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Stratfor looks at Obama’s foreign policy, sees Bush’s foreign policy

30 August 2009

Many on the right wing describe President Obama in extreme terms, as if he has made large changes from Bush’s policy.   Obama-fuhrer, socialist, nihilist, and extreme leftist are some of the labels they use.

With a few exceptions, their premise is incorrect.  While Obama promised change, he has delivered continuity.  Quite a disappointment for many who voted for him.

In this article George Friedman examines Obama’s foreign policy.    Stratfor’s message is clear:  US foreign policy is set by our ruling elites, and remains immutable by elections so long as the voters remain sheep.  It’s the status quo that you can believe in.

Obama’s Foreign Policy: The End of the Beginning“, George Friedman, Stratfor, 24 August 2009 — This post first shows an exact, the second shows the full article.  Reposted with permission.

(1)  Key quotes

As August draws to a close, so does the first phase of the Obama presidency. The first months of any U.S. presidency are spent filling key positions and learning the levers of foreign and national security policy. … Then September comes and the world gets back in motion, and the first phase of the president’s foreign policy ends. The president is no longer thinking about what sort of foreign policy he will have; he now has a foreign policy that he is carrying out.

We therefore are at a good point to stop and consider not what U.S. President Barack Obama will do in the realm of foreign policy, but what he has done and is doing. As we have mentioned before, the single most remarkable thing about Obama’s foreign policy is how consistent it is with the policies of former President George W. Bush. This is not surprising. Presidents operate in the world of constraints; their options are limited. Still, it is worth pausing to note how little Obama has deviated from the Bush foreign policy.

… Therefore, the core structure of Obama’s {Afghanistan} policy remains the same as Bush’s except for the introduction of limited offensives. …  But even so, Obama’s basic strategy remains the same as Bush’s: hold in Afghanistan until the political situation evolves to the point that a political settlement is possible. …

The Russian Non-Reset

The Obama administration was signaling that it intends to continue the Bush administration’s Russia policy. That policy was that Russia had no legitimate right to claim priority in the former Soviet Union, and that the United States had the right to develop bilateral relations with any country and expand NATO as it wished. …

Foreign Policy Continuity Elsewhere

When we look at U.S.-China policy, we see very similar patterns with the Bush administration.

… With Iran we see the most important continuity. Obama continues to demand an end to Tehran’s nuclear program, and has promised further sanctions unless Iran agrees to enter into serious talks by late September.

On Israel, the United States has merely shifted the atmospherics. Both the Bush and Obama administrations demanded that the Israelis halt settlements, as have many other administrations.  … Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has not allowed the settlements to get in the way of fundamental strategic interests.

This is not a criticism of Obama. Presidents — all presidents — run on a platform that will win. If they are good presidents, they will leave behind these promises to govern as they must. This is what Obama has done. He ran for president as the antithesis of Bush. He has conducted his foreign policy as if he were Bush. This is because Bush’s foreign policy was shaped by necessity, and Obama’s foreign policy is shaped by the same necessity. Presidents who believe they can govern independent of reality are failures. Obama doesn’t intend to fail.

(2)  Full Text

As August draws to a close, so does the first phase of the Obama presidency. The first months of any U.S. presidency are spent filling key positions and learning the levers of foreign and national security policy. There are also the first rounds of visits with foreign leaders and the first tentative forays into foreign policy. The first summer sees the leaders of the Northern Hemisphere take their annual vacations, and barring a crisis or war, little happens in the foreign policy arena. Then September comes and the world gets back in motion, and the first phase of the president’s foreign policy ends. The president is no longer thinking about what sort of foreign policy he will have; he now has a foreign policy that he is carrying out.

We therefore are at a good point to stop and consider not what U.S. President Barack Obama will do in the realm of foreign policy, but what he has done and is doing. As we have mentioned before, the single most remarkable thing about Obama’s foreign policy is how consistent it is with the policies of former President George W. Bush. This is not surprising. Presidents operate in the world of constraints; their options are limited. Still, it is worth pausing to note how little Obama has deviated from the Bush foreign policy.

During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, particularly in its early stages, Obama ran against the Iraq war. The centerpiece of his early position was that the war was a mistake, and that he would end it. Obama argued that Bush’s policies — and more important, his style — alienated U.S. allies. He charged Bush with pursuing a unilateral foreign policy, alienating allies by failing to act in concert with them. In doing so, he maintained that the war in Iraq destroyed the international coalition the United States needs to execute any war successfully. Obama further argued that Iraq was a distraction and that the major effort should be in Afghanistan. He added that the United States would need its NATO allies’ support in Afghanistan. He said an Obama administration would reach out to the Europeans, rebuild U.S. ties there and win greater support from them.

Though around 40 countries cooperated with the United States in Iraq, albeit many with only symbolic contributions, the major continental European powers — particularly France and Germany — refused to participate. When Obama spoke of alienating allies, he clearly meant these two countries, as well as smaller European powers that had belonged to the U.S. Cold War coalition but were unwilling to participate in Iraq and were now actively hostile to U.S. policy.

A European Rebuff

Early in his administration, Obama made two strategic decisions. First, instead of ordering an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, he adopted the Bush administration’s policy of a staged withdrawal keyed to political stabilization and the development of Iraqi security forces. While he tweaked the timeline on the withdrawal, the basic strategy remained intact. Indeed, he retained Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, to oversee the withdrawal.

Second, he increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Bush administration had committed itself to Afghanistan from 9/11 onward. But it had remained in a defensive posture in the belief that given the forces available, enemy capabilities and the historic record, that was the best that could be done, especially as the Pentagon was almost immediately reoriented and refocused on the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. Toward the end, the Bush administration began exploring — under the influence of Gen. David Petraeus, who designed the strategy in Iraq — the possibility of some sort of political accommodation in Afghanistan.

Obama has shifted his strategy in Afghanistan to this extent: He has moved from a purely defensive posture to a mixed posture of selective offense and defense, and has placed more forces into Afghanistan (although the United States still has nowhere near the number of troops the Soviets had when they lost their Afghan war). Therefore, the core structure of Obama’s policy remains the same as Bush’s except for the introduction of limited offensives. In a major shift since Obama took office, the Pakistanis have taken a more aggressive stance (or at least want to appear more aggressive) toward the Taliban and al Qaeda, at least within their own borders. But even so, Obama’s basic strategy remains the same as Bush’s: hold in Afghanistan until the political situation evolves to the point that a political settlement is possible.

Most interesting is how little success Obama has had with the French and the Germans. Bush had given up asking for assistance in Afghanistan, but Obama tried again. He received the same answer Bush did: no. Except for some minor, short-term assistance, the French and Germans were unwilling to commit forces to Obama’s major foreign policy effort, something that stands out.

Given the degree to which the Europeans disliked Bush and were eager to have a president who would revert the U.S.-European relationship to what it once was (at least in their view), one would have thought the French and Germans would be eager to make some substantial gesture rewarding the United States for selecting a pro-European president. Certainly, it was in their interest to strengthen Obama. That they proved unwilling to make that gesture suggests that the French and German relationship with the United States is much less important to Paris and Berlin than it would appear. Obama, a pro-European president, was emphasizing a war France and Germany approved of over a war they disapproved of and asked for their help, but virtually none was forthcoming.

The Russian Non-Reset

Obama’s desire to reset European relations was matched by his desire to reset U.S.-Russian relations. Ever since the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in late 2004 and early 2005, U.S.-Russian relations had deteriorated dramatically, with Moscow charging Washington with interfering in the internal affairs of former Soviet republics with the aim of weakening Russia. This culminated in the Russo-Georgian war last August. The Obama administration has since suggested a “reset” in relations, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually carrying a box labeled “reset button” to her spring meeting with the Russians.

The problem, of course, was that the last thing the Russians wanted was to reset relations with the United States. They did not want to go back to the period after the Orange Revolution, nor did they want to go back to the period between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Orange Revolution. The Obama administration’s call for a reset showed the distance between the Russians and the Americans: The Russians regard the latter period as an economic and geopolitical disaster, while the Americans regard it as quite satisfactory. Both views are completely understandable.

The Obama administration was signaling that it intends to continue the Bush administration’s Russia policy. That policy was that Russia had no legitimate right to claim priority in the former Soviet Union, and that the United States had the right to develop bilateral relations with any country and expand NATO as it wished. But the Bush administration saw the Russian leadership as unwilling to follow the basic architecture of relations that had developed after 1991, and as unreasonably redefining what the Americans thought of as a stable and desirable relationship. The Russian response was that an entirely new relationship was needed between the two countries, or the Russians would pursue an independent foreign policy matching U.S. hostility with Russian hostility. Highlighting the continuity in U.S.-Russian relations, plans for the prospective ballistic missile defense installation in Poland, a symbol of antagonistic U.S.-Russian relations, remain unchanged.

The underlying problem is that the Cold War generation of U.S. Russian experts has been supplanted by the post-Cold War generation, now grown to maturity and authority. If the Cold warriors were forged in the 1960s, the post-Cold warriors are forever caught in the 1990s. They believed that the 1990s represented a stable platform from which to reform Russia, and that the grumbling of Russians plunged into poverty and international irrelevancy at that time is simply part of the post-Cold War order. They believe that without economic power, Russia cannot hope to be an important player on the international stage. That Russia has never been an economic power even at the height of its influence but has frequently been a military power doesn’t register. Therefore, they are constantly expecting Russia to revert to its 1990s patterns, and believe that if Moscow doesn’t, it will collapse — which explains U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s interview in The Wall Street Journal where he discussed Russia’s decline in terms of its economic and demographic challenges. Obama’s key advisers come from the Clinton administration, and their view of Russia — like that of the Bush administration — was forged in the 1990s.

Foreign Policy Continuity Elsewhere

When we look at U.S.-China policy, we see very similar patterns with the Bush administration. The United States under Obama has the same interest in maintaining economic ties and avoiding political complications as the Bush administration did. Indeed, Hillary Clinton explicitly refused to involve herself in human rights issues during her visit to China. Campaign talk of engaging China on human rights issues is gone. Given the interests of both countries, this makes sense, but it is also noteworthy given the ample opportunity to speak to China on this front (and fulfill campaign promises) that has arisen since Obama took office (such as the Uighur riots).

Of great interest, of course, were the three great openings of the early Obama administration, to Cuba, to Iran, and to the Islamic world in general through his Cairo speech. The Cubans and Iranians rebuffed his opening, whereas the net result of the speech to the Islamic world remains unclear. With Iran we see the most important continuity. Obama continues to demand an end to Tehran’s nuclear program, and has promised further sanctions unless Iran agrees to enter into serious talks by late September.

On Israel, the United States has merely shifted the atmospherics. Both the Bush and Obama administrations demanded that the Israelis halt settlements, as have many other administrations. The Israelis have usually responded by agreeing to something small while ignoring the larger issue. The Obama administration seemed ready to make a major issue of this, but instead continued to maintain security collaboration with the Israelis on Iran and Lebanon (and we assume intelligence collaboration). Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has not allowed the settlements to get in the way of fundamental strategic interests.

This is not a criticism of Obama. Presidents — all presidents — run on a platform that will win. If they are good presidents, they will leave behind these promises to govern as they must. This is what Obama has done. He ran for president as the antithesis of Bush. He has conducted his foreign policy as if he were Bush. This is because Bush’s foreign policy was shaped by necessity, and Obama’s foreign policy is shaped by the same necessity. Presidents who believe they can govern independent of reality are failures. Obama doesn’t intend to fail.

Afterword

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Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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For more information about this topic

To see other posts about this topic:

Posts about change:

  1. American history changes direction as the baton passes between our political parties, 18 May 2008 – Importance of the November 2008 political landslide.
  2. “Don’t Let Barack Obama Break Your Heart” by Tom Engelhardt, 21 November 2008
  3. Obama’s national security team: I hope you didn’t really believe in change?, 26 November 2008
  4. Obama supporters mugged by reality (and learn not to believe in change!), 9 December 2008
  5. Change you should not have believed in, 10 February 2009
  6. Quote of the Day, 20 May 2009 — Connect the dots between Bush and Obama to see the nice picture.
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18 Comments leave one →
  1. 30 August 2009 2:10 am

    Re this quote: “The underlying problem is that the Cold War generation of U.S. Russian experts has been supplanted by the post-Cold War generation, now grown to maturity and authority. If the Cold warriors were forged in the 1960s, the post-Cold warriors are forever caught in the 1990s.”

    Definition: “Leadership Cognitive Retardation Syndrome”; A usually problematic sequence of undesirable outcomes attributable at least in part to a specific form of cognitive failure wherein A nation’s leadership fails to adjust to events in a timely manner. Often confused with the discredited term “mental retardation”, LCRS is distinct in that the leadership’s mental processes are unimpaired, but these cognitive functions are temporally displaced (retarded) from current reality. Examples include the sending of cavalry into battle repeatedly during the twelfth century despite the invention of the pike, and the building of the Maginot Line after WWI despite the emergence of mechanized warfare.

    No citation. I just made it up.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: For more detailed descriptions of this phenomenon, see the following:
    * Incestuous Amplification – OODA Loops Gone Mad“, By Chuck Spinney, Counterpunch, 10 September 2008
    * The Incredible Tenacity of the Ruling Class – Or, Obama Does Foreign Policy“, By Werther, posted at Electric Politics, 3 August 2009

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  2. senecal permalink
    30 August 2009 3:24 am

    I didn’t find in the article an explicit statement that “US foreign policy is set by its ruling elites”, only that foreign policy is “shaped by necessity”. So I have to credit FM himself for making that strong association.

    Necessity has an impersonal ring, as of external forces we can’t do anything about and must adapt to — e.g. the shortage of strategic resources, or competition with rival states. The role of “ruling elites” is also a sort of necessity, but it’s something we could do something about.

    So thanks to FM for putting it clearly: our foreign policy, including war, is shaped for the benefit of a very small fraction of the population, not at all for the well-being of most of us.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: It’s a speculative inference. Note how Friedman can see no good (let alone superior) alternatives to the present policies, so he sees it as right and proper that election promises be broken so that continuity be maintained. It’s an elitist framework, an explicit statement that foreign policy is set by “them” — and hence unlikely to be for the benefit of “us.” Unless you see our ruling elites as altruists.

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  3. mclaren permalink
    30 August 2009 7:11 am

    At the micro-level, we observe America’s foreign policy embodied in these military patches worn by our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    From the statements of president Obama to the actions of its soldiers in the field, America leaves little doubt about its attitude toward the peoples of the middle east.

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  4. 30 August 2009 7:16 am

    Re: comment #1

    The OODA construct is really a tour de force I think. There is no need to invoke non-linear dynamic control theory, plain vanilla linear control with pure lag will suffice. “Observe”-acquire data of the objective function. “Orient”-Subtract the observed data from the internally defined desired set point- this is the loop error. “Decide”-multiply the error by the forward loop gain i.e. your proclivity for action in response to error. “Act”-Send the “Decider” output to a power converter which takes the small signal from the “Decider” and manifests this as a real world happening (military action, cities destroyed, whatever). Now consider…

    You’re in the shower. The mixing hot/cold valves are at waist height. It takes 2 seconds for an action at the mixing valves to reach your body because that’s how long it takes to go up the riser to the shower head. You “Observe” the water temperature. You subtract the observed temperature from your body temperature at your skin. You “Decide” that the water is too cold. You “Act” by increasing the hot water flow rate. Nothing happens at the observation point because the hotter water is delayed coming up the riser. You “ACT” some more by increasing the hot flow rate more. The result of your first action reaches you. It’s close to perfect. You smile and do nothing. The second increase reaches you. It is close to scalding. You turn the hot water off completely. (Error times loop gain tells you to do this). What do you think happens next, two seconds later to be precise?
    Pure time lag is sufficient to explain the OODA loop failure. Non-linearity is not needed. Noise in data acquisition (observation error) is not needed. “Distortion” by complicating structures inside the loop are not needed. They may all be present, but time lag alone is sufficient to explain how we do the exact wrong thing at any given time.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t see how a simple time lag has any relationship to the Afghanistan War.

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  5. Oblat permalink
    30 August 2009 8:15 am

    >You’re in the shower…. Pure time lag is sufficient to explain the OODA loop failure. >Non-linearity is not needed. Noise in data acquisition (observation error) is not needed.

    If this was the case then no industrial control system would work. You need to look up the common PID controller and how it manages the various time related issues.

    The problem with OODA loop is that it is a single perspective and so it panders to the American uni-centric culture. Much better models of diplomacy and warfare are network and at least multi-centric. In the real world the “hot and cold water” are constantly changing “temperature” in response to your actions and relationships between themselves. That’s the real reason why the simple uni-centric models that Americans use implicitly all the time work so poorly.

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  6. Oblat permalink
    30 August 2009 8:30 am

    I wonder how many more years of FM posts wallowing in self pity and fear, on how the elites are stealing everything from us, there will be before someone asks the question: “What should be done”. And not “getting angry” or writing to your congressman or any of the other self indulgent nonsense that leads nowhere.

    When will someone ask the real question “how should America be disarmed ?”

    I’m sure the Chinese and even Western leaders are well along on that train of thought. Answering that question would shed a great deal of light on America’s future.

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  7. Robert Petersen permalink
    30 August 2009 11:28 am

    First one small note regarding the Germans in Afghanistan: It has often been said that the Germans are afraid of fighting the war. Problem solved: The war has come to the Germans in and around Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. The 3.700 German soldiers in ISAF are now almost daily engaged in fightings with the Taleban. Which is bad, since this means the insurgency has spread into the far north of Afghanistan.

    Secondly I think this Stratfor-analysis is excellent in its observation and I fully agree that Obama so far has been a “Bush light” or a “Bush minus ten percent”. But I can’t possibly agree with the idea – stated in the last paragraph – that Obama’s foreign policy is driven by “necessity”. You gotta be kidding me. We have the must powerful nation in the world and Obama’s would-be excuse for not changing anything is that he is restrained by “necessity”? I would rather call it “lack of imagination”. Of course radical ideas to change the United States’ foreign policy are also dangerous ideas, but compared to “stay the course” that might end up being the least dangerous solution.

    The war on terror is draining the United States and offers nothing in return. The United States is still stuck in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan (or Af-Pak) is only about to become worse. The United States has avoided financial collaps (so far), but is still in dire economic circumstances and will in the coming decades suffer from a rising debt. The prospect of high oil prices makes the return to economic growth even more difficult. Russia is about to modernize its armed forces, wants to buy UAV’s from Israel and carriers from France and has regained its belief – after the war against Georgia – that if everything fails there is always the military option left. We can hardly say to have deterred them. I could continue.

    Try to imagine a parallel universe where president Kennedy had opted for war over the Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962. What would he had said in his first public speech after the end of war that would – by default – have resulted in total destruction of large part of the Northern Hemisphere? You guessed it: The war was necessary, the was no point in waiting, the Soviets would only have become stronger, we only lost 10 million instead of 100 million, freedom prevailed over the forces of darkness etc. History books would have repeated that point because it would have been difficult to imagine a different world without the war. Like it is difficult to imagine Europe in 1918 or 1922 without WW1.

    Staying the course makes sense if everything is okay and you are doing everything right, your economy is booming, people have jobs and the country is at peace. Staying the course makes no sense if your situation is exactly the opposite.

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  8. pluto permalink
    30 August 2009 1:50 pm

    I strongly agree with Robert Petersen. The broken OODA loop has reduced the effectiveness of government policy to the point where one has to be very concerned for the future viability of the country.

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  9. 30 August 2009 2:31 pm

    Indeed, Friedman couches the reticence of France and Germany “…one would have thought the French and Germans would be eager to make some substantial gesture rewarding the United States for selecting a pro-European president.”, as if rubbing up to Obama should be a priori prioritized over their respective Afghanistan policies.

    and “Obama, a pro-European president, was emphasizing a war France and Germany approved of …” ….five to eight years ago anyway. Not that the handling of the war(s) since then would have soured anybody.

    It never seems to cross Friedman’s mind to consider European hesitancy as an effective warning not to tread such foreign policy paths. If we accept that that 1990’s crowd have taken over and are stuck in their formative experience, and consider that they were also marked by the debacle of european dithering re Bosnia, does it not then follow that go-it-alone against-the-crowd US foreign politics are a fixed feature for the next 20-30 years and not a passing phase?

    FM, is Friedman really so representative of establishment thinking for us to use Stratfor as their mirror?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Take this one step farther. Does Friedman even consider that the France and Germany might be correct, and us wrong?

    As for Stratfor, IMO it provides a window into the thinking of our ruling elites. That, along with its reporting, are provide most of its value. They explicitly say what the elites themselves only think. Such as Stratfor’s discussion about the motives for our expedition to Iraq:
    Stratfor’s analysis of US reasons for invading and occupying Iraq, 4 March 2008
    Stratfor again attempts to explain why we invaded Iraq, 24 March 2008

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  10. Ulenspiegel permalink
    30 August 2009 7:55 pm

    It becomes more and more difficult to sell the Afghan war in Germany (“our freedom is defended in the Hindukush”) and in the German pre-election campaign it would be political suicide to suggest the increase of German forces in Afganistan. However, even for me as German it was a little surprise that Obama’s obvious hope for more military support is completely ignored.

    From another POV, the most alarming signs that the US/German relations are in a disarray are that even clear former supporter of the USA became more and more critical. Here a good example is the ex-Bundeskanzler and strong “Atlantiker” Helmut Schmidt, usually characterised by a health combination of strong intellect and good feeling for realpolitik.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: For more about this see “The Bundeswehr’s Afghan Nightmare – How the Taliban Are Taking Control of Kunduz“, Der Spiegel, 19 August 2008.

    Do you have any cites for Schmidt speaking about the war? All I see is this, in a Der Spiegel interview with former German Defense Minister Peter Struck (2 July 2009):

    Struck: Former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said exactly the same thing to our parliamentary group a few weeks ago: We have to get out of Afghanistan. That’s indisputable. But it will take time. Much depends on the plans of the new American administration.

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  11. 30 August 2009 8:23 pm

    Re comment #4 — FM: “I don’t see how a simple time lag has any relationship to the Afghanistan War.”

    In control loop design, one is always balancing the “decider” complexity and sophistication against the loop gain. What does every shower taker and world traveler do to avoid being scalded with or without time lag? Absent experience with a given shower, he lowers the loop gain, moving the hot water valve in baby steps, and waiting two seconds between turns whether he needs to or not. As he gains experience, he uses experience to shape more sophisticated control actions. He increases loop gain, making bolder adjustments because he can based on experience. For example, “lag free” showers, once identified, allow larger, quicker adjustment i.e. more loop gain, and when the guy next door flushes the toilet, the hiccup of cold water is ignored, averaged away by the sophisticated world shower taker. In this PID loop analogy, he has learned to use more gain, and more Integration, and less Proportional and less Derivative control, again based on experience.
    FM has noted that in Afghanistan, we don’t apparently even know what water temp.(objective) we want. This renders OODA loop discussions moot. No servo system designer can help you figure out what it is you want to control, but in response to #1, FM cites links (“OODA Loops Gone MAD”) that posit if OODA analogies apply, the complexity of the system can give rise to instability. My point is that very little complexity is needed. Just go to the usual suspects. Too much loop gain (proclivity to act reducing error), even with no time lag, or only lags induced by averaging, can lead to making matters worse instead of better, but in this “no lag” case, understanding and design experience can compensate, leading to designs that have high gain, and corresponding small error (deviation from goals) and with good stability. With pure time lag, the situation is much worse, and typically no level of sophistication or experience can compensate. You have to settle for low gain. There is no alternative other than taking baby steps. Military guys hate this.
    Examples of lag in this context include observation delays, (time needed to update and communicate new intelligence data (sitrep)), calculation delay (time needed to process data and make decisions), execution delay (time it takes to act) and integration delay (averaging functions improve data by suppressing noise (toilet flushes), but they simultaneously and unavoidably also induce time lag. All these lags must be added around the loop. Pure delay is worse qualitatively than averaging delay, but acting on double averaging, i.e. averages of averages is a very bad idea too. If the military reports average casualties over six months, and then public opinion responds to the average of those averages, corrective action will very likely be the wrong (180 degrees off) phase, literally feeding back to surrender when victory is near, or vice versa. If total lag is large, gain (proclivity to act) must be low, or you will make things worse as you try to make them better. This is the iron law of feedback and control.

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  12. Tom Roberts permalink
    31 August 2009 12:38 am

    Concur with #11. OODA assumes a negligible reaction time in the feedback loop. A fighter plane or a panzer battalion HQ were the motivating examples used by Boyd, and Boyd recognized that “friction” was the chief enemy of any C3I structure working in the short term. In the long term, #11’s comment about even defining the long term goals (“what is temperature?”) is the principal issue in any feedback loop implementation. When OODA is raised to the strategic level, and we cannot or will not define our national goals except in nebulous terms, no decision loop is even feasible. At that point, Boyd’s examples about the WW I French chateau generals become apt, as the chateaux generals like our commanders today would like to see nothing more than a short casualty list and a benign status quo.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: What is your basis for saying “OODA assumes a negligible reaction time in the feedback loop”. Much of the discussion about OODA loops concerns the speed with which the loops runs.

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  13. Ulenspiegel permalink
    31 August 2009 5:14 am

    FM wrote: Do you have any cites for Schmidt speaking about the war?

    Helmut Schmidt is one of the editors of the weekly “Die Zeit”,(Is there an English edition?) so a good starting point is the archive of this paper. Schmidt has not fried Obama yet, but was a critic of G.W.Bush’s course, so it’s IMHO only matter of time.

    The German government expected a change of US policy with Obama, not the continuation of the Bush model. So I expect interesting times after the German election. The continuation of US foreign policy will clearly show the lack of a European strategy /foreign policy and may force some developements here, as nobody can really afford another four years of stagnation.

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  14. Ulenspiegel permalink
    31 August 2009 6:26 am

    Here are some articles (out of >250) from H. Schmidt published in “Die Zeit”:

    * Military intervention (esp. page 2)
    * Hope for restauration of political credibility of USA
    * Nuclear weapons
    * Turkey and EU, US influence

    Context: Schmidt was in Germany the architect of the NATO Double Track Decision, which killed him politically in 1982; he is a clear supporter of the EU and at the same time an “Atlantiker” ( i.e. argues with strong emphasise on good US/German relations.)
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    FM note: They’re all in German.

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  15. Tom Roberts permalink
    31 August 2009 11:27 am

    Apologize for the imprecision: I should have specified “Successful OODA Loops”. Your objection is another way of saying my point. Chateaux generals had OODA loops also, which were too slow.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Still makes no sense to me. How does my objection — that you give no basis for your assumption that “OODA assumes a negligible reaction time in the feedback loop” (which contradicts much of the writing about OODA loops) — support your theory?

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  16. 31 August 2009 7:04 pm

    From OODA cite in Wikipedia:

    “In order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries–or, better yet, get inside [the] adversary’s Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action time cycle or loop. … Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries–since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing as well as faster transient rhythm or patterns they are competing against.”

    Boyd’s original OODA concept was to Observe and identify the “Slow” (time lagging) elements of the enemy’s platform, and to coax him into using those elements hoping he will become trapped in the “Iron Law of Feedback Control” and thus forced to reduce gain (take baby steps and be feckless), or “act boldly” causing overshoot followed by overcorrection, making matters worse for himself. This is “being inside his OODA loop”. If the enemy tries to get inside your OODA loop, Boyd advises randomized response. No matter what, don’t let him get you trapped by the “Iron Rule”, better to act wildly at random than to be boxed in by the constraints of maintaining “control”. If the options are “Don’t act much at all, (or you’ll make things worse).” and “Act aggressively as the data and your control function suggest, and you will definitely make things worse”, it’s time to ignore the data, abandon the notion of control, and aggressively act at random.
    The concept of OODA is brilliant, but we as a nation are not in a dog fight against an adversary. We are dealing with the vicissitudes of living in the real world. We cannot “get inside” the world’s OODA loop and beat it when it makes the mistake of trying to stay in control. Random action is not advised. OODA is nevertheless a good framework for discussion of our problems as we deal with reality.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: All good points. Note that OODA loops are not a theory of everything (it’s not Zen), just a method of describing conflicts with an adversary.

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  17. Tom Roberts permalink
    1 September 2009 1:04 am

    #16 is the proper response to FM’s note to 15. OODA is a very useful concept in systems engineering of weapons systems or C3I systems in combat units. It is quite an extrapolation to apply it to foreign or national policy. That does not mean it is irrelevant, but merely that these larger entities are always going to exhibit frictional qualities which at times are quite intentional. The famous US constitutional checks and balances is one example, while a monarchy’s court protocols are another. Where this becomes relevant is in Friedman’s concern about how voter apathy allows unelected elites to determine policy anti democratically. At some point you have to ask if that is feature and not a bug. It sure makes a hash of the concept of a Jeffersonian Republic, but maybe the OODA loop construct can only be applied to theater analysis or lower with any sort of precision. Above the theater level, friction completely dominates and getting any decision at all is speculative, let alone a good one.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Another odd response. In what sense is comment #16 a “response”? It’s a description of OODA loops. None of your remarks make any sense to me. They’re just criticisms with little detail and less basis in what anyone familar with the concept actually says about OODA loops. You appear to be just making stuff up and replying to it.

    Like

  18. Tom Roberts permalink
    1 September 2009 2:46 am

    In re note to #17, I could criticize your responses to control loop theory’s implications in the same manner, but enough, we are evidently talking past each other.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: No, I am asking what is the basis of your assertions. So far as I can tell, you are just making stuff up. There is a large literature on OODA loops, if you care to provide some support.

    Like

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