The big buzzword in academe, industry (especially software) and the military now is “Agile”. US military has hired the Scrum software guy to try to modernize the brute-force-lumbering-behemoth that is current US military doctrine. And USG also hired Dr. Yaneer Bar-yam, the pre-emminent complexity theorist in the country, to come up with ways to counter emergent islamic insurgencies. But superbad juju for the US– insurgencies like the Islamic State are are already agile. And sadly for Dr. Bar-yam, the Islamic State is also emergent. Any complexity theorist worth his salt (and trust, Dr. Bar-yam literally wrote the book on complexity) knows that top down control systems fail against emergent process.
This Wired article nicely summarizes the US problem– the internet has reversed the flow of power accumulation. Disruption rules–read chaos.
More broadly this disruption has made it harder to protect the world’s largest superpower. Enemies of the US were once mainly hulking nation-states. But the biggest tech breakthroughs of the past decade–smartphones, social networking, cloud computing, drones–have put the tools of warfare into anyone’s hands, including terrorists, militant groups like the Islamic State, and hacker collectives for hire by authoritarian governments. As Moses Naim wrote in The End of Power, “In the 21st century power is easier to get, harder to use–and easier to lose.”
But IS is already agile. For example, in Idarat al Tawahhush (the brilliant schematic for the field-build of a caliphate) Nājī specifies that battlefield commanders must also be able to govern. Transform instantly for task– the very definition of agile. Sadly, the moral arc of the universe doesn’t bend toward justice– it bends toward entropy– but IS is cleverly designed to exploit entropy, to gain from disorder. Chaos makes IS better— it is the growth medium where antifragile hydras thrive.
Brute force fails against asymmetrical warfighting, like 20th century paradigms fail against 21st century paradigms evolved and adapted to counter them. But IS greatest strength IMHO is generational warfare. IS leverages regional youth population demographics for a depthless pool of recruits. Like Nājī explains, even if IS is defeated in this generation, future generations will continue to fight. In order to “degrade/destroy” IS the US must fight technology, demographics, and a wholly alien ideology that seduces youth from all demographics in all countries– a transcendent memetic plague of incredible power and penetration– Islam.
Pax IS is inevitable in MENA and the Subsahara…US is fighting a war it can never win. One good economic shock will collapse the US economy–and then the “barbarians” will rush the gates. Evry empire falls when its reach exceeds its grasp. Sic semper empire.