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Validating Van Riper
May 26, 2006 7:47 AM   Subscribe

“You are not to use electronic communication or even land lines when communicating.” Remember the Millennium Challenge '02 wargames (previously discussed here)? To refresh your memory, Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper (ret.), playing the part of the enemy, sank half the American fleet using a host of unconventional tactics including using motorcycle messengers to avoid radio interception. The embarrassed Pentagon game masters restarted the game & forced Van Riper to use more conventional tactics that guaranteed a win by the Good Guys. Well it looks like the Iraqi insurgents have picked up a play from Van Riper's book. Flyers are being distributed throughout Iraq urging fighters to stop using cellphones, landline phones & the Internet for communications because the US Army is intercepting them & tracking down the rebel cells. Score one for open source warfare. [via]
posted by scalefree (55 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh hell, they're using bicycle messengers. Now we're in for it. :P
posted by dsquid at 7:55 AM on May 26, 2006


I guess now Haliburton will get a trillion dollars to develop a new state of the art bicycle tracking system.
posted by dobie at 8:07 AM on May 26, 2006


I suppose this is why absolute secrecy about the military's capabilities, weaknesses, doctrine, unit strength, armaments, position, and very existence will be necessary.

Obviously, the people who talked about that wargaming experiment HELPED THE TERRORISTS.
posted by verb at 8:11 AM on May 26, 2006


Won't the insurgents in Iraq now be at a disadvantage if they follow these orders? For all we know it's a US tactic to reduce their communication capabilities.
posted by PenDevil at 8:13 AM on May 26, 2006


PenDevil, what an interesting observation.

Hmm.

I hope you're right because that would truly be shrewd, but I figure it will be spun more along the lines of what verb is suggesting.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:17 AM on May 26, 2006


I couldn't help but notice a strange trend in all of these retired and former soldiers who have been denounced and villified by right-wing warfloggers mysteriously being, you know, completely fucking right about everything they said.

That just makes absolutley no sense, especially since I don't think any of them have their own weblogs.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:22 AM on May 26, 2006


I always assumed they had been using word-of-mouth there anyway--we all know that in an occupation or war all communications are monitored (and here at home they're monitored too now, pathetically)--why wouldn't they have known? Also, they're using to living under Saddam, who probably monitored people (enemies of his regime, i guess) as well.

People at the Pentagon really are more concerned with appearances and politics and publicity than actual effectiveness, it seems. That was a perfect opportunity to wargame and develop new strategies and countering moves--pity they didn't take it when there was time to actually implement things that would have stopped so much continuing death on all sides.
posted by amberglow at 8:23 AM on May 26, 2006


That doesn't leave much. Smoke signals?
posted by mischief at 8:24 AM on May 26, 2006


I guess now Haliburton will get a trillion dollars to develop a new state of the art bicycle tracking system.

Of course, they won't actually develop it. That doesn't fit their business plan.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:25 AM on May 26, 2006


I'm sure glad the terrorists have never thought of this. Otherwise the NSA's illegal multibillion-dollar data mining apparatus would be completely useless except to keep tabs on innocent American citizens.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:44 AM on May 26, 2006


Score one for the grass-roots resistance against Technocracy!
posted by squirrel at 8:45 AM on May 26, 2006


As I've stated before, the great Generals of the past, such as Boyd and Patton, would be absolutely furious at the lack of imagination and rigid focus on following accepted norms and doctrine in today's armed forces.

Technology doesn't win wars - men do. Always have, always will.
posted by tgrundke at 8:54 AM on May 26, 2006


For all we know it's a US tactic to reduce their communication capabilities.

Pffft. You really give them that much credit? That doesn't even make any sense, considering this: The embarrassed Pentagon game masters restarted the game & forced Van Riper to use more conventional tactics that guaranteed a win by the Good Guys.

If it was all an elaborate ruse, they would have eaten their loss for maximum impact.
posted by prostyle at 8:55 AM on May 26, 2006


Score one for open source warfare.

Hilarious. The lucky people are getting pieces of shrapnel lodged in their faces, the not-so-lucky ones are getting limbs blown off, and the really unlucky ones are getting blown to thousands of pieces, but you're sitting here cheerleading like it's a Yanks-Boston game.

You should set up a lounge chair and an umbrella on a busy Baghdad street corner and teach yourself how to say "Score one..." in Arabic, because I'm sure a front-row seat would be even more fantastic than watching from your computer chair. Hell, why not season tickets?
posted by Alexandros at 9:00 AM on May 26, 2006


Alexandros, the point here is that the U.S. military could have been prepared, but chose to rig the wargames instead of doing what was right -- defining a strategy against Van Riper's tactics. There's no hilarity here, and it's wrong of you to interpret the comment as humorous.
posted by boo_radley at 9:15 AM on May 26, 2006


Alexandros, you may need to recalibrate your internet reading comprehension meter.

You've missed the point on this, and badly. Being such a new user to MeFi (1 week?), you may do well to read lots of other posts and comments to get a feel for the way things are presented here.

No typical MeFite would derive pleasure from the suffering of our soldiers. In fact, this activity by our military is offensive because it will lead to MORE suffering for our soldiers.

Again, you missed the point so badly I'm afraid you need to start again. Try from the top, and read the articles before posting.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:23 AM on May 26, 2006


Wow. I missed the war games story when it originally happened. That's atrocious. They should be ashamed.
posted by raedyn at 9:29 AM on May 26, 2006


Good post.

I'm a broken record, but really, small groups empowered with modern technology (not necessarily cell phones and websites, maybe just shoulder-mounted RPG launchers or small boats full of modern powerful explosives) beat top-down slow moving hierarchical systems, again and again. Modern guerillas resisting occupation beat the biggest and most well-funded national military in the world; little garage-based companies beat Microsoft.
posted by blacklite at 9:30 AM on May 26, 2006


Asymmetric Warfare: A Primer
posted by Mr. Six at 9:31 AM on May 26, 2006


Won't the insurgents in Iraq now be at a disadvantage if they follow these orders? For all we know it's a US tactic to reduce their communication capabilities.

Right, and Karl Rove was all behind it too; yet another part of his ongoing plan.

To paraphrase Chris Rock, whatever happened to "stupid?" When did "stupid" go off the list? Sometime, they're just stupid.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:33 AM on May 26, 2006


Yeah, here's the thing -- I was being sarcastic, I wasn't referring to the Van Riper exercise, and I think it's dishonest to claim a navy wargame is comparable in any way to a real-life scenario with ground troops involved in counter-insurgency in an urban environment.

No disrespect to John Robb either, but I don't think his experience as an Air Force pilot makes him more qualified than anyone else to gauge how effective or ineffective "bazaar" tactics are, and if you want to know the truth, the label "bazaar" bothers me in the same way labels like Web 2.0 bother me -- it reeks of someone taking a simple, pre-existing idea and branding it to make it seem like they've come up with something brilliant. Sorry, not having it.

There seems to be this perception that the people on the ground are dumb hicks oblivious to all but the most obvious plans for attack, when obviously that's not true -- read this week's dispatches from Bing West in Slate if you want to get a better idea of actual human-to-human interaction on the ground level. He's actually there walking the streets of Fallujah, not floating hazy theories from his computer chair.

But what really bothers me is the give-away in the language -- that enthusiastic "score one" reveals so much, doesn't it? Ah, but real lives and real people are at stake, and this doesn't have to become a political discussion to realize that. But keep cheerleading if you want -- I'm not going to stop you, I'm just going to point it out.
posted by Alexandros at 9:35 AM on May 26, 2006


There is a fascinating email exchange between Joe Galloway of Knight-Ridder and Pentagon Spokesbot Larry DiRita over at Larry Johnson's place.

DiRita was pissed about an article Galloway wrote regarding Van Riper, which, in addition to his calling for Rumsfeld's immediate dismissal, contains details of his Millenium Challenge performance. Read the whole thing.

Excerpted:
One event that shocked Van Riper occurred in 2002 when he was asked, as he had been before, to play the commander of an enemy Red Force in a huge $250 million three-week war game titled Millennium Challenge 2002. It was widely advertised as the best kind of such exercises - a free-play unscripted test of some of the Pentagon's and Rumsfeld's fondest ideas and theories.

Though fictional names were applied, it involved a crisis moving toward war in the Persian Gulf and in actuality was a barely veiled test of an invasion of Iran.

In the computer-controlled game, a flotilla of Navy warships and Marine amphibious warfare ships steamed into the Persian Gulf for what Van Riper assumed would be a pre-emptive strike against the country he was defending.

Van Riper resolved to strike first and unconventionally using fast patrol boats and converted pleasure boats fitted with ship-to-ship missiles as well as first generation shore-launched anti-ship cruise missiles. He packed small boats and small propeller aircraft with explosives for one mass wave of suicide attacks against the Blue fleet. Last, the general shut down all radio traffic and sent commands by motorcycle messengers, beyond the reach of the code-breakers.

At the appointed hour he sent hundreds of missiles screaming into the fleet, and dozens of kamikaze boats and planes plunging into the Navy ships in a simultaneous sneak attack that overwhelmed the Navy's much-vaunted defenses based on its Aegis cruisers and their radar controlled Gatling guns.

When the figurative smoke cleared it was found that the Red Forces had sunk 16 Navy ships, including an aircraft carrier. Thousands of Marines and sailors were dead.

The referees stopped the game, which is normal when a victory is won so early. Van Riper assumed that the Blue Force would draw new, better plans and the free play war games would resume.

Instead he learned that the war game was now following a script drafted to ensure a Blue Force victory: He was ordered to turn on all his anti-aircraft radar so it could be destroyed and he was told his forces would not be allowed to shoot down any of the aircraft bringing Blue Force troops ashore.
posted by edverb at 9:38 AM on May 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


You shouldn't read this as anything but a success for the American/Coalition of the Willing team. The insurgents have been forced to pass things by word of mouth, rather than use more modern, more effective technologies. This should help disrupt the coordination and pace of their attacks. Attacking a convoy when you've got to send the message via pony express is a hell of a lot more difficult than just calling your buddy with a mortar up the road.
posted by Nahum Tate at 9:40 AM on May 26, 2006


Hey now...just noticed that Galloway's article was linked in the FPP, albeit under a different title that I'd seen previously. Sorry about that.

Still, check out the email exchange between DiRita and Galloway. Worth it.
posted by edverb at 9:44 AM on May 26, 2006


... and I think it's dishonest to claim a navy wargame is comparable in any way to a real-life scenario with ground troops involved in counter-insurgency in an urban environment.

Except, of course, that in this particular case, it is almost exactly comparable, with Iraqis opting for more rudimentary communications that are harder to monitor - just like Van Riper did in the wargame. But, yeah, other than that comparable.

There seems to be this perception that the people on the ground are dumb hicks oblivious to all but the most obvious plans for attack...

Rent Operation Dreamland. Note that the main problem with the unit is their lack of mission goals. They're all relatively clever, no-nonsense, capable young guys, but without a defined objective, they simply "walk the streets" until they get shot or blown up. Bad. Stupid. Not their fault. Still bad; and stupid.
posted by odinsdream at 9:45 AM on May 26, 2006


that enthusiastic "score one" reveals so much, doesn't it?

I hate it when people say things like this.

Does it really "reveal" anything, or are you just projecting some motivations onto the poster that might not be warranted?

What's really revealing is your comment indicating the revealing nature of the other comment. But not half as revealing as this comment right here revealing the revealing nature of your revealing comment. What does it reveal?

That's for you, dear reader, to project.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:45 AM on May 26, 2006


Sorry but this war and this administration has made me so cynical that I'll readily admit that it's possible that this is a highly convoluted psy-op by the administration to get the word out to the American media that the leakers have made our forces more vulnerable and going foward there needs to be even more secrecy in government operations. I don't believe for a second that this administration cares about winning this war, if they did they would have listened to reason a long time ago - they never have. Their main reason for starting this war was as a subterfuge for the rape of our Treasury. That has been highly successful. This war is going exactly as planned as far as they are concerned, all of their benefactors have made billions.
posted by any major dude at 10:05 AM on May 26, 2006


It's a tradeoff and nothing else.

Pro: Now the insurgents have to use slower, less robust means of communications.

Con: The massive SIGINT and ELINT infrastructures are now basically useless.

That said, there is a reason we don't use harder-to-intercept carrier pigeons for military communications (RFC 1217 notwithstanding). Forcing the enemy force to degrade their own operations is at least a partial success. Intelligence is like cake, you can't have it (know what's going to happen) and eat it (use it to direct operations) too, because eventually even the thickest bad guy notices that every time he picks up his cellphone a cell gets captured.

We got some intel from the intercepts, used it well, and now the bad guys can't use that instant means of communications. What we need to do now is focus on (broken record time here) HUMINT. We need cops on the beat not the Big Red One. We need to convince the Average Mohammed that the US is better for his life, right now than the insurgents are and to do that we need to get serious about infrastructure and policing.
posted by Skorgu at 10:05 AM on May 26, 2006


Yeah, here's the thing -- I was being sarcastic, . . .

Sarcasm is difficult to implement on the Web. If you find it necessary to point out that that's what you were doing, then you probably don't have the technique yet. (I'm very bad at it myself.) It would be better if you (and most everyone else) refrained from using sarcasm.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:10 AM on May 26, 2006


Their main reason for starting this war was as a subterfuge for the rape of our Treasury. That has been highly successful. This war is going exactly as planned as far as they are concerned, all of their benefactors have made billions.

ding, ding, ding!
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:13 AM on May 26, 2006


I think it's fairly shortsighted to consider their change of tactics as a success for American Forces, especially in the context of this article. Unfortunately, the situation is not analogous to their little games. They can't throw flags, they can't press the reset button whenever they start encountering unexpected resistance. Viewing the enemy forces tactics through this lens leads me to conclude that it is less about signal degradation and more about cohesive and unmonitored exchanges, which cannot be viewed in any capacity as a negative for either side.

The insurgents have been forced to pass things by word of mouth, rather than use more modern, more effective technologies. This should help disrupt the coordination and pace of their attacks. Attacking a convoy when you've got to send the message via pony express is a hell of a lot more difficult than just calling your buddy with a mortar up the road.

Tell me something, if you lived in a dense, urban area your entire life and it was suddenly under occupation - would you really find it all that difficult to network with your associates in a face to face manner? Aside from the chance that you'll get hit by a random explosion directed towards American forces, I don't think you'd find much trouble. What if you had half of your family ziptied and carried off to interrogation for no apparent reason the month prior? Might motivate you a little bit to overcome your technical dependence, of which I'm sure the Iraqis had little to begin with. Think outside the box, buddy - the article already shattered it.
posted by prostyle at 10:20 AM on May 26, 2006


This war is going exactly as planned as far as they are concerned, all of their benefactors have made billions.

The military-industrial complex does require the occasional war to keep the skids greased. Too bad the skids get greased with blood.

The Asymmetric Warfare Primer is eye-opening. I'd seen it referenced before but hadn't read completely through it; having done so, I'm more convinced that maybe the U.S. can't win in Iraq.

What are the options when the enemy declines to play by your rules? The warbloggers would have us just level the place, play the game the way the SS played it on their march through Russia. Unrestrained warfare; kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out.

It might be effective, who knows. It also makes us indiscriminately murderous, the very thing we're supposed to be struggling against.
posted by kgasmart at 10:23 AM on May 26, 2006


That said, there is a reason we don't use harder-to-intercept carrier pigeons for military communications (RFC 1217 notwithstanding). Forcing the enemy force to degrade their own operations is at least a partial success.

Not exactly. You are assuming that communication using slower human carriers will decrease the insurgent's effectiveness. This is likely not the case. Insurgents have always practiced very tight comm discipline and the nature of the organization and its goals means they don't require fast, accurate communication like the Marines do. The very fact that they're getting the word out using flyers and leaflets suggests that there was never any sort of strong communication framework between groups. This is interesting since one of the big problems with running an insurgency is training various fighter groups. The insurgents lack any sort of knowledge management so they have to pass out leaflets describing which tactics work and which tactics don't. This isn't very secure and it's ripe for attack.
posted by nixerman at 10:26 AM on May 26, 2006


nixerman I think you're partially right: clearly the insurgents have less of a need for right-now comms than the Marines, but the mere fact that they used cell phones and radios at all indicates that they derived some benefit from them. I posit that although they can fight effectively without modern comms, the addition of those comms increases the size of the force that can be controlled with a given level of efficiency.
posted by Skorgu at 10:32 AM on May 26, 2006


So Van Riper is a modern day John Hawkins. Nifty. Or like ‘Scotty’ from Star Trek, if you’re not up on English naval history (outfitted a shuttle with anti-matter).


Let’s just pray no one tells them about our semaphore and they use the technology to communicate with flags.

I’m still astonished they’re not using tight beam chains or code burst transmitters to avoid RDF...
Oops, did I hit post?

The fags* use this all the time to validate their budget for tech and such as opposed to actually getting a good strategic workout from an exercise. I’ve always wondered where it is in the chain that they go soft, or if it’s only those predisposed to get soft get that far up the chain.
Dunno.

* A Mel Brooksism: F.A.G. = Federal Army General as in Colin Powell was a big F.A.G.)

blacklite is correct. Any smaller group has superior mobility and adaptability. But you can train a large group to coordinate to such a degree as to minimize and overcome that edge.

What is disconcerting is that the ‘insurgents’ have been using the ‘net and cell phones in the first place. What that says to me is amateurs.
Which means that they are not, from the start, terrorists or trained guerrillas, but regular folks, since anyone trained wouldn’t be using a cell in an area occupied by opposition forces in the first place.
The fact that they are that ignorant (not meant perjoratively) means they are starting from scratch.

Potential implications? Anyone? Bueller?
( Switch ‘oil’ for ‘opium’ - had an eight-nation alliance, resolved about 30 -40 years later)


“They're all relatively clever, no-nonsense, capable young guys, but without a defined objective...”

Best ‘nutshell’ discription of what’s going on I’ve heard, odinsdream
posted by Smedleyman at 10:47 AM on May 26, 2006



Except, of course, that in this particular case, it is almost exactly comparable, with Iraqis opting for more rudimentary communications that are harder to monitor - just like Van Riper did in the wargame. But, yeah, other than that comparable.


It's not exactly comparable, slightly comparable or even roughly comparable. You can't have human-to-human interaction on the high seas. You can't have company-level commanders and NCOs spending months forging relationships with fish and waves. You can't barricade or set up checkpoints around nautical zones or establish relationships over time with people in boats. There are no civilians just hanging out on the waves in the crossfire or sheltering insurgents 10 feet below water level.

Rent Operation Dreamland. Note that the main problem with the unit is their lack of mission goals. They're all relatively clever, no-nonsense, capable young guys, but without a defined objective, they simply "walk the streets" until they get shot or blown up. Bad. Stupid. Not their fault. Still bad; and stupid.

Read my link first. After all, this is the web, and the link is something directly relevant, filed this week by a person who -- like I said before -- is actually there, in the city, talking to people. It's clear there are specific mission goals in places like Fallujah, and the soldiers and Marines are doing a lot more than waiting to be shot at. Give these guys some credit. I wholeheartedly agree with you about the lack of direction from the higher levels of the military and civilian leadership, but forgive me if I go into Vince Vaughn "Erroneous!" mode when folks suggest our troops are helpless walking targets incapable of improvising tactics.

Sarcasm is difficult to implement on the Web. If you find it necessary to point out that that's what you were doing, then you probably don't have the technique yet. (I'm very bad at it myself.) It would be better if you (and most everyone else) refrained from using sarcasm.

Sometimes I can't help myself, but you're absolutely right. Point taken, and I apologize for the sarcasm.
posted by Alexandros at 10:55 AM on May 26, 2006


It's clear there are specific mission goals in places like Fallujah, and the soldiers and Marines are doing a lot more than waiting to be shot at.
...but forgive me if I go into Vince Vaughn "Erroneous!" mode when folks suggest our troops are helpless walking targets incapable of improvising tactics.

Sorry, I can't forgive anyone for going into Vaughn mode. How did you come away with the sense that he was implying the soldiers incapacity for "improvising tactics" from this quote?

They're all relatively clever, no-nonsense, capable young guys, but without a defined objective, they simply "walk the streets" until they get shot or blown up. Bad. Stupid. Not their fault. Still bad; and stupid.

Similarly, the lack of direction from the higher levels of the military and civilian leadership would be the forces that have produced said stagnant occupation and cannot be discounted - especially in this case where odinsdream was not speaking negatively of the soldiers, not in the slightest. This isn't really a discussion about "supporting the troops" or not, and anyway - that's old hat now. The administration has moved past that talking point, for the most part. Unless you're a retired general, then you're just a bastard.
posted by prostyle at 11:17 AM on May 26, 2006


Does this development mean we won't be winning wars with superior photo-ops anymore?
posted by nofundy at 11:20 AM on May 26, 2006


Lots of good comments here that put my opinion better than I could. So here's my take on the US military, or better yet, the idiots who run it, not the people on the ground making actual sacrifices.

USMilitary: We have Widget MKIII's! They're the most amazing Widgets evar, and we can defeat any army with them. The insurgents only have regular Widgets, and we're working to inhibit even the use of those!
(Three years pass)
USMilitary: Damn those swarthy sand*bleep*s. How dare they wage modern warfare without using widgets? Only barbarians would come to the battlefield not using widgets. They are mean, dirty meanies these insurgents, I mean, these people we're trying to liberate, I mean, these sand*bleep*s, I mean, these doe-eyed heathens thirsting for a deep sip of democracy, I mean, the 15 year-old kid who just blew up one of our jeeps, not because of religion, not because someone told him to, but because we invaded his goddamn country and killed tens of thousands of his relatives.

Anyways. Viet Nam.
posted by bardic at 11:44 AM on May 26, 2006


Alexandros: Point taken; one includes water, and the other doesn't. However, that isn't even slightly relevant to what we're talking about, namely; that the types of communications being employed by Iraqis is related to the those used by Riper. That's the comparable. It has nothing to do with water, because motorcycles don't fucking run on water.
posted by odinsdream at 11:51 AM on May 26, 2006


Forcing the enemy force to degrade their own operations is at least a partial success.
Unless, of course, a good chunk of your own strategy depends on your superior ability to monitor and/or block the types of communications they no longer use. Kind of a wash, I suppose.
posted by verb at 12:06 PM on May 26, 2006


Which means that they are not, from the start, terrorists or trained guerrillas, but regular folks, since anyone trained wouldn’t be using a cell in an area occupied by opposition forces in the first place.
The fact that they are that ignorant (not meant perjoratively) means they are starting from scratch.


Haven't most of us always known that? Their country is being decimated and occupied, and their friends and relatives killed--US against everyone, Sunni v. Shia, etc. Only the administration and Pentagon bigwigs (and their supporters) speak of "suiciders" and "terrorists", etc. I think now things are getting more organized and hierarchical (especially with all the "sanctioned" squads and forces, etc), but that's pretty recent.
posted by amberglow at 12:30 PM on May 26, 2006


Well I'm just delighted to have my patriotism questioned because I'm not clapping hard enough for Tinkerbell. My world is large enough to allow me to recognize when something works regardless of who's doing it.
posted by scalefree at 12:31 PM on May 26, 2006


I guess now Haliburton will get a trillion dollars to develop a new state of the art bicycle tracking system.

Funny you should mention that. Did you read the recent FPP about Project Igloo White?
posted by scalefree at 12:52 PM on May 26, 2006


I wonder whether Bush will actually manage to feed a few carriers to someone before his magnificent adventure concludes?

I was thinking that nuking somewhere would be the perfect capper to his reign, but three or four CVNs on the bottom of the Persian Gulf would be just as good. In the long run, that could result in fewer US casualties, if it triggers what you might expect it to.

Unfortunately, the one named after his dad won't be ready in time for that ultimate symbolic gesture, but he could still sink the Reagan.

Go, George!
posted by dansdata at 12:58 PM on May 26, 2006


No matter how good tactical command is, without a set of victory conditions, nothing gets accomplished.
We beat the crap out of the Vietcong tactically, inflicted more casualties, blah blah blah - did we ‘win’?
It’s been how many years since then and you still can’t get a straight answer from any three historians as to even why we were there in the first place (yeah, yeah, stopping communism - but the various administrations pursuit of that ‘goal’ and treatment of the engagement as a whole is schizophrenic at best) - much less a straight answer on ‘winning.’
But then again - did we ‘lose’? Kissinger got the nobel peace prize. And years later Coca-Cola is selling well in Vietnam and they’re getting pretty capitalist. And boy U.S. defense contractors did well selling those Widget MKIII’s. So did we lose or win?
And who the hell is ‘we’ anyway?

Similar set of circumstances here. What, for example, would have happened in Iraq if Kerry had won? What happens if the war is still going on in 2008 and there is a change in administrative policy if *chuckle* someone with a different viewpoint wins? What if there’s a draft? What if people get really pissed (for that or some other reason) and there are riots and enough social unrest to affect policy?

Which is the crux of the matter - continuity of strategic goals.
The policies supporting Iraq war are subject to change.
(Unlike, say WWII)


“Haven't most of us always known that?”
- posted by amberglow

I’d take issue with the word “known.”
But yeah, certainly many folks predicted fairly accurately what the case is and whether the term ‘insurgent’ applies.
The analogy I’m drawing between the Boxer Rebellion and this situation is a bit more complex. There is the whole reaction to foreign invaders thing going on - but there were different religious groups, disparate authority structures, civil war, and Russian opposition to Western objectives then as well.
The upshot was the creation of the PRC - which is inevitable in these kinds of situations.
Sooner or later you get a personality cult going, there’s propaganda, etc., which is sort of happening with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - and is recognized and being fought by the U.S. command (why else would they spend time ridiculing him and his New Balance tennis shoes?)

But it’s not the Fonzie (Mao in China or Zarqawi in this case) you have to worry about, it’s the Deng Xiaoping offering people stability whatever the political philosophy ("It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.")

There is almost nothing that can be done to stop this sort of grass roots generation - whatever form it takes.
That’s what I mean by ‘from scratch’.
It’s not the extremists - it’s regular folks.
It’s not that it’s regular folks setting bombs or running guerilla ops, it’s that regular folks eventually stabilize. They want the mail, the lights on, the water, etc. whatever the politics and they will organize to start getting that done.

If we oppose that with our military because our policies are in opposition to their politics, then it could become a bloodbath and we’ll get a nickname like the “Huns” did after the boxer rebellion.

...or maybe I’m way too drunk and talking out of my ass on all that.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:49 PM on May 26, 2006


Sooner or later you get a personality cult going, there’s propaganda, etc., which is sort of happening with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - and is recognized and being fought by the U.S. command (why else would they spend time ridiculing him and his New Balance tennis shoes?)

I agree with you on all of the other stuff, but i see us promoting Zarqawi and here more than there (as our new Bin Ladin and for domestic reasons, not least of which is to justify our being there in the first place, something they're still actively trying to do, how many years later) far more than that he's really that powerful on the ground. Everyone is now segregating and part of some group and subgroup, along with those who are just furious that their brother or son was tortured and killed or whatever.

We are opposing the regular folk, and we've let them down so far they have no faith in us. Our "keeping order" or whatever we call it nowadays is continuing to prevent any sort of regular folk doing anything healthy for Iraq--and many of them are still just trying to survive--those who lived in Shia or mixed neighborhoods but were Sunni have had to uproot their lives or die, and the reverse, etc, and there's no infrastructure rebuilding anymore.

Maybe we've messed up so badly that there really are no "regular folk" there anymore?
posted by amberglow at 2:25 PM on May 26, 2006


Thanks for posting the Galloway/Di Rita exchange, edverb.

Galloway writes:
it is grinding up the equipment and the troops inexorably. recruiting can barely, or hardly, or not, bring in the 80,000 a year needed to maintain a steady state in the active army enlisted ranks....and that is WITH the high retention rates in the brigades. and neither figure addresses the hemorraging of captains and majors who are voting with their feet in order to maintain some semblance of a family life and a future without war in it. and what do we do about a year when average 93 percent of majors are selected for Lt Col in all MOSs....and 100 plus percent in critical MOSs. the army is scraping the barrel. then there is the matter of 14 pc Cat IV recruits admitted in Oct 05 and 19pc in Nov....against an annual ceiling of 4 percent??? the returning divisions, which leave all their equipment behind in iraq, come home and almost immediately lose 2,000 to 3,000 stop-loss personnel. then tradoc goes in and cherry picks the best NCOs for DI and schoolhouse jobs. leaving a division with about 65 percent of authorized strength, no equipment to train on, sitting around for eight or nine months painting rocks. if they are lucky 90 days before re-deploying the army begins to refill them with green kids straight out of AIT or advanced armor training.

if they are even luckier they have time to get in a rotation to JROTC or NTC and get some realistic training for those new arrivals. if not so lucky they just take them off to combat and let em sink or swim. this is not healthy. this is not an army on the way up but one on the way to a disaster. we need more and smarter soldiers. not more Cat IVs. so far it is the willingness of these young men and women to serve, and to deploy multiple times, and to work grueling and dangerous 18 hour days 7 days a week that is the glue holding things together. all the cheap fixes have been used; all the one-time-only gains so beloved of legislators trying to balance a budget and get out of town. the question is what sort of an army are your bosses going to leave behind as their legacy in 2009? one that is trained, ready and well equipped to fight the hundred-year war with islam that seems to have begun with a vengeance on your watch? or will they leave town and head into a golden retirement as that army collapses for lack of manpower, lack of money to repair and replace all the equipment chewed up by iraq and afghanistan, lack of money to apply to fixing those problems because billions were squandered on weapons systems that are a ridiculous legacy of a Cold War era long gone (viz. the f/22, the osprey, the navy's gold plated destroyers and aircraft carriers and, yes, nuclear submarines whose seeming future purpose is to replace rubber zodiac boats as the favorite landing craft of Spec Ops teams, at a cost of billions) meanwhile the pentagon, at the direction of your boss, marches rapidly ahead with deployment of an anti-missile system whose rockets have yet to actually get out of the launch tubes. at a cost of yet more multiple billions.
posted by russilwvong at 2:32 PM on May 26, 2006


odinsdream and prostyle: If you want to continue this conversation, maybe you should discuss the links. That's what I've been doing, I've made it clear I've read them, and I argued my points based on them. Maybe you're under the impression you don't have to discuss or read the links if you gang up on me? As a long-time MeFi lurker, I've seen that happen many times before.

My original point still stands: The vague "bazaar tactics" post in the second link does nothing to validate Van Riper, because you can't compare a sea-based simulation over the course of a few days or weeks to an urban counter-insurgency that takes place over months or years, regardless of some superficial connection over low-tech communications.

Van Riper validates Van Riper -- but only as it applies to sea-based combat where you don't have the human elements I keep going back to in every post I've made. How many times do I have to repeat myself? And without the second link -- which does not apply to the Van Riper exercise, we're talking about a one-link post to old material.

And again, back to the links -- if you read the Bing West link, or any number of on-the-ground reports from Iraq, you would know the role of ground troops at this stage is more like community policing than it is some "America Fuck Yeah" high tech-dependent effort. If you don't want to read the links, fine, but then don't try to argue with me. You are not dealing with Dios or a freeper, and since people in my family are spilling their blood in this war, I have every fucking right to call bullshit on thin arguments.
posted by Alexandros at 2:53 PM on May 26, 2006


Alexandros, I am generally on board with your basic argument (Van Ripen doesn't mean all that much in this case), but don't you think Bing West's accounts, while surely rich in detail and 'you are there' reportage, are not giving the total picture? As I understand it, he's a former US official and Marine who is embedded with a very specific group or groups of soldiers. There are over 100,000 troops in Iraq, just because one week that one man spent with one or two groups of them does not mean that he's giving you anything close to an accurate portrayal of the total picture of what's going on in the anti-insurgency campaign.
posted by cell divide at 3:18 PM on May 26, 2006


“Our "keeping order" or whatever we call it nowadays is continuing to prevent any sort of regular folk doing anything healthy for Iraq--and many of them are still just trying to survive”

Yeah, I think that’s exactly what’s going to start biting us in the ass - because it’s not only not cost effective, but at some point the masses going about surviving will come into conflict with the policy.

As far as Zarqawi goes - what I mean to say is he himself - or whoever is inserted into his ‘Fonzi” position and however we oppose, support, etc. etc. him with propaganda, etc. - doesn’t really matter.

We could argue whether the animosity between subgroups is by U.S. design or not or serves U.S. interests or not (I really don’t know) - there’s something to be said for inflicting pain until people will do anything to stop it. In this case allow a puppet government to let oil companies do as they will. (Again, I don’t know. Looks fishy tho)

But either way, some Iraqi guy behind the scenes is going to say “fuck all this, we gotta eat” and people are going to unite and follow him whether he adopts a rigid national socialism, Ahimsa civil disobediance or something based on the Sharia. (If we kill him it won’t make a difference, the system will take root.)
And people will start doing business or whatever they need to do through channels other than with the U.S. and at some point we’ll have to decide whether we fight them or not.

Granted this is all based on speculation derived from the methods of communication they’re using. But systems are what people do and organize into and those are derived from the myths and ideas about themselves and their identity - especially under social pressure (like occupation, mass death, etc.).
It’s as elementary as cooking.
The Boxers (Righteous Harmony Society) had this whole mystic “immune to bullets” thing going - which people bought into because they were hungry and going along with the status quo wasn’t getting them anywhere.
The form of the group itself or even if they succeed really doesn’t matter. It’s just a precursor to forming the system of organization and overcoming those other social barriers. Social barriers which get in the way of getting your kid food and such.
The Boxers fertilized the soil for the PRC (much as the Sepoys did for Ghandi and the Indian Republic - ). In fact the PRC embraces the thing and doesn’t call it a rebellion.
We could wind up with hypernationalistic or Islamic Sharia based or even a social democracy but one not necessarially friendly with the U.S. (India in the 60’s for example - or their ongoing FU! to the nuclear test ban and nonproliferation treaties)

I guess the point is - they’re talking, but they’re not just going to be communicating tactically, especially if there is more face to face time. Shutting down more technological means of tactical coordination could lead to more intimacy, cooperation, and ultimately a social reorganization.
From scratch.
And all it took was heat from us.
I don’t know that we could say ‘it’s by design’ any more than British rule in India was to create the Indian state.

But just sharing my thoughts really. That’s all off the cuff speculation and a lot to derive from a change due to signal intelligence.

“since people in my family are spilling their blood in this war, I have every fucking right to call bullshit on thin arguments.” - posted by Alexandros

I had thought there was no need for some form of authority to address an argument. (Not to mention no need for longevity.) Apparently not so much. Tit for tat I guess.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:57 PM on May 26, 2006


Alexandros writes "My original point still stands: The vague 'bazaar tactics' post in the second link does nothing to validate Van Riper, because you can't compare a sea-based simulation over the course of a few days or weeks to an urban counter-insurgency that takes place over months or years, regardless of some superficial connection over low-tech communications."

I woud argue that the comparison is more valid than you allege. If you look to the "bazaar" tactic as a way for a loose coalition of like minded cells to organize and deploy against a technologically/militarily/economically superior opponent then you can see the ways in which these cells can hypothesize, test, and deploy attacks in rapid fashion with minimal costs. The avenues of attack that are effective are ones that stick, but those that do not are easily let go.

Van Riper is just one example of how to run an organization that is not bound to a rigid hierarchy.* The lesson learned is not necessarily that he could end-run his opponent's intel gathering systems by using couriers, but that he analyzed his position and built a plan tailored to it instead of trying to conduct a traditional campaign without traditional forces. He threw a bunch of crap on the wall and found that
  1. Tech-based intel gathering requires one's opponent to use tech to communicate. Circumvent the use of tech-based comms and your opponent is in the dark.
  2. All defenses based on computational efficiency can be brute forced and if one of your strengths is cheap delivery vehicles and lives to pilot them you don't need to sink billions of dollars into each military unit.
both stick. That insurgents (arguably on the "same' side) picked up on these results is unsurprising.

So, yeah, in a technical sense, bazaar tactics do no validate Van Riper because the converse is true. Van Riper validates bazaar tactics insofar as a single data point can validate a theory.

*Yes, the US Forces are maligned for being rigidly hierarchical when, in fact, units on the ground are historically afforded more latitude than most first-world militaries. Still, when compared to the Iraqi insurgency, Viet Cong, Revolutionary War colonists, &c., there is an ass-full of hierarchy to be dealt with.
posted by Fezboy! at 5:55 PM on May 26, 2006


Fezboy!'s elaboration made the point I was going to discuss anyway. The fact that water is involved in Van Riper's exercise is completely irrelevant, because we're discussing the land-based communication techniques he and the Iraqis are using. They are unique in the way that Fezboy! explained.

... if you read the Bing West link, or any number of on-the-ground reports from Iraq, you would know the role of ground troops at this stage is more like community policing than it is some "America Fuck Yeah" high tech-dependent effort.

I have read documents concerning troops on the ground, some written by troops. I've also watched documentaries following units around, such as the one I mentioned. Having done this, I'd say that it's neither of the options you mentioned. I don't think the majority of the soldiers are of the "America, Fuck Yeah!" mindset, and I don't know why you're setting up such a false dichotomy. I also don't think they're "community police."

Could you perhaps define that, though? Community police? How does that work, exactly? One country invades another one, causes the deaths of tens of thousands, rolls through some cities, and then "polices" the community? That's obtuse, at best, and maniacal at worst.

What is the mission goal? What are the victory conditions? These are simple questions, do you have any answers?
posted by odinsdream at 6:08 PM on May 26, 2006


As others have ably pointed out, the relevance of Van Riper isn't the specifics of his tactics but his ability to innovate against a technologically superior opponent. This is what the bazaar of open source warfare fosters - each cell is a learning organization with the freedom to innovate & communicate its successes & failures to its neighbors. When something new is discovered to work, it gets duplicated throughout the network as others adopt it.

If you want a model for how to attack such a system, look at the battles of the peer-to-peer networks vs the RIAA & MPAA. Turn the network against itself, poisoning the system with useless & dangerous messages. Find ways to make the cells distrust each other. It's an evolving game, with wins & losses happening by increment.
posted by scalefree at 12:00 AM on May 27, 2006


If you want to continue this conversation, maybe you should discuss the links. That's what I've been doing, I've made it clear I've read them, and I argued my points based on them. Maybe you're under the impression you don't have to discuss or read the links if you gang up on me? As a long-time MeFi lurker, I've seen that happen many times before.

You've also made it clear that you see them as inapplicable to the current situation in Iraq. What you have deemed as applicable is information from embedded sources that have an inherent bias and myopic scope. It's nothing new, and interestingly enough doesn't really relate to the concepts at hand put forward by the FPP.

Spare us the lecture on how to engage in a debate, and drop the persecution complex. Simply because we both may have been responding to your points doesn't mean we're "ganging up" - and really, that's a particularly quaint term given our few exchanges. This isn't the school yard, this is a community of 30K users. Expect more than one to engage you simultaneously.

If you don't want to read the links, fine, but then don't try to argue with me. You are not dealing with Dios or a freeper, and since people in my family are spilling their blood in this war, I have every fucking right to call bullshit on thin arguments.


You really should have spent some more time lurking. This is an outrageously crass comment that pulls on a lot of negative energy to reinforce your basic point - that we are engaging you in a hostile and incoherent fashion with regard to the standards of discussion. I don't even know what to tell you about the spilled blood reference, as it is absolutely inane and ridiculous. You don't know where we come from and what we've processed, so for someone supposedly invested in forwarding a rational and productive conversation it's interesting that you've made it forcefully clear what terms you will have it on - and that we are not abiding by them. I would have e-mailed you this comment but you don't have one listed in your profile.
posted by prostyle at 11:36 AM on May 27, 2006


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