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the complete failure of colin powell

One of the very first posts I ever wrote for orgtheory is an analysis of the Powell doctrine, which says, roughly, that you should only engage in war if you have over whelming political support and firepower. I thought the Powell doctrine was a mess from an organizational perspective:

For an organizational theorist, there’s a broader lesson about group learning – things go bad when managers prepare for situations where it is easy to prepare, rather than prepare for situations they are likely to face.

The reason that the US armed forces relied on the Powell doctrine of overwhelming numbers and superiority of force was that they allowed political concerns to drive the kinds of situations they analyze and train for. Specifically, the Powell doctrine was a response to the post-Vietnam desire to avoid ill defined, long term conflicts with guerillas…

And:

This is like corporate managers preparing for competitors that are easy to understand and that they have experienced already, instead of preparing for competitors they are likely to encounter. The Powell doctrine essentially says: “We only become involved in cases where we can decisively win and thus our preparations will be geared towards these situations.” Instead, the doctrine should probably be “we’ll cultivate tools for the situations we’ll likely encounter and develop capacities for improvisation and learning in vague and ill defined environments.”

Eight years later, I feel justified. The US armed forces have been asked to do all kinds of crazy things that only fit Powell doctrine on occasion. For example, the 2006 Surge doesn’t quite fit, or the “muddling through” that we’re doing in Iraq right now. In other words, the Powell doctrine was a reactionary response to the mismatch between Cold War forces and the reality of Vietnam. Good doctrine doesn’t emerge from one encounter. Instead, you have to be honest and admit that Presidents will ask the armed services to do all kinds of things that aren’t well thought out.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

August 29, 2014 at 12:01 am

soviet deep battle doctrine: policy so bad it’s good

A while back, I got into reading about Soviet “Deep Battle” doctrine. Here’s the Wiki summary:

Deep battle encompassed manoeuvre by multiple Soviet Army front-size formations simultaneously. It was not meant to deliver a victory in a single operation; instead, multiple operations, which might be conducted in parallel or successively, would induce a catastrophic failure in the enemy’s defensive system. Each operation served to divert enemy attention and keep the defender guessing about where the main effort, and main objective, lay. In doing so, it prevented the enemy from dispatching powerful mobile reserves to this area. The Army could then overrun vast regions before the defender could recover. The diversion operations also frustrated an opponent trying to conduct an elastic defence. The supporting operations had significant strategic objectives themselves and supporting units were to continue their offensive actions until they were unable to progress any further. However, they were still subordinated to the main/decisive strategic objective determined by the Stavka.

In other words, if you’re big, sit on the enemy.

Now, this is interesting for a number of reasons. First, most modern armies, starting after WWI, have not relied much on raw size. Instead, most Western states field armies that have strived for mobility. The German blitzkrieg is an example. Today, the US armed forces are striving toward smaller groups that have multiple capabilities (air support combined with infantry). Second, the Soviet military sector was not known for its innovative theory. In fact, Soviet deep battle theory is so odd that it has inspired its own cottage industry of commentators.

The most interesting take on Soviet deep battle is by Earl Ziemke, in a 1983 issue of Parameters, a journal of the War College. Ziemke makes the following arguments:

  • SDB was not really implemented since its creators were killed in the purges of the 1930s.
  • The USSR’s biggest victory, the battle of Stalingrad, was actually a case of modern maneuver warfare. The Red Army won by encircling the Nazi army and essentially starving it to death.
  • SDB was only implemented (barely) in late WW2 when a massive Red Army was steamrolling through Eastern Europe.
  • After WW2, SDB was dropped as the Red Army retooled for nuclear war.

So here’s my take on deep battle. At first, you have a theory that is shaped by contingency. You have a big massive army, so you build a theory about drowning the enemy. Then, the the theory fails early in WW2. It’s proponents are murdered and what’s left is useless. Then, by chance, a situation arises where SDB makes sense. Once that passes, SDB is praised in order to make the victory homegrown and logical rather than accidental. Once history moves on, the theory is quietly dropped and SDB becomes the province of military historians in needs of something to say about the cryptic Soviet military. Bottom line: Zombie policies keep historians employed.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

August 28, 2014 at 12:00 am

book announcement: party in the street – the antiwar movement and the democratic party after 9/11

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It is my pleasure to announce the forthcoming publication of a book by Michael Heaney and myself. It is called Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11. It will be available from Cambridge University Press starting in early 2015.

The book is an in-depth examination of the relationship between the major social movement of the early 2000s and the Democratic Party. We begin with a puzzle. In 2006, the antiwar movement began to decline, a time when the US government escalated the war and at least five years before US combat troops completely left Iraq. Normally, one would expect that an escalation of war and favorable public opinion would lead to heightened  activism. Instead, we see the reverse.

We answer this question with a theory of movement-party intersections – the “Party in the Street.” Inspired by modern intersectionality scholarship, we argue that people embody multiple identities that can reinforce, or undermine, each other. In American politics, people can approach a policy issue as an activist or a partisan. We argue that the antiwar movement demobilized not because of an abrupt change in policy, but because partisan identities trumped movement identities. The demobilization of the antiwar movement was triggered, and concurrent with, Democratic victories in Congress and the White House. When push comes to shove, party politics trumps movement activism.

The book is the culmination of ten years of field work, starting with a survey of antiwar protesters at the Republican National Convention in August 2004. The book examines street protest, public opinion, antiwar legislation, and Iraq war policy to makes its case. If you are interested in American politics, political parties, peace studies, political organizations, or social movements, please check this book out. During the fall, I’ll write a series of posts that will explain the argument in some more detail.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

the lighter side of the russia-ukraine conflict, or steven pinker wins again

This week, I’ll focus my attention on war and conflict. Today’s post will be on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Then we’ll talk about ISIS’ leadership, Soviet Deep Battle doctrine, and then wrap up with a revisiting of the Powell doctrine.

I used to teach a book called The Rise and Decline of the State by Martin Van Creveld, one of the leading military and political historians. It’s an old style magisterial survey of the state. I used to teach it to explore the reasons for why the state exists and to help students see that strong nation-states are a very specific historical phenomena. Usually, students would get depressed because they realized that state building and warfare go hand in hand.

Then, one of my students offered this rather insightful analysis of war in the historical perspective. It went something like this:

Look, war is horrible but this book actually can be viewed in a positive light. Early on, wars happened all the time and for insanely long periods of time. Rome was perpetually at war; medieval states would fight decades long wars; and so forth. But something important has happened in the last two hundred years. People started regulating war. Treaties were invented. Then, rules of war were introduced.  Then, war prevention organizations like NATO and the UN. Then, wars that minimized civilian casualties. In other words, the nation state system has been, slowly, developing a number of successful mechanisms for preventing wars.

To this correct and insightful analysis, I add a new development: making wars (relatively) invisible. Think about it. Inter-state conflict is so discouraged, compared to the past, that Putin had to pay people to pretend that they were actually Ukrainian. Instead of just invading, as Peter the Great or Stalin might have done, he had to be invited. The international environment so discourages wars that you have to pretend to not to invade a country when you are invading a country.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

August 25, 2014 at 12:03 am

more evidence for the libertarian chic hypothesis

I recently suggested that conservatives like to associate themselves with the libertarians because it looks cool, even if these groups believe very different things. There is more evidence that the conservative/libertarian fit is bad. From an article about a survey done by the Public Religion Research institute:

Sixty-one percent of libertarians do not identify themselves as part of the Tea Party, the survey showed. About 7 percent of the adult population is consistently libertarian and that includes 12 percent of those who describe themselves as Republicans.

“There’s largely agreement on economic issues – the gap is in how libertarians approach social issues, ” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, which conducts an annual “American Values Survey” on political and social issues.

And:

Libertarians are more opposed to government involvement in economic policies than those affiliated with the Tea Party and Republicans overall, the survey found. For instance, 65 percent of libertarians were opposed to increasing the minimum wage, while 57 percent of Republicans overall supported it, the survey found.

Ninety-six percent of libertarians oppose President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare restructuring compared to 89 percent of Republicans.

But nearly 60 percent of libertarians oppose making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, while 58 percent of Republicans and those affiliated with the Tea Party favor such restrictions, according to the survey.

More than 70 percent of libertarians favored legalizing marijuana, while about 60 percent of Republicans and Tea Party members opposed such a move, the survey found.

An important tension worth exploring.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

 

Written by fabiorojas

August 13, 2014 at 12:01 am

financializing social services

Do people know about social impact bonds? I hadn’t heard of them till recently. Since then, though, I’ve developed a train-wreck fascination. They have the potential to combine all the worst features of the public and private sectors. And they can be securitized, to boot!

Let’s take a step back. What is a social impact bond, anyway?

Well. Imagine you have a social problem you’d like to solve. Say that you want to reduce recidivism among young people in prison. That sounds good, right? The problem, of course, is that taxpayers don’t want to pay for rehabilitative programs, and there’s lots of disagreement about what kind of program would actually help solve the problem, anyway.

The government says, Wouldn’t it be nice if somebody would take care of this for us, and we’d only have to pay them if they actually succeeded?

Enter Goldman Sachs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by epopp

August 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm

relative vs. absolute improvement in policy

Last week, Elizabeth wrote about Finland’s educational system. Like many high performing school systems, Finland relies on a relatively elite teacher corp. However, Elizabeth and other commenters were skeptical that the same approach would work in the US. I.e., you can’t get improvement by firing the worst teachers.  The commenters responded that the issue was that the “new” worst teachers would still be matched with the lowest SES students. This response is not persuasive because it conflates two issues: relative improvement and absolute improvement.

While we would love all students to get exactly equal treatment in school, the most realistic goal for an institution in the short term to seek improvements with existing resources. I.e., the typical school in the South Side of Chicago needs *better* teachers, not the exact same teachers as the elite school in Winnetka. There are two reasons for this.

First, even modest improvements in outcomes matters. The typical low SES school instructor probably won’t have the same effect as the elite math teacher in Winnetka, but improving a graduation rate from 55% to 60% would result in literally hundreds of low SES kids having the high school credential or admission to college. It matters.

Second, in a system of local control, it is not entirely clear why we should expect random assignment of teachers to schools. The way the teaching profession works is that schools compete for teachers by offering higher salaries, nicer facilities, and higher SES students that are easier to teach. One can imagine a Federal system for assigning teachers to schools, but that isn’t coming any time soon. For now, we work with what we have.

Bottom line: Yes, firing the worst teachers will almost certainly increase the educational outcomes of a school. Don’t give up real, achievable gains in an attempt to stamp out all inequality.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

June 25, 2014 at 12:01 am

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