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A Multi-Disciplinary Approach?: Coerr’s The Eagle and the Bear Outline

Here is something for the learned readership to chew on.

As you are probably all aware, in the hard sciences it is common for research papers to be the product of large, multidiciplinary, teams with, for example, biochemists working with physicists, geneticists, bioinformatics experts, mathematicians and so on. In the social sciences and humanities, not so much. Traditional disciplinary boundaries and methodological conservatism often prevail or are even frequently the subject of heated disputes when someone begins to test the limits of academic culture

I’m not sure why this has to be so for any of us not punching the clock in an ivory tower.

The organizer of the Boyd & Beyond II Conference, Stan Coerr, a GS-15 Marine Corps, Colonel Marine Corps Reserve and Iraq combat veteran, several years ago, developed a very intriguing analytical outline of thirty years of Afghan War, which I recommend that you take a look at:

The Eagle and the Bear: First World Armies in Fourth World Insurgencies by Stan Coerr


There are many potential verges for collaboration in this outline – by my count, useful insights can be drawn by from the following fields:

Military History
Strategic Studies
Security Studies
COIN Theory
Operational Design
Diplomatic History
Soviet Studies
Intelligence History
International Relations
Area Studies
Islamic Studies
Military Geography
Network Theory

I’m sure that I have missed a few.

It would be interesting to crowdsource this doc a little and get a discussion started. Before I go off on a riff about our unlamented Soviet friends, take a look and opine on any section or the whole in the comments section.

19 Responses to “A Multi-Disciplinary Approach?: Coerr’s The Eagle and the Bear Outline”

  1. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

    Interesting, with exception to little, if anything, about the ultimatim that lead to our war vs. the Taliban.  That was the ultimate cause of the fight there, and the lack of resolution of that is what’s causing our strategic paralysis there now.
    The initial invasion was reasonable and smart.  We just didn’t know that it was supposed to end as a raid (i.e. include a withdrawal after enough punitive damage was inflicted).

  2. zen Says:

    Yes, a raid. Good point, Nate. That’s what operational excellence is when decoupled from strategy. Supreme excellence is not winning one hundred battles…..

  3. J.ScottShipman Says:

    What would you guys say to the proposition that a centralized national government in Afghanistan was ever a reasonable possibility?
    For me this has always been the disconnect. These folks have demonstrated consistent hostility to centralized governance, and "what" did we think we could do to change this essential element of Afghan culture. A raid to extract a price made sense, but a decade of occupation leaves us delusional if we expect continued stability after our exit. 

  4. zen Says:

    It was never a reasonable possibility in any time frame short of a century. Few nations on earth are less culturally and historically receptive to a strong centralized state than Afghanistan, and the few periods of *relatively* strong central authority, like the rule of the "Iron Emir" Abdur Rahman, used methods the United States and NATO would never employ. It was the sending of Communist cadres into the village hinterlands by the Parcham-Khalq Marxists to enforce "revolutionary" edicts that spawned the original Mujahedin rebellion. Even Moscow told Taraki and Amin not to do that.
    The idea that Kabul would replicate France or Japan on the Hindu Kush has a lot to do with the policy preferences and political views of the NGO/IGO class and very little to do with Afghani views or history.

  5. Bob Weimann Says:

    Very glad you posted Stan’s Outline; nice piece of work. When I read the analysis outline it seems that the one successful systems theme is the “tribe”.  The tribe has been successful for hundreds/thousands of years in Afghanistan even surviving the Muslim conversion.  I then have to ask the question, is there a strategy (at this point in the war … a lesson learned) that focuses on the tribe that allows us to be successful and basically focuses all those social, military and economic areas that Zen listed? I have to go back to Boyd here (good old slide 51):“The Art of Success • Shape or influence the moral-mental-physical atmosphere that we are a part of, live in, and feed upon so that we not only magnify our inner spirit and strength, but also influence potential adversaries and current adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success;yet be able to• Morally-mentally-physically isolate our adversaries from their allies and outside support as well as isolate them from one another, in order to: magnify their internal friction, produce paralysis, bring about their collapse; and/or bring about a change in their political/economic/social philosophy so that they can no longer inhibit our vitality and growth.” Can we set the “strategic tapestry” to influence the Afghan moral-mental-physical atmosphere in our favor and at the same time morally-mentally-physically isolate the Taliban/AQ by centering our strategic focusing on the tribes?

  6. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi Bob,
    Good points all. Part of the strategic tapestry should focus on restraint on our part of "bringing them around to our way of thinking." Katya at B&B 2011 suggested autonomy for those tribal areas capable; a great start. Our focus on a Westphalian type Afghan governance has been our Achilles Heel. I believe we must incorporate into our mental image a method of contract law that allows for the predictability of Western jurisprudence along side traditional tribal law (often more whimsical and subjective to the clan leader’s dispositions).
    At the end of the day, we’re looking not only for an ally, but also a trading partner. To achieve the ends of the latter depends on legal mechanisms to protect business exchanges from risks—something typically absent in relationships between Western businesses and tribal entities. Part of our mental tapestry should be an acceptance that tribal is ok—-a form of self-determination that does not track to Western traditions to be sure. Exporting democracy at the tip of a bayonet in Afghanistan has proven a fool’s errand, and we should devise ways to part as friends—or at least more friendly.
    Karzi won’t last a year once we’re gone, so our strategic focus should perhaps track more toward Katya’s suggestion—where the autonomous bubbas deal with the Taliban/AQ in their own way—which in the end will probably be more effective than our efforts thus far in the macro.

  7. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "like the rule of the "Iron Emir" Abdur Rahman, used methods the United States and NATO would never employ." Ha! So what you are saying is that we are fighting the Russian?

  8. morgan Says:

    I don’t think our policy elites are capable of thinking outside of the Estpahilan centralized state box.  They are inmeshed in the concept of a centralized state. Couldn’t one make the argument that our current Obama Administration and ones immediately preceeding his–Bush II, Clinton, and Bush I, for example, were all expanding the scope of our federal government, not decentralizing it?  They drink from the cup of centralization and inhale the vapors of the same to the extent that they can’t imagine any other system for the "good of the world" as they see it–not to mention they feel they are the only ones capable of establising and administrating it.  They also seem lost when things don’t go according to their schemes and their solutions are to keep trying more of the same.  Scott is right, exporting democracy at the tip of a bayonet isn’t working in Afghanistan and, in my opinion, won’t work in Iraq either.

  9. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi Morgan,
    As to the policy elites; they presume a superior solution aligned with the notion of globalization; which relies on centralized power.
    Iraq stands a chance, but Iran will make sure to cause enough mischief to keep things unstable.

  10. morgan Says:

    Scott, agree. Iran is the bastard at the family reunion.

  11. J.ScottShipman Says:

    All of this to say, Stan has a very good outline of areas to examine, but at the end of the analysis, policy makers must draw conclusions on the realm of the possible with respect to those areas.
    Methinks even a cursory knowledge of military history would inform a policy maker that old lunch-bucket Joe Biden was probably onto something when he was advocating a drone/air war against AQ targets; of course, calling the plays is easy on Monday morning…just hope we have learned our lessons, but suspect we haven’t.
    We would do well to keep and use the scaffold Stan built and expand in other areas and draw conclusions based on reality.

  12. morgan Says:

    Scott, isn’t another monkey wrench in your very logical point re: drawing conclusions based on reality, the mechanics of a bureaucracy? All the services want a piece of the action if the policy deciders choose the military option. This, as I see it, in Von Claus’s term just increases friction but to the bureaucracy of the individual services the choice–drone air attacks versus boots on the ground–pose a threat to those excluded. The threat might mean less funds, etc., but it elevates bureaucratic survival–a reality for the bureaucracies–  over pursuing a policy based on reality. The reality for the bureaucrats is survival and future expansion, which may run counter to a policy based on what you pointed out. I’m not sure what the answer to this is except, perhaps,  a strong leader that will push a policy based on what you stressed, and even then the bureaucracy will quietly try to sabotage it to their advantage. 

  13. morgan Says:

    Scott: an addendum to my latest: maybe "sabotage" is too strong a term. Perhaps "twist" would be better.

  14. Scott Says:

    I attended a seminar on violent armed groups hosted by Phil Williams last year.  One thing I noticed as an outsider (engineer / MBA) was how little people in different COIN areas talked to each other, and how unaware they were of stuff outside their field – one had just discovered narratives, which we’d talked about in business years before.  More generalists are needed, I think, as well as coming up with ways to encourage communication between silos.

  15. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi Morgan,
    "Twist" is a better word.
    Hi Scott, Generalists with real knowledge. Cameron Schaefer has an excellent list of fiction sources, and Charles Hill’s Grand Strategies, Literature, Statecraft and World Order are excellent places to exercise the "generalist" muscle.

  16. Larry Dunbar Says:

    4. Afghanistan is 0 for 5
    a. Illiterate and innumerate population
    i. No tradition of central governmentb. Harsh, dry, rocky, hot or cold landc. Landlocked country, hostile neighbors, one road outd. Shifting, remote, austere and ignored borderse. Only cash crop is illegal on world markets
    *One thing that is common to both sides is the environment that both side observe. Another common factor is the positioning of that power (neither wants i, a decentralized government). To the Taliban and AQ, Afghanistan is the center of a religious movement (in my way of thinking the center of a religion does not have to be in the same area as movement). To NATO and the US, Karzai represents the center of government (the power of Democracy, Capitalism and continuation of the military/industrial complex (orientation). The Taliban and AQ uses terror to "center" the power. NATO and the US uses other ways and means. It’s not that those fighting in Afghanistan want decentralization, the fight is over what that orientation will look like as a globalized implicit image. 
    *In other words, both sides are fighting for the same end (a center of gravity), but are using different means and ways. As stated going in, the US wants to remove the center of the movement (OBL) and the ways and means of the movement (networks). To destroy the ways of the networks means to change the environment they function in or unplug them. Colin Powell told us going in that the networks needed to be ripped up by the roots.
    *"b. You can’t win an insurgency in another country, but youcan lose it." 
    *That is because an insurgency is "deeply divided but not closely divided" (Great Powers, TPMB). You can "lose" it because you are basically fighting the same people on both sides, or they are close to it horizontally, just not vertically.
    *Leaving is going to change the environment, the "win" will be in what those networks look like in a few years.

  17. Larry Dunbar Says:

    The name of the first chapter in the book Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne, is "A New Kind of War". The Great Plains of the American West was the first time the US military was introduced to mobile warfare. It took the likes of Colonel Boyd to fully explain it. Going in, the military and those on the wave of the Manifest Destiny thought they were dealing with the same people that they displaced as they pushed east, but as the author explains, this was not the case. The area that those of the east were trying to move into were not made up of either tribes or clans, but bands. At the center was the orientation  called Comanches that had full advantage over the area and the people they met going in were just bands with lesser advantage. Now days we would call the Comanches the Gamers and the rest "other people". The system in play on the Great Plains of the US was centralized, but not to the people on the outside looking in. The advantage that the Comanches had was so great that it couldn’t be seen by outsiders, unless you formed a front between you and the Comanches. As it was, in Boyd’s terms, there was a great swirl of OODA loops going on, and the Comanches were the winners, because of Mobility. They crossed the gap between decision and action, literally, the quickest. 
    So what is the advantage in living in the area of Afghanistan? Certainly mobility north and south has much to do with it. But then most centers of gravity(such as a low or high pressure) turn either right or left.

  18. Larry Dunbar Says:

    The sub-title of S.C. Gwynne’s book is "Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History". The key word here is "Powerful". 
    Power moves in time-steps called an OODA loop according to the events of the distribution over the magnitude of those events. These perpendicular forces (events over magnitude and force being the common factor) builds structure as it feeds-ahead and feeds-back on itself. 
    There is a force to the number of events power is able to produce vertically and a force in the magnitude of the events in the changing of the velocity of the distribution. But there is only one structure. The Comanches were anything but powerful until the horse was introduced into the Great Plains from Europe. So it is all the same structure, we just have little means to see this, as we are unable to leave our own little domain (including yours truly). 
    The structure may look different, i.e. tribes, clans, and bands, but it is all one distribution. This main problem with  the book "Great Powers" by Thomas PM Barnett is in the title, not content. There are no great powers, but one. It just shows itself differently in different areas inside the same structure. This is why there can only be one military/industrial complex, because there is only one complex, and we are all renters. 

  19. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi Larry, Your descriptions evoked this answer to a colleague with respect to awareness as an element of Observe:

    “I believe awareness a priori to a certain extent before the observe/orient event. To be aware, implies to me preparation to "notice"—requiring the Observer to develop the capability for a nuanced view of whatever our OODA endeavor. From my perspective, the greater the awareness, the less significant the boundary conditions of nuance (which are always going to be amorphous)—-a trained/educated Observer will possess enough awareness "to know" when something doesn’t belong/something isn’t right (a tacit feel, as it were). Observe/Orient represents a real-time continuum of learning and adapting, where time is on the "x" axis, and tacit knowledge is on the "y"—the "z" is still under construction for me. As I’ve told others: "If you’re standing on top of the "y" axis looking forward in time, "z" will be the width of tacit." An element of topography to be sure, but if OODA is a continuum, and I believe it is, no two Observes will be alike, and if we’re paying attention across time, each "look" will improve our awareness and capacity for action.”
    This is only the second time I’ve written this, as I have reservations about the topographical (which in my mind includes many factors of neurology/cognition—nuts and bolts stuff—-blended to produce conscious awareness), and I’ve a post in the works that will devote a little more rigor to the line of thought.

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