Insurgent Advantage

Brave New War Cover David Brooks reviewed John Robb‘s new book, Brave New War, in yesterday’s NYT. It’s subscriber-only but full-text variants are available around the Web, including here.

Matt Yglesias, Brian Beutler, and Eric Martin think this is all a blinding flash of the obvious — that guerrilla tactics are effective — but there’s much more to Robb’s book than that.

My own review of the book is written and forthcoming at The Examiner, so I won’t go into much detail here. Essentially, Robb contends that modern global guerrillas have morphed into something much more elusive and immune to traditional counterinsurgency tactics because of the force multipliers of modern information technology and an organic, “open source” structure.

Indeed, Brooks’ basic summary is right. His conclusion, however, is an odd one to draw from Brave New War:

If the Iraqi insurgents defeat the U.S. then every bad guy on earth will study and learn their techniques. The people now running for president will find themselves in bigger heaps of trouble than the current one now is — trouble that this presidential campaign hasn’t even dealt with.

Robb opposes the war and thinks it’s unwinnable. Further, he would argue that every bad guy on earth will study and learn their techniques anyway and that, in the unlikely event we figure out how to beat them, they’ll simply evolve into something else entirely and we’ll have to figure it out all over again.

Now, I’m less fatalistic than Robb about the inevitability of guerrilla victory, since societies ultimately adjust to systems disruptions and the guerrillas thus have to constantly escalate their attacks to have an impact. Militaries adapt, too, especially at the small unit level. But I agree that the advantage is with the guerrillas, simply because breaking things is easier than building them.

At any rate, Thomas Barnett is right: Brooks’ review should provide a nice publicity boost for an important book. Of course, if the geniuses who run the NYT just did away with their idiotic subscription wall so that people could actually read their columnists, that would be much more true.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Iraq War, Science & Technology, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    The way I read him John Robb is even more pessimistic than you’re painting him, James. I think he sees a situation not unlike that prevailing in Iraq right now taking hold in much of the world with rump governments barely surviving, allowed to endure by guerrillas because they provide services the guerrillas themselves don’t care to provide.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I don’t get the sense Robb sees an apocalyptic future so much as that the guerrillas are the global equivalent of computer spam and viruses. They’re annoying, occasionally disruptive, and something that we simply have to learn to live with.

  3. Astyanax says:

    Ongoing discussion with John Robb about his book at this website.