand, terrorism is a matter of warfare, there can be no place for the Geneva Conventions or for the rules of law in war that we have developed for conventional conflicts.

 

    • That good intelligence will provide the decisive key to defeating terrorism.

 

    • That terrorism will not flourish in democracies.

 

    • That the more power governments gain, the weaker the civil liberties that belong to our public. You know, the sort of idea that there is a spectrum with a needle, and that in times of emergency the powers of the state are greater and our freedoms are less, and then we hope in times of tranquility the needle goes back the other way. I think most people believe that.

 

    • That terrorists win if they are able to force governments to enhance their powers of surveillance, detention, and information collection, or if the public significantly modifies its everyday behavior. You've heard this, right?

       

      Anybody here know who Bridget Jones is, Bridget Jones's Diary? It's a column in a London newspaper by a young woman in London making her way in life. She has a number of issues with her mother. She thinks her mother drinks too much and that her mother shops too much.

       

      In one of the columns I read, the mother comes home one afternoon. She has clearly been drinking, and she comes with all these shopping bags. She has been out with her friends. Bridget Jones just gives her a very hard time. Finally, the mother says, "Darling, don't you realize, if we give up our habits the terrorists win?"

       

    • That 21st century terrorism is the result of a clash of international cultures, when medieval and backward worlds confront modern secular societies.

 

    • That the threat from terrorist attacks comes from the states of the Middle East or failed states in remote regions.

 

    • That if the jihadist movements are defeated, the threat of terror will subside, at least for the foreseeable future.

 

    • That terrorists will be confined to low-technology weapons, at least for the foreseeable future.

 

    • That because they will be so confined, terrorists therefore pose, at most, a modest threat to the stability of modern societies.

 

    • That we should address this threat by concentrating on the likeliest assaults, rather than spending and organizing for the remote possibility that terrorists could pull off a truly catastrophic attack.

 

    • That the forces required to deal with terrorists are completely unrelated to the forces required to deal with natural disasters, like tsunamis, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes.

 

    • And, above all, that the wars against terror really have nothing to do with such state-centric activities as ethnic cleansings and genocide or the proliferation and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction; or nonpolitical events, like power outages, catastrophic weather, epidemics, and other civilian catastrophes.

 

Is there anyone here this morning who does not hold at least some of these assumptions? I'd be very surprised if there were.

The notion I'll talk about this morning—and I'll try to be brief because I want to answer questions—is one I think that is most widely held, and that is that the idea of a war on terror really doesn't make any sense. It's just kind of nonsense. But it is an overblown metaphor.

Why do we believe this? Well, let me read you something from the editor of El País. He says:

Here in Spain we don't feel as if we're at war, because we aren't, and neither are the inhabitants of the United States, however vociferously many Americans may insist that they are. War is something else entirely. No normal life can be led while war is going on. The Madrillenos who lived through the siege of their city from 1936-1939 know this very well. The survivors of the daily bombardments of London during the Second World War know it too. And those Americans who participated in that war, they know it also.

There is no war against terrorism. There can be no such thing against an enemy that remains dormant most of the time and is almost never visible. It's simply another of life's inevitable troubles. All we can do as we continue to combat it is repeat Cervantes's famous phrase, 'paciencia y barajar,' 'have patience and keep shuffling the cards.'

And there are other characteristics of conventional warfare, besides its mass destruction and disruption of life, that a war against terror seems to lack. This is a paragraph written by a friend of mine in the Times Literary Supplement. He's a British columnist. He says: "There is no war on terror. There's no enemy army. There are no negotiations, no treaties, and no peace. Terrorism is a nuisance, a weapon perhaps, a technique of conflict as old as war itself."

And it is true that at present the most notable fact about the years that followed the attacks on September the 11th is how little violence and death has ensued. Despite the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, there were fewer deaths in warfare in those years than at any time during the wars of the 20th century. Just to give you a benchmark, during the Second World War, on average, 16,000 persons died every single day of the conflict.

Furthermore, despite a murderous campaign against Americans that began long before 2001, the number of Americans killed by international terrorists since the late 1960s is about the same as the number who died during that period from allergic reactions to peanuts or who were hit by lightning strikes.

Despite a series of terrorist attacks on London, Madrid, Casablanca, New York City, and many other cities, since 9/11 the total number of persons worldwide who have been killed by a terrorist is about the same number as those who drowned in bathtubs in the United States during that period.

You could say that it would be neurotic to worry about terrorism as a threat to the constitutional order of a state as rich and as stable as ours.

And not just warfare and violence, but also the character of terrorism itself seems inappropriate for treatment as a crime. One hears this a lot in Europe. I live about half the year abroad. My friends say that American reactions to the attacks on 9/11 are typical of a society that's unaccustomed to terrorism, that they are indicative of panic and overreaction, but in societies like Britain, Spain, that have lived with these conditions before, we act more sensibly and more wisely.

If you look at all three elements of a war on terror—its relationship to warfare, to terrorism, even the idea of victory—a war on terror looks a little absurd.

Now, I want to take about ten minutes or less, eight minutes, and see if I can persuade you that it's not quite so absurd.

First, let's look at terrorism. When Europeans say they know terrorism, what they mean is they know the IRA, they know the PKK, they know the FLN, they know the PLO, they know ETA. They know 20th-century nation-state national liberation terrorism. They think this will continue unchanged, that terrorism itself has never changed. Which is strange for Europeans to say, because there were notable terrorists in the 16th century. In 1527 they sacked Rome, they kept the Pope prisoner for months in Castello San Angelo. Erasmus wrote to Sadoleto that "not just a city, but a whole world has been destroyed." These were Lutheran mercenaries.

But in 1576 they were Catholic mercenaries who sacked Antwerp, who occupied the city for four months. Hitherto it was the financial center of Europe. It never recovered. The Catholic mercenaries sacked a city they thought was a center for libertines, Protestants, and Jews. They pillaged the city. They conducted atrocities for weeks on end. The city got down to something like 10,000 persons.

These were terrorist acts—not because I say so, but because their contemporaries saw them as such.

People who say they know terrorism never talk about the terrorists of the 17th century, the pirates of the Caribbean, pirates who sacked Panama, pirates who destroyed some 600 settlements, that stopped hundreds and hundreds of caravans and ships bound from the Spanish Main. They set up their own kingdoms. They had written constitutions. They referred to "pirate sovereignty." They had rules for sharing booty. They thought of themselves as independent kingdoms and had their own judges and conducted trials. But they were terrorists, and they were known to be terrorists by those states in Europe who gave them birth, who used them against their adversaries, and who, when the constitutional order changed in the next century, destroyed them.

That century saw colonial states, what are sometimes called territorial states. But they, too, had their own terrorists. In this country, they used Native Americans, the Algonquin and the Iroquois, who conducted savage massacres against colonists.

The Barbary pirates were a notable feature of 18th century terrorism. The second largest item in John Adams's budget was the money we paid to buy off the Barbary pirates.

People who say they know terrorism don't even talk about 19nth century terrorists, the anarchists. Anarchists killed an American president, they killed a Spanish king, they killed a French president, they killed a tsar, they killed an archduke and archduchess of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with some effect on World War I—perhaps not the effect we sometimes think, but certainly an effect as to timing.

Well, what happened to them? Where are they? At the time of the Spanish Civil War, they were the largest party in Spain. Did we defeat the anarchists? No. Terrorists are a symptom, a sort of epiphenomenon of the constitutional order. When the imperial order that gave birth to terrorists vanished and was replaced by 20th-century industrial nation-states, they vanished too. Communism and fascism grew up in its place, movements that are characteristic of the 20th-century nation-state.

I believe that we are in the midst of a transition ourselves to a state that is more devolved, more decentralized, that outsources and privatizes, that is networked and is global. And I don't mean to confine this to the United States. Perhaps the most adventurous form of this order is the European Union. But China also is becoming this kind of state.

It is called by some a market-state. Market-states will produce market-state terrorism, and it will be global, networked, devolved, decentralized, and it will outsource and privatize its activities. We have one example so far, al-Qaeda. But there is nothing about Islam and nothing about states that means this is the only one or the last one.

Now, that's terrorism. Let me talk just for a second about warfare.

Terrorism is becoming more warlike. For five centuries, it has taken a state to destroy another state. Every state knew that only its own people, perhaps, or some other state could remove it from power. Only states could keep armies in the field, sometimes for decades, master complex logistics, develop new military technologies, build complex alliances. Individuals and small groups couldn't do that then, and they can't now. That won't last for long.

I've just come from a meeting in Washington with a group talking about capabilities and intentions, the famous formula for states in conflict, and I heard a wonderful paper by a young professor on how to assess capabilities. I said at the end of it, "It's a beautifully done paper, but it will soon be completely irrelevant, because the capabilities assessments we are accustomed to depend upon just a few states being able to have the resources, the technology, the technocracy, to build complex weapons, and that is rapidly changing. In rooms no larger than these rooms, and with many fewer people than are at this meeting, we'll be able to develop quite lethal weapons, biological weapons.

If you go online right now, you can download the genome for the 1918 flu. That killed 15 million people in the early part of the century. You can download the genome for smallpox. Someone has even put the genome for polio up.

At the same time that terrorism is becoming more warlike, war is becoming more a matter of terror. Most of you will recall when General Franks said that the end of major combat operations had occurred in Iraq. At that time, we had lost 146 men and women. We've lost more than 4,000 since he said that. Well, was he lying to us? No, he wasn't lying. He really believed it, because he had a certain picture of warfare, a warfare that could be summed up as: you occupy the enemy territory, you remove its political leadership, you capture its capital, the enemy army surrenders and disbands. It's over, right? No, it's not right, is it? That's a picture of warfare that is more characteristic of 20th-century warfare than 21st-century warfare.

A good friend of mine wrote a lovely book, called The Next Attack. It begins by saying "classical wars have a beginning and an end." So I called him up. I said, "What are you thinking about? Are you talking about the wars of the Persian Empire, the wars of the Romans against the barbarians, the Greek city-state wars?" But it turned out he was thinking about World War II, because that's the way we think of war. It was sort of a classical paradigm for him.

The last thing I'll ask you to think about in a slightly oblique way is victory. Surely, if you're not experts in warfare or wreaking terror, you probably have some ideas about victory—bunting everywhere, pretty girls kissed, sailors' caps thrown in the air. Victory is like that. On VE Day, the crowds between Number 10 Downing Street and Westminster were so thick along Whitehall that the press of the persons lifted Churchill's automobile off its wheels.

In this city, a young woman—no one ever found out her name—climbed a platform on Fifth Avenue and sang the Doxology. The crowds were just hushed.

That's victory. Well, that's the way we think of victory. And it's not entirely contemporary. It seems that London at the time of Waterloo was very much the same.

But victory is not victory celebrations. A lot of my students, maybe a lot of you, think that victory is a matter of defeating the enemy. But it's not. That's football or chess. That's not warfare. Victory at war is a matter of achieving the war aim. You can kill a lot of the enemy and still fail to achieve the war aim, and you can also lose a great many battles and still achieve victory.

Most of my students think that we won the War of 1812. I tell them if your principal city is occupied and your capital is burned, you're not winning. But we did achieve the war aim.

The war against terror will not be a war for natural resources or for any particular ideology or for territory. It will be a war to protect civilians, to protect human choice. That means that it is a war aim that must be pursued again every morning. It will be won by things that don't happen to our people and to civilians abroad. That will place considerable demands on our leadership and on our public.

I am going to stop here and just say one last thing. I think we should step back and ask ourselves the most basic questions. For example, do we know how to win a war in terror? The way we knew it, we had to do to defeat the fascists in World War II. Are we developing strategic doctrines of the kind we had to develop in the 1950s to win the Cold War, once the possession of nuclear weapons became mutual with our adversaries? Are we creating new international institutions and reforming international law the way we did at the end of World War I? I think the answer to those questions is dismayingly evident.

We may think that we are in a race against al-Qaeda, but in fact we are in a race against time. One cannot say precisely how long we have. But I think we can agree that we must urgently begin this fundamental rethinking.

Thank you. I'll be happy to take questions.


Questions and Answers

QUESTION: I have been given the curious assignment—I think next week—of chairing a symposium at which the featured speaker will be Ahmadinejad. You know something about Iran. I've never been to Iran. What would be the most appropriate question for me to put to him?

PHILIP BOBBITT:
I teach at Columbia, so we have some recent experience with the speaker. What's the venue?

QUESTIONER: It's sponsored by the World Conference of Religion and Peace, which is an ecumenical sponsorship of Mennonites, Jews, Quakers, a lot of historic so-called peace churches. It will be focused on the role of religion.

PHILIP BOBBITT: I suppose I would ask why it is that the number of Christians and Jews and Sunnis have so plummeted in Iran since the revolution in 1979.

QUESTION: It was an absolutely fascinating talk. I just wondered whether you could say a few words more about how you are conceptualizing the phenomenon of terrorism, because from the perspective of a moral philosopher, when we think about what unifies the phenomenon of terrorism, we'd say something like it's an intentional attack on civilians or noncombatants for some kind of strategic end.

If you think about it that way, terrorism is not necessarily limited to nonstate actors, to mercenaries, pirates, and so forth, and it's not necessarily even limited to the enemy or the "other." We might think, for example, about the bombing of Germany by Britain or the atomic attacks on Japan. So I wondered if you could just give more of a sense of how you are unifying and conceptualizing this term.

PHILIP BOBBITT: I think your concept is very much like my own. I don't think that terrorism is limited to terrorists. I prefer the idea that there is a war on terror. And states are often not just sponsors of terrorists; they often commit acts of terror. Our own state has committed acts of terror. I think no state is free of that, although some states I think are actually terror states and depend upon a domestic environment of terror. I think all states often in war commit acts of terror, and these are war crimes.

What I would add to your definition is the purpose of the act, because I don't think that all states are equally vulnerable to the charge. I would say something like terrorism is the use of violence against civilians to prevent them from what they would otherwise lawfully do. So if you are trying to assassinate Heydrich, you are in a very different position than if you're trying to assassinate Jack Kennedy. I want to draw those lines.

I'm very comfortable defending the idea that one man's terrorist is not another man's freedom fighter, and that it is more than simply a technique, although the elements of the technique are crucial definitional elements.

QUESTION:
Your students are extremely fortunate to have you provoking them and causing them to think on a regular basis. Thank you for this morning and what you are doing for us.

Now, there's a whole other area you didn't have a chance to get into, and that is the implications of a war on terror as we have in our country now on civilian life and how governments use that fear of terrorism as a way to impose greater controls on the society, greater surveillance, limiting privacy, and the human rights, and all these wonderful things that you described as part of the end of history.

PHILIP BOBBITT: Let me say two things about that.

First of all, if we use the term "war" for this conflict, we bring with that term all sorts of habits of rhetoric and discourse that are very unappealing. You become a warmonger, you become a coward, you become a fascist, you become a peacenik; you're an appeaser, you're a gun nut. It makes our rhetoric violent and it makes people who oppose the policies of any current administration look as though they're opposing the well-being of the country. It elevates the status of terrorists to that of warriors, and not simply as criminals. It's not an unmixed bargain.

But I think it is important to look this straight in the face, clearly, and see it for what it is, and not to believe that by changing the name we can change reality. I don't call this "warfare" because I think that it will be beneficial to do so, although I do believe that on balance. I call it "warfare" because that's what it is. That's what war is becoming. Therefore, I don't think we have the option of saying, "If I withhold the name, I can somehow transform the reality."

The second point I'd make is that it is not quite right to assume, as I think we all do, that enhanced government powers, whether they are surveillance or detention or whatever, means a diminishment of our civil rights and civil liberties. I know that sounds like a very paradoxical thing to say. If you'll just bear with me a second, I'll try to retrieve my tarnished reputation.

I teach constitutional law, and I have for a very long time. When our Constitution was originally proposed to our people, a group of men and women, known as the Federalists—not quite the same as the party by that name—fanned out across the state conventions to try to persuade our people to ratify the new Constitution. They said: "We need a more powerful government."

Our public, including the governor of this state, Governor Clinton, said, "Wait just a minute. We just got rid of a powerful government. We don't want a powerful government. We want our rights. That's what the Revolution was fought for."

The Federalists said—Madison, Hamilton, Washington—"You need a more powerful government to protect your rights. Britain, France, Spain—all have toeholds on this continent. Someday they'll look at this fragile society clinging to this coastline and they will covet it."

"Last year," they said, "under the Articles of the Confederation, the Continental Congress raised $624 in revenue." It was that fact that propelled Washington out of Mount Vernon and set the process in motion from Annapolis to Philadelphia.

So it is possible to increase the powers of government and increase your rights, because time does not stand still. Your rights are not what they are now. Your rights are what they will be if you do not increase the powers of government. Sometimes they will be less and sometimes they will be more. But that's the key question.

I'll give you one other example. In 1980, polls seemed to indicate that President Carter was winning the election against Governor Reagan, up until the first debate. Professionals, of whom I am not one, think the turning point was at a particular moment in the debate when Governor Reagan turned away from President Carter and away from the commentator, the interlocutor, looked straight into the camera, and said, "I just want to ask the American people one thing: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

It was a devastating question. We had double-digit inflation, double-digit interest rates; our personnel were being held hostage in Teheran; we had double-digit unemployment. Certainly we weren't better than we were four years ago. It was such a powerful question that it has been used in every first debate since then against the incumbent.

But if you think about it for a minute, it's complete nonsense. Nothing stays the same for four years. The question isn't "Were you better off then than you are now?" It's "Are you better off now than you would be now if Gerald Ford had had to cope with the Iranian revolution, oil shock prices, and so on?"

We don't think this way, but that's the way to think. And I could give you countless other examples.

In the war on terror, you have to ask yourself, not "Am I better off now than I was when I didn't have to take my shoes off and I didn't have to put my hair gel in a plastic bag?"—my cigar cutter is always being confiscated, much to my irritation—but "Am I better off now than I would be now if we had been less vigilant against these terrorists?" That's a slightly more difficult question, because it asks you to think about a hypothetical that has never in fact occurred.

QUESTION: Professor Bobbitt, it was such a thought-provoking and really quietly challenging presentation that you made. I wonder if I understand something correctly. You are really a Hegelian, and history is this Hegelian dialectic, and it continuously changes. Fukuyama wasn't wrong at the moment and Friedman wasn't wrong at his moment and Sam Huntington wasn't wrong. They are all attempts to perceive a reality. I guess you are introducing the next reality that you think is crucial for us to understand. Is that correct?

PHILIP BOBBITT:
Well, that's partly right. I do think that these wonderful writers were describing part of a phenomenon, and it was a phenomenon of change—that states are stable for long periods, more than a century, and then they undergo periods of rapid turbulence and change, and that we are in such a period now.

But I don't think of what I'm writing as sort of the "fourth theory" or the "fourth big idea." I think what I do is just shift the focus a bit. I think all these guys were writing about states. They didn't say so. In the talk about constitutions up until the last ten years, we seldom even mentioned states. In this country, a state was Virginia or Maryland.

But now the state, I think, is reasserting itself as a topic for conversation. What I have been writing about for quite some time is the evolution of the state. I think each of these guys was describing part of that evolution. So I don't think their approach was—nor did it try to be—a fundamental approach.

QUESTION: I'd like to go back to the issue of surveillance. It's my impression that the problem with the government getting more power is people don't trust it. They don't know with specificity if this power is going to give them more force in fighting terrorism. When you have a background of torture in Iraq and lack of confidence, I think that's the issue. If people really understood that we couldn't catch terrorist A with the rules we have, but with these rules we could, to make it simple, I think there would be a different feeling about it.

PHILIP BOBBITT: I just wish I had had the wit to record what you just said. I endorse every word of it. The key issue is trust and it will become even more important in the future, because we will have to take steps in advance of attacks. If they don't happen and the leaders are not trusted, then legitimacy and support for those actions will just fade away.

I'll give you one example. President Clinton has said many times that his biggest regret in his eight years in office was not having done anything in Rwanda. All right. Well, suppose he had. What would have happened? Well, some American troops would have been killed—that happens in any operation, however modest. Innocent Rwandan civilians would have been killed—not on purpose, but that happens too. When a huge war machine goes into a Third World country, people are going to get killed who just simply didn't know where to go, who got caught in the cross-fire, who were used as hostages by the enemy, in all sorts of ways.

The president would not have had congressional authorization to go in. He would have had to go on his own authority. And there was no appetite for an African intervention after Somalia in this country. I'm sure that Bob Barr or someone would have introduced a resolution of impeachment, whether it would have been adopted or not.

And what would the president have said? He would have said, "I saved 800,000 lives." And who would have believed him? "Oh, come on now, 800,000, with machetes? Come now, Mr. President, really. Maybe 8,000." Because if you are talking about precluding an event that doesn't happen, people are understandably quite skeptical.

The second point you made, which is we must go to the public and draw a clear bright line between changes in the statutory and regulatory apparatus that governs surveillance and what it means in terms of thwarting terrorist attacks, that's very hard. You don't want your enemy to know how you collect against them. You don't want them to find out where you're getting your information, often from someone in their circle, or with a technology that it is easy for them to thwart. There are disclosures in the newspapers that have completely ended some very valuable collections we had, because I think—I hope anyway— that the collection was not well understood by the reporter. You are right.

QUESTION:
It's always very illuminating and thought-provoking to read you and to listen to you. You, of course, very rightly said that the Britons and Spaniards, for instance, understood that it will not be possible to wage a war on terrorism on IRA and on ETA. But these cases are particular, in that there was an alternative to war, namely political solutions, and hopefully we have a solid political solution with IRA. I think personally that we will have one one day with ETA. We also sort of have—it's not ready yet, but we have politically started with negotiations for a long time with the PLO. It is no longer an organization that we think of waging a war against. Hamas, we will see.

But we have a very different story, I think, with Afghanistan and with al-Qaeda, because there I think we have a war. We are waging a war against some rather specific forces, even if they are well hidden sometimes. Sweden is participating in a NATO-led force with 500 soldiers, and we are only doing that because the whole operation is legitimized by the United Nations Security Council, which is I think very important if you wage wars on terrorists.

So I wonder whether one shouldn't distinguish a little bit when you have terrorist organizations. Can you negotiate with them politically, or is it absolutely impossible? Then you have perhaps to resort to some kind of international action, legitimized by the Security Council ideally. That is the first question.

The second one is religion. You mentioned religion. You mentioned how in Bosnia before the war it was between the Orthodox Jews and the Christians. I was posted a long time in Spain. What most impressed me in the Spanish history were the long times during the medieval ages when you had this symbiosis between Abraham's three religions, which created cities unparalleled in riches and culture and science—Toledo, Granada, Cordoba, and Seville.

How important is religion? How important is it that we try to live side by side with Islam? Will Islam ever come our way again? Could we find some middle ground?

Thank you.

PHILIP BOBBITT: As to your two points, the first point seems to me a very cute sort of hand-off, picking up the distinction between 20th-century nation-state terrorists who want a part of the political pie. They want to sit at the table as legitimate participants in the political process, or they want to secede and be the sole party at the top. What they want is a share of the political power of the state that they are attacking. That leads to all sorts of differences, from that kind of paradigm to market-state terrorism.

I'll just give you one example. When an atrocity occurs, nation-state terrorists all claim credit. There are usually four or five groups all fighting among themselves, fighting against the colonial power or the state power. They each want to say "We did it" so they can seize the leadership of the movement.

When a market-state terror group attacks, they very often do not claim credit, if "credit" is the right word. You will all recall that bin Laden said after 9/11 he had nothing to do with it but he would help us find the true perpetrator. There were many people in Europe who bought this and who said, "How can we accuse bin Laden until we've had a proper trial, with evidence and so on?" So I buy the distinction and I endorse it.

As to your second point about religion, I personally think that if every jihadist became a Presbyterian tomorrow, we would have the problem that I discuss in my book. This is about us. It's about vulnerability. It's about the dispersion of technology and the increasing vulnerability of networks and cities.

It is by no means confined to Islam. Islam is a global movement, and so it is not surprising that the first global network of terrorists might come from a religion. Fair enough. But there is nothing about this phenomenon that limits it to religions.

I will say that the most important development, it seems to me, in the war against al-Qaeda has been the backlash by Sunnis against al-Qaeda. This is not something we engineered, nothing we can take credit for, but it is something we have tried, I hope, to support and to exploit.

QUESTION: There have been two events recently that raise questions about whether your paradigm of the 21st century isn't really a paradigm of the first decade of the 21st century, namely, the Russian invasion of Georgia and last night's nationalization of AIG, which is probably the largest nationalization of any company in the history of the world. Now, maybe those two events are simply aberrations, and when we're past those we will be worrying more and more about terrorism, and our countries will be more and more market-states.

But if that is not the case, if in fact the Georgia invasion and the nationalization of AIG are indications of what may be happening in the future, may we not be seeing a reversion back to the 18th century in the case of statecraft and the 19th and 20th centuries in the case of nations and the economies of nations?

PHILIP BOBBITT: Of course that's a very acute and dramatic observation. Let me respond this way. I don't think that the two examples are in the same category.

I think that the Russian invasion of Georgia is, just as you say, a 20th-century assertion of Russian nationhood. It was quite interesting that they handed out passports to then say they could protect the human rights of the people that they were allegedly protecting.

Whereas the funding of AIG, it seems to me, is quite a market-state phenomenon, not a nation-state phenomenon. I'll tell you why I say that. In the 20th century, the constitutional order of nation-states had this compact: "Give us power and we will improve your material well-being." States owned wireless companies, they owned television networks, they owned airlines, they owned cable networks, they owned power generation, they operated coal mines, steel factories, and so on. The states saw the market as their adversary. It was the state's job to tame the market and to, where it was thought the market failed, step in and provide the goods that the market would provide.

Market-states do not see markets as their enemy. On the contrary, they see markets as their ally. If they want to increase the wealth of the society, they think they can do it by lowering taxes and doing regulating, because they know that the market allocates pricing more efficiently than states, and therefore you ought to get a more efficient and a wealthier outcome.

In the AIG example, it seems to me, Washington is stepping in not to run markets but to protect markets, to try and protect all those other operators—hedge funds and banks and so on—who thought they were insured by AIG. So that seems to me a different thing.

But whether I am right or wrong about that, I will just make this last point. That is that nothing is a smooth continuum progressing, sort of Macaulay-like, from triumph to triumph. The evolution of constitutional orders is something that occurs over decades. We are just beginning. So we will have two steps forward, one step back. But a state that confines itself in the 21st century to nation-state practices is doomed.

JOANNE MYERS:
Thank you very much for a very full morning. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Read MoreRead Less