May 10, 2004

Doesn't Anybody Read Max Weber Anymore?

The state is that organization that claims a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence within a prescribed territory. An effective state enforces that monopoly by punishing--using violence--against those whom it judges have engaged in the illegitimate use of violence. A modern state operates through (a) bureaucratic routines that are standard operating procedures for dealing with situations, and (b) a chain-of-command, by which lower-level functionaries are commanded by and responsible to higher level functionaries all the way up to the fount of sovereignty itself (which is, in most modern states, a prime minister responsible to a democratically-elected legislature).

The government of the United States of America claims--by virtue of U.N. resolutions and by right of conquest--to be, on a temporary and caretaker basis, the state ruling Iraq. But does it claim a monopoly over the legitimate use of force and violence in Iraq? Not at all. Proconsul Bremer's guards are not soldiers--are not legionnaires--but hired contractors. Blackwater and Erinys and CAI and Titan and all the others threaten and use violence without any contact with the chain-of-command.

And what is the chain-of-command? Who, for example, was in charge of Abu Ghraib prison. Originally it was Brig. Gen. Karpinski, commanding the 800 MP Bde. But Gen. Miller said that detention operations should be tasked to assist military intelligence operations. So Lt. Gen. Sanchez wrote an order putting Abu Ghraib prison under the command of Col Pappas, commanding the 205 MI Bde. But Maj. Gen. Taguba says nobody paid attention to this order. But Brig. Gen. Karpinski says that she definitely did not command what went in in the "special areas" of Abu Ghraib prison where the CIA and others hid "ghost detainees" and where prisoners were "softened up" for interrogation. It seems as though pretty much anybody claiming to be in military intelligence or the CIA or in para-military intelligence could issue orders to--and expect compliance from--soldiers of the 800 MP Bde.

And what is the relationship between the army and the Coalition Provisional Authority? In even a semi-bureaucratic state like the late Roman Republic or the Roman Empire, a governor is a proconsul--someone acting for the two consuls of Rome. The governor holds imperium within his specified province: the right to issue commands, have those commands obeyed, and punish those Roman citizens and subject peoples who do not obey. The legates in command of the legions answer to the proconsul--and the legion has its own chain of command. In a state like the modern United States of America, Proconsul Bremer can issue urgent warning after urgent warning about the treatment of prisoners, and get no response from Washington. Proconsul Cicero could order a cohort to crucify every captured bandit in the hills of Cilicia, and be obeyed with alacrity. A normal state would be concerned about unity of command: either have a military government--because Gen. Abizaid would have a much harder time ignoring Bremer on prisoner treatment is he was a subordinate-in-his-face than Rumsfeld had ignoring Bremer--or have a real Proconsul with at least limited command authority over units within his jurisdiction.

These are not hard lessons to learn. Britain had learned them by the reign of Queen Anne (even if very imperfectly in cases where army-navy cooperation was required). John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, was commander-in-chief of all of Her Majesty's forces in the Low Countries. Many of the regiments were raised by independent contractors: you showed up at the appointed time for your review and showed Queen Anne's muster masters that you had the promised number of soldiers with the promised number of weapons and amount of ammunition and that your soldiers knew how to drill, march, and shoot, and you got your money. But you also got a commission as a Lt. Col. in Her Majesty's service, your subordinate officers got their commissions too, and if you were in the theater of operations you were in the chain-of-command: you had a superior officer whose orders you obeyed. And John Churchill was in charge--of not just battle but march, discipline, logistics, and negotiations with local districts and with the Estates General of the Netherlands as well.

Why? Because Britain in the War of the Spanish Succession had three war aims, in the following order: (i) prevent the return of the legitimate Catholic branch of the Stuart dynasty to the British throne, (ii) curb the growth of the power of the French Bourbon dynasty that backed the exiled Legitimate Stuarts, and (iii) have the people of continental Europe not hate the English after the war was over. Hence violence--lots of violence--many "famous victories." But violence that was controlled and channeled by the chain-of-command and by military discipline as much as possible. Sacking of cities, yes--but not when they had surrendered on terms. Burning of farmhouses and villages, looting of everything movable, and scorching of the earth--but only when it seemed militarily advantageous to put pressure on a local ruler to come to terms or to deprive a French marshall's troops of a potential supply base.

Yet now it appears that Lt. Gen. Sanchez, commander of Coalition Joint Task Force 7, has less control over his own logistics train than did John Churchill: Churchill's supply depots and the wagon trains were commanded by officers and manned by soldiers. And Sanchez certainly has less control over the how many--20,000?--armed contractors in Iraq than John Churchill under Anne or even Robert Dudley under Elizabeth had over any part of the British forces in the Netherlands.

Now generals and undersecretaries have better things to do with their time than to read Max Weber, or to remember that they once read Max Weber. And generals and undersecretaries probably can't find time to read Max Bowden's Black Hawk Down. But Uday Hussein found time to watch "Black Hawk Down," and the main message comes through: an unclear chain of command and an unclear mission is a recipe for a ratf*ck.

Things that were known in the reign of Anne the Protestant should not be forgotten in the reign of George the Feckless.

Posted by DeLong at May 10, 2004 11:29 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

Chain of command - well in a market economy it's money that talks. As "the onion" put it, freedom in Iraq should hence be gained by handing out the money for peacekeeping (!?) and rebuilding in Iraq to the Iraqis:

U.S. To Give Every Iraqi $3,544.91, Let Free-Market Capitalism Do The Rest
WASHINGTON, DC—At a Monday press conference, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced a "change of plans" for the $87.5 billion aid package Congress approved in October: Instead of being used...
4002 | 14 January 2004 | News

(I'm not allowed yet to see the premium onion archive content, but the headline more or less says it...)

Posted by: Mats on May 10, 2004 12:09 PM


I can't help but point out that the people who murdered 3000 Americans on Sept. 11 never worried about the chain of command or the legitimate use of violence.

Posted by: Joe Lieberman on May 10, 2004 12:20 PM


Joe L.

That's a big part of the reason we call them "terrorists."

Posted by: K Harris on May 10, 2004 12:23 PM


Hm. When the Cossacks and others conquered Siberia for the Russians, nobody ever knew who was in charge. When Caeser conquered Gaul, it was a semi-private / semi-public operation. The Dutch and British East India companies were semi-private semi-public too, as were (I think) the Spanish colonial entities.

The privateers during the early modern age are an even more vivid case.

However, except in Siberia, I think that almost every individual in these organizations knew who they were working for, except at the very top where the state/private relationship was uncertain.

In Germany under the rule of Godwin, of course, The Party could overrule anyone in government or the military, and within The Party whoever had Godwin's ear had the authority.

Posted by: Zizka on May 10, 2004 12:34 PM


"I can't help but point out that the people who murdered 3000 Americans on Sept. 11 never worried about the chain of command or the legitimate use of violence."

1. Incidentally, their chain of command worked satanically well if work under the assumption that they all sacrified their lifes at OBL's order and worked secretely on their diabolic project for years without a word coming out of their cells.

2. What the hell do the 9-11 hijackers have to do with how best to pursue American interest in Iraq? How stupid do you think we are here?

Keep searching for your WMD's and shup up, Joe. You are among those personally responsible for bogging this country down in Iraq. I only wished you paid your support with your *own* blood and money. Seriously now, why do you hate America so much? Why do you want America to loose the moral highground and hence the war of ideas in the greater Middle East and beyond?

(Sorry Professor DeLong. Now, I feel better - I had to write this once. Please delete this if necessary.)

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on May 10, 2004 12:35 PM


If this is how bad things look under the CPA, just wait till after June when we have a nominal Iraqi "government" and the largest US Embassy in the world jointly (and severally?) trying to run the show.

Posted by: P O'Neill on May 10, 2004 12:41 PM


I can't help but pointing out that Genghis Khan never apologized for the trangressions of his Tatar forces.

Posted by: Joe Lieberman on May 10, 2004 12:47 PM


I poop too much and it makes me tired.

Posted by: Joe Lieberman on May 10, 2004 12:51 PM


So, Joe, you're saying George Bush is Ghengis Khan?

A few reasons he isn't:

1) he's not as successful.

2) he doesn't go into battle with his troops, and won't let his family do so either.

3) he wouldn't know what to do with the car if he caught it.

Posted by: fatbear on May 10, 2004 12:54 PM


Joe, "I just can't help..." suggests a compulsion, rather than a point you wish to make. Is there a point you wish to make?

Are you likening US troops to terrorist and to Genghis Khan's forces? Are you likening the US command structure to those of al Qaeda (which isn't really in the command structure business, by and large) or the Tatars? If so, is this an attempt at praise, condemnation or analyis?

In the absence of such information, your comments are bordering on "I can't help but point out that some cookies contain chocolate chips." True statement, but not contributing to the discussion.

Posted by: K Harris on May 10, 2004 12:54 PM


I can't help but think that taking the Mongol empire as model is quite revealing... And, please, at least have the intellectual honesty of making no more moralistic arguments for your war on Iraq after that...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on May 10, 2004 12:55 PM


Just to point out the obvious about the definition of the state as the organized monopoly on legitimate violence, the key operative word there is "organized". Who knew that the government of the U.S.A. could be run by the Keystone Cops?

Posted by: john c. halasz on May 10, 2004 01:02 PM


I can't help but mention that the people who designed "Grand Theft Auto III" never apologized.

Posted by: Joe Lieberman on May 10, 2004 01:04 PM


The right wing believes that govt can not do anything right.

It is just a shame for the poor Iraqi that they selected their country do demonstrate that thesis.

Posted by: spencer on May 10, 2004 01:06 PM


Change of topic question.

Is the back up in rates and stock market drop the consequence of crowing out from the large structural federal deficit. Has the deficit created an environment where we can not have significant growth without a back-up in rates?

Related question. Is the backup in rates widening international interest rate spreads
enough to attract enough foreign capital to finance the twin deficits and that is why the dollar is rising?

Posted by: spencer on May 10, 2004 01:12 PM


Don't you wish you'd taken Donald Luskin's advice from Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2004:

"But for stocks, this is an opportunity. Since the equity market top in 2000, bonds have outperformed stocks spectacularly. Now it's time for all that to reverse. Rising rates will clock bonds, which have been unnaturally supported by unnaturally low rates. But the economy and corporate earnings are surging -- and rate hikes at a "measured" pace aren't going to put the least dent in that. What they're going to do instead is start to rein in incipient inflation. Put it all together, and it's going to be a perfectly fine time to be long stocks."

"That's why I've been adding to my portfolio's position in the Rydex Velocity 100 Fund (RYVYX) --the mutual fund that uses leverage to deliver twice the return of the Nasdaq 100 Index. I've gotten lots of e-mails from readers and several messages on the Strategy Lab discussion boards warning me not to take that kind of risk. But I don't see it as all that risky. I've seen the decline of the last couple weeks as a classic 'buyable dip.' And even with all the Rydex Velocity 100 Fund buys, my portfolio is still effectively less than 100% exposed to the stock market. "

"Frankly, I'm more worried about missing out on the upside than I am about the downside."

Luskin's conspiracy to keep you poor and stupid.

Posted by: Kosh on May 10, 2004 01:19 PM


BTW _Black Hawk Down_ was written by Mark Bowden, not Max Bowden as it's written.

(A minor think-o which should not obscure the merits of this excellent post)

Posted by: ahpook on May 10, 2004 01:23 PM


Joe, I can't help but observe that sarcasm doesn't work on the Net.

Posted by: Seth Gordon on May 10, 2004 01:29 PM


Joe -

The authors of Grand Theft Auto and it's sequels aren't like George Bush either:

1) they made their money honestly.

2) they didn't let their kids use fake ID without punishment.

3) they knew what to do with the car when they caught it.

Posted by: fatbear on May 10, 2004 01:35 PM


--Joe, I can't help but observe that sarcasm doesn't work on the Net.--

It doesn't. But it should. It really should. This is first-class sarcasm we are watching, here...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on May 10, 2004 01:46 PM


re: legitimate use of violence

maybe the problem is a little more fundamental than the break down of standard operating procedures and chain-of-commands.

maybe the fundamental problem is the ILlegitimate use of violence…. you know - like the invasion and occupation of iraq?

Posted by: selise on May 10, 2004 02:38 PM


There is even a petition to AOL to add a sarcasm smilley:

In fact it exists already in ASCII format: :-]

In other words, if two signals can mean one thing and its opposite, and actually do so, you end up ignoring the message after a while, out of frustration. Same thing if you crack an ironically racist joke with, say, a black friend, you better have the right look on your face telling you're actually meaning the opposite (and thus, it's funny and harmless.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on May 10, 2004 03:36 PM


Caesar held imperium in Gaul as a proconsul. He did not refer issues with contractors back to the deputy principal assistant under quaestor for privatisation in Rome and wait for several months before they read the memo.

Posted by: Alan Grieve on May 10, 2004 04:58 PM


Caesar came back to Rome to report on his conquests on the Ides of March.

Unlike Rummy, he was stabbed in the back.

Posted by: Elaine Supkis on May 10, 2004 06:06 PM


--Joe, I can't help but observe that sarcasm doesn't work on the Net.--

It doesn't. But it should. It really should. This is first-class sarcasm we are watching, here...


... Are you being saracastic?

Posted by: EH on May 10, 2004 07:38 PM


I hate to be picky about an admirable post, but I think the status of proconsul is a little mistated. A consul isn't someone acting for the two consuls in the sense of reporting to them or following their instructions. He's a senior magistrate reporting to the "Senate and Roman people" with power equal to that of a consul in his defined sphere (provincia). As to how he related to the two annual consuls, hinc illae lacrimae.

Gene O'Grady

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on May 10, 2004 09:38 PM


, and (iii) have the people of continental Europe not hate the English after the war was over

Well that didn't work then.

Posted by: dsquared on May 11, 2004 12:25 AM


The country and the media is getting hysterical. One of the major newsmagazines published a photo of a guy chained to a bed with a pair of undies on his head. The real injury is the hands chained to the bed; but the photo is about the underwear.

Okay, it's a fashion crime and the worlds worst hat, but it just isn't torture or newsworthy. That photo is just yellow journalism.

I understand that there does exist evidence of grave crimes in the US prisons in Iraq. Sobriety is required to prosecute the guilty and to fix the problems. It's all too much fun to get on the high moral horse and scream about the sins of others. It's also hysteria.

Questions need to be asked:
Why did the dolts let their pictures be taken yet hide the faces of the victims?
How does that humiliate the victims?
Were any of the prisoners actual terrorists?
What questions were they being asked?
What is the US doing for information now that the prison at Abu Ghraib is shut down?
Are those who demanded information on the missing weapons of mass destruction guilty of putting too much pressure on the interrogators and hence the prisoners?
How do we know if those hooded figures are in fact Iraqis?
Are we sure some of those photos weren't taken at a gay party?
How do we identify the victims in the courtroom so they can testify as victims?
How do we know the people on TV claiming to be victims really are?

Posted by: Warren on May 11, 2004 01:36 AM


There is a big difference between how networks operate and hierarchies. Lack of control in networks (from Scythians to Terrorists) is a feature of the system. A confused chain of command in a hierarchy leads to chaos.

Posted by: John Robb on May 11, 2004 06:52 AM



How about providing your rewadership with the right perspective by calling armed contractors mercenaries?

Posted by: Jack Doyle on May 11, 2004 07:14 AM


Correction on the Luskin column cited above. The correct publication date is May 5, 2004, not Feb 5,2004.

Posted by: Kosh on May 11, 2004 10:43 AM


'It doesn't. But it should. It really should. This is first-class sarcasm we are watching, here...'
If a programming language is first-class it's terms can be redefined, so that one can redefine if in a first-class programming language. If sarcasm is the language of the web, and this is first-class sarcasm that means we can redefine our terms. In this case I will redefine sarcasm to mean the truth, in honor of Rummy.

I can't help but point out I've never apologised for a bad metaphor.

Posted by: bryan on May 11, 2004 01:04 PM


Jack Doyle writes: Brad,How about providing your rewadership with the right perspective by calling armed contractors mercenaries.

Call them by their Renaissance Italian name, Condottieri. Translates directly as contractor, I am told.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on May 11, 2004 02:16 PM


Brad is mistaken about British war aims three centuries ago (and he is also confused about when to use "British" or "English" - "British" does not apply for Elizabeth I).

British war aims did not involve "legitimate" catholic Stuarts. Only James II (and VII) had any claim to legitimacy under the English system, not the dynasty as a whole - and at first there was Anne, a Stuart herself, to keep the Tories on side.

There was a real interest in keeping the Stuarts unsupported - but "legitimacy" didn't come into it, except to the extent there were strong Tories at home (and there mostly weren't, just strong rent seeking Whig grandees). What counted was whether the continental powers could use the Stuarts as a distraction or as puppets.

British interests did not involve keeping or leaving the continentals happy as such. It did, however, require keeping the naval powers not too upset (the Dutch and Portuguese were not already polarised) and keeping access to naval supplies (the Baltic trade, access to the mouths of the Scheldt, etc.). The interest in keeping the Bourbons weak wasn't to stop them supporting the Stuarts but to maintain the European balance of power to serve these interests.

John Churchill's relationship with his colonels wasn't primarily with contractors that were incidentally kept within the structure of authority. Rather it was the other way around - local magnates could use their influence over their tenantry and such, keeping authority if they raised regular regiments, and then get paid for their use of influence too. It was the contract system that was secondary - the main idea was like that of Wellington's, to keep the power on side with a precarious basis of legitimacy (basically a Whig fudge - the USA went for a more formal fudge of its own later in the 18th century). With less regular finance, and constraints on parliamentary authority, there had to be a fee-oriented approach to both military and civil service in those days - and luckily one had already evolved since the middle ages.

Many of the constraints on British military activity were in fact the British following the laws and customs of war as then known, not a calculated British response. Self interest recommended ethical behaviour, just as it did when Montaigne noted how the Turks gave up the toehold they had got in Italy through treachery.

However the modern USA has fallen for one of the three main democratic fallacies, supposing that democracy confers legitimacy. US forces act as though their own democracy makes their actions ethical, excusing any conduct, rather than realising that it offers them a genuine opportunity to assess their conduct and determine ethical policies, so avoiding unethical stuff like what is happening now.

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I can't help but point out that the people who murdered 3500 Americans on Sept. 11 never worried about the chain of command or the legitimate use of violence.

Posted by: Kenny on July 10, 2004 12:24 AM


I can't help but mention that the people who designed "Grand Theft Auto III" never apologized

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