Number Crunching

One of the more fascinating comments recently came from James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence.  As he was describing the failure to predict the collapse of Iraqi security forces and the rise of ISIL.  His quote from Washington Post is: “It boils down to predicting the will to fight, which is an imponderable.”  And there in lays the problem.  That is exactly what the National Security officials should be trying to assess.  Instead of looking at the numbers of soldiers, police, and etc. the analysts should have been looking at the human element.

It seems there is a basic disconnect between the real world and the analysis that guides our foreign policy decision making.  War and conflict by their inherent nature are human endeavors.  To try to analyze them without taking into account human will and actions is useless.  As the OODA loop so elegantly shows the final step required to complete the loop is for the subject to Act.  For a person to act in a conflict requires the strength of will to do what is required to accomplish the mission.  In war that requires the will to fight, which the US trained Iraqi forces clearly lacked.

As the Director mentioned in his interview this is the same mistake we made in Vietnam, and yet we still refuse to learn from our mistakes.   Our ability to imprint our ways of war on someone else’s military is extremely limited.  The reason we fight the way we do is based on our society and cultural upbringing.  To think that you could have someone, especially someone whose society is dramatically different from ours, to fight the way we do is folly.  As Taliban and ISIL demonstrated, the poor copies of the Western Armed forces that are the Iraqi and Afghan army, are at a disadvantage when facing a native force that is willing to fight and die for what they believe in.

With regards to intelligence analysis, any assessment regarding ally or enemy capability has to be based on the assessment of the people.  A tank or an APC is useless without a crew that is willing to fight and yet we keep thinking that if we just give enough equipment to a foreign army that somehow that by itself will make it effective force.  Afghanistan is a prime example.  Once we withdraw from Afghanistan that army will most likely fall apart because it lacks the will to fight.  There are a multitude reasons for that, which in the end really mean nothing, except to show that the continued US support of those armed forces and others such as them will by itself not lead to success.  If the native forces are not willing to fight and die for their own country, then the only thing we are doing is prolonging the conflict.  US forces should not be more willing to die for Afghanistan then the Afghans are.  That’s what the intelligence analyst should be highlighting to the decision makers.  Maybe then we won’t continue to waste our lives and money.  That fact that they don’t combined with the lack of accountability for poor previous analysis traps us in a cycle of poor decisions.

There is no easy or quick fix.  The culture of the intelligence agencies has to change.  Critical thinking which seems to be absent, in both civilian and military analysis, has to be nurtured and number crunching removed as an analysis tool.  Numbers of tanks and other equipment matter. but not as much as the human analysis.  People centric is the only way to analyze and predict what our adversaries will do.  The people we are fighting or will fight in the future are not faceless robots and neither are our allies.  If we treat them as such then we will continue making the same mistakes we have made since Vietnam.  By still supporting allies with our blood and treasure who are unwilling to fight for their own country.  On purely military level as ISIL demonstrated over the past few year, an effective fighting force can be created in the Arab world in a short time, without any foreign assistance.  Our Arab allies should be able to do the same, if they have the will to fight.

As our own history shows, you have to be willing to fight for what you believe in.  At Antietam more than 20,000 Americans lost their lives or were wounded in single day of battle.  Does any one truly believe that Iraqi and Afghan Armies are willing to take those kind of casualties in a single day?  And that sums up our current dilemma,  Lacking a clear analysis we are stuck repeating the same mistakes over and over.  Until we change the way we look at our adversaries and allies we will keep doing the same things, expecting different results.