By now many of you have probably read the exchanges between Thomas P.M. Barnett and Noah Shachtman of WIRED’s Danger Room over Shachtman’s recent article “How Technology Almost Lost the War: In Iraq, the Critical Networks Are Social – Not Electronic“. If you haven’t, the exchange pretty much went like this:
“Wired’s subpar Iraq analysis” -Barnett
“My ‘Weird’ Article, ‘Well Worth the Read’ ” -Shachtman
“Tom’s reply to Noah” – Barnett
“Blog Fight? Zzzzzzzzzz” – Shachtman
“File it under whatever you want” – Barnett
Admittedly, Network-centric Warfare today is a larger concept than the original theoretical ideas of Arthur Cebrowski and John Garstka; whenever a theory is accepted by a large and powerful bureaucratic organization- like, say, the Pentagon – it collides with reality. Some ideas get tested, tinkered with, discarded or adapted to existing factional agendas by people with more enthusiasm than understanding. Network-centric Warfare, an emerging doctrine, had more “legs” inside the DoD bureaucracy than did it’s main rival, the 4GW School, because it suited the intellectual needs of armed services planning to fight a future “near peer competitor” state military and to rationalize the U.S. military’s systemic coordination and use of emerging technology on the battlefield (“rationalize” in the sense of provide a coherent order – though NCW was also used as a justification in making budgetary requests). And as with any bureaucratic paradigm shift, factional partisans who had career and mission objectives became personally invested in deriding or advancing NCW’s ” transformation”. That’s a far cry from the complexity of the NCW ideas, as presented by Cebrowski and Garstka. Some examples:
The crux of the problem with Shachtman’s article is that his opener gives the impression that the botching of the occupation in Iraq should be laid at the door of two men who articulated strategic ideas with impressive intellectual celerity and subtlety, one of whom is no longer able to defend himself. It’s a preposterous implication. When the 4 star grandees of the post-Vietnam War U.S. Army decided to “purge” COIN doctrine from the Army’s institutional memory, Admiral Cebrowski was a mere Navy fighter pilot. The creation of the CPA with the subsequent incompetence of Paul Bremer and a bunch of non-Arabic speaking kids just out of college, who interned at AEI, was above the pay grade of any uniformed officer of the United States. Dr. Barnett, who was very close to Admiral Cebrowski, was justly irritated by this cartoonish libel of his friend and mentor.
In fairness to Shachtman, as the WIRED article proceeds, he offered a more nuanced picture of the role of Network-centric Warfare in the larger scheme of things and backtracked somewhat during his exachanges with Tom. However, not all of WIRED’s readers are defense geeks who surf obscure PDFs from OSD.mil and understand the entire context of defense doctrine and policy; Cebrowski and Garstka are therefore, left tarnished by Shachtman in a way that’s sort of akin to blaming William Lind and 4GW theory for Pakistan and India brandishing nuclear weapons at each other.