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Thread: Getting past a Binary Perspective

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default Getting past a Binary Perspective

    It is hard to get past looking at relationships in a binary way (for me anyway), once you introduce more then 2 sides to a an already complex relationship, it changes the way in which the first two participants inter-act with each other, it creates new outputs which must then be evaluated and accounted for. In the sense of a binary evaluation, Clausewitz had said war was a duel on a larger scale – I don’t think he meant that it was limited to two participants, but was trying to articulate the role chance and perhaps will play, however his analogy artificially lends itself to a binary image vs. say the final scenes of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", or something that while simple of enough to visualize is perhaps more representative of regional and global politics.

    Once you go down the road of complex interaction involving not only the personalities/actors/interests within Iraq (or any state with diversity) who look toward their own interests and often have broad domestic ties, but who also often have regional and/or global ties, it becomes difficult to isolate the binary elements such as your wants and those of the person who you interacting with; or the root causes of conditions or problems that you are dealing with. Both parties represent additional interests - not just a two-way commercial transaction, but loyalty to various equities that have interest(s). The value of those equities weigh in on how the relationship develops.

    If you elevate the observation from domestic to include regional and/or international relationships, and consider how a binary approach to an outcome denies the natural (and growing) interactions that have gone on as a result of broader human activities and interests (could be Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere). To account for natural and existing human interests, our own political objectives/ends must be broad enough to allow accommodating the new outputs produced by over time from the interaction that comes from multiple actors with multiple ends in mind.

    The implementation of the ways to achieve our objective(s)/end(s) must account for that as these actors interact each will have some concept of an end in mind, and how that relationship affects other ends that define them or something that in some proximate way threatens them (back to Thucydides “fear, honor and interests). Leaders, Planners and Policy Makers must account for this while retaining enough focus to come out on the short term back end to satisfy (or articulate why the pursuit of the end is justified) the domestic audience’s concerns about our foreign policy decisions to our in order to mitigate political risk. They must also retain enough long term flexibility to maintain the relationships that serve our long term interests. This means they must retain consciousness that our actions don’t create new problems and unintended political or cultural conditions that cause harm to our allies; create new opportunities for our enemies. Further, that those actions could create domestic conditions in either camp that produce political instability and a loss of control that was neither anticipated nor desired.

    The analogy of a game of cards has also been used. It may lend itself to more players with different interests, but even that analogy is constrained in today’s environment. Given the pace of globalization and the impact of information technologies, the card game analogy may need to be updated to be thought of more as a game of cards played online in which some players use pseudonyms and some don’t, in which each of the players has a different appraisal for the stakes of the game, and the willingness of the other players to remain engaged, and in which many of not all of the players engaged to varying degrees in other online games simultaneously, not all of which resemble the card game being played, have the same players, in which the rules seem to change, or in which some of the same players are engaged, but are acting under a new pseudonym, or through a proxy.

    I thought it might be useful to consider what we think the various interests are with regard to one another. Even if you limit it to a regional perspective, and from a U.S. perspective, the statecraft required to identify and pursue objectives that at times seem to contradict one another are identifiable. Consider the role Turkey plays in dealings with Iraq, and that Iraq plays in dealing with Turkey? Consider Iran, the Arab ME, the continued access to natural resources in the ME not only from a U.S. perspective but from perspective of how a change in that access would affect other regional and international players, or in which political and economic stability are maintained by the state’s revenue from selling hydro-carbons?

    These are just some of the challenges I think must be considered in a comprehensive FP that looks forward and would acknowledge that there is some degree of steady state engagement that must be sustained. It could be on different levels, with different tools (or different allocations of like tools), but there are few (if any) big problems that are going to solved definitively in a 2, 4 or even 8 year span. Many of these are more akin to conditions then problems, and as such require continued maintenance – the level and type of which changes over time along with the interests and interactions that give rise to them. It has probably always been that way, but we’ve either chosen to, or been able to play down the requirement because our own fears, honor and interests allowed us to or because geography and opportunity just did not make the consequences of doing otherwise as likely or as meaningful.

    Best, Rob
    Last edited by Rob Thornton; 03-31-2008 at 12:53 AM.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Hi Rob, read anything you can about Karpman's triangle. I learned this in LE when dealing with Domestic Violence incidents. The triangle is this you have a victim, an attacker, and the white knight usually LE. When all 3 elements are present you can get some unusual and unexpected outcomes, such as the victim may unite with the attacker against the white night when it comes to the point where somebody is going to jail. Very probably has interesting connotations in respect to COIN operations. I will try and find some links.

    Here is one to start.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karpman_drama_triangle

    http://www.soulselfhelp.on.ca/karpmandramatriangle.pdf
    Last edited by slapout9; 03-30-2008 at 07:03 PM. Reason: add link

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    Default Hi Rob

    Another good starting place is Hans Morgenthau's classic (Realist) Politics Among Nations. What makes it so good is that it looks at interenational politics from a historical perspective with lots of cases drawn from the era of a multi-polar world before the Cold War.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    When all 3 elements are present you can get some unusual and unexpected outcomes, such as the victim may unite with the attacker against the white night when it comes to the point where somebody is going to jail. Very probably has interesting connotations in respect to COIN operations. I will try and find some links.
    Did you ever get the training with the "hostile to police couple" where you use the "somebody is going to jail you all pick", and flip the triangle into a binary? I always worried about that as a training mechanism/strategy.
    Sam Liles
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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by selil View Post
    Did you ever get the training with the "hostile to police couple" where you use the "somebody is going to jail you all pick", and flip the triangle into a binary? I always worried about that as a training mechanism/strategy.

    Hi selil we did not use "you all pick "but we would arrest both and let the court figure it out.

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    John, Slap,
    Thanks for the references. John, that is a mighty expensive book - I'll have to wait on that one for awhile - even the used ones come up at $40. At my current pay grade I'll have to stick to the online articles.
    Best, Rob

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    Default Rob, I'll bet you a beer

    that the CARL has a copy,

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Hi John,
    You know because I'm not here for school, I actually forgot about the incredible library here. I'll go in this week after I get back from Bliss (more interviews for a Case Study on SFA). I think I already owe you a beer - I just need to get out to "La Espada" to pay up Best, Rob

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    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post
    Hi John,
    You know because I'm not here for school, I actually forgot about the incredible library here. I'll go in this week after I get back from Bliss (more interviews for a Case Study on SFA). I think I already owe you a beer - I just need to get out to "La Espada" to pay up Best, Rob
    Hey Rob !
    There's a few freebies out there to get you started:

    Mount Holyoke College
    Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, Fifth Edition, Revised

    ...And the Swiss normally give the UN tons of freebies too
    UN Jobs...A Swiss Association

    Regards, Stan
    If you want to blend in, take the bus

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    Default If you come to the ranchito

    I'll have the beer waiting - ice cold.

    JohnT

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    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Gotcha Covered Bud

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post
    Hi John,
    You know because I'm not here for school, I actually forgot about the incredible library here. I'll go in this week after I get back from Bliss (more interviews for a Case Study on SFA). I think I already owe you a beer - I just need to get out to "La Espada" to pay up Best, Rob
    Only one copy so I picked it up considering you were out right now.
    Get with me when your back. Also sent you an email about a couple of others I found.
    Any man can destroy that which is around him, The rare man is he who can find beauty even in the darkest hours

    Cogitationis poenam nemo patitur

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Ron, Many Thanks - I'll give you a call Th Aft.

    Stan, thanks, good to hear from you.
    Best, Rob

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    I think I mentioned that I was trying to define the limits of COIN using a Newtonian physics model. That didn't work out, because it couldn't handle the political complexities. All I succeeded in doing was irritating a few people.
    I now have a humbler objective - contributing to the debate about the limits of COIN theory - and will try to tread more carefully, but I think that “binary” may have been the word that I was looking for.

    Kinetic operations are binary: you pull the trigger or you don’t. You call in CAS or you don't. (Binary doesn't mean simple. All the world's electronic data is stored in binary form. Complex military concepts/actions are still binary.)
    Diplomacy is the government tool designed to deal with an infinite number of factors/factions. COIN doctrine is a kinetic/diplomatic hybrid, but it was still developed in a binary environment: a government versus anti government insurgents. The only time it's been truly successful in Iraq was in a binary environment: an established governing system considered legitimate by the population– the Sunni tribal system – versus AQI.

    What I'm suggesting - I think - is that the only way to be less binary is to be more diplomatic.
    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.

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    From Abu Muqawama:


    "Not too long ago, a very smart friend of this blog with years of experience in Iraq since 2003 wrote that Iraq was not merely an insurgency but a competition for power and resources."

    Is Iraq Still an Insurgency? from Wired

    Raises the question: if it's not binary, is it still an insurgency?
    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Thoughts on all that...

    The ME is analog, not digital; binary counts for little.

    The ISCI versus Sadr conflict is far deeper than "one is backed by Iran and the other is popularly supported." Nor is it a given that we have backed a loser. I'd also suggest the issues involved are far more complex than the simplistic bit about fat politicians having a greater share of oil revenue. Everyone wants to simplify this to sound bites and prior history elsewhere in the world. Won't work. Good luck, folks, it's the ME and nothing is as it seems...

    "Tell me how this ends." Heh. Too early to tell. At least 20 years too early...

    Get used to it.

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    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Post Just can't get past

    Quote Originally Posted by Rank amateur View Post
    From Abu Muqawama:


    "Not too long ago, a very smart friend of this blog with years of experience in Iraq since 2003 wrote that Iraq was not merely an insurgency but a competition for power and resources."

    Is Iraq Still an Insurgency? from Wired

    Raises the question: if it's not binary, is it still an insurgency?
    The feeling that although the outcomes may not seem to great up front that several things were accomplished here which might not be too bad.

    1- As many have said centarl Govt had to stand up in some way at some point and one wouldn't exactly expect them to not work in tandem with groups they have strong ties to so mot really as surprising as maybe somewhat dismaying.

    2- The fact that these elections will happen whether present elected officials like it or not and that they will be as fair and free as it is possible for us to ensure seems like it has been made abundantly clear to them. Also a good thing.

    3- As far as close ties to Iran go thats a good thing if Iraq is to actually have any kind of impact on Iranian affairs. The key thing that seems to be being left out of most media is that Iran is going to be in it one way or another if for no other reason than the many ties between the tribes,etc. One won't change this but when Iraq demonstrates that it is capable of dealing with interference from them without falling apart than they have to become partners rather than trying to control. This might also encourage some of the political actors within Iran to work more solidly towards goals we might all be able to agree on. Do we negotiate with them? I would say no because as long as they actively engage against our efforts in Iraq and elsewhere they should expect to recieve what they give.

    4- If I know you will run when I confront you does that mean I shouldn't bother confronting you or does it maybe mean I should consider first your lines of retreat
    Any man can destroy that which is around him, The rare man is he who can find beauty even in the darkest hours

    Cogitationis poenam nemo patitur

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    I agree with Ken, but if it's impossible to predict the outcome of kinetic operations, how can we stage effective kinetic operations?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ron Humphrey View Post
    1- As many have said central Govt had to stand up in some way at some point
    Maybe. Maybe diplomacy would've been a better option. Some say Iran was "the big winner" because of their use of diplomacy. I don't know of that's true, but it certainly demonstrates the potential power of diplomacy in an "analogue" environment.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ron Humphrey View Post
    4- If I know you will run when I confront you does that mean I shouldn't bother confronting you or does it maybe mean I should consider first your lines of retreat
    Someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that the correct answer is that you should control the population so that my movement can't recruit replacements after I'm dead. (We all know that I'd better get my affairs in order long before you come after me. )
    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.

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    Council Member Hacksaw's Avatar
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    Default Embracing Complexity

    Rob,

    We've talked a couple of times over beer, so you know how simple and full of cr@p I am. Hence, I hope you'll see this for what its worth... (a free beer i hope)

    1. Any situation that involves individuals is inherently complex and the more individuals you add the more complex a situation becomes in terms of possible outcomes and shifting probablity curves. It is the nature of our existance (however, lets right now vow to not let this thread divert into quantum physics and multiple universe theory).

    2. Repeat after me... There is no such thing as an irrational actor. Anytime you run across a situation in which it appears an irrational actor is operating... it just means you don't have a good grasp of the situation. Don't worry that leads to #3

    3. Perfect grasp of the situation is the holy grail - at best fleeting and it is ruinous of timely decision making -- hence don't bother

    4. The result -- fog and friction in all human endeavors (see my relationship with my teenage daughters) its just that war just happens to create more - I think.

    5, The real questions are how much fog and friction is acceptable?? How much can i mitigate so as to switch gambles into risks? Can I systemically account for random deviations (see constraints based mgmt techniques)? The answers to all these is yes with the following caveats....

    - Figure out what is "knowable" and make reasonable assumptions only when necessary, and accept that somethings are unknowable at some times;
    - Determine where deviations will most impact the system and focus attention and leadership;
    - Excess capacity is good and necessary, a certain amount is must have as opposed to like to have (must educate leaders so they can fight for that capacity)...
    - Embrace the fact that reality is an amorphous blob... As much as we'd like to fool ourselves that we can model situation (if a=b and b=c then a=c), that only presumes that we knew the values of a, b and c in the first place (see first bullet)

    P.S. There are two possible universes that exist right now, the one in which I click send and the one in which i don't. We can discuss this entry in the universe that just collapsed, but I won't own up to posting the entry.

    Live well and row
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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Well, that's nice. But...

    Quote Originally Posted by Rank amateur View Post
    I agree with Ken, but if it's impossible to predict the outcome of kinetic operations, how can we stage effective kinetic operations?
    Ken didn't say it was impossible. He did imply it could be difficult because sometimes it is; generally not that difficult to predict -- I'd suggest that it is far easier to predict if you're a disinterested observer than a participant; sometimes the participants get a little to busy to do predictive stuff...

    Hacksaw did a far better job of addressing the issue just above than I ever would. As he said, you gotta embrace complexity, I keep saying the ME is complicated and it, more so than here -- but even here, actions and interactions between humans are far too complex for simplistic tags and generalizations. All humans are analog.
    Maybe. Maybe diplomacy would've been a better option. Some say Iran was "the big winner" because of their use of diplomacy. I don't know of that's true, but it certainly demonstrates the potential power of diplomacy in an "analogue" environment.
    Sometimes diplomacy just doesn't work. Other times, it might work but would take too long...
    Someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that the correct answer is that you should control the population so that my movement can't recruit replacements after I'm dead. (We all know that I'd better get my affairs in order long before you come after me. )
    I don't think I'll correct you because you aren't 'wrong' -- I do think, however, you don't realize how terribly difficult 'controlling a population' is. There is no way short of the G. Khan model to do what you suggest.

    IF -- big if -- we totally outnumbered the population in question on an order of 2:1, we might be able to exercise a great deal of control (still not total) but lacking that, you are not going to control a population unless they're are absolutely in fear of a nasty death at your hands. We ain't gonna go there. Nor should we...

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    P.S. There are two possible universes that exist right now, the one in which I click send and the one in which i don't. We can discuss this entry in the universe that just collapsed, but I won't own up to posting the entry.
    I almost fell out of my seat laughing - because its true on my end as well. I'd also say that some times the thought I sit down to write, is not the one I end up writing - kind of like talking over a beer. When I sat down to write the start of this thread, I was headed down the road of considering the "object in view" from the perspective of anyone who thought they had a stake worth protecting, or saw an opportunity worth pursuing. It could be the ME or it could be elsewhere - its politics.

    Ken mentions 20 years, but I think as long as we believe we have a stake in the outcome, and have the resources to affect that outcome, we will remain engaged (in some fashion), and so will other folks. It may wane at times as more important things come up, or as choices about resource allocation have to be made, or it may wax for the opposite reasons.

    I decided to change the focus of the thread (starter) because while we tend to try and reduce complex relations down to "us" and "them", I don't think I've seen us frame it in terms of only "us" or only "them" - we do at least recognize there are more then one part to a relationship. That got me to thinking about how we try and find solutions to things that have an interactive nature and are constantly changing and realigning. I wondered if the two things were related.

    If you acknowledged that there are at any one time a number greater then two (even if one or two are more important at any one time then any of the others),then would you be more likely to see something as a condition that must be managed with some measure of consistency vs. something that can be solved and put back on the shelf?

    I understand that that does not lend itself to good domestic politics, but it might lend itself to better implementation of policy. In my view, if we think that we can have bilateral policy with no regard for regional context, or focus on a region with no international context, then you are probably going to get some nasty surprises, and you are probably going to come up short.

    Best, Rob

    P.S. - I'll get the first beer, but it looks like I won't make the next one unless it slides right.
    Last edited by Rob Thornton; 04-02-2008 at 02:45 AM.

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