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?