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Our policy of endless war is haunted by three ghosts

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Not only does the US blindly and endlessly engage in war aboard, it is gobsmacked when things go awry and those ungrateful wretches in some damn country somewhere join the rebels or ISIS just because we blew up a hospital or a wedding party trying to make their country safe for democracy.

John Arquilla, a recognized expert in defense and national security, supports preemptive war and NSA wiretapping. However, he say, we are doing it wrong now as our war policy is haunted by three ghosts. These mistaken beliefs are 1) overwhelming force will always prevail, 2) air power can win the battle without need for troops on the ground and 3) killing terrorist leaders will kill their insurgencies.

Aside from having set the course for globally networked terrorism, Osama bin Laden has, with his death, done much to keep counterterrorist strategy firmly misdirected. For if Napoleon’s ghost encourages an over-reliance on sheer force, and Billy Mitchell’s spirit wails “No boots on the ground!” Osama bin Laden’s spectral presence deceives many around the world into thinking that the assassination of terrorist leaders can bring their organizations to the verge of strategic defeat.

Arquilla’s belief in mass surveillance as an effective tool is as mistaken as the belief air power alone can win wars, and for the same reason. To win, you need boots on the ground and boots (infiltrators and informants) in the terrorist cell.

Arquilla favors a network rather than hierarchical approach to combating terrorism.

He has developed the concept of netwar, or “swarm-tactics”, referring to the particular fighting-style of network-organised groups. Networked cells can share precise information on a need-to-know basis without a hierarchical structure. This gives them the ability to disperse and “swarm” in an extremely effective manner, as witnessed in the 9/11 attacks.

Arquilla has promoted the idea of adapting militaries from a hierarchical structure to a network structure, suggesting that a network military will be the most able to defeat terrorist networks. He also points to the Roman concept of organized legions defeating the previous military paradigm of the phalanx. Likewise, terrorist networks have evolved while older Cold War militaries hold on to antiquated paradigms.

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