PHILIP BOBBITT’S “TERROR AND CONSENT: THE WARS FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY”
Thomas Riggins [from Political Affairs Archives 2008]
Bobbitt is a distinguished professor of constitutional law holding degrees from Princeton, Yale and Oxford. He has served in important government positions under Presidents Carter, Bush 1 and Clinton. He is now at both the University of Texas and Columbia University. His theories on history and the origins of terrorism are widely respected and his books are used as college texts. His views have influenced not only Hillary Clinton but also John Howard the former Prime Minister of Australia. There is an informative article about his career and ideas in Wikipedia and also about his earlier work “The Shield of Achilles" (900 pages).
My remarks are based on Edward Rothstein’s review of his most recent book, “Terror and Consent,” in the Friday, May 9, 2008 New York Times (‘In a Changing World an Ever-Evolving Terrorism’.) At 672 pages this is a hefty tome. Does Rothstein’s review suggest we should make time to read it? Despite Rothstein’s description of it as “powerful, dense and brilliant” I hope to show, from his own review of it, that it does not seem worth the time or effort.
Bobbitt maintains that throughout history “terrorist” groups have resembled the type of political state they have been up against. Rothstein tells us that Bobbitt “is too subtle” to hold that “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” This may be because the terrorism he supports he doesn’t want to call “terrorism.” We shall see there is nothing very subtle about it.
Since the world today is so different from the past the War on Terror will be different than previous efforts against terrorists. There will be many types of wars to contain and defeat terrorism. Bobbitt says "it will take some time before the nature and composition of these wars are widely understood." Does this imply we should give Bush 2 and his generals more time to figure out what is going on? "We will not win the Wars against Terror," he writes, "if we do not understand the novelty of the problems we face."
What novelty? If you invade, oppress, and exploit others they will eventually fight back with whatever means at their disposal however crude and uncivilized you may find them. Imagine roadside bombs instead of attack helicopters and missiles!
The reviewer tells us Bobbitt sees the terrorists of today as, in his own words, "a threat to mankind that is unprecedented." Who can take this stuff seriously? The US with its desire to militarize space, retool its nuclear weapons, police the world, ignore climate change and global warming, poses "a threat to mankind" so qualitatively greater, by many magnitudes, than a dozen or so small groups of fanatics hanging out in the mountains and jungles of the third world. Bobbitt can only be counting everyone, including nation states, that object to US policy as "terrorists" to get his scary and preposterous threat to mankind off the ground. By "threat to mankind" he really means "threat to international capital and war profiteers sponsored by the US government and its hangers on." This is what passes for serious scholarship these days.
The review goes on to tell us Bobbitt says the terrorists of today are modeled on the new type of state that is coming into existence -- the "market state" (such as the US and EU) described by Rothstein as follows: "Such a state defines its main ambition not as seeking the well being of its people, but as maximizing the opportunities it offers its citizens." Such nonsense is unbelievable. You cannot maximize opportunity without increasing well being. Without guarantying jobs, education and health benefits how can you provide opportunities? What type of opportunities can unemployed ignorant sick people have?
There is no "new type of state." The "market state" is in essence the same old monopoly capitalist state Lenin wrote about in "Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism" and "State and Revolution."
The new type of terrorists Bobbitt imagines, who correspond to his fictional state, "are not seeking" Rothstein says, "to sway public opinion, but to expand their domain of terror." Terror for its own sake. This is a ridiculous idea. The groups Bobbitt does not like, and hence calls "terrorists", have the same goals as the groups he likes, and hence does not call "terrorists." Hamas and Zionist settlers want the same things, control of land and resources for their peoples. Al Qaeda and the US military have the same goals-- each wants to be the dominate power in the Middle East. Each wants to control the resources in the area. Each wants to sway public opinion to see the world as it does.
The difference is that Al Qaeda is a small and insignificant group of fanatics who could have easily been contained by efficient policing. They have been elevated into a world threatening power by US propaganda to justify the terroristic and barbaric assault on the Iraqi people by the greatest killing machine in modern history whose attempt to dominate the international order has no parrallel since the Vietnam War.
That Bobbitt was a supporter of the invasion of Iraq should demonstrate to all that regardless of his erudition and supposed command of historical processes, he really hasn't the faintest idea of what is going on and that it is a waste of time to read his hefty tomes to try and figure out the modern world.