The Christian Science Monitor today has an article that provides a slightly more balanced view of Rumsfeld and transformation.  The article correctly notes,

Mr. Rumsfeld’s intent was to change what he believed
were old ways of thinking. Peter Singer, senior fellow at the Brookings
Institution in Washington, says Rumsfeld wanted to send a message as
much as to cancel programs. “He was telling the [armed] services: ‘You
have to have a new operating mentality,’ ” he says.

The military got the message. Discussions over
designing the military of the future were once confined to universities
and think tanks. But, Rumsfeld brought the debate to the Pentagon. Now,
each branch of the military analyzes new ways to grow.

But the article also provides evidence for the argument that his critics have unfairly and inaccurately protrayed him as obsessed with hi-tech weapons at the expense of people and ideas.  The article continues,

Fighting today’s wars, some experts say, is not just
about smarter technology but about smarter ways of handling people. Jim
Dobbins, director of the RAND Corp.’s Security and Defense Policy
Center and the Bush administration’s first special envoy to
Afghanistan, believes Rumsfeld’s efforts at transforming the military
are “largely irrelevant” to the counterinsurgency efforts in places
like Iraq and Afghanistan, and in fact may be destructive.

Mr. Dobbins acknowledges that at the tactical level,
networked weapons systems can be helpful. But computers can not gauge
collateral damage. The drone’s missile may take out the mortar, but it
may also take out the entire house.

“If you substitute firepower for manpower, you kill
innocent people and antagonize the population you are trying to help,”
Dobbins says.

The unexpected difficulties of the Iraq war ultimately soured many
people on the value of Rumsfeld’s reforms. Pinpoint attacks can
effectively take out tanks and missile silos. But lightning strikes
don’t work in house-to-house raids or when rooting out guerrillas in
caves. Those scenarios require manpower.

Not just about “smarter technology” but also smarter ways of handling people (sounds like organizational and managerial reform), and possibly new, smarter ways of thinking too?  That sounds a lot like something Rumsfeld himself might have said.

Yes, a networked, precision weapon might take out an entire house, but it is a sure bet that older, “dumber”, more indiscriminate weapons would take out the house.

Transformation is irrelevant to counterinsurgency?  I guess that is true if you believe that our previous force structure (big, slow, and heavy) is more relevant to counterinsurgency, a belief that would seem hard to justify.  But, even if transformation is irrelevant to counterinsurgency, that only becomes a make or break issue if we assume that counterinsurgency is the only possible action in which the U.S. military will have to engage now and in the future.  I do not believe that transformation is irrelevant to counterinsurgency mainly because it is not directly relevant to any one form of conflict.  Transformation is about providing the sociotechnical structures and processes necessary to adapt to new situations.  The results of transformation may or may not be relevant, but that is a risk that one takes with transformation.  Having the freedom to develop and deploy new ideas, weapons, organizational forms, etc., means also accepting the risk that they may be irrelevant.  Just like a precision missile might miss, a new idea may be irrelevant.  That does not mean we should abandon our efforts at precision or new ideas.

Finally, again we see the classic dichotomy that ran through so much of the Reformers’ critique from the 1970s and 1980s: technology versus people and ideas.  It’s Boyd’s argument that people fight wars, not weapons.  Well, in actuality, both people and technology fight wars, together, in ways that increasingly blur the boundaries between the two.  It is not productive to continue to reify this dichotomy.  Instead, we need to work to better understand the ways that people and machines work together in combat.

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