A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for Jacobin about the Millennium Challenge (MC), a massive war game that predicted that American actions in the Middle East were likely to be met with fierce and clever resistance that would make it difficult for the United States to achieve its political goals.
The man who proved this was a retired general named Paul “Rip” Van Riper, who demonstrated that one could not predict how a war or battle would unfold. In essence, Van Riper’s behavior suggested that an intelligent enemy would always be able to find ways to reduce a belligerent’s ability to impose its will on a foreign nation. War, Van Riper showed, was unpredictable and unmodelable.
The question of the “art” vs. “science” of war is one that has occupied military analysts for centuries, and I think the MC provides a good window into thinking about these contemporary debates. The US, for much of the post-Cold War period, believed it could make war cheap, easy, and effective. It seems like this attitude might finally be changing, and I’d be curious to hear what others think. Has the US finally abandoned the fantasy of “quantifying” and “modeling” war that took off after the Gulf War? And is this important?
For my article on Van Riper and the MC.
Another impressive read, and I like that this one is getting well-deserved traction in terms of the documentary work going on. My first read was the Soros analysis and response, but when I started following American Prestige, I did not make the connection.
I have been greatly enjoying your work, Derek's work, and our weekend warrior writer over on Foreign Exchange. Congratulations on the well-deserved recognition.
Congratulations on the script! Look forward to seeing the film. As far as the millenium challenge is concerned, how valid do you think criticism of the exercise were? e.g. claims that Van Riper was able to circumvent damage to his communication networks by using motorcycles that effectively traveled at light speed; there was the famous swarm of naval ships in the Persian Gulf achieved with speed boats that carried weapons system that would have been swamped by the weight of their own weapons in the real world. Are these genuine issues with the war game, or is this just CYA by Van Riper's critics? As a side note, the Iraq War I see as primarily a massive political failure. In terms of what the U.S. military was able to do, moving a massive force around the globe, overthrowing a conventional military force in a few weeks, sustaining military operations for years at a huge economic cost -- and still not have a total economic and social collapse on the home front -- it is remarkable on some level. I appreciate it more now as a technical challenge -- especially in light of the way things are playing out with Putin's own regime change "operation" against a near neighbor. However, even beyond the question of technical capacity, just because you can do something, it doesn't mean that you should do it. e.g. even in 2001, it was obvious that we would have been much better off as a country, and as a planet, if the Bush administration had spent trillions of dollars eliminating the need for reliance on fossil fuels. The fact that the alternative wasn't even part of any discussion, is itself instructive.