Monday, December 29, 2008

COIN, IW, and Development - technical fixes to wicked problems?

Benjamin Friedman makes an important point about mistaking lessons-learned from Iraq and Afghanistan for a science of stabilization and development. We still haven't fully grasped the inherently political component in these operations, at least not in Afghanistan.

Thought experiment: If Israel were to occupy Gaza for another 10 years following all the rules in FM 3-24, would the Palestinians become reconciled to a loss of political identity, or even the loss of Jerusalem?

This isn't to say that lessons can't be learned, but rather that reality can be intractable. In any COIN or stability operation, and many development challenges, there is an irreducible political core that can't be addressed merely by force or dollars. There are windows of opportunity for negotiation, and sometimes they close.

Careful conflict assessment is necessary to determine whether an intervention can possibly be undertaken successfully. And of course you might end up wrong.

I'm reminded of a psychological study from the early 80's. A variety of people were asked to play something similar to Atari's Pong (remember the sliding bars and the bouncing ball?). Afterward they were asked to what degree they could control the direction the ball would bounce off the bar. Type "A" personalities thought 70%, most people thought around 50% [I get why that's funny, really]. Only the clinically depressed were able to accurately able to gauge their degree of control - zero.

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