Do we have a broken OODA loop? Or are we just stupid?

Summery:    Three dozen posts on the FM website have described different aspects of America’s broken OODA loop. An op-ed by Frederick and Kimberly Kagan in today’s Washington Posts points to a different and darker diagnosis. It’s presented here so that we see all alternative explanations, however bleak.


The diagnosis of America as having a broken OODA Loop (our ability to observer, orient, decide, act) has several operational advantages. It’s emotionally neutral, reassuringly technical in nature.  It points at no specific individual, assigns no blame. Best of all, this leads to a clear solution. We need only act differently: see more clearly, learn from our mistakes, plan and act better.

Today’s Washington Post has an op-ed that disproves this analysis, and suggests a darker answer.  A simpler explanation of why we cannot accurately see our world and learn from our mistakes.  Perhaps we’re stupid.


Why U.S. troops must stay in Afghanistan
Kimberly Kagan (president of the Institute for the Study of War) and
Frederick Kagan (American Enterprise Institute)

Since appearing on the national stage in 2007, this pair have a near-perfect record of producing fallacious analysis and bad advice.  Cheerleaders for our mad vain wars, advocates for the two costly but unsuccessful “surges” (Iraq, Afghanistan), they are war mongers in the most literal sense (see What is a warmonger? Who are the warmongers?).  (For a brief analysis of their current bad advice see this post)

Despite this record they remain geopolitical gurus in good standing, their advice prominently displayed by the news media and eagerly read by both decision-makers and the public.  They are our failure to learn in tangible form.

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More bad advice about Afghanistan. Why do we continue to listen?

Summary:  We see our broken OODA loop at work in the daily newspapers, but never so clearly as in the prominent role of people with a track record of consistently wrong analysis and advice. Screw-up and move up during the Vietnam War. The analytical failure of the “team B” analysis during the cold war, which led to career success for its members. And now we see the hawks who led us into two wars continue to dominate US geopolitics, while those who gave sound advice (eg, Andrew Bacevich) remain on the fringes.

Afghan National Policeman patrolling with the US Army in Kandahar, but not yet shooting them (Reuters)

The ‘Andar Uprising’ and Progress in Afghanistan“, Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, 4 October 2012 — Gated copy; a free copy is posted at AEI’s Critical Threats.  Mr Kagan is considered one of the advocates of the “surges” in Iran and Afghanistan, which ran up the costs and body counts of both wars — while not changing the outcomes.

“The war is far from won, but a path to victory remains evident and viable if we have the will to pursue it.”


Success in Afghanistan remains possible. As tragic and regrettable as they are, recent “green-on-blue” attacks against U.S. forces do not signify the failure of U.S.-Afghan partnership efforts or the enmity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and Afghan people. Incidents spectacular enough to grab headlines in an overheated election year have badly distorted our understanding of what actually has happened on the ground in Afghanistan this fighting season.

The most important developments this year have been the failure of a determined Taliban effort to regain key terrain that they had lost, and the displacement of continuing violence away from populated areas and toward remote locations. Add to that the resiliency of the Afghan Local Police in key villages under determined Taliban attack, and the emergence of new anti-Taliban movements in former Taliban strongholds. The war is far from won, but a path to victory remains evident and viable if we have the will to pursue it.

It’s difficult to appreciate the magnitude of this foolishness.  It’s extraordinary, even for someone as consistently wrong as Frederick Kagan.

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Who are the experts advising our generals? We know what they’ll say.

Summary:  The experts at its major think-tanks and NGO’s act as the sheepdogs guiding the American public.  In general they are reliable servants of our ruling elites and protectors of the status quo, their opinions (like Opera) represent money in motion.  But some causes are too extreme, too bizarre, for real experts to advocate — like the Afghanistan War.  Fortunately DoD can call upon its intellectual shock troops, for whom every war is essential and deserving of expansion.

There are 3 great oddities about the Afghanistan War.  These are the key peanuts hidden from the American public as General McChrystal conducts yet another public relations exercise to build support for an ever-larger war in Afghanistan.

  1. Nobody has presented evidence that activities or camps in Afghanistan provided any essential (or even substantial) support for 9-11.
  2. Nobody has cited work by relevant area experts supporting the war in terms of American national interests.  I do not mean COIN or geopolitical gurus, but rather people who know the languages and history of the Afghanistan peoples.
  3. Nobody has drawn an explicit chain of reasoning between a likely outcome of the Afghanistan War and any future attacks on the US.


  1. About the team
  2. About their handlers
  3. Surprise results:  they want more troops
  4. Update:  analysis by Pat Lang
  5. Afterword and for more information

(1)  About the team

So Who Were the Advisers for McChrystal’s 60-Day Afghanistan Review?“, Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent, 30 July 2009 — Excerpt (red emphasis added):

Biddle, who held a conference call this afternoon to discuss his views now that he’s back from the review — more on that in the next post — clarifies that it wasn’t so much that they advised the review. A group of about a dozen civilian experts, mostly from Washington think tanks, werethe review. When Defense Secretary Bob Gates asked McChrystal to send him an assessment of the war’s fortunes and the resources necessary to turn it around, the civilian experts were flown to Baghdad to conduct the “overall assessment,” Biddle said. Officers from the USFOR-A headed “subtopic” groups of “particular interest to Gen. McChrystal like civilian-casualty minimization, strategic communication and so forth.” But the band of (mostly) Beltway think-tankers were the review.

Notice how very very few of these experts are primarily Afghanistan experts. I’m not familiar with everyone on this list, particularly the Europeans, but this is a group of security experts, many of them quite excellent ones. No one here, to the best of my knowledge, primarily studies Afghanistan. If counterinsurgency holds local knowledge as a core principle, it’s worth asking why that perspective is underrepresented on the review.

Who are these experts playing such a major role in steering America’s war policy?  Here is Ackerman’s list of the review team.  The links go to biographies.

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