Colonial polemicist Robert Farley pens a provocative defense of the Zarek-Gaeta coup, predicated on rather cogent arguments that human/Cylon cooperation is doomed. (With an important caveat that I’ll turn to in a moment.) Farley is met with opposition from across the spectrum of the fleet’s wireless. Adopting the similarly provocative pen name of Gaius Baltar, Jason Sigger objects, as does Jonathan Last. Matthew Yglesias finds Farley’s prescription compelling, but not some of the arguments he employs to build his case. I’ll seek to apply counterinsurgency principles against Farley’s folly and create a pragmatic case for alliance. Spoilers are inevitable for anyone who reads further.

The crucial turn in Farley’s essay isn’t actually his overarching theme that the Cylons can’t be trusted, but rather this proposal for Colonial strategy:

[T]he [rebel] Cylon represent more of a liability than an asset. There is every reason to believe that the hostile Cylon hate the rebel Cylon more than they hate the Colonials, and thus that alliance with the rebels would preclude any future (less intrusive) peace agreement with the hostile Cylon. Indeed, the leader of the hostile Cylon was the strongest advocate for the policy of disengagement with the Colonials; the current "rebel" Cylon believed that intervention on New Caprica could "fix" the relationship between Colonial and Cylon. Humanity will not be secure until the completion either a comprehensive peace agreement exists with the entire Cylon community, or the complete destruction of that community. Permanent alliance and civil rights for the Cylon does not, as far as I can see, further either of those goals.

This is an elegantly counterintuitive point. It’s also a dangerous misreading of the facts. If it doesn’t make sense to disaggregate the Clyon factions, as Farley argues throughout the essay, it makes even less sense to treat the hostile Cylon as the prize and the rebel Cylon as the obstacle. Farley is correct that the proper choice for post-genocide humanity is the pursuit of co-existence or the destruction of the Cylon. But he confuses the terms of the choice.

And that’s because disaggregation is crucial. Farley recognizes that the hostile Cylon hate the rebel Cylon more than humanity. What he fails to recognize is the same holds for the rebel Cylon. Their immediate imperative is coexistence within the fleet, but their interest is in victory over the hostile Cylon. The key to a transformation of the strategic picture, on terms favorable to the Colonial fleet, lies in that recognition.

The hostile Cylon have shown themselves to violate all the mores that the rebels hold to be integral to Cylon civilization. They box the D’Annas. They lobotomize the Raiders and the Centurions. They settle their disagreements with the other models through violence. The truth of this case (particularly in context) matters less than the fact that the rebel Cylons perceive the story this way. In this matter, the rebel Cylon is in a position similar to the Anbar tribesmen in 2006. Cylon unity is untenable. The rebels extend an opening to the Colonials as a result, because their interests align. To pursue an arrangement with the total Cylon civilization, of any kind — peace, war, armistace, seperation — is unworkable, because the Cylons, both rebel and hostile, no longer recognize each other as part of the same community.

On the face of it, that recognition is agnostic to an implict point of Farley’s, which is that we should be dealing with the hostile Cylons as our adversaries/interlocutors, not the rebels. That, I submit, misunderstands the opportunity presented by the destruction of the Resurrection Hub. The hostile Cylon, who remain insistent on pressing the attack against the Colonials, have lost their most important strategic asset as a result. They must recalculate their assessment of risk. The loss of the prospect of immortality is the sort of thing that shakes a society to its core. Accordingly, the opportunity to attack the hostile Cylon at a time of Colonial choosing — thereby coming closer than ever before to ending the threat to humanity — is compelling. For the first time since the destruction of the homeworlds, the strategic picture can finally favor the fleet. We have separated the irreconcilable enemy from the reconcilable former enemy. It is time for action.

It is true that the rebel Cylon do not offer supremely meaningful military assets, with the exception of the benefit to tylium efficiency. (Sigger develops this point.) But that’s a myopic point that misunderstands the sort of war this is. The value the rebel Cylon offer lies in the fact that they understand hostile-Cylon capability, psychology and strategy. Combined with the diminunition in the hostile Cylon’s objective resources, this mixture of assets could be decisive. The hostile Cylon now has his back against the anvil of his new circumstances, and stares at the Colonial hammer perched above his head. All the initiative now rests with the Colonials — if, that is, the fleet takes the decisive step to ally with the rebels. Finally, it is he, and not us, who will have to roll the Hard Six.

Farley’s rational-choice concerns a number of relevant and insightful questions about how to trust the rebel Cylons — entirely akin to the good questions about trusting the Anbar Awakening or Sons of Iraq to integrate with a distrustful and, to great degree, distrustworthy Shiite-dominated Iraqi government over the long term. But the rebel Cylons have gone much further than the Awakening/SOI  ever have in demonstrating their good faith. From the perspective of the rebel Cylon, the destruction of the Resurrection Hub might rank as the greatest act of unilateral disarmament in the history of the galaxy. The rebel-Cylon models — all of them — have a distinctive feature that separates them from the hostiles: they want, in a recognizable sense, to be human, or at least human-like in significant ways. (Tigh is not going to suddenly shoot Adama.)

It is true that trust is not automatic. It needs to be developed, tested and strengthened. But this is the hard work of post-genocide civilization — arduous, but preferable to its alternatives. There is no reason, following the triumph of the Colonial-rebel alliance, that trustbuilding mechanisms can’t be established, like joint committees to equitably share the benefits of recovered Cylon technology. A path to citizenship is worth the pragmatic gains to Colonial survival. 

A final point. Farley rightly notes the pain and the bitterness of collaborating with those who aided the attack on the homeworlds, the occupation of New Caprica and the decimation of humanity in general. This is a powerful emotional argument. It serves to distract the fleet from its true interests. It would have been more emotionally satisfying for Col. MacFarland in Ramadi if he viewed the bandits of the Abu Risha as those who had American blood on their hands — since, after all, they did. But he recognized the greater value to his mission that cooptation of the tribe afforded. His example echoes through the vastness of space.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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