America: Neck-deep in netwar, and losing

Noopolitik: An alternative way of politics raising beside hard power driven realpolitik. Noopolitiks rely on knowledge, networking and soft power instead of hard power.

From Bruce Sterling

Ten years ago, at the diplomatic height of the “Washington Consensus,” famed military futurists David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla wrote a buoyant assessment of the potential of the Internet to create a new politics, new diplomacy, and new military strategy highly confluent with and favorable toward American national interests.

They now reproduce this essay in full, and with a brand-new postscript. Their assessment? America blew its options so comprehensively, and is so rigidly bone-headed in grasping the new strategic realities, that the bad guys are winning.

From the abstract to the essay

Non–state actors — unfortunately, especially Al Qaeda and its affiliates — are using the Internet and other new media to practice noöpolitik more effectively than are state actors, such as the U.S. government. Whose story wins — the essence of noöpolitik — is at stake in the worldwide war of ideas.

Meanwhile, the US blunders on, deluded in the belief that this thing can be won solely by military power. It can’t. One of Ronfeldt and Arquilla’s seminal points, and one that has been proven true, is that 4GW (4th Generation Warfare) is not just military, it’s about who has the best “story” and who wins in the battle for minds and influence. In this, they say, the US falls far behind.

The problem is not that the US doesn’t have a a story, it’s that the actions of the US directly contradict the story.

But lately, due to assorted sorry matters this decade (some but not all involving the war in Iraq), leaders and publics around the world have become increasingly doubtful that America is deeply dedicated to the ideals and practices it professes. U.S. public diplomacy is on the defensive more than ever before.

Leftists might be startled to learn that, yes, highly influential military futurists would agree with them about the difference between what the US says and what the US does.

The key may well be revitalization of a deep sense that ideas matter, along with a better grasp of how ideas move people to think and act in strategic ways.

The point to which we keep returning is that noöpolitik is ultimately about whose story wins….

Al Qaeda and other such extremists who warp and twist the nonviolent precepts of a major religion to suit their violent ends are, to state the obvious, dangerous. That the Bushies et al have consistently and stupidly opposed them in the wrong way has only helped them gain power and influence.

So how do we turn this around, and use the net and networking to diminish their power?

  • DJ

    “Al Qaeda and other such extremists who warp and twist the nonviolent precepts of a major religion to suit their violent ends are, to state the obvious, dangerous.”

    Entirely true. But one of the points you don’t mention is that American foreign policy is often driven by a similarly twisted religion– Christianity coopted by nationalism. Historically there are two ways to counter such an abomination: secularism that supercedes all religion, and a spiritual revival strong enough to call people back to the roots of the coopted religion.

    Given the religious history of the U.S., secularism is unlikely to work. (Indeed, it has been tried and has the opposite effect.) Thus the only remaining option is a spiritual “revolution,” a call to return to the trachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

    Oh, there is a third option: destruction of the nation. Hopefully it won’t come to that.

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