Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Generalizable lessons

From The White House’s Seven Deadly Errors by Mark Moyar. This has a feel of being more political that it need be. I suspect the insight is not so much about the White House as it is about conducting protracted, costly operations, particularly military operations, in a participative democracy. It is an irony that participatory democracies are both prone to maintaining societally non-beneficial programs for decades past their ostensible need and at the same time frequently unable to sustain focus on societally beneficial (if tactically costly) initiatives.

Milton Friedman said in Tyranny of the Status Quo that "There is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program." An example would have to include the National Helium Reserve, created in 1925 to ensure that we had access to helium for militarily critical lighter-than-air dirigibles. Congress got around to passing legislation to discontinue the Reserve in 1996. Despite the efforts towards good government, in 2013 Congress voted to extend the Reserve indefinitely. The centennial for the Reserve is just nine years away. As of today it is 66 years since the last flight of a US military dirigible.

Moyar is using the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the basis for identifying shortfalls in behavior that undermine achievement of strategic objectives. At a surface reading, the lessons bear many resemblances to those of Vietnam. I am not especially well read in the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) but from what I know, Moyar's analysis seems reasonably pertinent to that conflict as well.

Moyar's Seven Errors are:
1. Excessive Confidence in Democratization

2. Poor Selection of Local Allies

3. Haste in Counterinsurgency

4. Over-reliance on Surgical Strikes

5. Refusal to Commit a Military Footprint

6. Refusal to Maintain a Military Footprint

7. Signaling of Retrenchment
These seem to be truisms across multiple conflicts. It's not just the White House and it's not just Afghanistan/Iraq. Is it extendable to non-military conflict? I suspect so. I would render the corresponding lessons as:
1. Excessive Confidence in Teamwork

2. Poor Selection of Partnerships

3. Mistaking Appearances for Reality

4. Over-reliance on Silver Bullet Solutions

5. Avoiding Trade-Off Decisions

6. Refusal to Follow Through on Commitments

7. Signaling of Equivocation

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