31 July 2009

Lt. Gen. Caldwell on The New Media

Note: This might be disjointed, but I'm tired, so deal with it.

Small Wars Journal linked to a great article written by Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the former 82nd Airborne Division Commander, regarding the impact of the New Media in the military.

Lt. Gen. Caldwell's embracing of these new social networking technologies represents the bridging of a significant generational gap that had existed in the Army between Gen-Y Soldiers and older senior leaders. I would say that the resistance and outrage I witnessed from senior leaders and instructors over the use of Facebook, Myspace and Youtube by senior leaders rivaled the outrage my parents probably heard from my grandparents over the Beatles.

What about blogs outraged the military's senior leadership? Mostly it was concern over potential security violations which might be posted on the Internet (coupled with a healthy dose of fear which often stemmed from the unknown). Granted, while there have been a few instances of security incidents on blogs and social networking sites, the security threat from blogs is not as great as one might initially think. An audit of various blogs revealed some 28 security violations on over 500 blogs, as opposed to over 1800 security violations on 800 official military websites. What accounts for this phenomenon? The writers at Wired.com suggest that it's because most milbloggers know that they have an audience—that's why they're milbloggers. (Ever notice how I use a lot of terms like "the other day", "somewhere or other", and very little talk about aircraft maneuvers, armament and defensive systems? That's because I know that the Virginia National Guard is watching).

Gen Y has had this beaten into their heads throughout most of their lives, with most of us having learned this lesson in high school or college as a result of something inevitably revolving around sex, alcohol, or minor vandalism.

When the ban on blogs went into effect in 2006, many outright ignored it. As Greyhawk at The Mudville Gazette is keen to point out, when milblogs are outlawed, only the outlaws will have milblogs. When the ban went into effect, I was a junior captain at Soto Cano Airbase in Honduras who was organizing wild toga parties and other debaucherous activities with the Air Force nurses at the Lizard Lounge, largely with the aid of Facebook and Myspace. Yes, in 2006, I was organizing libations with Air Force nurses--in 2009, Iranians organized protests against Ahmedinejad and his regime. How the world has changed...

Since I started blogging in 2003 on Livejournal (and serving as a moderator on my college's message board some years before that), I always had an overarching fear of being called into someone's office one day and being asked "Are you [whatever handle I'm using at that time]"? In many ways, it's encouraged a sense of restraint and civility which governed many of my posts which, strangely enough, I'm grateful for. Nevertheless, blogging as a hobby was definitely a bizarre, fringe activity that no one admitted to. (To a certain extent, it still is.)

Lt. Gen. Caldwell reports at Defenselink:

“I came into a culture that said, ‘Avoid the media at all cost. Absolutely nothing good comes out of a media engagement,’” he said.

He’s made a 180-degree turn in his thinking, he said, recognizing the military’s responsibility to keep the American public informed, and the importance of that understanding to ensure support for the mission. Now, as commander of the Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Caldwell is working to impress those concepts on future military leaders.

One of the first things he noticed after arriving at his post was that nobody was taking advantage of the social media tools that had proven so successful in Iraq. “Nobody was blogging. Nobody was going on YouTube,” he said.

As when he arrived at Multinational Force Iraq, Caldwell found these venues had been blocked, and military members weren’t allowed to use them. He set out to lift those prohibitions.

“For the first four or five months there, I kept working through the system to get permissions to allow us to blog, go on YouTube, play with Facebook,” he said. “I wanted to engage in these social media forums, and you just couldn’t get access to them on your military computers.”

But Caldwell met with red tape everywhere he turned -- until he mentioned his frustration to Casey, now Army chief of staff, during one of Casey’s monthly visits to the Combined Arms Center.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Just do it,’” Caldwell said. “And when I asked him if this meant he was giving his permission to do this, he said, ‘Absolutely.’ He said, ‘We have got to change the culture of the Army, and you can help make this happen.’”

Then-Army Secretary Pete Geren turned into another big advocate of giving soldiers access to social media.

Caldwell got the ball rolling at the Combined Arms Center by starting to blog on the center’s Web site. “I’m not a prolific blogger, but I recognize that if I don’t get on there periodically and do it, nobody else will,” he said. “I saw it as a venue to stimulate discussion. It was a great mechanism to reach out and touch a large portion of the United States Army about an issue we might want to talk about or dialog on.”

He recognized many soldiers’ resistance to blogging, especially after a Defense Department message had outright prohibited the practice in late 2006. Those willing to give it a try still felt hampered by longstanding approval chains that stilted opinion-sharing and individual expression.

So Caldwell began requiring his students to blog as part of their curriculum at the center. His goal, he said, is to help create a new generation of leaders who recognize the power of social media and help the Army change its cultural mindset so it’s able to embrace it.

“The idea is, once you have done it and have seen the power of social networking that can be done through the blogosphere, we are hoping that it becomes a routine habit they have through the rest of the academic year,” he said. “That way, by the time they graduate, they are comfortable doing it and recognize it as something they can use … as a great connectivity tool.”

I can't exactly place my finger on the turning point in the acceptance of blogs, nor can I really gauge how mainstream they have become. I would say that the growing popularity of sites like Small Wars Journal has certainly contributed to the acceptance of blogs. Nevertheless, I should also caveat that my perception of the sudden acceptance of milblogging might be due to the fact that I've kind of found a lot of (virtual) kindred spirits in the COINdinista milblogging community.

Focus: How prevalent and accepted is military blogging in the military? Do you have any anecdotes from your unit?

Congratulations to Boss Mongo

Boss Mongo was linked to by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Thomas Ricks the other day. Check it out.

30 July 2009

No kidding...

After the latest round of dust storms, I'm thinking of changing the name of this blog from "Wings Over Iraq" to "Wings sitting on the ground in Iraq coughing up dust". Indeed, the heavy dust storms in Iraq affect flying, which leads to a lot of slow days. This is bad for my logbook, but good for you, my fans, as I pass the time blogging about defense policy instead talking about the flying I would like to be doing. I guess the one good thing about the heavy dust clouds is that the dust is so damn thick that the visibility and ceilings are too low for no-notice instrument check rides. That has to count for something, right?

Anyway, it's really not much of a story to hear an aviator sitting on the ground complaining about the weather. What is a story, however, is how the dust storms have gotten much worse over the last few years, due to the accellerated erosion and the severe droughts that Iraq has seen (particularly in 2008 and 2009).

You wake up in the morning to find your nostrils clogged. Houses and trees have vanished beneath a choking brown smog. A hot wind blasts fine particles through doors and windows, coating everything in sight and imparting an eerie orange glow.

Dust storms are a routine experience in Iraq, but lately they've become a whole lot more common.

"Now it seems we have dust storms nearly every day," said Raed Hussein, 31, an antiques dealer who had to rush his 5-year-old son to a hospital during a recent squall because the boy couldn't breathe. "We suffer from lack of electricity, we suffer from explosions, and now we are suffering even more because of this terrible dust.
Yes, the Iraqis are complaining about the dust. That's how bad it is.

This summer and last have seen more than twice as many dusty days as the previous four, he said. And 35% of the time, dust is reducing visibility to less than three miles, the point at which it is normally considered unsafe to fly. On many of those days, visibility was zero, delaying flights, disrupting military operations and sending thousands of people to hospitals with breathing problems.

The bad weather may suck for the aviators, but for the lonely Air Force Staff Weather Officer (SWO)--the lone Air Force guy among all of us Army dudes--the constant dust storms make his life easy. All the aviators just look outside, whereupon they realize that they can't see their hand in front of their face, causing everyone to give up on bugging the weather guy to argue over the weather forecast. Ah, the few perks of being the SWO.

But I digress. The LA Times continues:

"The lack of available water is a huge issue and it's having a huge effect on Iraqi society," said Silverman, social science advisor for strategic communications with the Army's Human Terrain System, a program that links social scientists and anthropologists with combat brigades. He emphasized that he was not speaking on behalf of the military.

It's a dramatic turnaround for the country where agriculture reputedly was born thousands of years ago. Iraq's ancient name, Mesopotamia, means "Land Between the Rivers," and though about half the country traditionally has been desert, the fertile plains watered by the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers once provided food for much of the Middle East.

Now the Agriculture Ministry estimates that 90% of the land is either desert or suffering from severe desertification, and that the remaining arable land is being eroded at the rate of 5% a year, said Fadhil Faraji, director-general of the ministry's Department for Combating Desertification.

"Severe desertification is like cancer in a human being," he said. "When the land loses its vegetation cover, it's very hard to get it back. You have to deal with it meter by meter."

It's difficult to know where to begin to untangle the complex web of factors that have conspired to push Iraq to this point. But officials say human error is primarily to blame.

Turkey and Syria, which control the headwaters of the Euphrates, have curtailed the river's flow by half to deal with their own drought-related problems, said Awn Abdullah, head of the National Center for Water Resources Management.

Water has been diverted from the Tigris to keep the Euphrates flowing, causing problems for communities along that river. Iran, too, has been building dams on tributaries of rivers that reach into Iraq, drying out riverbeds in the east of the country.

The effects extend far beyond the immediate inconveniences of dust storms. Drinking water is scarce in many areas of the south as seawater leaches into the depleted rivers. The fabled marshes of southern Iraq, drained by Saddam Hussein and then re-flooded after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, are drying up, and the traditional Marsh Arabs who depend on them for their livelihood are being forced to leave again.

In the cities, rural migrants compete with the urban poor for scarce jobs and resources, and in desperation some turn to crime or insurgency.

And then there are the dust storms, which bring the crisis of the countryside directly into the living rooms of city dwellers. The falling dust has the consistency of talcum powder, and it finds its way into cupboards and corners as well as nostrils and lungs.

"It causes health problems, it disrupts business, it destroys machinery, not to mention the psychological effects," said Ibrahim Jawad Sherif, who is in charge of soil monitoring at the Environment Ministry. "It's a catastrophe that's affecting every aspect of Iraqi life."
It really is an eerie sight to see these dust storms in full bloom. The dust tinges the air a dark shade of orangish-red. When combined with the dirty, rocky landscape, and a faintly-visible sun which looks like a mere speck in the sky, Iraq looks distinctly Martian. Even more so, when you look at the Soldiers walking about, covered from head-to-toe with balaclavas, surgical masks, and goggles.

And let's not even talk about the taste of the dust. Yuck.

Now I know what Anakin was talking about when he complained about sand in Episode II. (Unfortunately, poor Anakin fails to realize that comparing chicks to sand is a really poor pick-up line).

A belated H/T to RTJ

I can't remember what spurred me to write about Millennium Challenge 2002 the other day. Looking back, however, I think it stuck in my head after reading a post from Adam Elkus in Red Team Journal, during which he described the effects of the MC2002 exercise one day before I did. He even linked to some of the same articles I linked to, so I had to have subliminally copied off of it.

Adam: Sorry for what appears to have been a blatant rip-off.

Your Moment of Sisyphus

It takes a Herculean effort to clean out the sand and dust after the all-too-frequent dust storms. Particularly during the summer, large sand storms (called "haboobs") sling dust into buildings through every imaginable nook and cranny. You can taste the sand in the air as the innards of even the most robust building fill with a haze so thick that it often sets off the smoke detectors.

Through it all, Soldiers sweep the dust, only to have it pile back up again, much like Sisyphus' eternal task of pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down again. I encountered a Soldier the other day who was sweeping the corridor outside a building during the middle of a storm so thick, you could hardly see a hundred meters in front of you. I knew that he'd be back outside again in an hour to sweep again, as the sand was so thick.

"That job sucks", I consoled him,

"Cheer up, though. Soon you'll be back home in Upstate New York, where you'll be shoveling snow...as the snow is still coming down. But at least it's home."

I really need to work on my motivational speaking.

29 July 2009

Yin and Yang

Two articles appeared in Small Wars Journal this week that are well-worth examining in closer detail. The first article was written by Dr. Donald Stoker of the US Naval War College, entitled "Six Reasons Insurgencies Lose: A Contrarian View". Stoker brings up the fact that in a RAND study of insurgencies waged since the end of the Second World War, only 41% have been successful.

While insurgencies are certainly not to be underestimated by any stretch of the imagination, they are not always as competently led or dangerous as we in the Small Wars community often give them credit for being. Indeed, many insurgencies are amalgams of various competing ideologies bound together only by a common enemy. (I like to call this the "Life of Bryan" phenomenon because they often resemble the myriad of Judean liberation organizations in that particular Monty Python movie). Further, insurgents often use brutal tactics which alienate their followers, particularly if the counterinsurgents are emphasizing restraint and maintaining the moral high ground.

Stoker's piece is a very welcome one, as we in the Small Wars Community often take a pessimistic view on counterinsurgencies, focusing on the mistakes that the counterinsurgents make, rather than focusing on exploiting the mistakes of the insurgents. 59% of counterinsurgents are successful, so to steal another Life-of-Bryan-ism, we COINdinistas need to look on the bright side of life.

On the flip side, however, that means that 41% of insurgencies actually are successful. In a counter-article, Captain James Cahill, an AH-64D Apache pilot (although I won't hold that against him), examined six reasons that insurgencies succeed.

Capt. Cahill brings up some great issues as well, particularly his assertion that insurgencies succeed when they are not recognized in their initial stage. Indeed, according to David Galula, the nascent stages of insurgency are by far one of the most vulnerable phases (read Galula's classic treatise Counterinsurgency Warfare for more information into the vulnerable stages of Maoist-based insurgencies during the Cold War)

Focus: Both authors bring up some great points, but I think that each side can benefit from more than six factors. What more can we add?

Iraq War grinding to a halt?

I'm looking in my crystal ball, and thinking that the Iraq War will slow down considerably in the very near future.

I'm not just alluding to the fact that a good portion of the security in Iraq is being done by the Iraqis instead of the Americans. Nay, I'm also alluding to the fact that zero work will occur now that the DOD networks are once again allowing access to Facebook and Twitter. I will officially be accomplishing nothing as a result.

Okay, fortunately for the sake of the war effort, this policy is only affecting bases within the US. For the rest of us in Iraq, we will have to wait till we get back to our rooms to use our Sniper Hill Internet and use Facebook. (Well, either that or typing in "https" before the URL. That sometimes works.)

(H/T Boss Mongo)

28 July 2009

1,000 Strong for the US Army Command and General Staff College

Okay, the US Army's Command and General Staff College is a little bit of an internet n00b, so be nice to them and be their new friend. Their goal is modest--1,000 friends. Join their group on Facebook to see how the Army is training a new generation of leaders.

They don't do Megan Fox pics, but there's lots of great news stories to make up for that. Don't forget to check out their blog.

Regarding Freeplay (Freeplay, not Foreplay)

In the military, we typically run training exercises along a set script. This is usually done to provide some level of safety and control over the exercise, as well as to ensure that we achieve the training objectives we set out to achieve.

For this reason, in our exercises, the simulated enemy reacts to our actions the way we tell them to react. For example, if a training exercise dictates that a battalion of paratroopers seize an airfield, the enemy (referred to as the "opposition force" or "OPFOR") typically won't run amok on the airfield, blowing up C-17s before they take off. That wouldn't allow the paratroopers to practice jumping out of the airplane and seizing the airfield. Nevertheless, any real enemy might realize that this would, in fact, be a great asymmetric counter to a battalion of paratroopers.

In professional military education courses, students often take part in training exercises where they make an estimate as to the enemy's most likely course of action. After submitting the plan to the exercise controllers, what do you know, the enemy actually does what we plan on him doing. There's no real surprise in store for us. And who's to say we know best how our enemy will fight?

While there are many instances in which training exercises must be scripted, they shouldn't all be. One such occasion was in 2002, when the US military conducted an exercise known as "Millennium Challenge 2002". The exercise featured the US military, using its high-tech post-transformation weaponry invading an unnamed foe in the Middle East (clearly modeled after Iraq). The enemy, or "Red Force", was led by retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, a particularly brilliant officer who understood how insurgent and hybrid organizations can use asymmetry to negate the US military's technological advantage.

As the American task force prepared to invade the "enemy" country, General Van Riper passed communications to his units via messengers on motorcycles—the lack of electronic communications negated the US military's eavesdropping systems, and the motorcycles were too small to be detected by the aerial JSTARS radar, which was designed to pick up the movements of enemy tanks. He also used a network of small boats to spy on the American fleet—too small to be detected by the sonar and radar systems which were designed to detect Soviet-style naval fleets. After determining the position of the US fleet, the enemy launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles, decimating the US fleet. The US fleet was further harassed by suicide bombers in speedboats—too small and quick to be targeted by conventional anti-ship missiles. General Van Riper caused some 20,000 "casualties" on the American fleet.

The exercise was halted, and the damage done by Van Riper was undone—the fleet was "unkilled". The exercise controllers were aghast—General Van Riper had fought dirty. How dare he!

Unfortunately, Van Riper was on to something. Our enemies play by a different set of rules, and won't always react the way we want to react. While there are many good reasons for providing a script for training exercises, there are also significant drawbacks. When was the last time you took part in a training exercise where there was even the remote possibility of failing the mission? When was the last time the enemy was discovered in a completely different location than where you were told he would be during the mission briefing?

While scripting our training exercises ensures that we train on certain tasks, and provides a level of control in potentially dangerous situations, it doesn't train our leaders to be as mentally agile as they should be. It also doesn't allow them to react to an enemy who thinks creatively and adapts.

There are a lot of constraints on training our forces to conduct counterinsurgency—not the least of which is that counterinsurgency takes a lot of time, and an accurate model of the local culture, which certainly isn't practical. Nevertheless, there have to be ways we can adapt training exercises to accurately reflect an enemy that simply doesn't play by the established rules.

Focus: How would you design a freeplay exercise?

Can't hurt to ask...

Quote of the day, courtesy of Tasty Booze (link to Australian news site):

But it was an appearance by Megan Fox which had the geeks talking after one fan approached the star during a Q&A to promote her new supernatural western Jonah Hex.

"My question is for Megan," the man said. "I have a Sony HVR (video camera). It's not a true HD, but it gives a pretty good image.

Anyway, my question is: I just graduated film school and I'm trying to help my career. I was wondering if you'd be interested in some kind of, like, celebrity sex tape?"

With that, a couple of security guards grabbed the fella and took him to an undisclosed location.

"Dude, I can't wait to see what you look like in 30 minutes," Fox's co-star, Josh Brolin, quipped as the man was dragged away.

Okay, maybe, in this instance, it can hurt to ask...

26 July 2009

Diggers and Counterinsurgency

(Courtesy of Small Wars Journal)

Earlier, we talked about a crisis in leadership and organizational culture within the British Army. In short, the British appear to be experiencing many of the same pains that the US military had three or four years ago when we started the "Counterinsurgency Renaissance" in earnest (Thomas Ricks comments here and here). Unfortunately, as a number of writers point out, the British Army has yet to produce reformers on the order of a Nagl, Yingling or Petraeus.

Australia also seems to also be finding itself in the same predicament. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald, entitled "Our Soldiers Are Not Trained for the Wars They Are In" states:

Many other officers and NCOs, including many who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, wonder whether the [Australian] Defence Force has undergone the same level of reform as the US and British armies. And coalition commanders are wondering the same thing.

Marston says: "The questions some coalition commanders are asking is when is Australia, as in senior commanders and politicians, going to become embedded within this huge debate that has occurred within the US and British militaries about what went wrong and what went correct in Iraq as well as what needs to be done in Afghanistan?"

The Defence Force, at the Howard government's direction, did not join in the counter-insurgency fight in Iraq, and so was not forced by its experiences there to undergo the tough self-examination its main allies have.

There is evidence the lower ranks want to begin this process now. All they need is some support from the top.

Add this to Australia's latest defence woes, which include the apparent inability to deploy Black Hawk helicopters to Afghanistan due to a lack of missile defence systems and the surge capacity of only a thousand troops and you might have…well…a crisis similar to the one the US military a few years ago. Not only was our Army trained mostly for high-intensity conflict against an imaginary and obsolete Soviet-style foe, but we also had our own procurement problems. Hedging all of our bets on aircraft like the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter and F-22 Raptor, we paid scant attention to the survivability features of an aging rotary-wing fleet of helicopters which were, in many cases, older than their pilots and crew chiefs.

But we managed to begin to turn ourselves around--not only with the new counterinsurgency strategy, but also with a few more survivability features for our vintage aircraft that keep them and their pilots flying day in and day out. Surely, with a little know-how, the Australians can do the same.

Join the discussion at the Small Wars Council.

I know I have a few Aussies who check out this page—please join us at SWJ for a discussion.

Addendum: The Australians are apparently finding themselves in the middle of the same body armor debate that we in the US have had for the last few years. That is to say, the Australians are weighing (no pun intended) the benefits of the added protection of body armor versus the amount of tactical mobility and endurance they want from their infantrymen. It's a sticky subject among troops. Feel free to weigh in. Again, no pun intended.

The early 1990s really were a scary time...

I...I'm just speechless after watching these PSAs from the early 1990s. I always knew that era was lame, but was it really that lame?

Moms on the Net

(Seriously, what do the three moms do after they drag the guy into their house? I think I might have seen this movie before...)

It's the World Wide Web

("Online games like you wouldn't believe...like CHECKERS!")

Don't Copy That Floppy. (Yes, I'm sure the FBI is going to break down my door for an illegal copy of Leisure Suit Larry)

25 July 2009

The Death of the Old-Fashioned Military Decision Making Process? Well, Not Quite…

I've complained ad nauseam about the scientific, mathematical approach to planning military operations, known as the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) a few times (most notably here and here). As near as I can determine, (and as the MDMP manual points out) this process was first developed by the German General Staff during the decades prior to the First World War, and was largely applied to planning one specific campaign: the Schlieffen Plan, which was designed to be a six-week German sweep through Belgium and into France, followed by a re-deployment of forces from France to counter any possible Russian invasion.

Although the Schlieffen Plan featured meticulous planning, it was strategically flawed. Much like our foray into Iraq in 2003, it failed to take into account the effects of insurgents—in this case, the effects that the Belgian insurgents had upon German troop movements through Belgium and into France. The German General Staff also made the false assumption that the Russian Army would take greater than six months to mobilize. This resulted in the Western thrust through France being too weak to counter French resistance just short of Paris, as German troops were diverted to protect against the oncoming Russian invasion.

MDMP can be an effective tool when facing conventional armies much like our own, whose movements generally have some sense of predictability. It also works well for non-tactical movements (such as a movement of troops and supplies to an initial staging base, for example), which can also be predicted with relative certainty. Unfortunately, there are far too many variables, in many cases, to accurately apply it to an insurgency.

But the US Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, under the leadership of former 82nd Airborne Division Commander Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, has developed an alternative to the traditional Military Decision Making Process. Known as "Systemic Operational Design", it is a method for first understanding and then solving the multiple layers of problems which permeate the complex hybrid wars we might find ourselves in. As is pointed out in Joint Forces Quarterly:

In the end, design is what commanders do before formulating their commander's guidance and statement of intent that initiate formal planning. It is what they do during operations, when they consider not only whether they are doing things well, but also if they are doing the right things.6 Design is "a method of problem solving that utilizes learning and rigorous dialectic to derive sound appreciation of the problem and the best options available for managing and treating" the underlying causes of complex transformative situations.7

Lt. Gen. Caldwell weighs in at Wired.com:

Design, on the other hand, is meant to help commanders tackle less clear-cut problems. Let's say Country X's government has collapsed after years of instability, and now there's rioting, drug-running and bloody sectarian squabbling on the streets — the kind of societal collapse that has a bad habit of spreading across borders. (For an example, see the overlapping conflicts in Chad, Darfur, South Sudan and Central African Republic, which one Army intel officer characterized as a Mad Max-style "Thunderdome.") In that kind of situation, it's not always clear what caused the problem, or how to deal with it. MDMP isn't equipped for handling so many unknowns. Rather than trying to squeeze the square peg of Country X's rioters, drug runners and tribal militaimen, into the round hole of a theoretical tank battalion, Design asks commanders to conceptualize a brand-new strategy, from scratch. Simply put, you've got to think outside your old, dog-eared field manual.

If sounds to you like an overly verbose description of a very basic idea, you're not alone. "This is not a new way doing things," Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of the Army's intellectual establishment at Ft. Leavenworth, told Danger Room. "All great leaders have always thought this way." The Army just wants to get it into writing. Caldwell is overseeing the writing of a new field manual, FM 5-0, that includes a chapter on Design.

Design is about commanders "spending time figuring out what the problem is they're really trying to solve," rather than simply "jumping in trying to solve" the problem they're most comfortable with. That kind of sober yet creative command is exactly what the U.S. military needs, in this age of hybrid, irregular threats.

Certainly worth reading more about. The new manual which will contain the SOD process, FM 5-0 is still in development, so it will be some time before we see it in action. The description of the process also seems to indicate that this process doesn't completely replace the traditional MDMP, rather, it enhances it. It gives commanders a framework through which they can understand the underlying and fundamental causes of a complex problem before they go about coming up with a solution to it. We'll still need the traditional MDMP, as there are still many aspects of it which are applicable to a number of missions.

Yes, that means that, for the foreseeable future, captains at the career courses will still slug through MDMP while fighting Soviet Division Tactical Groups. Sigh…

Added Links:

US Army Combined Arms Center Blog re: Design

A Systemic Concept for Operational Design (Very John Boyd-like title)

Small Wars Council—Should the Army and Marines adopt Systemic Operational Design?

And, to aid the dialectic process, a case against SOD (the author claims that it was used by the Israeli Army with less-than-spectacular results)

Celebrity News--but it's relevant

Angelina Jolie stopped by the 1st Cavalry Division's headquarters in Baghdad the other day during her third visit to Iraq. The Tomb Raider star is a Goodwill Ambassador from the United Nations, and used the trip to draw attention to the plight of displaced persons within Iraq.

The displacement of people is one of the huge dynamics in Iraq which has affected security. For example, there are many who believe that the displacement of minority groups within Baghdad (e.g.., Sunnis from Shia-dominated Sadr City) actually played a role in the security situation of Iraq. During 2006, a series of bombings initiated by al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) set off a wave of violence between Sunni and Shia, particularly in Baghdad. Although there are many contributing factors for the winding down in the violence, the construction of walled hamlets seperating Sunni from Shia communities actually helped in reducing the violence. Consequently, in the Kurdish areas of the north, the migration of Kurds back into cities such as the oil-rich city of Kirkuk has also played a significant role in the violence in that city.

24 July 2009

Latest news

Two links:
  • Do you hate making or even just viewing needlessly complex PowerPoint slides? If so, then I have the article for you at Small Wars Journal.
  • Secondly, Jason Sigger at Armchair Generalist points out that Iraq has been a violent place for a long time. How long? Apparenlty, a very long time, judging by an article in which archaeologists have uncovered the remains of neanderthal believed killed by a homo sapiens some 50,000 years ago in the Zagros Mountains of Iraq.

23 July 2009

Don't forget Iran...

About a month ago, Greyhawk posted the following at The Mudville Gazette:

Dear Iran
Don't be fooled - you have about 48 hours until Brittney Spears does something to make us forget you.
Indeed, tabloid news has certainly grabbed our attention as of late with the deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcette, not to mention the usual celebrity hijinks such as pictures of bi-curious pop star Katy Perry naked in the bathtub eating pizza on Twitter. (I can only imagine who will come across this site looking for some combination of "bi-curious, Katy Perry, naked, pizza, and Twitter")

But even though the Iranian election has largely disappeared from the news, the resulting turmoil has exposed deep rifts in Iranian society, and I would suspect that we haven't seen the end of this. Robert Haddick reports at Small Wars Journal on the possibility of further political disruption:

Five weeks after Iran’s presidential elections it is now clear that Iran’s ruling elite has split into two factions. The question now is whether Iran’s security forces will split.

Former presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami have now publicly questioned the legitimacy of President Ahmadinejad’s reelection. In doing so, they have questioned the legitimacy of Supreme Ruler Khamenei’s authority (see NYT, Economist). This is a dramatic development and almost guarantees a deep political crisis inside Iran.

The timing and manner of Rafsanjani and Khatami’s falling-out is especially notable. Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had suppressed street protests, thus removing the pressure of a visible short-term crisis in the country. But in spite of that breathing space and after having several weeks to consider their options, Rafsanjani and Khatami still made the fateful decision to publicly oppose the Supreme Ruler and the power of the IRGC. Being experienced insiders, they would only opt for this course if they have high confidence in their odds. And they must also know that other dictum about palace revolts: “If you strike at the king, you must strike to kill.” A compromise political settlement with Khamenei and Ahmadinejad would not likely be a stable outcome.

Interesting developments, particularly as Iran has fallen off of the radar as far as legitimate news is concerned.

Exum's back. Back again. Exum's back. Tell a friend...

Not only am I back in Iraq, but Andrew Exum is back at his post at Abu Muqawama (in its new home at the Center for a New American Security).

Granted, I was really enjoying Ex's guest bloggers--they have as much astute commentary mixed with smart-allecky remarks as Exum does--but it's good to see that Exum is reporting back to us, after just having participated in a comprehensive Afghanistan strategy review with General Stanley McChrystal.

Ex reports at Abu Muqawama. This is somthing that we've covered before (indeed, Exum's boss at CNAS, John Nagl, agrees), but it bears repeating.

Winning in Afghanistan will be really, really difficult. I was and am still haunted by one of the last paragraphs in David B. Edwards' majesterial Heroes of the Age:

Afghanistan's central problem [is] Afghanistan itself, specifically certain profound moral contradictions that have inhibited this country from forging a coherent civil society. These contradictions are deeply rooted in Afghan culture, but they have come to the fore in the last one hundred years, since the advent of the nation-state, the laying down of permanent borders, and the attempt to establish an extensive state bureaucracy and to invest that bureaucracy with novel forms of authority and control.

Ooph. With that paragraph in mind I set about examining ISAF operations and strategy, which will largely succeed or fail based on the degree to which the institutions of the Afghan state are capable of defeating this insurgency. To say we are facing an uphill struggle in Afghanistan is an understatement. But as a famous commander once said, hard is not hopeless.

Again, it also bears repeating that the Afghanistan campaign can not succeed unless counterinsurgency and counterterror efforts in Pakistan succeed as well. Simply denying a safe haven for al Qaeda in Afghanistan without improving the FATA region of Pakistan (where many of their leaders are suspected of being located) will do little to disrupt their network.

21 July 2009

More on Ralph Peters

I'm not the only one who's outraged with retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters' statement on Fox News regarding the captured US Soldier in Afghanistan.

Armchair Generalist:

Ralph Peters has stepped way over the line. In discussing the captured
American soldier PFC Bowe Bergdahl, Ralph Peters is all set in his mind that
Bergdahl defected and that he deserves to be executed by the Taliban.

I urge you to contact Armed Forces Journal and Armchair General magazine and tell them that they need to drop Ralph as a regular contributor. I'd include Faux
News Channel and the NY Post, but really, what would the point be?

War is Boring:

In May, right-wing commentator Ralph Peters said the U.S. military should
kill journalists who are not sympathetic to U.S. war aims. Now Peters, a
frequent Fox News contributor, is back with his unique brand of angry lunacy,
encouraging the Taliban to execute a U.S. soldier captured in Afghanistan on
June 30. Peters called Private Bowe Bergdahl “an apparent deserter.”

Small Wars Council (user "Cavguy"):

Continuing his descent into madness, Ralph Peters strikes again.


It’s not every day I hear a military analyst hope for the execution of one
of our own soldiers captured by the Taliban. Even the FOXnews anchor babe,
psuedo-journalist looks like she’s trying to find her jaw on the floor when
Peters finishes his rant.

Was Peters on crack during the taping of this
segment? WTF?

More as they pop up. I'm kind of curious, with the thousands of retired lieutenant colonels out there, why Lt. Col. Peters seems to get as much coverage as Lt. Col. John Nagl and Col. Gian Gentile.

Afghan Plan

A few months ago, William Lind of Defense and the National Interest posted an entry regarding the two competing camps for an Afghan strategy--a grandiose nation-building campaign championed by Secretary Clinton and General Petraeus, and a more minimalist campaign proposed by Vice President Biden.

Ibn Muqawama (guest poster at Andrew Exum's Abu Muqawama) does an excellent job at summing up the arguments of the two camps in a post made a few days ago. Yeah, it's a few days old, but the hell with it, I was enjoying my R&R leave.

It is important to note (as David Kilcullen did in an article this week) that the war in Afghanistan is useless unless Pakistan is brought into the fold as well. The US campaign of 2001 and 2002, by most accounts, chased the Taliban and al Qaeda across the border into Pakistan. With a population many times that of Afghanistan, plus a small stockpile of nuclear weapons, the Taliban and al Qaeda's presence in Pakistan is increasingly disturbing. Denying safe haven in Afghanistan only caused our enemies to take up residence in another safe haven. (Indeed, al Qaeda seems to be a very mobile organization).

On Afghanistan (again)

I apologize for rambling thoughts, but I haven't gotten much sleep in the past few days.

Once again, I am stuck waiting on a flight.

What's amusing is that I ran into another Soldier here in Kuwait from my unit who has been stuck for nearly a week. He was quite frustrated, since he brought a 1,000 page book with him and finished it within the first two days. If only there was a device for just such an occasion which allows you to bring thousands of books with you in an incredibly portable form...

(Of course, the device does have the occasional drawback. Check out the rather Orwellian solution Amazon used to counter illegal copying and distribution of none other than George Orwell's books. Indeed, truth is stranger than fiction.)

With that said, I've taken some time to update myself on the situation in Afghanistan. With the new Afghan surge in full swing, particularly with a NATO offensive in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, things are probably going to develop quickly in Afghanistan. About time, too, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has noted that it's now-or-never time in Afghanistan, estimating that, unless there is a turnaround within the next year, NATO will begin a drawdown regardless of what goals have been attained.

The campaign in Helmand has been particularly fierce, as has been most of the fighting in the past month or so. July 2009 marks the deadliest month so far in the eight-year war, with over 30 American troops killed in action, in addition to a number of British troops (most notably, eight Soldiers killed in a single day) as well as one Australian (bringing that nation's death count to 11).

The increased death toll is regrettable, for certain. However, an increase in casualties, strangely enough, might be a sign that we're finally doing the counter-insurgency campaign correctly. During the Surge in Iraq of 2007, US troops took considerable tactical risk in moving off of the massive Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), and moving into smaller Combat Outposts (COPs) in the cities. While risky--the death toll increased dramatically in the first half of 2007--it ultimately paid huge dividends, clearing many of the cities of insurgent activities, and allowed US and Iraqi forces to consolidate long-term gains.

I was able to track some of the progress in Helmand in an issue of The Economist that I picked up in a news stand. The article notes that a number of Taliban have slipped past the NATO offensive. Indeed, according to reports, a number of Taliban fighters were able to escape by dressing up in burkhas and masqerading as women.

Now, while the article notes (correctly) that the purpose of counterinsurgency operations is not to produce large numbers of enemy killed and/or captured, it is certainly a desirable end state whenever possible. A few days ago, an analyst (sory, can't find a link) noted that the ability of the Taliban to escape while dressed as women might be attributed to the fact that there weren't enough female Marines to search the "women" who were escaping from the NATO offensive. This goes back to an article a few days ago which highlighted the advantages of having females on the prowl alongside men in counterinsurgency operations.

Further Afghan update:

I swear I need to create a "Ralph Peters" tag for all the nonsensical stuff this guy says. SWJ's Facebook feed has linked to a Fox News interview where retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters--most likely based on pure speculation and possibly RUMINT (RUMor INTelligence)--makes the wild assumption that the missing US Soldier in Afghanistan is can be nothing other than a deserter and therefore deserves to die at the hands of the Taliban. Further, Peters feels that this Soldier is a traitor because he makes anti-American statements, likely under torture and threat of death. Honestly, does anyone take this guy seriously anymore? There's a reason this guy only appears on Fox News and writes for the New York Post.

The "deserter" story doesn't make that much sense. What did he do, just walk off the Forward Operating Base into Afghan territory without being seen by anyone? Peters claims that it's impossible that he fell behind during a patrol, since all Soldiers automatically know where everyone else is. Well, that's true under a best-case scenario. Mistakes have been known to happen...

Additionally, Peters also operates under the assumption that the Taliban will leave him alive for sheer propaganda value. While I can only speculate, keep in mind that Peters grew up during the Cold War, where American POWs were kept alive for propaganda value. Contrast this with the tactics of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2004-2005, where American contractors were often beheaded, with videos distributed over the Internet. What the Taliban will do with him is anyone's guess.

18 July 2009

In transit

I'll be in transit back to Iraq over the next few days, so posting will again be light.

Amazingly, winter time in Northern Australia beats summer time in Upstate NY any day. Indeed, after an awesome R&R leave, you have no idea how hard it is to get back on the plane back to Iraq, but off I go.

17 July 2009

SWJ's latest

Since I'm re-hydrating after a surprisingly strenuous night of consuming alcohol last night, I'm not going to post anything too creative.

Anyway, leave it to SWJ to find the great links for me (there's a reason they're in Rolling Stone Magazine and, most recently, on the Foreign Affairs counterinsurgency reading list). Today, they ran two good links in one post.

Link number one comes from Politics Daily, and it concerns overly-optomistic speeches during times of war. It's pretty much a "no kidding" article, as the author makes the point that troops are cynical towards speeches from politicians which claim that the war or the current deployment or whatever is nearly over. Indeed, it's a "no kidding" article for those of us in uniform, but the author makes the case that not everyone has realized this. And to think there might be people out there who are actually surprised that troops would be so cynical when their leaders tell them that the mission is accomplished... The author concludes the article with:

Lesson for Obama? Avoid categorical war claims ("Absolutely, we're winning!'') Balance positive news with sober and realistic assessments from the battlefield.
And expect some skepticism from the grunts out there.
Indeed, I've taken to compiling much of the history of my unit's deployment, and I've cautioned myself that, since this history will be viewed decades into the future, that I ought to have a healthy dose of realism in it and not thump my chest in victory at the end of the deployment.

Link number two is from Herschel Smith at The Captains' Journal, and it regards the appropriate "end state" and "exit strategy" from Afghanistan. Clearly, we need to be realistic about our expectations for Afghanistan--the institutions upon which democracy is based (literacy, economic development, etc) are virtually non-existant in that country. Furthermore, the original mission to pursue and destroy al Qaeda has slowly become the victim of "mission creep", turning into a Kilcullen-style "hybrid war": an anti-Taliban counterinsurgency campaign, coupled with the counter-terror campaign al Qaeda, now largely relocated to Pakistan, as well as the counter-narcotics campaign being waged throughout the country. Smith brings up some great points, and there are a lot of good comments to the article that are worth checking out.

Bonus: As I was sifting through the RSS reader, I came across a number of articles (Times Online, Kings of War) regarding the state of the British Army. It seems as if the UK is experiencing the same crisis of faith and leadership that the US military began realizing in earnest a few years back. Thomas Ricks dedicates two blog posts to the subject (here and here), noting that the British military has yet to produce the innovaters on the order of a Nagl, Yingling or Petraeus--those who had made such an impact at helping to reform the US Army. The articles are well worth a read (particularly the second article from Ricks).

16 July 2009

Movie Reviews for Summer 2009

I've been able to keep up with the summer blockbusters while on R&R leave. Reviews below:

Bruno: Not as funny as Borat, but still worthwhile. In fact, it's worth watching just to see Sasha Baron Cohen, in his guise as the flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion reporter, Bruno, infiltrate Officer Candidate School. During his stint there, he makes some discrete modifications to the Army Combat Uniform, which includes a rigger belt from Dolce and Gabana.

You know, much has been written about the US military's treatment of homosexuals. Indeed, the entire film is a mockumentary about the treatment of gays in general in the United States. However, in the film, the US military is an equal opportunity paradise compared with some of the people that Bruno visits (to include a "gay counselor")

While at Officer Candidate School, Bruno is yelled at by his instructors and forced do do hundreds of push-ups...just like every other candidate. Indeed, in the the eyes of the instructors at OCS, all officer candidates, regardless of their orientation, are equally worthless.

As an added bonus, the military was one of the few organizations to catch on to Bruno's identity. You see, we're just hip like that.

Star Trek: A must-see. You don't have to be a hard-core fan of the series to like this movie (although it helps). This is easily the best Star Trek movie since Star Trek VI, almost 20 years ago. Every member of the original cast has their own little moment to shine and contribute to the success of the mission. Not to mention, since (minor spoiler) time travel is involved, the writers could take considerable liberties with the plot line.

The Hangover: Pretty autobiographical.

Finally, Transformers 2: You know what, I ought to begin by posting a review of the movie that I found on the Internet.

I can't shit on this movie because it did give me a career and open all these doors for me. But I don't want to blow smoke up people's ass. People are well aware that this is not a movie about acting.--Megan Fox
That's right, ladies and gentlemen. When the leading actress says that the acting sucks, then you really know that the acting sucks. I mean, it was great to see giant robots shooting one another and military hardware blowing things up, but that was about it. (Clearly, the reviews agree) There were plot holes in the movie that Grimlock could walk through--if Sam Witwicky had that one piece of the Allspark all along, why not use it to revive Optimus Prime from the get-go? Not to mention, time travel and teleportation? Seriously? Are you out of ideas? And why are all the Autobots in this movie incredibly lame? Mudflap and Skids are the worst characters since Jar Jar Binks, and there are two of them.

Again, just like I said about the first Transformers movie, this isn't just product placement for the failing line of General Motors. Indeed, if you're a big-name defense contractor who's upset that President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are cancelling or curtailing your F-22 Raptors, Battleships with giant rail guns, and giant fire-breathing dragon tanks, this is the movie for you. For those of us in the counterinsurgency camp, on the other hand, will find the over-reliance on the F-22, B-1, and some sort of battleship thing exceedingly funny.

I'm just waiting for someone from the Col. Gian Gentile school of high-intensity conflict to claim that we need more M-1 Abrams tanks, since, in the Transformers universe, sabot rounds are the only weapon that can penetrate the armour of the Decepticons. ("When you're saluting your Decepticon overlords, you'll wish you hadn't cancelled the Crusader!")

15 July 2009

David Axe says it best

I really can't expand much upon the excellent article David Axe and Kevin Knodell posted this morning on War is Boring, so I'll quote it in full. It came complete with video from CBS:

Watch CBS Videos Online

First Lieutenant Brian Bradshaw was killed in Afghanistan on June 25, the same day Michael Jackson died. With the King of Pop’s passing dominating the headlines, no one much noticed Bradshaw’s death, at first. Then Bradshaw’s family began extolling their soldier’s sacrifice, and Fox News and CBS News (posted above) eventually ran with it.

Bradshaw attended Pacific Lutheran University, where I am a student with strong connections to the Army ROTC program. I didn’t know him — he commissioned the year before I enrolled — but I knew of him, and even met him once. His death has strongly affected the cadets, as well as the training cadre and graduates. I see the faces of friends and mentors when I watch the CBS spot.

Michael Jackson’s death was newsworthy, but it overshadowed the recent deaths of more than a dozen American and British soldiers in Afghanistan. The dead soldiers’ families got to hear every day about their countrymen’s “despair” over the “Jackson tragedy.” Many Brits and Americans know all the bizarre details of Jackson’s death, but words like “Helmand” and “Kandahar” don’t even register. [Ed. note--among the eight British troops killed in Helmand Province in Afghanistan this past week, are commanders at the platoon, company and battalion-level.]

More journalists should go to Afghanistan. Local T.V. stations and newspapers should request embeds with their local National Guard units. We need to hear about soldiers like Bradshaw all the time.

I’m not saying that entertainment isn’t news, or that the war always trumps the economy and other issues. But on this point I’m firm: Americans, and the people of every nation fighting abroad, need to pay closer attention. Soldiers can’t simply change the channel to something more pleasant, and less dangerous, than war. The public shouldn’t change the channel, either. [from Kevin Knodell, War is Boring]

If you looked closely at the video, you might have seen a number of motorcycle riders carrying American flags. These are members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a non-profit non-partisan organization of motorcylce riders who escort the funeral procession (only at the invitation of the family). The Patriot Guard Riders also shield the funeral from appearances by members of the Westboro Baptist "Church"--an organization which celebrates the death of military service members, as they view each service member's death as God's retribution for the military's passive acceptance of gays and lesbians.

Where more people get their news than probably should...

Looks like I got a little bit of attention the other day. First, my post regarding an embarassing (although certainly understandable) spelling mistake on the US Army Combined Arms Center Twitter page resulted in the error being corrected within a few hours by USACAC. Later in the day, I also found out that my latest post on Small Wars Journal regarding the BigDog walker droid (as I call it) made the Department of Defense's daily news roundup, The Early Bird on Monday morning (13 July).

See, so I don't just talk about break-dancing Imperial stormtroopers, cats playing piano and Megan Fox pictures. Although strangely enough, I couldn't help but make a Star Wars reference when talking about the little Walker droid in SWJ.

In other Small Wars Journal news, I was a little dismayed to discover that most magazines in Australia are about a month behind those in the US. On the good side, however, if you're an Aussie and you post in the Small Wars Council, you can still use this line at the bar:

"I'm kind of a big deal. You know the latest issue of Rolling Stone Magazine with Lady Gaga on the cover? Yeah, page 85."

And if you don't post in the SWC, why not start doing so?

14 July 2009


Forgot to give Zenpundit a H/T for the link to Ink Spots, which I talked about in yesterday's post...

Bond did it first...

In the 007 film "Tomorrow Never Dies", James Bond has a social encounter with yet another millionaire megalomaniac with aspirations of world domination. The villian later sits down with his henchman, a computer hacker, and they try to discern what they can about James Bond's (or his alias') past. As they run the background check, they find that Bond's false identity (I think a stockbroker) has never gotten a speeding ticket, has never been late to work, and has never been in any sort of trouble whatsoever.

In short, the hacker concludes, he's a government agent masquerading as a stockbroker.

The people at Haft of the Spear wrote something along those lines today, noting the distinct electronic electronic tail that our social networking sites give us.

[quoting an article in Computer Weekly] National security advisors are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit people who do not have an online trail, according to Rob Cotton, chief executive of NCC Group.

Anyone with a Facebook account automatically has images in the public domain and is associated with a variety of organisations and other people, making it difficult to keep a low profile, he said.

"Having a Facebook profile, you are opening up a Pandora's box of online traceability that you can't ever truly close, which extends to close associates too," said Cotton.

[Haft of the Spear chimes in] Your name is Alice and you're a "student" on extended holiday in some 2nd world garden spot and the local service looks you up on Facebook and finds . . . nothing. Myspace . . . nothing. LinkedIn . . . nothing. Twitter . . . nothing. Guess what they're thinking? "WTF kind of 20-something doesn't have a social networking trail a mile long?" Guess how long before Alice gets rolled up and PNG'ed? If anything, backstopping someone online is faster, cheaper and easier than doing it in meat-space, but then that would require someone who makes such decisions to know that the IBM Selectric isn't the preferred technology of the day.

The impact of social networking sites on background security checks is one which has been in the news considerably in the past week, with Britain's future head of MI6 drawing considerable fire for having pictures of himself on Facebook.

Focus question: Work and Facebook...do they mix?

Great article, except for one point

Adam Elkus, who writes for a number of prominent defense and foreign policy blogs (e.g., Red Team Journal), just wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which he examines many misconceptions regarding the latest round of protests in Iran.

One misconception that Elkus tackles is the belief that social networking sites (i.e., Twitter and Facebook) were responsible for organizing the protests. In fact, as Elkus points out, their role may not have been as great as we might have initially thought. Elkus does not go so far as to say that these sites were entirely inconsequential, however. Personally, I think that the effects of social networking sites on the Iranian election certainly merit further study, and I'm inclined to belive that they might have at least had some effect on organizing.

However, I do have a slight disagreement with Elkus' conclusion to his article. Take a look:

The narcissistic way that the pundit class thinks about Iran is eerily similar to the delusions fostered by reading an exclusive diet of celebrity gossip magazines and TMZ.com. Many people form a false intimacy with the celebrities whom they read about and make "Angelina" and "Megan" central characters in their own lives. The media's fixation on placing America at the center of Iran's domestic drama is the political equivalent of convincing yourself that you're on a first-name basis with Megan Fox just because you follow her Twitter feed.

But while trying to talk to Ms. Fox in person may result in you getting roughed up by a steroid-abusing Sunset Strip bouncer, acting on the belief that America can and should influence events on the ground in Iran will get a lot of people killed and gravely harm our regional interests.

Actually, Megan Fox admitted in an interview that she doesn't Twitter. All the Megan Foxes (thus far) on Twitter are fake Megan Foxes.

And with that, I just validated the other 90% of Adam Elkus' conclusion...

13 July 2009

Metrics, Pick-Up Artists and Robert McNamera

There's a great book called "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists" by Neil Strauss. In the autobiographical book, journalist Neil Strauss joins a group of pick-up artists--men who run workshops where they teach techniques on how to approach women in clubs and bars.

What started as a simple method for socially awkward guys to meet ladies quickly devolved into something sinister, with a few of the pick-up artists (in particular, Erik von Markovik, also known as "Mystery") becoming obsessed with sheer numbers of victories in the field of picking up women. Strauss cynically attributes this to a feature of Alpha Male psychology--whenever you create a system where men can compete and attain a higher score, they will do so. Strauss believes this is evident in the obsession with getting a higher "score" in everything from the seduction community to World of Warcraft.

In short, Strauss believes that "metrics" are used to drive competition in any environment, sometimes to irrational ends.

In the military, we use metrics for everything: from overdue evaluations to recruiting numbers to the number of flyable aircraft. Metrics have also been used for "body counts" in counterinsurgency environments in Iraq (ref. Bob Woodward's "The War Within", Kindle location 175 or so), and allegedly by the US Army in Afghanistan, despite the fact metrics of this nature run contrary to counterinsurgency doctrine.

Why do I mention metrics? An excellent milblog, Ink Spots, brought up the subject in a post regarding the death of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamera. Ink Spots notes McNamera's obsession with numbers and statistics in order to describe the war in Vietnam. Based on statistical analysis, McNamera believed that the US was winning the war in Vietnam--despite the fact that the political realities of the war were far different. Says Ink Spots:

The quantitative measurement of conflict is extraordinarily intriguing and useful in helping paint the picture on the success of operations. They do not, however, provide exact realities - especially with regard to gauging the sympathies of the population. GEN McChrystal's command review [of Afghanistan] will no doubt devise metrics that will demonstrate ISAF's success, not dishonestly but due to the nature of the subject. We should track and measure these metrics to gain a sense on how things are going, but remember: they have little to do with the political reality on the ground.
Couldn't have said it better myself. Well done.

12 July 2009

Am I the only one that's noticed this?

Excuse me, US Army Combined Arms Center:

You might want to change your Twitter page so that, um...well...see the picture below. You may need to click on the picture to see what I'm referring to (the red circle).

No, no, no, no, there's two "l"s in "intellectual", boys*. Granted, I'm certainly not one to talk when it comes to typos (just see my latest SWJ post), but this one is actually kind of funny.

*--Okay, technically there are three, though it wouldn't fit the Top Gun theme...