4GW Meets Campaign '08

By James Fallows

I have known and liked Chuck Spinney for a very long time, since I wrote about him and his original "defense reform" colleagues, notably John Boyd and Pierre Sprey, in the Atlantic and in National Defense in the early 1980s. Boyd of course originated the concept of the "OODA Loop." This was the idea, derived from Boyd's "Patterns of Conflict" briefing, that the victor in any conflict would not necessarily be the stronger or better-prepared party. Rather it would be the one who recognized changing realities, and chose and implemented the right new course of action, faster than the opponent. Boyd came up with the theory by analyzing aerial combat among fighter planes, but in his view it could be applied to every sort of human contest, from sports to business to armed conflict.

(OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. To react to changing reality faster than the opponent can, or to interfere with the opponent's ability to perceive realistically what is happening to him, is to "get inside his OODA loop." Everything anyone would ever want to know about Boyd, Spinney, Sprey; about their contemporary colleagues like Chet Richards, Donald Vandergriff, WIlliam Lind, GI Wilson, etc; and about OODA loops and the related concept of 4GW, or Fourth Generation Warfare, can be found at two excellent, related "Defense and the National Interest" sites, here and here.)

And the theory also applies to politics, as Spinney has argued in a recent item about the contest for the Democratic nomination. His analysis, "Is Obama inside Hillary's OODA loop?" comes after the jump. The incidents he mentions are all familiar; what's at least a little new is his combination of them in Boyd-style perspective -- in particular Bill Clinton losing his sense for how the battle is shifting. I am posting this before the Wisconsin results are known, and before the (in my view bogus) "plagiarism" flap has died down, so that Spinney's observation can be tested against those results.

In any case, Spinney's analysis below:

Eugene Robinson, liberal Wash Post commentator quoting Bill Clinton in interview on WMAL, DC, who said "The political press has avowedly played a role in this election. I've never seen this before," the former president said. "They've been active participants in this election. . . . But I don't want to talk about the press. I want to talk about the people. That's what's wrong with this election, people [in the press] trying to take this election away from the people."
Now, juxtapose Bill's quote with what is obviously the most overwhelming impression of the Obama campaign -- the image of people power given off by enthusiastic crowds and unprecedented voter turnouts -- but this, in Bill Clinton's rhetoric, is stealing the election from the people????

Michael Gerson, conservative Wash Post commentator, concludes his recent op-ed by saying, "Though it is increasingly unlikely, Clinton may still have a path to the nomination -- and what a path it is. She merely has to puncture the balloon of Democratic idealism; sully the character of a good man; feed racial tensions within her party; then eke out a win with the support of unelected superdelegates, thwarting the hopes of millions of new voters who would see an inspiring young man defeated by backroom arm-twisting and arcane party rules."
Bear in mind, Gerson is biased, being a former Bush II speech writer and is no doubt a right-wing Hillaryphobe, but this quote is a self-evident statement of the kinds of real world changes she has to make to the stop the Obama groundswell ...

Now taking these quotes together: Bill's rhetoric is disconnected from the environment he is trying to cope with, and Hillary's campaign, including Bill's colossal faux pas in S. Carolina, has evolved Gerson's self-destructive conditions for "success" in the real world now facing Hillary. So, I ask you, is Obama inside Hillary's OODA loop?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2008/02/4gw-meets-campaign-apos-08/7933/