Why liberals lose

Juan Cole, one of our most perspicuous observers on the Middle East, ran a blog post the other day that illustrates why conservatives have such a strong hold on certain segments of our society. The item featured a map showing average life expectancy by state, and Prof. Cole’s summary was:

With the exception of Utah, there is a pretty strong overlap between lower life expectancy and deep hostility to the Affordable Care Act. Those who need it most are most opposed to it.

Fair enough. But why? Although one can sympathize with Cole’s frustration, his conclusion illustrates why liberals are struggling so hard:

Know what that is called? Fatal stupidity.

So long as liberals have that attitude, they will feed the very movement they so righteously denounce. It wasn’t that long ago, for example, that Rick Santorum was making a credible run at the GOP nomination by shouting at his audiences:

They think we’re stupid!

Boyd suggested four elements of an effective grand strategy. You can look them up at Patterns 139.  The second is:

Pump up our resolve, drain away adversary resolve, and attract the uncommitted;

Politics is all about grand strategy, about attracting the uncommitted, particularly the swing voters who hold the key to most elections. Telling yourself — that is, locking in your orientation — that they don’t agree with you because they’re stupid will probably not produce effective campaigns.

[Note: I'm not making any statement about the ACA. I've been on government-sponsored, single-payer health programs (TRICARE and Medicare) for a while, and they seem to work for me. But, of course, the ACA is not a single-payer program.]

Why Boyd is Agile

Boyd virtually never uses the word “agile,” but it’s hard to read any of his presentations without running across concepts that seem like agility.

For example, you’ll find this right at the beginning of Patterns of Conflict:

Idea of fast transients suggests that, in order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries—or, better yet, get inside adversary’s observation-orientation-decision-action time cycle or loop. (5)

“Fast transients,” “operate at a faster tempo or rhythm,” “get inside adversary’s observation-orientation-decision-action time cycle or loop” (whatever that means) certain have that agile feel.

Then a few pages over:

It is advantageous to possess a variety of responses that can be applied rapidly to gain sustenance, avoid danger, and diminish adversary’s capacity for independent action. (12)

“A variety of responses that can be applied rapidly,” sounds pretty agile (note that it is the application, not the responses themselves, that is rapid).

Boyd is closely associated with the style of combat known as “maneuver warfare.” Although that term doesn’t appear in Patterns, he does discuss a category that he calls “maneuver conflict.” and one of its components is:

Fast transient maneuvers: Irregular and rapid/abrupt shift from one maneuver
event/state to another.

Near the end of the theory section of Patterns (what follows is “Application”), in the “Theme for Vitality and Growth,” we find:

Adaptability: Power to adjust or change in order to cope with new or unforeseen circumstances (144)

Is “adaptability” the same as agility? About three years after Boyd “finished” Patterns, he redid the list on page 144. Among other things, adaptability disappeared and “agility” showed up, for only the second time in any Boyd briefing. Unfortunately he didn’t supply a definition.

Let me give one more example. In Strategic Game, which came out about a year after the final edition of Patterns, Boyd insisted that:

The ability to shift or transition from one maneuver to another more rapidly than an adversary enables one to win in air-to-air combat. (42) [Compare to "fast transient maneuvers" above]

This is significant because “shifting maneuvers,” say from turning in one direction to turning in another, or from climbing to diving, or from accelerating to decelerating (or any combination) was the original definition of “agility” in the US Air Force.

It’s even more basic, though. If “operating inside the OODA loop” is the same as agility, then agility is the foundation of all Boyd’s military strategy, as you can see from chart 132 of Patterns (too long to reproduce here) and from this paragraph in Strategic Game:

Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive, or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out nor keep up with. Operating inside their O-O-D-A loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on. (47)

From even this small sample, you should be able to see that concepts that seem an awful lot like “agility” permeate Boyd’s work and form a backbone at least to the destructive elements of his theory. Enough theory for now. We’ll explore what his ultimate definition was, and how it might apply to activities other than war, in later posts.

Gödel, Destruction, and Creation

One of the most common questions that comes up when people first approach D&C, other than, perhaps, “What in the heck is he talking about??” is why he invokes the three concepts from math & physics: Gödel’s Theorem, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

I usually hear one of two answers:

  1. He’s showing off
  2. They are analogies

The correct answer is “3. None of the above,” but I could be argued into partial credit for answer number 1. He was a fighter pilot, after all.

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My life in the Third World

Impressed as I am by Pat Lang’s highly successful foray into historical fiction, I have decided to jump in with my own tale of betrayal, deceit, and ultimately redemption. Until I finish that one, however, here’s a short story inspired by something that actually happened to me back in the summer of 1991, when I was in international sales for Lockheed.

God Bless the Whole Third World,”
or in the local dialect, “The Real Palawagi.”

Does it have anything to do with Boyd? Is there a Princess OODA in Around the World in 80 Days?

Happy Birthday Al

Today, in case it escaped you, is the centenary of Alan Turing, one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century and who contributed substantially to such fields as artificial intelligence and cryptography.

Google’s search page today features a working example of the famous Turing Machine. Way beyond cool.

Failed State Index

It is sometimes claimed that 4GW thrives in failed/failing states. I’m not totally sure I buy this. For one thing, the 9/11 attacks were apparently conceived in Afghanistan, which had a pretty strong, even oppressive, government at the time, and planned in such places as Germany and the US.

On the other hand, it seems reasonable that 4GW groups — “global guerrillas” and similar transnational organizations — might do best where they don’t have a strong central government that could be pressured into interfering with their operations.

Whichever side you come down on, here is Foreign Policy‘s Failed State Index for 2012.

A couple of points that struck me:

  • Note how much their map resembles Tom Barnett’s “Pentagon’s New Map.” Hardly a coincidence, of course.
  • Look where the USA falls in their rankings.

Is 4GW magnifique?

Quick note to a comment by Jeff Sexton to my last post, who mentioned John Robb and his Global Guerrillas blog.

Clausewitz’s observation, of course, was made in the context of state-vs-state warfare, where, as he notes, the aim is to “disarm the enemy.” In the form of warfare Robb is addressing (if “warfare” it be, but that’s another question — you can read my take on the subject in If We Can Keep It, available from the Article page), and which also goes under such names as fourth generation warfare and non-trinitarian warfare, that conclusion may not be so straightforward.

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C’est magnifique

mais ce n’est pas la guerre.

This is what I was thinking as I read John Arquilla’s intriguing article on cyberwar at Foreign Policy, “Cool War: Could the age of cyberwarfare lead us to a brighter future?

Here’s his thesis:

On balance, it seems that cyberwar capabilities have real potential to deal with some of the world’s more pernicious problems, from crime and terrorism to nuclear proliferation. In stark contrast to pitched battles that would regularly claim thousands of young soldiers’ lives during Robert E. Lee’s time, the very nature of conflict may come to be reshaped along more humane lines of operations. War, in this sense, might be “made better” — think disruption rather than destruction. More decisive, but at the same time less lethal.

To which one can only add, “I hope so.” But one is reminded of Clausewitz’s warning that once you unleash the dogs of war, it’s hard to know where the escalation of violence will stop: “War is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds.” The side that holds back, loses.

So either cyberwar is not real war, or, which may be saying the same thing, it won’t replace violence but be merely an adjunct to it.

The Agile Boyd

People who know more about Boyd than the OODA loop often associate him with agility. I’ve heard him described as the High Priest of Agility, much as his predecessor, the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz is sometimes called the Mahdi of Mass.

This post starts an occasional series on agility within Boyd’s framework. I was prodded into action by an article by Mike Doheny, Venu Nagali, and Florian Weig,  “Agile Operations for Volatile Times,” which you may have seen in the McKinsey Quarterly. I don’t know about you, but I find it a little depressing that nearly a generation after The Machine that Changed the World, we are still reading articles touting agility. Tells you something about the state of the art.

Here’s the key sentence:

Notably, these companies aren’t just spotting and mitigating supply chain risks. They are also seeking ways to use volatility to gain advantages over rivals.

What they’re suggesting is that “agility” has something to do with how you “use volatility to gain advantages over rivals.” I couldn’t agree more, leading to the question of how agility fits into Boyd’s framework, which certainly concerns itself with gaining—and exploiting—advantages over rivals.

Oddly, though, mentions of agility are rare indeed in Boyd’s works. If you search Patterns of Conflict, for example, “agility” occurs precisely once, as an item in a list attributed to the German general, Hermann Balck:  By example, leaders (at all levels) must demonstrate requisite physical energy, mental agility, and moral authority to inspire subordinates to enthusiastically cooperate and take initiative within superior’s intent. (chart 118) That’s it. Interesting that he singles out mental agility. Even more interesting that the title of this page is “Observations related to Moral Conflict.”

The situation is even more sparse for “Destruction and Creation,” Organic Design, Strategic Game, Conceptual Spiral, and The Essence of Winning and Losing. Not a mention anywhere.

So how is Boyd associated with agility? That’s what we’re going to explore in this series. It turns out that agility does indeed play a central role: You’ll have a hard time understanding his strategy, much less applying it in your own organization, without a deep understanding of his concept of agility. But Boyd did not throw around the term loosely … when he used it at all.