Day By Day

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Impenetrable Ignorance of Academics -- A Case In Point

Nature reports:
As bombings in London attract international attention, one study claims that terrorist patterns of attack might be the natural endpoint for all modern armed conflicts.

Ongoing wars in Iraq and Colombia, which had quite different causes and began as very different kinds of conflict, are developing a characteristic signature of long-term terrorist activity, say economist Mike Spagat of Royal Holloway, University of London, and his co-workers.

They have found that the death statistics in both of these conflicts are converging on a particular mathematical pattern. This pattern is shared by fatality counts from terrorist attacks in countries that are not major industrialized nations.

The team's conclusion supports Mary Kaldor, a political scientist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who argues: "The ongoing war in Iraq is a new type of war."

Kaldor asserts that US military action in Iraq has been predicated on the view that it is a war of the sort that was fought until the middle of the twentieth century, where two military states battle for control of a territory. But this, she says, is the wrong approach.

"The US failure to understand the reality in Iraq and the tendency to impose its own view of what war should be like is immensely dangerous," she says. Instead of approaching it as a conflict that can be conclusively won by military force, they should see it as an ongoing effort, Kaldor argues.
Read it here.

I know that it has become a convention of the trade to declare that your recent research will revolutionize thinking on some subject of immense importance, but this is ridiculous. The mathematical modeling of casualty rates is interesting, but trivial. It doesn't say anything that an experienced commander does not already know. Asymmetrical warfare generates different kinds and levels of casualties than does the kind of massive confrontations that typified international conflict in the first half of the past century. Nothing new here. And Prof. Kaldor's statements are just plain indefensible.

American military strategist are, and have for some time been, acutely aware of the nature of modern warfare. The realization goes back as far as our experience in Vietnam, and her critique may have had some salience at that time. But to voice it now reveals a profound ignorance of her subject.

Although reformers long argued for a new military doctrine, bureaucratic inertia kept it from being implemented until after the First Gulf War. Since then, and especially under Rumsfeld, there has been an accelerated effort at reform, aimed at dealing specifically with the kind of situation she describes. It is true that there are some dinosaurs at the Pentagon and on cable TV screaming about "boots on the ground," but they are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

This is all very old news and the nature of the reform imperative has been well publicized. There is absolutely no excuse for Prof. Kaldor to have failed to note it, and judging from her reported comments there is no reason to pay attention to anything she has to say on the subject.

Academics..., faugh!

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