Exit Strategies

John Robb’s "Brave New War"


I’ve been following John Robb’s blog Global Guerrillas for a few years, and while I was able to absorb some of his prescient thinking online, I just recently finished his 2007 book, Brave New War. It’s written the way all books concerned with big ideas should be written. Straightforward, unpretentious, no-nonsense. Brave New War is as fast, loose and effective as the open-source networks of insurgents and transnational gangs Robb describes. It’s a tight notebook and a quick read. While many of Robb’s examples are drawn from his analyses of US adventures in Iraq, his observations will be cutting edge for most readers. So many of us are still thinking about war the old-fashioned way—the way that is so over it almost seems quaint.

Brave New War is basically about Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). Robb argues that conventional wars—where nation-states meet on the field of battle and slaughter each other in a manly and dignified fashion—have become a thing of the past. Nukes beat rock, paper and scissors, and too many nations have them—or have friends who have them. Further, the concept of the nation-state is evolving. Because of globalism, the interests of nations—and the global corporations that camp in them—are too intertwined to make all-out war feasible. The economic interdependency of the US and China is an obvious example.

If you still believe that the armies of nations act to protect their citizens from foreign threats, you are like a child in the world. Like a big-eyed Keane painting. National armies are mobilized to protect global business interests from disruption. They aren’t protecting you from invasion. There is no wild horde of dirty A-rabs galloping across the ocean to rape your children and stone your women. American troops are keeping the supply lines running, so that you can keep buying shit. 4GW is about the people who have a beef with “the American Way of life”—which is really the global exportation of liberal capitalism—disrupting the supply chains. They make business painful and expensive.  According to Robb,

“Al-Qaeda doesn’t want to govern Iraq or Saudi Arabia. It wants to collapse them and exercise power through feudal relationships in the vacuum created by their failure.”

You create a failed state by eroding its legitimacy and “keeping it from providing the services it must deliver to command the allegiance of its citizens.” Small interests can’t fight a face-to-face war with massive armies. As Max in the ‘stan once said to me, for one of these tribesmen staring down an Apache helicopter, they might as well be fighting space aliens. What the smart anti-modernists can do is attack the very vulnerable supply chains and utilities. A government that can’t keep the lights on and the water running commands no loyalty from its people. Robb’s big point is that globalism is ending globalism by making the means to hobble nation-states available to almost anyone at an exceedingly low price. These “superempowered groups” can spend $2,000 attacking an oil pipeline and cause $200 million dollars worth of damage to a national economy.

Robb sides with modernity, and seems to want to protect a world where everyone can work at sustainably air-conditioned solar-powered software companies, so he offers ideas for creating more localized and less vulnerable “resilient communities.” His new blog deals more with those ideas. However, I am sure he also realizes that Brave New War might as well be a handbook for those who want to end global capitalism. His whole point is that information can and will be used by anyone.

If last year’s Occupy kids were serious about hurting global financiers, they would have spent less time camping and more time studying Al-Qaeda. Unless property is burning and people are bleeding, protests are performance art for spoiled children. Protests in America are about asking. 4GW is about telling.

Brave New War is essential follow-up reading for The Way of Men. Globalism turns average men into zoo monkeys. Robb’s resilient communities offer some promise. We can make supply chains less vulnerable by bringing things closer to us and re-localizing economies. If you grow your own food and generate your own electricity, it doesn’t matter so much if someone blows up the oil pipeline or the power station. If you localize building, manufacturing, farming and security, you have more meaningful work for men to do in your area–you give them a future and a reason to invest in your community.

Now, if someone will turn down the lights and cue my vocal effects, I also want to lay some heavy shit on you.

For anti-modernists, for anti-feminists, for tribalists and anarchists and the alternative right…there is no political way forward. Your interests conflict with the interests of the international business interests pumping millions if not billions of dollars into these television programs you call elections. The momentum of globalism is toward world governance, sexual and cultural interchangeability, increased regulation and whatever kind of bureaucratic police state resources will allow. The bonobo masturbation society. Managed entertainment, vicarious experience and the death of heroic narrative.

There is a tendency on the right, especially in radical traditionalist circles, to retreat from modernity into a romantic asceticism. I get it. Frankly, I would love to live in a sword and sandal cosplay village somewhere where we carve wood and practice swordfighting all day. That sounds like fun. I want to retire there and get burned on a pyre when I die. But if you’re serious about changing the world, romantic asceticism is a dead end. Not buying mass marketed garbage helps and it means more than your vote, but it is still pissing in the ocean.

Look at what the Muslims are doing. They are turning modernity against itself. They’re using the TV, the Internet, cell phones, airplanes–everything modernity has to offer–to bring about a new dark age of warlords and feudalism. And in a lot of ways, they are winning. Keep the dream of your future alive, but use the present to destroy their future. There are still so many dudes out there fantasizing about militias and movements and big organizations and shadow armies. Just stop it. That’s not how this game is played anymore.