How Technology Almost Lost the War: In Iraq, the Critical Networks Are Social—Not Electronic

Location: Marina Ballroom E Level: Novice

Why have things begun to shift in Iraq? And why did it take so long for the violence to ebb? The answer, in part, is that the U.S. dropped its somewhat techno-centric approach to prosecuting the war—and started focusing on Iraq’s social, political, tribal, and cultural networks instead.

The war was launched on a premise that you could wipe out more bad
guys with fewer troops, as long as those troops were networked together. Businesses like Wal-Mart made their supply chain more efficient through information technology; the military could do the same with its “kill chain,” the theory of network-centric warfare went.

The idea, first popularized in an article published ten years ago—pretty much worked as advertised, for a while. The problem is, killing people more efficiently is one of the last things you need to do in a counterinsurgency situation, like the one the U.S. is facing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, you need to take steps to reinforce civil society, rather than blowing it apart. And that takes an understanding of the society you’re trying to build.

The talk is based on Noah Shachtman’s recent feature in Wired magazine, which is itself based on his second trip to Iraq.

For the story, Shachtman scored a rare opportunity to spend time with a U.S. “psychological operations” team, getting into the heads of the people of Fallujah; sat at the consoles of the military’s “Command Posts of the Future;” hung out with an Army colonel who worked his tribal connections to bring stability to one of Iraq’s roughest towns; spent time with the heads of a controversial program to embed anthropologists into combat units; and interviewed General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq.

Noah Shachtman

Wired Magazine


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