Aug 10, 2007

Show-Me-The-Metrics Command Emphasis and the Death of Pat Tillman

Many readers here are probably familiar with the fact that perception management activities suddenly become necessary after an unanticipated politically sensitive event such as the death of CPL Pat Tillman.

Stan Goff -- in the first part of a three-part series -- argues that it was the Pentagon's institutional emphasis upon domestic influence that led to decisions on the ground that resulted in Tillman's death itself.

The context for everything that happened after Pat's death requires this Pentagon propaganda-emphasis be center stage. Some people already understand this. What is not well understood is that this propaganda-emphasis likely played a central role in creating the conditions for Pat's death in the first place. Let me give that special emphasis, too:

The decision to split the Blacksheep Platoon on April 22 was forced on a platoon leader who stated to his superiors that splitting the platoon in this terrain would require a half-assed preparation cycle and potentially create a dangerous break in inter-platoon communications. This directive was designed with one purpose in mind: to be able to state that the platoon had reached their "target" on time. A timeline (a bureaucratic checklist) drove this decision -- not the intelligence. The push to provide evidence of "progress" in Afghanistan -- using the Rumsfeldian "metrics" of quantification -- as a counterweight to the bad news from the Fallujah-Najaf rebellions and the breaking Abu Ghraib scandal, created the sense of urgency throughout military commands there to send reports confirming that X number of missions were completed in X amount of time.

Military and Executive Branch perception management consultants develop expensive, detailed programs, employing an army of public relations experts. Just as Rumsfeld hired more than 20,000 private mercenaries to fill in the gaps in Iraq and to conduct activities that escape Congressional oversight, the Bush administration (like the Clinton administration before it) hired private contractors whose sole purpose in life is to re-construct the war in Southwest Asia as a story – using story conventions with which the American public is familiar and comfortable – conventions that resonate emotionally and mythically with our entertainment-media "social imaginary." That's the connection between the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch sagas. ...

This is how things work in the military. There is a fetish for quantification. "Accomplishments" are measured with extreme empiricism, presented in bullet-points that give numbers. This is true of performance evaluations and operational checklists.

The reason this is important in the story of Pat Tillman's death by fratricide is that the majority of readers -- even military veterans of a single enlistment -- are not familiar with military culture. They have impressions formed primarily by entertainment media that are generally downright silly.

Descriptions of doctrine, regulations, policies and procedures tell about ten percent of the story of what the military is. The other ninety percent can only be understood culturally. ...

When Cross-Functional Team Commander David Hodne was at the TOC in Khowst, he was a Major -- normally a staff rank (as opposed to a command rank). This was his opportunity in a cannibalistic OPMS to shine ... the shining demonstrated through bullet-points with numbers. The Blacksheep Platoon was due -- according to the mission timeline -- to conduct operations in Manah – not a high priority target -- "no later than" April 22, 2004. Whether that made sense in the real world, after the unexpected delay of a busted Hummer, was irrelevant.

The threat of missing a mission time is a source of extreme anxiety for any military officer.

To this we must add that this is Rumsfeld's military in 2004. A nuttier empiricist would be hard to find. Rumsfeld, who stole other people's ideas, then bastardized them in his grandiose imagination, had taken this arithmetic fetish and renamed it as part of the "Rumsfeld doctrine", which he called (with typical self-promoting grandiosity) "the Revolution in Military Affairs."

Rumsfeld's concept of Network-centric Warfare (NCW, a scalar bastardization of Col. John Boyd's warfighting theories, which were originally applied to individual air combat) measures success with "metrics," that is, with obsessive quantification. An interview with DoD Deputy Secretary for Public Affairs, Lawrence DeRita (one of Rumsfeld's closest advisors), gives a good example of this "metrics approach" and how it translates from operations into propaganda. Notice the emphasis on numbers in this quote:

Since it began last week, Victory Bounty has netted nearly 70 former Fedayeen fighters, including several general and field grade officers. The daily raids and patrols that our troops conduct every day are steadily and deliberately building a more stable and secure Iraq. On average, coalition forces are conducting almost 2,000 patrols every day, hundreds of night patrols, and many of those are conducted jointly with the Iraqi police.

This is really just an extrapolation of MacNamaran "body counts," but Rumsfeld thinks himself a military genius.

The point is -- at Donald Rumsfeld's level, where the war had to be justified to the American populace -- the bullet-points showing "accomplishments" were in demand from the highest offices of the military for inclusion into press releases and briefings.

In the psychological operations being directed at the American populace, which enjoy elevated importance when public support for the war is waning, this show-me-the-metrics command emphasis cascades down through the chain of command like an avalanche. It is facilitated by bureaucratic overinterpretation of command guidance. The emphasis from the top does not diminish as it moves further from the source; it is amplified by the desire to please the boss at every level. This process was in turn amplified by the personality of Donald Rumsfeld: autocratic, vengeful, and micromanagerial.

War is seen by officers as a career opportunity. This essential context is not taken up by Congress or the press, because you get into trouble when you deviate from ritual displays of fealty to US militarism. Congress, the press, the entertainment media, and the public have all taken the de facto loyalty oath that says never speak ill of the military. Militarism is our culture, our religion, and our economy.

This is precisely why we had to witness that awful fawning over Rumsfeld, Meyers, and Abizaid by Congress; and it is why no one was going to follow up on Dennis Kucinich's question about public relations firms working for the Department of Defense. He was trying to establish how important managing public perception at home is to the war effort, and how heavy the command emphasis was at this particular time to do two things simultaneously: (1) shift the focus off of Iraq' serial disasters, and (2) show how glowingly good everything was going in Afghanistan.


Fernando said...

Just a bit more about metrics from as you put it, the "Weightlifting Hegelian"/ "meathead" SF guy..


Meatball One said...

LOL. Great to hear from you. Weightlifting Hegelian?! Geez, that jogs a martini'd memory - I did say that, g*d d*mn.

I'm off to devour & dialectize your post. Thanks for the tip. Keep 'em comin'!