27 February 2009

If you've been hiding under a rock for the past fifteen years

This should catch you up nicely.  It's a list of the top 99 Internet Memes.  

Curiously, The Great World of Warcraft Funeral Raid, Mr. T Ate My Balls, and pretty much anything from Newgrounds.com is missing.

Focus:  What would you add?

Kilcullen re-defines conflict

 I used to think there was a department of the military that came up with the official name for conflicts.  Someone must have decided to call the conflict from 1914-1918 "The World War", and then decided that the conflict from (take your pick, 1933-1945 or 1939-1945) "The Second World War".  

As for the current conflict, there's not really a general consensus on what to call it, as a number of titles have been thrown out.  The most predominant one is the "Global War on Terror(ism)".  We throw around the words "War on Drugs", "War on Christmas", "War on Cancer", etc to such an extent that the term really has lost its meaning.  

Not to mention, the term "terrorism" can be problematic.  Certainly, there are a number of terror organizations which the US is currently and rightly engaged in combat with, most notably Al Qaeda.  However, lumping everyone on the battlefield as "terrorists" is an oversimplification, as we've found out there's no real monolithic enemy of the US on the battlefield, rather, we face multiple terror and insurgent networks, organized crime groups, and even "accidental guerillas". Many of the terror and insurgency groups in the world today disagree as fiercely with each other as much as they disagree with the West (a la Monty Python and the Life of Brian's Popular Front for the Libeation of Judea).  

David Kilcullen, one of the key counterinsurgency advisors to General Petraeus, challenges the notion of a "War on Terror" "The Accidental Guerilla:  Fighting Small Was in the Midst of a Big One" and instead, re-frames many of the tensions in the modern world in the context of four main theories, none of which are mutually exclusive, and includes Al Qaeda and other such organizations (takfiri, as he terms them) as the major adversaries of the West.  Seriously, you need to read this book, if only for the first 30 pages or so.  

1.) A backlash against globalization--a process which has, as an unfortunate byproduct, created many "haves" and "have-nots", and makes the "have-nots" well aware of what the "haves", erm, have.  This model assumes that Al Qaeda and other organizations don't seek to prevent globalization, but rather, seek to have globalization operate on their own terms.

2.) Global Islamic Insurgency Model--a process through which, Al Qaeda and other organizations (tafriki) seek to mobilize the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world as an insurgent network against the West.   A counter to this would be a stability/counter-insurgency campaign to dissuade the majority of Muslims who don't subscribe to Al Qaeda's views.  

3.)  A Civil War Within Islam--a movement which seeks first to subjugate and unify the entire Muslim world (using the US as a common, unifying enemy), which would then be organized to take on the West.

4.) Asymetric Warfare--American dominance in military spending and technology (accounting for well over 50% of all global defence spending) has caused anyone who wishes to take on the US to resort to asymeteic insurgent tactics.

Great analysis from one of the world's greatest counterinsurgency experts.  I think I went through an entire highlighter in the first 30 pages of this book.  

26 February 2009

Think you hate ringtones?

One of the interesting things about globalization is that, today, you see cell phones everywhere--especially in the Third World. And, just like in the US, ringtones can be about as annoying. For example, when I was in Honduras, I thought I had heard enough of Daddy Yankee's "Rompe" on the radio and in the clubs, until I started hearing it as a ringtone featured in Telomodo's package. Ringtones are the rage in Iraq as well, only there, ringtones aren't just annoying, they can be downright deadly, especially in a hotly-contested city such as Kirkuk.

Bus passengers in Kirkuk fire angry glances at Ahmed Ali as he takes a call on his mobile phone.

The young man soon realises why: the Kurdish song that serves as his ringtone singles him out as an ethnic Kurd on a bus used by many Arabs and Turkomans.

“Immediately after that, I changed my ringtone to the default one provided by the phone’s manufacturers,” said Ahmed Ali, who did not give his real name for security reasons.

In Iraq’s most diverse and disputed province, mobile phone ringtones play a big part in the politics of identity. Kirkuk contains most of Iraq’s many religious and ethnic groups, and has been described as everything from a colourful bouquet of flowers to a powderkeg.

Okay, let's start a new COIN rule...

Here's my proposed revision to the counterinsurgency field manual. I would like to say that one should not attempt to explain a counterinsurgency, a stability operation, and reconstruction program on just one Powerpoint slide. It brings back bad memories of this plan:

But I saw an article about a talk given by David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency strategist, which had this slide, and I nearly lost it:

But then I read the description of the slide from Sic Semper Tyrannis, which noted that this was not the be-all, end-all counterinsurgency/stability/governance plan. Whew. Rather, it simply demonstrates that Kilcullen "attempts in this mess to show how complicated this form of warfare may be".

That's putting it mildly.

25 February 2009

Afghanistan: Ramp up the tactics, Scale back the strategy

In the last few days, a number of articles have been written about the future of US efforts in Afghanistan, and also highlighting a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan--a surging Taliban insurgency, tightening of supply lines, and a thriving opium trade.  Many in political and military circles have called for a re-assessment of NATO's goals for Afghanistan, and ultimately, a counter-insurgency strategy.  

First is David Kilcullen, the author of The Accidental Guerilla:  Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.  Kilcullen is a retired Australian Army officer and holds a PhD in politics.  He has served as a counter-insurgency advisor to General David Petraeus and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.  He notes the following in an interview with NPR, which should sound familiar to any counter-insurgency theorist:

Kilcullen says the current U.S. approach is "enemy-centric."

"We are chasing the bad guys around Afghanistan, and that leaves the population feeling unprotected and insecure," he says.

Kilcullen says the militants are elusive, and don't have to hold and defend territory. He says that instead of hunting the extremists, the U.S. would do better to focus its efforts on providing the local population with better security as a way to gain their cooperation and trust.

"It's slightly counterintuitive, but if you want to make the population feel safe, striking the enemy doesn't actually help you that much," he says.

Kilcullen uses the example of the U.S. dropping a huge bomb in the middle of night a mile from someone's house.

After they've been awoken by the explosion, it's not particularly comforting to be told that the bomb was intended for a "bad guy," Kilcullen says. "[It] doesn't make them feel safe."

Kilcullen says the U.S. needs to isolate the militants from the rest of the population — in large part by creating links with the local people by learning their ways, their relations with other tribes and trying to provide justice. He says that often it is the Taliban that has filled that vacuum. The best way to build those links, Kilcullen says, is to deploy in the communities.

Locals will begin to feel safe, he says, if there is a unit that lives in their village that they see every day, that they know will protect them and ensure that assistance programs work.

But wait, there's more:  

"If we don't provide security and turn things around this year, then we've lost. If we do succeed in turning it around, all we will have done is like in Iraq — we'll have hit the political reset button, and we're in a position to start pursuing a political agenda," he says.

In short, Kilcullen is promoting a plan similar to, but not exactly like, the Surge of 2007:  pushing large numbers of troops off of massive bases and into the communities.  This plan takes time, and it is effective in fighting insurgents and general stability operations, to be certain, but it does little to confront the some of the massive problems which face Afghanistan, most namely, government corruption, opium trading, and the challenges of trying to establish a stable government in one of the poorest nations on the Earth.  

Ralph Peters, most notable for well-thought out plans such as whipping out a crayon and re-drawing the borders of the Middle East, actually makes sense for once in this article from USA Today:  he recognizes the futility of attempting to transform Afghanistan into a modern, secular liberal democracy.   However, he gets the tactics wrong.  He advocates a de-escalation of troop levels, consolidating American troops into fewer and fewer mega-bases, from which they launch an increasing number of airstrikes against the enemy.  The same airstrikes that have been emboldening the Taliban insurgency in the first place and have caused Secretary Gates to claim that, if they don't cease, the war is lost.  His rationale is that, since nation-building isn't the goal, destruction of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban should, then, be.  However, consolidating on mega-bases and rarely venturing outside won't provide the vital human intelligence necessary in order to succeed in the highly xenophobic tribal communities of the Afghan/Pakistan border region.  

A troop surge strategy, as advocated by David Kilcullen, is the best course of action for pursuing the Taliban and Al-Qaida, but it must have a realistic stopping point.  While population security should be an essential part of our counterinsurgency strategy, nation building must be realistically limited.  No one should expect Afghanistan to become a miniature America.  It is one of the poorest, most rural countries in the world, and will probably remain that way for centuries to come.  With ethnic tribalism rampant, democracy might not be the most viable alternative either.  Additionally, with an unassailable base of operations in Pakistan, it is likely that neither of these organizations will ever be effectively destroyed.  And if they were to be destroyed, they represent just two of dozens of violent terror networks in the region.

There are no easy answers to this situation, and no clear end state for Afghanistan.  A troop surge strategy, of limited duration, should be conducted with the following goals:

A first priority would be to use a population-centric surge strategy in order to facilitate a stable government with a strong police force and military, in order to prevent the failed state haven that permits further instability (look at piracy in Somalia).  Note that I didn't say democratic government--any strong governing institution will do.  (John Nagl notes that liberal democracy isn't likely in Afghanistan any time soon.  The rampant illiteracy and poverty is likely to prevent a democracy from taking hold.)  Nevertheless, a stable and secure Afghanistan is somewhat useless if the border region of Pakistan remains a lawless haven for terrorists. 

A lower, but nevertheless important priority--if only for the symbolic factor--would be the killing or capturing of the original high-value targets of this campaign:  namely, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mullah Mohammed Omar.  The only way to gain the human intelligence necessary to accomplish this would be to gain the trust of the local population of the border region through a troop surge, as the intelligence is not likely to come from satellites or target drones.  Unfortunately, given the culture of Afghanistan, it could be difficult to gain this information from the population, and downright impossible if these targets were across the border in Pakistan.

Anyone still want some soup?  I have plenty of knives...

Since you know I'm going to post about it...

Just hit the RSS reader...

Megan Fox is back on the market again.  Giggity Giggity.

Update:  Read her bio at Chickipedia.

24 February 2009

In the news, more links

I guess some things I wrote generated a lot of talk recently.  Jason Sigger at Armchair Generalist sent some traffic (which, unfortunately, included some Internet trolls) my way the other day.  I also got a recent mention from a Military Transition Team leader in Iraq who goes by the blogger handle of Boss Mongo , who provides excellent reading.  I should also be getting a quote in Small Wars Journal in the next few days.  

Boss Mongo also provides some tongue-in-cheek humor which I can relate to.  He and I have based our blogs extensively on counterinsurgency doctrine.  Why?  Because while we're in Iraq, we can't drink alcohol or associate with women with lax moral values, (nor can I wear my usual obnoxious T-shirts) so we really don't have much else to write about.  Indeed, more than one person has assured me that my well-documented life of debauchery has assured me a space in
 my very own personal Tenth Circle of Hell (feel free to chime in here).  Which is good, because I don't want to waste time at the in-processing station nor do I really want to deal with a room mate.  

This also means that, come block leave time, you're going to see a dramatic shift in topic.  But more on that later.

Anyway, William Lind wrote something today at Defense and the National Interest that's worth reading.  Mr. Lind is one of the authors of modern-day maneuver conflict, and helped to develop the term "Fourth Generation Warfare", which describes state vs. non-state combatants.  He offers a scathing critique of American infantry tactics, which he describes as unimaginative.  While I don't think the dearth is quite as bleak as he writes, let's take a look at some of his
 criticisms.  The first critique is that, obviously, too many Afghan civilians have died in airstrikes, which fuels the insurgency. This should come as no surprise to those who have witnessed the number of airstrikes by NATO forces grow some tenfold over the last few years.  The effect of civilian casualties has become so great that Secretary Robert Gates has said that, unless we can minimize the number of civilian casualties, we are lost.

Lind talks about airstrikes and artillery as the American way of war:

The answer is, because American infantry tactics are bad. They amount to
 little more than bumping into the enemy and calling for fire. The easiest way to provide the overwhelming
 firepower our bad infantry tactics depend on is with airstrikes. So to win
 tactically, we have to lose strategically. At least from the Vietnam War onward, that equation has come to
 define the American way of war. It is the price of bad tactics.

In my ROTC days, I can remember reading some professional magazine for the Field Artillery branch, which discussed the role of artillery and air strikes in battle, noting that the real role of the infantry was to find and fix the enemy so that overwhelming artillery and airstrikes could be brought to bear on them.  Which is great on a linear battlefield, free of complex terrain.  Unfortunately, this is based on the assumption that the real goal in battle is the destruction of
 the enemy's forces, as was posited by the miltary theorist Antoine-Henri Jomini.  But unfortunately, that's not the real object of military force--maneuver warfare theorists such as Lind and John Boyd note that the goal is to destroy the enemy's will to resist.  Indeed, airstrikes which kill civilians only increase the enemy's will to resist.   

The first is the unfortunate combination of hubris and
 intellectual sloth which characterizes most of the American officer corps - and infantry officers in particular. Most read nothing about their profession. Of those who d
o read, most confine their study to doctrinal manuals — the U.S. Army’s are wretched rehashed French stuff, the Marine Corp’s somewhat better — or histories of American
 victories. The number who really study tactics, learning about infiltration tactics, Jaeger tactics, the
 infantry tactics of oriental militaries etc. through reading, is tiny.

While I'd say that this might be a gross exaggeration, I will say
 that when forced to read regulation after regulation, plus field manuals, standard operating procedures,
 emergency procedures, policy memorandums, and a whole slew of e-mails in a regular day, I can see why so many officers
 are reluctant to crack open a book (or power on their
 Kindles).  Not to mention, reading is somewhat out of favor in this day and age as
 well.  But with the large number of officers now using the New Media to reach out and connect with one another, the
 learned officer is not an extinct species.  

 Almost all American training is focused on procedures and techniques
, taught by rote in canned, scripted exercises where the enemy is a tethered goat. Free-play training,
 against an active, creative enemy, generates imaginative tactics, because whoever employs such tactics wins. But free-play training is so rare in the American military that
 most American infantrymen receive none at all. They become expert in techniques for applying fires, but they know nothing else. In effect,
 many American infantry units have no tactics, they only have techniques.

Undeniably yes.  Almost every scenario is scripted.  In training scenarios, we will always know where the enemy is, what his general composition is, how many of him there are, and how he will behave upon making contact.  The enemy always plays right into our hands, is never too large to take on.  Training missions are almost always accomplished, barring massive failure, and
 focuslargely on the tactical aspects the mission.  You will never see the long-term effects of your air assault on a villiage, and how that affects their daily life.  

In the 80s, many military officials subjected units to "free-play" exercises.  For example, a battalion of troops might be conducting a movement and suddenly (and unexpectedly) see a battalion of paratroopers landing on their position--something they had never planned for.  The exercises generated much frustration, since none of the enemy's movements were known ahead of time, but they also tested the flexibility of commanders in dealing with a whole host of unexpected threats.  

Focus:  Feel free to agree or disagree with Bill Lind as necessary.

And here it is, your daily Star Wars.  Happy Mardi Gras.  (I don't think I want to know how the clone troops in this picture amassed these beads.)


23 February 2009

Link of the Day

If you're reading this, you've probably seen the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight".  Why do I say that?  Because anyone with a pulse has seen The Dark Knight.

One of the interesting things about the movie, is that there are subtle references to modern day Fourth Generation Warfare.  The Joker is described as a "Terrorist" by the city police, and Alfred the Butler talks about his experiences with the British Army conducting counterinsurgency in Burma (Malaysia)--one of the topics of Lt. Col. John Nagl's book Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife.

The correlation is not lost on Dr. Chet Richards, a defense analyst and "accolyte" of John Boyd, who writes at Defense and the National Interest.

The Joker was operating inside Batman’s and Harvey Dent’s (and pretty much everybody else’s) OODA loops.  He was changing the situation and exploiting it before his opponents could comprehend.  Textbook case.

As Boyd observed in Patterns of Conflict, chart 132, if you can operate inside your opponents’ OODA loops, you can do all sorts of neat things, including:

Generate uncertainty, confusion, disorder, panic, chaos … to shatter cohesion, produce paralysis and bring about collapse.

Should seem familiar to Batman, Dent, etc.

Dr. Richards provides some additional great links which discuss the latest Batman movie and counter-insurgency/counter-terror.

Now I can make fun of Quantum of Solace

I actually had to buy a bootleg copy of Quantum of Solace so I could finally find out what Maddox was ranting about on The Best Page in the Universe.  I think I can honestly say that this is one of the worst James Bond movies of all time, as it combines the worst of a whole host of bad Bond movies.

1.) Forget plot and just string together a bunch of action sequences.  I call this the "Moonraker" approach, due to the fact that the "plot" of the movie is just a thinly-veiled attempt to get James Bond to different locations, different women, and different modes of transportation so that he can have some sort of chase sequence.  A clue leads him to Venice where he has a gondola chase, another clue leads him to the Amazon where he has another motorboat chase, finally leading him into space where he has a giant "laser" battle.  Quantum of Solace, for the first hour, has EXACTLY this same plot.  It didn't work for Roger Moore, and it didn't work here either.

2.) If your evil organization is so insidious and so secret that it is everywhere, then why does every member of your organization wear a "Q" on their lapel?  I'm just saying.

3.) I get that Casino Royale (one of the best Bonds ever, due to the fact that it had a great plot) was a reboot, so we didn't see Q, Moneypenny, or the gadgets.  But by the second Daniel Craig movie, we need a better gadget than a Sony Ericson phone and a first aid kit in the Aston Martin.   We need to bring Q and Moneypenny back just like every other Bond movie.

4.) We need a villian with a dastardly plan.  In this movie, a terrorist organization known as Quantum agrees to start a coup in Bolivia in order to allow a military dictator to seize power.  That's the plot.  A military coup in a Latin American country.  You know why Sean Connery, and Roger Moore never had to deal with this?  Because this happened every other week in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  (I was going to make some smart comment about who was usually behind these coups, but I don't want people breaking down my door).

5.) Maddox actually pointed this out, but I will go over it for your sake.  The dastardly terrorist organization, in exchange for initiating the coup, has agreed to a piece of land which secretly contains most of the water in Bolivia.  They then intend to...sell the water to Bolivia at twice the cost, generating cprofits in excess of (EXTREME CLOSE UP, RAISE PINKY) ONE MILLION DOLLARS!  

What's actually sad is that someone actually DID do this in Bolivia, but they sold the water for triple the cost.  So yeah, why don't you come up with a better scheme like, you know, hijacking nuclear missiles or something.  

Jesus Christ, just when I thought that the Daniel Craig movies were an improvement over the last Pierce Brosnan movie (where 007 has to wind-surf over the ice as a giant space "laser" melts the ice behind him, while he tries to get to his Aston Martin, which is equipped with a cloaking device), they come up with this.

Seriously, WTF.  

19 February 2009

Articles of the Day

I actually saw this topic come up as a thread a little while back on Small Wars Journal, but it's fascinating.  Basically, the latest issue of International Organization included an article which analyzed, in painstaking detail, the effectiveness of mechanized forces in dealing with counterinsurgency vs. that of regular infantry forces.  (You can find the Readers' Digest version at Kings of War, where our very own DeusEx replied.  I'd write a little more on the subject, but it's been a long day.)

Not surprisingly to those of us in 2009, we know that "commuting to war" every day in up-armoured Humvees and returning to base  isn't the way to win insurgencies.  Buttoned up in the hatch of an armoured vehicle or flying above the battlefield in a helicopter shuts off your typical soldier from the subtle nuances of a counter-insurgency environment.  To paraphrase counterinsurgency expert John Nagl, the more secure you make your forces, the less successful you will be.  

In related news, a former US Ambassador penned an article in Foreign Affairs magazine discussing the same sense of risk aversion among the US State Department.  He noted that, since 1983, US embassies have turned into isolated "fortresses", "far from city centers" and are counter to efforts to improve American public diplomacy.  (Gee, you'd think a really awesome person might have written an article on this earlier in Small Wars Journal)  

And the moment you've all been waiting for...  

Your Megan Fox picture:

Red Team Journal does Economics, I do Megan Fox

The military-related blogs, such as Small Wars Journal, MountainRunner and the like have been relatively quiet on the current economic crisis, even though this has almost as much of an impact on foreign and defense policy than whether or not the military's planned "M-5 Tactical Segway" will ever see the light of day.  

Red Team Journal, however, has written a piece today about the economic crisis and explains it in terms of crisis management.   That the government has been throwing money at the crisis without a coherent end state or plan is obvious.  It does nothing to address the underlying flaws in the economy, and does little, if anything, to correct America's spending or production habits.  If anything, bailing out irresponsible lenders and auto manufacturers only seems to reinforce reckless consumer spending and a lack of innovation from Detroit.  It does nothing to alleviate the massive foreign debt Americans have racked up, and will likely be paying off for a generation.  The only thing that can be said for the latest round of bailouts is that they are timely.  But although swift, decisive action may play well in sound bytes, boldly rushing in without a coherent plan is about as effective as, well, Leeroy Jenkins.  

There is some humor to come out of this though.  With many prominent economists (including Alan Greenspan) backing the nationalization of banks, at least temporarily, some have said that a potential game plan might be to have the government run the banks until they are profitable and sell them back to the market.  Which is, of course, assuming that the government could run something that could make a profit in the first place.  

Focus:  Is Megan Fox hot or what?

17 February 2009

Okay, I'm lazy today

I've been running a little ragged the last few days.  I have a few links, some fun stories, and some deep thoughts, for certain.  But for now, enjoy this link from the blog of Timothy Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Work Week, which discusses the wisdom of Napoleon.   

(With assistance from Ryan Holiday)

"Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence"--Napoleon Bonaparte

Indeed, Napoleon's campaigns form at least part of the basis of maneuver conflict and strategy.  Take the following quote from Napoleon:

"Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than the ability to decide"

John Boyd has said that in maneuver conflict, the whole idea is to cause such massive confusion, friction, and panic in the minds of one's enemies, and to place them in a situation in which they are not only unable to maneuver themselves, but also choose between one course of action and another--to put them on the horns of a dilemma, so to speak.  Similarly, armies exercising maneuver conflict would want to maximize their opportunities to maneuver, strike, act, and minimize confusion and disarray within their own ranks. 

To steal a concept from biology, then, all armies, much like all organisms, seek to increase their capacity for independent action, while seeking to decrease the ability of their enemies to exercise independent action.  

I guess the same could be said for all of us, too.  Does your job or your lifestyle decrease your capacity for independent action?  How could you arrange your life to accomodate it?

Meditate on this, my young padawans...

16 February 2009

Okay guys, it's time to discuss PowerPoint

(I know that Powerpoint is pervasive in the military, and most government organizations also.  I'm actually curious as to how those of you in the private sector are using Powerpoint, if at all)

Powerpoint is to written communication as Star Wars:  The Phantom Menace is to the original Star Wars.  Yes, it's kind of pretty.  It wows the audience.  Animated helicopters can move across the screen and cause as many "oohs" and "ahhhs" as double-bladed lightsabers.  But at the end, you're left with a deep sense of nothingness.  The overly simplistic bullet points of a Powerpoint presentation are about as sensical and juvenile as Jar Jar Binks.  The CGI characters might look pretty, but I'll take the profound impact of "Do or do not, there is no try" over "Meesa called Jar Jar Binks" any day, just as I'll take a book over a Powerpoint slide any day.

Powerpoint is a tool, just like any other computer-based product, and it's only as good as the people who make the slides and convey the information.   A number of studies (and one doctoral thesis) have been done on the psychology and over-simplicity of Powerpoint.  But I think I'll add in some amusing anecdotal evidence that might shed some light on the situation.  Feel free to add in your own Powerpoint stories to the fray.

New Orleans, 2005.  In the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a battalion intelligence section, concerned with the threat of crime in New Orleans and how it affects the ability to successfully restore order to the city, produces a Powerpoint slide to illustrate when and where crimes are being committed in New Orleans.  A massive ring dominates the PowerPoint slide.  Around the circumference of the ring are the times of the day, from 0000 to 2359.  Concentric circles indicate the day of the week.  Small dots litter the circle.  

The slide is shown in a briefing.  Eyes squint and try to make sense of the slide.  They spend a good minute or two trying to decipher the cryptic information.  What profound information was it trying to tell us about crime in New Orleans?

It was trying to tell us that most crimes in New Orleans occur on Friday and Saturday night.  

Great!  Next thing you know, the Intel section is probably going to tell us that the number of boobs flashed in New Orleans increases 50000% on Mardi Gras, and they tend to target the Girls Gone Wild Camera crews.  

Powerpoint also has the ability to over-simplify or greatly obfuscate topics that shouldn't be.  Take "Phase IV Operations"--the plan to rebuild Iraq after the 2003 invasion.  Just look at this plan for reconstructing Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion (this is the actual US Central Command slide for "Phase IV", from early 2003 or so):

Simple, right?

Powerpoint has also been used to grossly oversimplify safety hazards in the Space Shuttle Columbia.  NASA has recognized the error of its ways and has gone back to the practice of writing good old-fashioned engineering reports, as they provide much more relevant information than the cartoonish bullet-point words and pictures which dominate PowerPoint slides.  

With this said, I want to hear your Powerpoint stories.  Ever spend hours on a slide just to add in bells and whistles to make it look pretty?  Ever have a slide that said absolutely nothing?  Ever spend time dumbing down something blatantly obvious in Powerpoint?  

I'm certain there's thousands of Powerpoint Rangers out there who would love to chime in.

But it's Starscream!

Hollywood and the military have had an interesting relationship.  Starting in about the 1980s, the military started to work closely with Hollywood, allowing movie makers access to aircraft, equipment and bases in order to produce big-budget pictures.  In turn, the military was able to reverse a trend in Hollywood to make decidedly anti-military movies.  It's difficult to say, but I would suspect that thousands of young males joined the military in the hopes of being Maverick and Goose.

The marriage between the two organizations has had some great benefits.  In 2002, the movie Black Hawk Down was a painstaking reconstruction of the troubled raid on the Bakara Market in Somalia.  Using real Rangers, and some of the actual aircraft that participated in the battle, the movie conveys in a very real sense the chaotic nature of modern warfare, and highlighted the heroism of the men of Task Force Ranger.

But like all things, there can be a bit of a dark side to this.  The military can use popular media to gain support for overpriced and overbudget projects.  Take the 2007 Transformers movie, for example, a movie made with massive support from the US Air Force.  The movie starts out with two CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft flying over the desert.  The Osprey is an aircraft that has been plagued with budgetary and design problems, and many critics are skeptical that the aircraft will actually perform well as a true combat aircraft (and Time Magazine, too) Many have called for the aircraft to be cancelled.  Nevertheless, two of the three Ospreys in the Air Force inventory appeared in the movie.  The ability for a helicopter to transform into an airplane gives that subtle hint to the audience that maybe...wait...the Osprey is a FUCKING TRANSFORMER!  MAYBE FIVE OF THEM TRANSFORM TOGETHER TO MAKE DEVASTATOR!  

Later in the movie, we discover that one of the leaders of the Decepticons, Starscream, is actually an F-22 Raptor, another aircraft that has run into design issues.  At $140 million dollars, it is four times more expensive than the F-15, and has been in some phase of development for well over twenty to twenty-five years.  It has also not logged one single flight hour over Iraq or Afghanistan, and has been criticized by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  

Do the military and defense community need to advertise their products?  Apparently so.  "Save the F-22 Raptor" ads have been popping up all over the Internet, prompting a cute little response from Chris Kelly, which, while exaggerated, covers many of the complaints many people have about this aircraft.  

Focus:  Are 180 F-22s enough?

12 February 2009

I am in awe at Abu Muqawama's skills

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Commandant of the Marine Corps' cries to move away from "nation building" in Iraq and off to the "real fight" in Afghanistan, with the obvious sense of amusement that the Marines did, in fact, draft the first real counterinsurgency field manual as a result of their participation in the Banana Wars of the early 20th Century.  

Well, Abu Muqawama just wrote about the same thing, only he did it much more eloquently.  I'm not kidding when I say this, I wish I could have come up with the term "1980s-era inter-service dick waving" as a form of astute military and political critique.  I have a lot to learn.   

10 February 2009


Thanks to the Tucker Max message board, I happened across this gem, entitled "How not to suck at life", obviously written for people on 4chan.  

It never ceases to amaze me how much of the human psyche is still trapped in the hunter/gatherer stage of evolution.  

And here it is now, your moment of Machiavelli

The 16th Century writer Nicollo Machiavelli is often associated with methodical, calculated evil, even though his writings simply offer pragmatic advice for leaders, and even praise the merits of virtue.  Machiavelli is often misunderstood and even more frequently quoted out of context (Jason Sigger at Armchair Generalist elaborates).

One of the most famous, and most misunderstood phrases of Machiavelli is "it is better to be feared than loved".  But let's take a look at the quote in a larger context (Chapter XVII of The Prince).  

"And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved...Nevertheless a Prince should inspire fear in such a fashion that if he do not win love he may escape hate...Returning to the question of being loved or feared, I sum up by saying, that since his being loved depends upon his subjects, while his being feared depends upon himself, a wise Prince should build on what is his own, and not on what rests with others. Only, as I have said, he must do his utmost to escape hatred."

With that said, let's take a look at a quote from Defense and the National Interest's latest publication on Fourth Generation Warfare, and the methods it takes to win it.  See if something doesn't ring true in it:

What succeeds on the tactical level can easily be counter productive at the operational and, especially, strategic levels. For example, by using their overwhelming firepower at the tactical level, Marines may in some cases intimidate the local population into fearing them and leaving them alone. But fear and hate are closely related, and if the local population ends up hating us, that works toward our strategic defeat. That is why in Northern Ireland, British troops are not allowed to return fire unless they are actually taking casualties. The Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld argues that one reason the British have not lost in Northern Ireland is that they have taken more casualties than they have inflicted.

When you learn to truly read Machaivelli properly, you might yield some surprising results...

09 February 2009

Small wars aren't sexy, but they have me to make up for that

One of the many books that I haven't finished reading yet is Rethinking Military History by Jeremy Black.  Mr. Black examines why military history is often not taken seriously as a "real history".  To be certain, military history is often written more for entertainment purposes more for anything else.  There's no economic history channel nor is there a social history channel, but you can bet that there's a military history channel, complete with computer-generated recreations of the Israeli Air Force decimating every Arab nation, US bombers guiding in bombs, and tanks duking it out in Europe during the Second World War. 

Indeed, military history plays out well on the silver screen.  The major wars of American history--the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War Two, etc have clear-cut good guys and bad guys.  In those wars, the "good guys" win.  They fit neatly into an action-packed two hour extravaganza, complete with explosions.  I mean, everyone loves explosions, right?  Absolutely, we all do.  

But unfortunately, not all wars are won with the cool little cut-away diagrams found in thousands of military technical books.  Nor are they always won in dramatic battles, despite the emphasis placed on destroying the enemy through decisive battle by Karl von Clausewitz, Jomini, and the Civil War wall art which adorns many military headquarters. 

Rather, much of US military history has been dominated by "small wars"--involvement in Latin America, counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, even a campaign in the Soviet Union which conveniently got left out of most history books.  

Every Soldier secretly wants to be the hero in the big battle, but the fact of the matter is, the big battles are far and few between in the world.  Rather, the real contributions to national security, as well as economic and political stability across the globe are being waged by Soldiers purifying water, curing disease, and playing the difficult balancing act of simultaneously hunting down insurgents while building popular support among the populace.  

We live in a world where the best intelligence may not be gleaned from a billion dollar satellite, but from a small child who receives a few life savers.  A water purifying unit or an IV needle isn't expensive, nor is it sexy, but it's incredibly vital for fighting the small wars of the early 21st Century.

I figure my next goal is to bring sexy back...to Small Wars.  

Edit:  I now vow to include more Megan Fox pictures to improve one's awareness of Small Wars!

08 February 2009

And Valentine's Day is coming up!

My least favorite holiday of the year, to be certain.  But at least I get a chance to e-mail everyone all sorts of messed up Valentine's Day Cards!

Here's my current favorite:

In other news

I'm certain that Michael Phelps and the bong is dominating the local news back in the US.  All I have to say is that, despite a massive advertising campaign in the 1980s which placed messages on urinal cakes and at the beginning of NES games, it is now apparent that winners can use drugs.  Next.

What is a little distressing is the hamstringing of US efforts in Afghanistan.  With supply routes through Pakistan being increasingly compromised by the Taliban (over 100 trucks were destroyed in an ambush about two months ago), the air routes through Kyrgyzstan have become that much more important.  And with the US now losing the bidding war on the airbase in that country (I'm not going to lie, I don't want to try to spell it again), it looks as if the US is going to be shipping supplies through Russia.  I would say that the Russians are not pushing for the closing of the Kyrgyzstan route and the opening of a Russian route out of any sense of philanthropy, rather out of some sort of effort to exact some sort of diplomatic leverage over the US, should they ever need it.  

So, just in case anyone was still promoting American unilateralism in today's globalized world, I thought I'd point that out.  

06 February 2009

Topic of discussion

So it was a bit of a slow day today, so I wound up in a conversation during which I tried to determine who the most useless 1980s cartoon character ever was.  

A number of suggestions came forward.  Snarf from the Thundercats.  Orko from He-Man.  He-Man himself.  (I mean come on, the guy runs around in a g-string and talks about his "fabulous secret powers".  I think we all know what this guy's issue is.)

But then we settled on Perceptor from the Transformers.  What does he transform into, you might ask?  A cool car, a rocket ship, a gun?  No, he transforms into a microscope.

Let that sink in.  This transformer transforms into a fucking microscope and adds...microscope powers to the battle.  Seriously, there's this scene in Transformers the Movie where all the Autobots are trying to run from the Decepticons.  All the Autobots are transforming into cars and speeding away.  Even this little kid in an exoskeleton learns to transform into a car.  But what does Perceptor do?  He runs like the little bitch that he is!  Seriously, Optimus Prime and half of the Transformers die in this movie and he lives on?  W...T...F...?

05 February 2009

I have a great idea: it's called "Command and Conquer"

A thread on Small Wars Journal as well as a post on Ghosts of Alexander recently had me thinking back to my days in the captains' career course.  I believe that many here will sympathize with me as I tell this story.

We played out various tactical scenarios in the miltary simulation Janus.  (Or, as we always called it, J-anus)  It never ceased to amaze me that the state of the art simulation was essentially a 1970s-era program that looked as if it came straight off an Atari 2600 cartridge.  If you think I'm exaggerating, you can actually find a commercially licenced version of this game under the title "TacOps", (released in 1994, but upgraded to be infinitely more user-friendly).  Worse yet, I came to learn that the Janus system apparently costs some $2 million per year in maintenance and upgrades.  

For a generation raised on real-time strategy games like Command and Conquer, Janus is reviled.  It's slow, it's ugly, it's cumbersome, and the controls are not intuitive.  The most gorgeous enemy icons since the video game Pitfall move across the screen and are "zapped" by friendly icons.  Only I'm not certain how or why certain icons zap others.  I had a platoon of M2 Bradleys zap a MiG-27 attack jet.  Unless the soldiers inside are turning their M-16s skywards (and can hit an aircraft capable of Mach 2), I really wonder how they accomplished this. 

Seriously, how difficult would it be to edit Command and Conquer:  Generals for military use?  They already have military-style vehicles, the interface is easy and fun to use, and weapons have a certain effect on one another--rocket launchers penetrate armor, but they're not good against troops, whereas machine guns are great against soft targets but not at hard ones.  It would require some re-working, but it's doable.  C&C:  Generals also has a faction with suicide bombers, Stinger missiles and Tech-vees.  I mean, how relevant is that?

The threads in Ghosts of Alexander and SWJ talk about a COIN or nation-building themed simulation.  Instead of going through Janus, why not use Civilization IV?  Hey, the whole point of Civ IV is to basicially manipulate what we in the military call PMESII (Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure and Information) within your little city or society.  Fail to build an aqueduct or sewage treatment or hospitals and your civilization doesn't work.  Try to conquer a city that is culturally alien and not receptive to your presence?  You'd better start building social services and theaters, and stationing a lot of troops in a city certainly helps also.  Okay, maybe it might be a little unrealistic if the local Afghanis start building Chichen Itza or something, but hey, the Taliban blew up their Buddah statues, they need a little something.  

And the good thing is that these games are now available in the $9.99 bin at Best Buy.  Not endorsing a product here, just saying.

Focus:  If you had to develop a 21st Century war sim for the US military, what would it entail?

Bonus:  Someone on cracked.com already answered this (in satire).  

I want [my] Public Support Meter [at the top of the screen] to rise and fall according to Troops LostLength of ConflictInnocents Killed and Whether or Not There is Anything Else On TV That Week. I want to lose 200 public-support points because, in a war where 8,000 units have been lost, one of my Mutalisks happened to be caught on video accidentally eating one clergyman. Then, later, my destruction of an entire enemy city will go unnoticed because the Nude Zero-Gravity Futureball championship went into overtime. 

04 February 2009

Good News

I know I promised check ride hijinks, but this takes precedence.

Provincial elections were held on the 31st of January, and they yielded results that (initially) seem overwhelmingly positive.  Foremost among these developments is that the Iraqi people seem to be favoring strong secular central government, and are leaning heavily towards candidates who are free from Iranian influence.  

Whereas in 2005, there were nearly 300 cases of violence, this election day, there was relatively little.  In 2005, fraud was rampant, unlike 2009.

Check the following links:

03 February 2009

Inspiration in unlikely places

When I was at the captains' career course, I was more interested in educating myself than anything else.  I used the six month period to read a number of books that I wouldn't have normally read.  I started in an unlikely place, though.  I read through the reading recommendations of Internet celebrity Tucker Max, who recommended that I read three books by Robert Greene:  The 48 Laws of Power, the Art of Seduction, and the 33 Strategies of War.  

From the citations and passages quoted in these books, I was further led to even more fascinating works:  I re-read Sun Tzu, I read T.E. Lawrence and Musashi, and I learned about John Boyd and the OODA loop.  I read about evolutionary psychology, I encountered Machiavelli, and I learned about maneuver conflict.  I learned about every aspect that I could in the field of warfare and counter-insurgency.  In a round-about way, I have the captains' career course (or the vast array of free time the course gave me) for that.  Plus, the catalyst for me little renaissance there came from none other than Tucker Max.  Who would have thought.

Focus:  Have you ever had inspiration from an unlikely source?

02 February 2009

Sometimes, it pays to be cheap

One of the most fascinating books about modern defense culture is a book by Robert Corham about Air Force Colonel John Boyd, the fighter pilot who was probably one of the most brilliant military strategists of the late 20th Century.

John Boyd and his "acolytes", fellow officers and contractors within the military, tried to circumvent the Pentagon's corrupt and bloated procurement practices. Throughout the 60s and 70s, the Air Force had a fascination with bigger, faster, more complex, and ultimately, more costly jet fighters. These fighters, despite their advanced technology, were ultimately cannon fodder for the more nimble (albeit older and cheaper) MiGs of the North Vietnamese Air Force.

Unfortunately, there was little incentive to change. Many generals in the Air Force were under severe pressure to increase the Air Force's budget, even to the point of buying weapons systems that the Air Force didn't need. Other Air Force generals felt pressure to make aircraft that were increasingly pricey or complex (such as the F-14 and F-111, for example), because these same companies were offering them jobs after their retirement from the military.

John Boyd and his acolytes developed the ultra-nimble and inexpensive F-16 as a result, and it grew into one of the greatest fighters in the world today. Boyd's acolytes also had a little program to develop an air to ground aircraft to destroy tanks. The Air Force felt that an expensive jet fighter would do the trick, while Boyd's acolytes designed a beast of an aircraft to destroy tanks up close: the A-10. Reviled by the Air Force, but beloved by troops everywhere, the A-10 has, in several clashes, taken a punishment from ground fire and still returned safely. It even has two confirmed air to air kills.

With that said, let's look at modern day options for close air support. On one end of the spectrum, we have the possibility that the Marines might resurrect the OV-10 Bronco. An old, propellor-driven aircraft, it has the ability to loiter at low speeds and altitudes for an extended period of time, and drop machine gun fire or bombs on its target. And they're cheap, proven, and relatively simple aircraft--perfect for counter-insurgency.  

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the ultra-expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  While sexy and stealthy, it'll be in development for at least another 10 years, and it has already run into extreme cost overruns.  Maybe it's time to just axe the program and look for an unmanned vehicle?  I don't know, you decide...

01 February 2009

Superbowl Sunday

So it's Superbowl Sunday in Iraq. Unfortunately, I won't be watching the Superbowl, because the Armed Forces Network doesn't air commercials, and I only watch the Superbowl for the commercials. Instead of commercials, AFN airs nothing but military-related public service announcements (which, to me, borders on the Orwellian). I can't wait to get back to the US and return to enjoying the capitalistic principles which made this country great by watching commercials on the rare occasions on which I watch television.