What does Newt Gingrich have in common with two accomplished nuclear strategists?
Philip Bobbitt has served in national security positions in the US Senate and the Clinton administration. He teaches constitutional law at the University of Texas and strategy at Oxford. At a recent Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, Bobbitt discussed the future of terrorism and the state. One of his recurring refrains was the need for states to "stockpile laws" just as they might stockpile vaccines in the instance of biological attack, except the laws would provide for actions the government might legally take to restore itself, or to defend itself and the country, in the aftermath of an attack using weapons of mass destruction. Bobbitt is releasing a new book, discussing terrorism and the evolution of the state, early next year.
Bobbitt is not alone in these concerns. Fred Ikle, a former undersecretary of defense for policy in the Reagan Administration, and a former head of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, has penned a work called Annihilation From Within, warning of the dangers posed by catastrophic terror attacks. He too concludes that the United States must begin to inoculate itself against such attacks:
[When a nation is attacked from within,] the surviving military and civilian leadership in the attacked country, as well as governments of other nations, will find themselves in a world without guideposts. The lessons of military history will be of no avail. Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War, the outpourings of modern think tanks, and everything in between will all be useless in the shattering new situation. Because of the transforming novelty of such an attack, new national security concepts must be developed well before the onslaught occurs . . .
How should this new challenge be approached? Begin by imagining the needs of the national leadership in the immediate post-attack environment. Decisions with momentous consequences would have to be reached instantly. Special technologies to gather intelligence would have to be ready and in place. Previously enacted standby emergency laws would be essential to manage the aftermath. If we left the planning of all these responses until after the attack, we would obviously be too late.
And this brings us back to Newt Gingrich. At a recent speech in New Hampshire, Newt drew criticism for remarks about the first amendment, though they were largely taken out of context. Here's what he said:
This is a serious long term war, and it will inevitably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country, that will lead us to learn how to close down every website that is dangerous, and it will lead us to a very severe approach to people who advocate the killing of Americans and advocate the use of nuclear of biological weapons.
And, my prediction to you is that either before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us.
This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the first amendment, but I think that the national security threat of losing an American city to a nuclear weapon, or losing several million Americans to a biological attack is so real that we need to proactively, now, develop the appropriate rules of engagement.
The criticism of Newt was off the mark. He's merely stating the same things as Bobbitt and Ikle, in the form of a political speech rather than a published monograph.
Newt and the rest are right to be worried. A study by RAND recently indicated the consequences of a 10 kiloton nuclear blast in the Port of Long Beach. RAND estimated that 60,000 would die from the blast, another 150,000 would have severe radiation sickness, 6 million would try to evacuate the LA Basin, and the US economy would be drastically damaged.
Mr. Gingrich proposes a series of actions against our enemies: using technology to disrupt their internet use; to disrupt their subversion of free speech; and to stop their recruitment, presumably via the internet (see this previous article). Each of these is an inherently defensive method toward forestalling catastrophe: disrupting internet use, websites, servers, and such attacks the physical infrastructure of that which has been identified to be harmful in some fashion.
Disrupting the use of free speech is also reactive and defensive in nature, however it is performed. Governments and free speech advocates traditionally perceive such questions as having an either-or polarity: either the government allows all speech, or it does not, and begins a road down a slippery slope toward the freedom of speech being defined by the capriciousness of bureaucrats, judges, or dictators.
Finally, a result of attacks on infrastructure and speech might be to staunch the flow of recruits to extreme ideologies and terror groups. Yet this too is reactionary in nature.
An offensive yet superficially benign way to accomplish some of these same goals might be to begin a cultural war against extremism. In addition to physically stopping or legally outlawing the ideas behind radicalism, such a campaign might seek to propagate competing memes, which appeal to the same core demographic that is apt to become extremists. To be successful, such a tactic might require the use of popular culture and mass media, instead of the techniques of public diplomacy as they are usually conceived.
Either way, we would be wise to listen carefully to Bobbitt, Ikle and Gingrich. It is long past time to have debates on how best to preserve the government in the event of a catastrophic attack. If stopping extremists from using the internet is necessary, time is not on our side. The Middle East Media Research Institute reports that a new magazine has just been started in the Muslim world:
On November 28, 2006, the Al-Fajr Information Center released the first issue of the Technical Mujahid Magazine . . . The magazine's self-proclaimed purpose is "to help prevent acts of aggression against Muslims [in cyberspace], and to assist the mujahideen in their efforts." The introduction explains that "the Internet provides a golden opportunity... for the mujahideen to break the siege placed upon them by the media of the Crusaders and their followers in the Muslim countries, and to use [the Internet] for [the sake of] jihad and the victory of the faith."
The clock is ticking.
Josh Manchester is a TCSDaily contributing writer. His own blog is The Adventures of Chester and he recently interviewed Fred Ikle. Listen to that exchange here.