Sunday, September 23, 2007

Built-In Stupidity

I don't think this means what Thomas Barnett thinks it does. He argues that the demand for armoured patrol vehicles in Iraq is an example of conflict between the objectives of his "SysAdmin" force, and the Washington-cented, tech-heavy "Leviathan". Of course, it's an example of conflict between the centre and the front line, but that's not enough.

What if those increasingly baroque MRAPs were themselves a symptom of dysfunctional strategy? Essentially, they are six-wheeled buses surrounded by huge amounts of armour protection of various kinds, intended to be safer for the occupants than the Humvees and trucks they have so far been using. But the enemy is already countering them, by the simple and cheap means of building bigger bombs, or organising attacks with multiple bombs. Given the insane quantities of money it has cost to field what are basically armoured buses, this is not the road to success.

Of course, if you're a tom in Iraq, you'd rather travel in one of these than in a Humvee. But what mission are they meant to conduct? Building really heavily armoured patrol vehicles implies that you're going to be driving around in small groups of vehicles full of soldiers a lot, in an environment where you're under constant IED threat. They're not suited to use on an active battlefield, and they're so big they aren't very airportable. Every artefact is an ideology made manifest; this one manifests the idea that it's possible to fight this kind of war without contact with your environment. What are the soldiers in the back doing? They can't see much out of the vehicle; they can't hear what goes on outside for engine noise; probably no-one in the vehicle would understand what the people are saying anyway.

And we've decided to accept this state of affairs, and build a mobile wall to keep it out.

In short, these vehicles are the exact opposite of Barnett's SysAdmin. What could be more like Leviathan than a column of buttoned-up steel monsters driving 40mph down a crowded street, bashing into parked vehicles, menacing anyone who gets too close with a 25mm chain gun and loudspeaker yelling? In fact, it sounds more like Franz Neumann's Behemoth than Leviathan; an authoritarian creator of chaos, not order.

Or are they? Think of a bad system administrator; a smelly fat guy who locks himself in the data centre and spends his time being unpleasant to the lusers who ring up and distract him from playing CounterStrike, watching internet porn, and posting one-upmanship troll comments on Windows/Mac flamewar threads. If you're feeling charitable, maybe he's borderline autistic. If not, perhaps he's just an anti-social prick who thinks everyone else is inferior because he knows unix command line arguments and this makes him some sort of Heinleinian/Ayn Rand libertarian hero. Remind you of any geopolitical project you've heard of?

If any of this is to have any useful meaning, we need to invest in the human capital; retention bonuses for Intelligence Corps linguists would be a great start. But more importantly, it's time we got another sysadmin.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, one of the measures of success in Iraq in particular and recent wars in general is lack of casualties.

But we can't achieve zero casualties and still fight a war. Saying that brands one as callous or worse, even though it's a simple fact of war.

Anonymous said...

All this MRAPs remind me of the Casspir - the South African Police (and later Army') vehicle of choice. I can't help but note that the apartheid regime it was built to defend no longer exists.

I wonder if it's a general rule: once they can plant AT mines in urban areas with impunity, you're losing the hearts and minds to such an extent that perhaps you ought to think about changing political tack. ISTR that the big culvert bombs in NI were a rural thing, but I could be wrong.

Chris Williams

Alex said...

Chris(1): No-one's suggesting that "no casualties" is possible. The problem is that "keeping casualties down to a level that doesn't cause mission failure" doesn't seem to be possible.

Chris(2): You'll be delighted to know that one of the most common MRAPs is South African in design.

The Northern Irish culvert bombs were indeed out in the cuds, and I think were essentially solved by a change of tactics. But your general point is good.

Anonymous said...

Alex - I'm definitely not claiming that "no casualties" is possible. But I've watched Democrats use the MRAP specifically to prove that they not "against the troops." It's a political talisman here in the US - buy more armor for the guys and you are (supposed to be) immune from criticism.

J. said...

Chris G. - the Dems are just as disengenuous as the Repubs, they're playing on the general public's increasing disdane for mounting casualties. MRAPs aren't going to help the Iraqi govt succeed, and that's the only thing that the Bush administration is measuring.

Anonymous said...

Good points, but to anyone even casually acquainted with Barnett, it's no surprise that there's a planet-sized chasm between external reality and his jargonized magical thinking. If he hadn't stumbled onto the highly lucrative "defense" trough, the guy would be pushing real estate, or maybe used cars.
-- sglover

Alex said...

It always amuses me that he quite frequently gets it right about the core insight that George Bush has fucked up the prospects for his strategy comprehensively, he doesn't seem to worry about hobnobbing with his officials. The cogdis is pretty strong in this one.

ziz said...

The original 80 off Mastiff Cougars were augented b y 22 Mastiff Cougar PPV's announced by Des Bruin in March.

The Difference the first 80 were what we call the unarmoured version sir.

Which is why we ordered the 22 PPV version, with a handy swivelling turret gun as a help if anyone is going to attack and we need to defend ourselves.

Q Mr Salesman - if they blow out all six tyres what do we do ?.. er well basically you have a very heavy bus that doesn't move sir .. you could call out Kwik Fit..

kostenloser Counter