Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Prior Planning Prevents ...

Not turning into a bestselling paperback franchise any time soon, I think. And one can't help worrying that some brand damage is gradually accruing; the Iranian embassy siege is now thirty years in the past, and since the whole point of special operations is that they don't get much publicity, the only other major public appearance of the SAS was Bravo Two Zero. Two data points make a trend, and one really doesn't want to get a reputation for being "the guys who show up without any clear idea of what they're doing, then wander round a bit and get captured".

As far as I can tell, the problem appeared to be that they were caught on the back foot, because they were pretending to be an unarmed diplomatic mission (the transition from "we come in peace" to "shoot to kill" is apparently a lot more awkward than Captain Kirk made it look). Presumably if they had gone in as a combat squad with guns out from the get-go, they would not have been rolled by a small detachment of recently-mobilised rebels anything like as easily. Which brings one onto an all too frequently observed problem:

Here's a lesson from economics - you can't maximise a non-existent objective function. If you don't really know what you want, you're likely to get what you deserve. Special forces are surprisingly frequently involved in some of the greatest military fuckups and fiascoes, and the reason for this is that special forces units are the first port of call for people who are either trying to do something that they shouldn't, or not really sure what they are doing at all. If you look at the purpose of that SAS unit in Libya, they weren't trying to rescue UK citizens or disable airfields or anything - other people were doing that. What appeared to have happened is that an MI6 spook wanted to "make contact with the rebels", to no very specific purpose other than "linking up", and somebody thought that a seven-man special forces detail was the sort of thing that might have come in handy. Nice one fella, not.

Everyone in full-time employment has spent at least some time in a meeting, or even a standing committee, that has no specific purpose and just sits around kicking ideas back and forth, or talking about abstract goals without ever having any indication of the authority or budget to do anything about them. They're annoying but unavoidable; they even have some low level purpose in promoting communication and informal contacts. On the other hand, when you're not talking about tea, biscuits and Powerpoint slides, but rather about sending vulnerable human bodies into places where this sort of thing happens, you have a real obligation to be very clear about what you want to do, and how you are going to tell when you've done it.

The fallacy of the non-existent objective function happens at all levels - special forces are, AFAICT, more vulnerable to it because they have more connections to the daydreamers and schemers in the world of secret service covert ops, and because they are commonly perceived to be something approaching supermen, they are often brought into the service of plans that ought to be couched in the Superman Conditional tense. But large deployments of other people's time and health are also regularly made without a plan - one of my biggest objections to the ongoing Afghanistan campaign is not that failure is likely, but rather than nobody can explain to me what success would consist of.
28 comments this item posted by the management 3/07/2011 02:46:00 AM

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