An interesting quote from one of William Lind’s latest pieces, title "Regression".  (Is "interesting" the right word?  Can it still be "interesting when you’ve heard it over and over?):

It is, however, a virtual certainty that the Israeli inquiry will not address the most interesting question of all: how did the world’s premier post-World War II Third Generation military regress to the Second Generation?

When I was in Israel several years ago, I said to my host, a retired Israeli general with several interesting books to his credit, that I thought the IDF had begun to regress to the Second Generation after the 1973 war. He told me I was wrong; the regression had begun after the war in 1967.

The question of how it happened, and why maintaining the culture of a Third Generation military is so difficult even for armed services that have attained it—the Royal Navy lost it after the Napoleonic Wars, for reasons brilliantly set forth in Andrew Gordon’s The Rules of the Game, and the German Army lost it when the Bundeswehr was created, for political reasons—is of interest far beyond Israel. A number of Israelis have traced it in their case to the development of a large weapons R&D and procurement establishment, and I think there is a lot to that argument.

The virtues required in military officers involved in weapons development and procurement are the virtues of the bureaucrat: careful, even obsessive attention to process; avoiding risky decisions, and whenever possible making decisions by committee; avoiding responsibility; careerism, because success is measured by career progression; and generally shining up the handle on the big front door. Time is not very important, while dotting every i and crossing every t is vital, since at some point the auditors will be coming, and the politicians and the press will be waiting eagerly for their reports. Remunerative careers in the defense industry await those officers who know how to go along to get along. While the Israeli defense industry has produced some remarkably good products, such as the Merkava tank, getting the program funded still tends to be more important than making sure the weapon will work in combat. As time goes on, efficiency tends to become more important than effectiveness; not surprisingly, the simpler and more effective Israeli weapon systems came earlier, and more recent ones tend to reflect the American tendency toward complex and expensive ineffectiveness.  {Lind, "Regression", 2006}

Regression indeed…or at least stagnation…that is, for Lind’s argument here.  This is the same argument that we heard from Lind and the reformers about the U.S. military in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  It is the same thing they are still saying about the U.S. military today, regardless of the fact that many of the weapons they opposed and said would never work have worked brilliantly.  Now, the same old arguments are being used to explain the Israeli defeat, as though nothing has changed and there are no differences between the U.S. and Israel, as if having strong R&D and procurement explains it all.

Certainly, not all U.S. or Israeli weapons systems have performed perfectly.  Certainly there are bureaucratic inefficiencies in large organizations, leading to misplaced priorities and loyalties, waste, and sometimes even fraud and abuse.  But this does not explain everything, as the reformers would like so much of the time.  As a point of rhetorical/argumentative strategy, the remaining reformers would do well to learn a lesson that should already be familiar to them: surprise and unpredictability can be an asset.  Boyd’s thought, based on concepts from emerging sciences like complexity theory (much of it funded by the very military R&D that they reformers vehemently criticize), emphasizes unpredictability and surprise in the world in general, and in military operations more specifically.  Small differences can lead to big changes.  Those differences, that little bit of play that exists in all things, is what allows new things to emerge.  The same applies in the case of argument and rhetoric.

While other aspects of Lind’s thinking on fourth generation warfare may have developed and changed, this argument about R&D/procurement being regressive is a fall-back position.  It’s quick and easy and supposedly explains it all.  But people don’t like to listen to people who are a broken record.  Merely making the same argument over and over again, regardless of differences of time and place, makes one look as though he or she is either incapable of recognizing change, or unwilling to admit the existence of change, possibly for ideological reasons.

I don’t have time to go into it here, but there is also a strong argument to be made that Lind et al do not understand the history of post-war U.S. military R&D, nor the effect that that R&D has had on U.S. military thought.  On closer examination, for example, Boyd was not as removed from the post-war traditions of operations research, systems analysis, cybernetics, and engineering as his followers would have us believe.  I plan to write more in the future about how Boyd’s thinking actually developed out of these traditions, and is in many ways representative of a shift in worldview within these traditions that is closely related to the U.S. experience in Vietnam.

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