An Overdependence on Technology in Iraq

Fascinating article on how an overdependence on technology hurt us in Iraq.

Posted on December 7, 2007 at 6:01 AM • 23 Comments

Comments

DanCDecember 7, 2007 7:24 AM

I have had "older" police officers tell me basically the same thing as they were transitioned from beat cops into squad cars.

bobDecember 7, 2007 7:28 AM

Nothing new under the sun. We've learned how to use technology to enable us to fight the way the british did in the american revolution. We just cant convince the enemy to line up in neat rows for us.

supersnailDecember 7, 2007 8:48 AM

You Americans really like to repeat your mistakes.
During the Vietnam war teh Johnson administration imported lots of business gurus into the DoD and applied the then current business fads running the war.

Thus junior officers were treated like trainee managers and got "rotated" from post to post. Never staying in one place with one unit long enough to be effective. Success was not judged by winning battles or caputering territory, but by abstract metrics like "kill ratios" and "contact counts".

War is not a business it should be run by veteren soldiers and not MBAs.

AnonymousDecember 7, 2007 9:18 AM

It's much worse than an over-reliance or mis-application of technology, or having the means justify the end, it's mistaking a means for an end.

Sort of thinking that a firewall is a security policy.

Jeff Huber just put up an excellent essay on this:
http://zenhuber.blogspot.com/2007/11/krauthammer-versus-clausewitz.html
which can be summed up by the two quotes by Clausewitz:
"Policy is the guiding intelligence and war only the instrument, not vice versa."
and
"If we do not learn to regard a war, and the separate campaigns of which it is composed, as a chain of linked engagements each leading to the next, but instead succumb to the idea that the capture of certain geographical points or the seizure of undefended provinces are of value in themselves, we are liable to regard them as windfall profits."

The most efficient "kill-chain" won't do squat unless there is a clear and achievable objective. The other problem is that the "kill-chain" that is being used is purpose built for set piece battles between great powers basically 2nd generation warfare versus 4th generation asymmetric warfare.
http://www.d-n-i.net/fcs/4th_gen_war_gazette.htm

You don't even need Clausewitz, Powell will suffice. To use a shortened version of the Powell doctrine:
- Do we have a clear attainable objective?
- Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
- Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
- Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
- Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?

DerobDecember 7, 2007 9:21 AM

Since there is indeed little news under the sun I am just wondering whether another reason could at least partly explain the difficulties the US are experiencing.

Hollywood picked up this problem years ago; insurgents often tend to be successful against technologically more sophisticated empires. Just think Star Wars and Terminator. The one difference being here is that they are successful against empires of evil, which have the popular opinion against them.

Maybe the fundamental mistake the US leadership made is unrelated to their choice of technology. Perhaps it is considering themselves as the empire of the good which would in their view automatically win the rational popular opinion without needing a war of hearts and minds. Doing so the US leadership ignored the complex mix of cultural issues, local politics and tribal relations, and the lure of fundamentalism, in which they would not automatically be considered the good. Thus they went in with too few and wrongly equipped troops and reacted wrongly and too late to the insurgency.

aikimarkDecember 7, 2007 9:53 AM

This also reminds me of a Marine general, Paul Van Ripper, who headed the guerilla/insurgent army against the US army in a war game prior to the Afghanistan invasion. The general employed asymmetric warfare tactics against the US forces and kicked their asses. (Soundly)

The Pentagon brass (war college) dismissed the results. During the game, the moderators changed results, bent their own rules, and blocked some actions as being 'unfair'.

http://www.slate.com/id/2080814/

Paul CrowleyDecember 7, 2007 10:28 AM

The fact that this story is so psychologically satisfying makes me extremely suspicious of it - echoes of the story about the space pen versus the pencil.

dragonfrogDecember 7, 2007 10:39 AM

@ Anonymous - re. the Powell doctrine - which Powell is that? Presumably not Colin.

BMurrayDecember 7, 2007 10:54 AM

It strikes me that the real failure here is not one of technology but of matching tools to purpose: the army and the marines are not appropriate tools for rebuilding a shattered country. They are not even appropriate tools to provide security (police forces are). They lack nearly all of the basic capabilities needed for these jobs.

I'm sure the new technology in the armed forces is great for what armed forces do: kill the enemy on the battlefield, capture territory, and defend territory against counter-attack. If you use a high tech tool for the wrong job it's not the fault of the tool or its level of technology. It's the guy who chose it.

Mark R.December 7, 2007 12:03 PM

Re. aikimark's comments about Paul Van Riper
The link in the Slate article to the original Army Times article is dead, but you can find the Army Times article here: http://www.armytimes.com/legacy/new/0-292925-1060102.php
A more thorough discussion of the technology-oriented and deliberative mindset that hampered the other team that Van Riper defeated is also covered in chapter 4 of Malcolm Gladwell's book _Blink_: http://www.amazon.com/Blink-Power-Thinking-Without/dp/0316172324

Nick LancasterDecember 7, 2007 7:41 PM

Alkimark and Mark R. point out General Paul von Riper's asymmetrical tactics in the 'Millennium Challenge,' related in Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Blink."

Von Riper is one of several generals who have criticized the Iraq War.

Then, there's always Murphy's Laws of Combat:

- When you've secured an area, don't forget to tell the enemy.


AnonymousDecember 8, 2007 10:25 AM

Flawed premise. We are opposed effectively because our wars are unjust and the local populations know it and will not surrender. We aren't up against "jihadists" or "terrorists" or "insurgents". We are up against people who want us out of their countries and will not submit to empire.

Afghanistan is a failure because, contrary to America's deeply held belief, it did not attack us on 9-11-01. The Taliban did not blow up the towers. Al Qaida did, and they booked from Afghanistan in the 30+ days it took for Bush to set up the annihilation of that country. We bombed brown people who kinda looked like Al Qaida and who were living in the same country that the outfit formerly camped in. We killed tens of thousands of people, occupied the place, and not coincidentally made our new puppet government sign the gas pipeline deal the Taliban government refused.

Iraq, well, well. A pack of lies to invade a helpless, non-hostile nation. We killed 100,000 outright and another 900,000 died from the effects of the occupation. Two million are homeless and at least a million of those have fled their own country. Girls are selling themselves in Syria to feed their families back home. We are being opposed because we are bastards, not because we haven't "social networked" properly. We murdered their country. What would YOU do if someone wiped out three percent of all living Americans and then stole everything not nailed down, then dictated a constitution and installed a puppet government? Would social networking make you feel better after your wife and kids were incinerated?

ceabairdDecember 9, 2007 9:18 PM

Underestimating your opponent, and not treating them as a credible threat - hubris - has beaten more than one army throughout history.

I like the way that repackaging lessons learned in previous wars are always trotted out as a "New Warfighting Paradigm" - funny, but the American's were running 4th gen combat operations over 200 years ago. Against the technologically "superior" Imperial British Army.

Felix DzerzhinksyDecember 10, 2007 12:17 AM

"We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization. "

Charlton Ogburn, "Merrill's Marauders", Harpers Magazine, January 1957

TarkeelDecember 10, 2007 2:48 AM

@Derob: "Hollywood picked up this problem years ago; insurgents often tend to be successful against technologically more sophisticated empires. Just think Star Wars and Terminator. The one difference being here is that they are successful against empires of evil, which have the popular opinion against them."

Difference? Try selling that to the populace oppressed by oilseekers.

Personally, I think it comes down to "will to fight".

supersnailDecember 10, 2007 3:50 AM

@felix --
" We trained hard ....etc. "
— attributed to Petronius Arbiter, 210 B.C.

Never mind I always though it was by Marcus Aurelius from about 50 A.D.

Kadin2048December 10, 2007 1:51 PM

"We are up against people who want us out of their countries and will not submit to empire."

While that may be a satisfying conclusion to draw, lots of people throughout history have not wanted to submit to empire but have lost anyway. Lots of people have been bastards throughout history and have won. And probably many of them didn't think they were bastards as they did it. America is not unique.

Therefore, while what you are saying may all be true and interesting, it certainly can't be the sole reason for the military failure. There are other issues at work beyond the perceived "justness" of US foreign policy.

neubleDecember 11, 2007 11:49 AM

I didn't attend West Point, but it seems obvious to me that you cannot "win" a war waged in a relatively modern society in an environment that has basic infrastructure. Not if you define "win" as ambiguously as we have. If some other country army occupied US soil today, there would be a similar insurgency.

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