Games Without Frontiers

Smart comment from Duck of Minerva on the most recent air strike in Sudan:

“The most significant element in this strike is the actionable intelligence that produced it. The attacking power must know that this particular convoy is carrying arms, and know where the convoy is and where its heading. That type of intelligence suggests either a very robust HUMINT capability on the ground in Sudan, or, more likely, a robust satellite surveillance capability that could identify the convoy and follow it, pinpointing its exact location at the time of the strike.

The wider implications of this strike could be significant. It shows the depth and difficulty of the Israeli – Hamas conflict. Hamas has a robust global supply network and cooperative governments willing to allow such a network to exist. It also shows the depth of involvement by Sudan and Iran in the issue. It also is a clear signal from Israel to Iran–we are monitoring your actions and have the ability to strike your activities. The F-15I’s range includes Port Sudan, and thus a good chunk of Iran as well. “

Putting aside whether Israel really carried out the strike (unconfirmed), this really does stress the global nature of the giant three-way proxy game between the US, Israel and Iran (and it’s proxies).

Advertising and Augmented Reality

Jamais Cascio has a great new column in Fast Company on the potential for augmented reality:

“What happens when you combine increasingly immersive digital tools and aggressive competition between advertisers and filters? Unintended, and potentially quite unsettling, consequences.

Technologists and futurists call the mashup of digital info and physical space “blended reality.” Apps in development for the iPhone and Google’s Android platform are early indicators that a seamless blending of atoms and bits may soon be available to us. And just beyond that, personal heads-up displays, digital glasses, and other forms of wearable immersive systems, all of which exist in prototype may give us a view of reality seamlessly blending the Internet and the physical world. “

Blended reality sounds very much like the extended sensory apparatus predicted in David Ronfeldt’s paper “The Prospects for Cyberocracy.” There is, of course, a dark side—and Cascio is blunt in telling us how much spam augmented reality will likely create. The concept of AR in and of itself is an interesting evolution of futurism—much of which used to be centered around the notion of an entirely different (but illusory) world created by technology. The Matrix is perhaps a vulgarization of this idea. Now, the most interesting ideas about shifts in reality and technology instead come from the blending of physical space and digitized information. What it represents is a victory for holism over the mind-body divide represented by the cyberpunk idea of surfing the “vast and infinite” net as a disembodied form.
As always, the security implications are highly interesting—both in terms of the obvious change in deception, counterdeception, propaganda, and surveillance methodology–and in the more strategic change in how we communicate and interact with others. This vision of a seamless blend of the Internet and the physical world may never come to pass–at least in the form Cascio describes (see H.G. Wells and his idea of the “World Brain” compared to the Internet), but it is certainly worth thinking about as technological continues to evolve.

Powell, AirLand Battle, and the Problem of Politics

The US military’s current doctrinal revolution has received generous praise from journalists and policy analysts. From the now iconic Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual to the FM 3-0 Operations and FM 3.07 Stability Operations, it would seem that a golden age of doctrine has dawned. The spur for this doctrinal shift was the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a global struggle with terrorism. To go back even further, most conflicts the US has been involved in since the late 80s have been stability operations conducted in in concert with other powers.

This media narrative, to some degree, underrates the level of dissent this doctrinal revolution provoked in some quarters of the military and the defense policy establishment. Prominent military intellectuals derided the new COIN manual, and there has been significant debate over the new irregular war-focused direction. To understand the nature of this debate, it’s worth looking back at the role that Vietnam had on US debates over grand strategy and military policy.

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More Benchmarks

Philip Zelikow posts a series of unknown variables regarding Obama’s Afghanistan plan:

“Top Ten Analytic Variables (as of March 2009):

1. A quality assessment of Pakistani intentions and capabilities, underpinned by a deep, candid assessment of the country’s general prospects.

2. U.S. policy to hedge against the more likely risks that may lie ahead in Pakistan.

3. Policy on how to deal with increasingly open Taliban base areas in Quetta and Baluchistan (western Pakistan).

4. Analysis of current and new aid programs to Pakistan.

5. Policy for how the United States would attempt to enforce its nominal benchmarks on Pakistani actions.

6. Analysis of how U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be employed. I understand the new training piece. But what about the city/village/provincial security piece? Is this, in its essence, a stabilize/train/withdraw strategy or a clear/hold/build strategy?

7. Policy for how the U.S. would attempt to enforce its nominal benchmarks on Afghan actions.

8. If the United States becomes the indispensable funder of the enlarged Afghan Army and Police for the foreseeable future (not the case in Iraq), doesn’t this make Afghanistan a protectorate of the United States? If so, to what extent is the United States accountable, and responsible, for the selection and performance and behavior of army and police commanders? (I’ll leave off the issue of civilian leaders …)

9. Analysis of the new strategy’s counter-narcotics approach for Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the “new” emphasis on crop substitution. Is it Afghan/Pakistani/U.S./NATO policy to seek out and destroy drug labs and target principal traffickers? Are we and our local allies planning to allocate resources and forces that have a plausible chance to perform this mission?

10. Analysis of current policy for the detention and judicial handling of enemy captives in Afghanistan.

I have not listed the UN, NATO, or World Bank variables. Or the issues of civilian capabilities or PRTs. Or the details of police training/field mentoring — though all of these are very, very important too.”

Strategy in Afghanistan

I mostly agree with Kotare’s assessment of the Obama strategy. It is not rhetoric–it sets clearly defined objectives. I also echo Yglesias in his enthusiasm for benchmarks.

The problems lie in those objectives’ implementation. They are ambitious, and as Van Riper would say (and did often at Boyd 2007), “wicked problems.” As Tom Ricks blogs, it’s quite easy to denounce corruption and quite difficult to actually do something about it. Likewise, while Obama makes reference to created a holistic regional strategy and a security conference for concerned powers, Ricks blogs that there is little to no content about the Pakistani military. The capacity-building steps Obama lists (broadening economic assistance, economic cooperation, strengthening the Pakistani government’s capacity) are good but in many ways Pakistan’s dysfunctional civil-military relationship is at the heart of the problem.

I’m sure more details will be made available over the coming weeks. Until then, read the White Paper for more information.