Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Incidentals (5th of 5): a leftover storyline ending in fascism (via TIMN)

What’s left for this scrapbook of incidental comments are three items that I couldn’t fit easily into the preceding posts, and that weren’t well composed anyway. But I include them, for they contain TIMN-related points about organizational trends among our adversaries.

Besides, I finally spotted a storyline for linking the three: To begin, states fail because their tribal/clan bases have failed. Next, criminal and terrorist enterprises spread amid state failure by operating like networked franchises. Finally, a new authoritarian state emerges that aims to amalgamate rather than separate the TIMN forms and their realms. It’s just a scenario — by now, a rather conventional one — but it serves to combine the pieces of this post. And its trajectory culminates with an abiding concern of mine: the resurgence of fascism.

* * *

Whenever I see the annual “failed states index” published by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace, I wonder anew what such indexes might look like for failed tribes, failed markets, and failed networks. So, when Drew Conway’s Zero Intelligence Agents blog carried a post about “Building a Better Failed State Index” in July 2009, I speculated a bit that failed states are often tantamount to failed tribes (and/or clans):
Thus my question is: To what extent is a failed-states index a failed-tribes index? By which I mostly mean these kinds of possibilities: That a particular clan (or clan-like group) has gained exclusive control and is milking the state in criminal fashion. Or that clannish infighting among elites weakens a state beyond repair.

Of the fundforpeace.org indicators, the ones that most pertain to tribal/clan-like behavior are scattered, as follows:
  • One is social: I-3. Legacy of Vengeance-Seeking Group Grievance or Group Paranoia.
  • One is economic: I-5. Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines (but only the part that pertains to “Rise of communal nationalism based on real or perceived group inequalities”).
  • Three are political: I-7. Criminalization and/or Delegitimization of the State; I-10. Security Apparatus Operates as a "State Within a State"; I-11. Rise of Factionalized Elites.
Quite a scattering. And it reflects fact that the design of the index is geared to the standard view that state failure is a function of social, economic, and political factors . . .

Still, I’d like to see something different (though it’s beyond me to spell it out here and now): State failure as a function of the extent to which the tribal-clan form goes “wrong” in a society. Somalia, for an obvious example. (Not to mention that this form appears to be going wrong in areas of American society these days.)

I’m not implying that all tribal/clan behavior is indicative of state failure. Not at all. For example, nationalism can be positive for state success. So can deals for divvying up patronage and other spoils. Mexico did this quite well for decades.
Meanwhile it has become increasingly evident that where states fail because their tribal/clan bases have failed, new cavities may appear for criminal and terrorist organizations to take hold and expand their operations.

* * *

As a result of past interests, I keep an eye on how Al Qaeda — a slick exploiter of failed states and tribes — is being analyzed, especially its organization. Thus a post at the al Sahwa blog by Josh McLaughlin on “Al Qaeda: Franchise or Conglomerate?” in January 2010 attracted my attention:
As I recall, the franchise and conglomerate “business models” about Al Qaeda have been around sporadically for over five years. The franchise model was gaining sway in the mid 2000s. The conglomerate model emerged earlier (though I’ve misplaced a post-9/11 analysis that rendered Al Qaeda to look like one); but soon afterwards this model looked too corporate, too formally structured, to be accurate. As you notice, it may be more applicable today.

Most analysts and strategists, myself included, have preferred network models that were not so drawn from the business world. Even so, as I tried to point out back then (in 2005/updated 2007, p. 35), “while al-Qaeda may look amorphous, the deeper reality may be that it is polymorphous, deliberately shifting its shape and style to suit changing circumstances, including the addition of new, semiautonomous affiliates to the broader network.”

My own urging was, and still is, that Al Qaeda and its affiliates represent an innovative blend mainly of tribal and network forms of organization (pp. 45-46): “In short, al-Qaeda and its affiliates have formed a hybrid of the tribal and network designs — a tribalized network or networked tribe, so to speak, that includes bits of hierarchy and marketlike dynamics as well. The tribal paradigm has a striking advantage over the network, hierarchy, and other organizational paradigms. The latter models point to organizational design first, and then to matters of leadership, doctrine, and strategy. But they have nothing clearly embedded in them about religion. As voiced in terrorism discussions, they are secular paradigms; religion is grafted on, as a separate matter. In contrast, the tribal paradigm is inherently fraught with dynamics that turn into religious matters, such as altruism toward kin, delineations between “us” and “them,” and codes of revenge. And that is another valuable reason to include the tribal paradigm in analyses of al-Qaeda and other terrorist movements.”

From this perspective, the term “confederation” may be currently as relevant as “conglomerate” since the former term often applies as to tribe-like actors that prefer loosely structured alliances. If Al Qaeda becomes stronger, the hierarchical form and its business and governance models are likely to gain sway.

Source: Al Qaeda and Its Affiliates: A Global Tribe Waging Segmental Warfare
McLaughlin made it clear in a detailed follow-up post that he was determined to lay out the conglomerate model as a sensible way to analyze aspects of Al Qaeda’s relations with its affiliates. I remained cautionary, partly as follows:
. . . For the moment, I’ll leave my notions about tribes and confederations to the side and observe the following:

It is surely worthwhile to ask what kinds of business models may help analysts and strategists understand AQ et al. If answering such a question is limited to looking at franchises and conglomerates as the most relevant models, then trends may indeed be evolving in the direction you emphasize. AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq], acc to the depiction you point to, has/had more formal structure than I’m used to seeing.

Yet, doesn't the notion of a conglomerate fit Iran’s IRGC a lot better than AQ and affiliates? If so, those are two hugely different entities. Perhaps a conglomerate is AQ’s aspiration, even for the core of a caliphate. At least I’d wonder about that. But AQ’s conglomerate aspects seem only nascent today. . . .

Even so, the literature on business models includes more than franchises and conglomerates. While I’m not very familiar with this literature, it now identifies a lot of innovative new designs that are viewed as “networks” and that don’t quite fit franchise, much less conglomerate, or other standard corporate models. The larger networks (in Silicon Valley? in northern Italy?) have firms that act as key hubs, and the overall network is multi-hub. Individual firms may be structured formally, not unlike the hierarchical AQI design you noted. But the network as a whole is not like that — it is not centrally planned and commanded, though there may be efforts at a kind of centralized coordination and communication. Similar networks are also emerging among activist civil-society NGOS as well. Wouldn’t this kind of business model be more apt for thinking about AQ et al.?
In publishing his analysis, McLaughlin explained that “my aim is to supplant ‘franchise’ with ‘conglomerate’ as the most representative business model for the relationship between AQ and its affiliate groups.” To his credit, he offers a loose concept of a conglomerate, in which the component entities, though subordinate, remain quite autonomous, choose their own leaders, and act on their own initiative.

Even so, I remain more attuned to the frequent depictions of Al Qaeda as a “network of franchises.” In this regard, a recent write-up by James Roberts makes appropriate points: “These events show that Al Qaeda franchisees are operating without need of direction from the corporate headquarters. Al Qaeda today is a flat, dispersed, multi-celled structure which executes on ‘commander’s intent’ not waiting for orders from above. Actors self radicalize, seek out and connect with inspirational figures like Al Aulaqi in Yemen, and execute plots independent of commands from senior leaders. This paper proposes a change in our approach. It argues that Al Qaeda is conducting an ‘outsurgency’ — similar to, but different from — an insurgency.”

Yet, Al Qaeda et al. may still turn out to be a shape shifter — adaptively polymorphous. Analysts should not get too attached to any particular model drawn from business literatures. And there is still the issue of what Al Qaeda would like to morph into, in the unlikely event it ever gains enough sway to found a new caliphate — its avowed future goal.

* * *

Along the way, in October 2009 I had a stray thought about the caliphate concept and decided to raise it at Zenpundit, in the comments section of a post about something more general that I can’t locate anymore:
I keep re-learning what a massive operation the IRGC is — tantamount to what Jane Jacobs termed a “monstrous moral hybrid” perhaps. The IRGC/IRG starts as an effort to consolidate various paramilitary forces following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Now it has its own ground, naval, air, and special forces. More interestingly, it has expanded economically, and acquired assets to become a multi-billions enterprise, including public construction projects, and even dentistry and travel. It can shut out private business competition, for it can easily underbid and then overrun, while also using recruits and conscripts as labor. In sum, it represents a hybrid of tribal, hierarchical, and market principles, if not network ones too.

Now, that supports the usual way of looking at this: just a gigantic hybrid operating inside a state, almost as a semi-autonomous state within a state. And that’s not uncommon in many countries. The Chinese and Cuban militaries are heavily involved in economic enterprises too. And in parallel fashion, this is a growing trend among criminal enterprises as well, like the Zetas mentioned in your reading recommendations above.

But then I had this stray thought: The IRGC is not so much a state within a state, as a caliphate within a state. I am not well-informed about how to define and think about caliphates. But the little I know leads me to think this might be a thought worth further consideration and analysis. Esp. if the IRGC could be considered as a model for an emerging Shia caliphate, and one that is way ahead of radical Sunni aspirations.

So: an emerging caliphate within a state. Any comment?
Safranski generously singled out my comment for a new post on “Pondering the Pasdaran” in October 2009. It soon became clear that I was rather ignorant about the nature of caliphates in Islamic history. But I rebounded:
. . . Much as I’ve tried to be informed about differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, my mind hadn’t grasped that Caliphates pertain almost entirely to Sunnis, Imamates to Shias, and that Shias are not particularly interested in having a Caliphate — though my main source (the Wikipedia entry on “Caliphate”) indicates exceptions (e.g., the Fatimid dynasty). So, much as I liked the turn of phrase — “a caliphate within a state” — today I see it’s evidently inadvisable to apply it to the IRGC.

. . . [But] I still wonder that something more is going on than is captured by the notion of a “state within a state” and related concepts. . . . A look at a RAND report from early this year — The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (RAND, MG-821, 2009) — adds to understanding its economic reach, as a kind of conglomerate. This report compares the IRGC mainly to the case in China. Also, I’ve now spotted that the IRGC has expanded lately into energy and telecommunications.

What a hybrid amalgam!? The RAND report and other sources regard it mostly as just another complicated, expansive institution enmeshed in domestic factional politics, not to mention crime and corruption. And this results in a fairly conventional range of possible future scenarios. Yet, because of my TIMN efforts, I remain struck by the IRGC’s odd fusion of tribal, institutional, market, and network designs, and wonder more about unconventional scenarios.

My understanding of TIMN says that this kind of hybrid is dysfunctional over time. But it works for certain kinds of digressions from the mainstream of social evolution, and particularly for fascism, esp. if fascist tendencies are infused with millenarian tendencies like those we’ve discussed here at your blog previously (e.g., posts on Mahdism).
Trends in Iran and elsewhere, notably Venezuela, indicate that fascism’s allure is growing again around the world (though under other names). I’ve posted about this before, and I hope to do more. A good resource for getting back up to speed on the topic and its angles is the History News Network’s “HNN Special: A Symposium on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism,” for which Zenpundit provides a handy index here.

* * * Wrap-Up Remarks * * *

That’s all for these incidental musings from the past six or so months. Yet, since I see this blog still has some readers, I’ll add a few personal remarks before ending this series.

When I began assembling these incidentals, I guessed the folder held about 10-15 pages of material, which I’d spread over 3 or 4 posts. All done now, my computer says the total is nearly 45 pages; and I’ve distributed them across 5 posts. Much more than I’d expected. And that’s after trimming some comments, and not including various blurts left at other blogs I like. So, in a sense I've been more productive than I thought, but also more disorganized.

These incidental activities elsewhere have enabled me to refresh existing contacts, make interesting new ones, disseminate aspects of TIMN and STA, and just test out thoughts in passing as I roamed the blogosphere. I've enjoyed it. Yet, all in all, I have not found this to be a particularly productive endeavor for the development of either TIMN or STA. It's been too fragmentary. Less commenting elsewhere and more focused reading and writing via my own blog seems advisable.

As I’ve said before, my near-term goal for this blog is to enable me to post materials that have been sitting on my computer here at home for years about STA and TIMN matters. And now that the blog has existed for a year, the near-term goal also includes posting whatever new I come up with, in addition to processing the backlog that’s still in my computer.

Posting renders a sensation of quasi-publication — of being productive, making progress, remaining on track, in contact. Indeed, I decided to try blogging as an outlet after running into unusual resistance to publishing my updated draft on cyberocracy* in 2008 — a paper that involved many months of new work on my part (as well as by co-author Danielle Varda). Recently retired, I thus began to fret that I might be entering a long period of reading and writing about STA and TIMN in frustrating isolation, with unpublished drafts accumulating here at home. I could get through that, but it seemed a better idea to try blogging bits and pieces. And so far, it’s working pretty well.

I also have a long-term goal for the blog: a progressive accumulation over several years of what I know about the STA and TIMN frameworks. If this is accompanied by achieving formal publications elsewhere, all the better. If not, at least I will have stored enough in this repository to help others continue thinking about STA and TIMN. Maybe they (you?) can do a better job eventually. I remain convinced of the theoretical and practical potentials of these two sets of ideas.


*This paper remains posted at ssrn.com. A welcome development is that the update sections are appearing as a chapter in Irving Louis Horowitz (Editor), Culture and Civilization: Beyond Positivism and Historicism (2010).

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