Human networks in Iraq trump technology: a view from the ground

Some weeks back, I wrote about an article discussing the difficulty of creating social capital centrally in Iraq.

The current issue of Wired Magazine has a story about how soliders in Iraq and analysts are learning that the human networks in Iraq (what we call ‘social capital‘) are much more important to our longer-term goals than technological networks.

It notes how Iraq has challenged the supremacy of the view that a technologically ‘networked army’ could be overpowering:

Navy captain Arthur Cebrowski and Air Force captain John Garstka published “Network-Centric Warfare: Its Origin and Future,” a technology-laced military strategey that appealed to magazines like Wired.

“Their model was Wal-Mart… a sprawling, bureaucratic monster of an organization…that still managed to automatically order a new lightbulb every time it sold one. Warehouses were networked, but so were individual cash registers. So were the guys who sold Wal-Mart the bulbs. If that company could wire everyone together and become more efficient, then US forces could, too. ‘

“The US military could use battlefield sensors to swiftly identify targets and bomb them. Tens of thousands of warfighters would act as a single, self-aware, coordinated organism. Better communications would let troops act swiftly and with accurate intelligence, skirting creaky hierarchies” and enabling them to get the job done with fewer troops.
While it is ludicrous to ever think of wars as being moral in the slightest, they argued that network-centric wars would be more moral by identifying ‘enemies’ quicker and killing fewer civilians.

Iraq, and the experience of Falluja is showing all the flaws in their theory and how human networks are far more powerful than these technological ones. What they failed to realize is that killing counter-insurgents more quickly does nothing to bolster the civic and social fabric that ultimately determines the independent success of a newly freed Iraq.

Wired author Noah Shachtman “scored a rare opportunity to spend time with a U.S. psychological operations team, getting into the heads of the people of Fallujah; 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.”

Read story here.


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