Military Review English Edition July-August 2014 - Page 56

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney C. Houston the strategic aims were similar across these states. Another problem was that researchers would need at least 10 years to develop a qualitative analysis of the surge in Iraq—to identify the critical variables and understand the cause-and-effect relationships and interactions. However, action in Afghanistan in 2008 had to be taken quickly. In 2008, the surge in Iraq had not been analyzed sufficiently to establish generalizations—quantitative or qualitative—about why it worked or why a similar action might work elsewhere. What about that surge might have caused a drop in violence? Was it the number of troops, the population density of the key neighborhoods, or any of the hundreds of techniques individual commands used? Military operational researchers have the statistical background to run complex regression analyses to attack such questions. They mostly lack the grounding in theory needed to put those analyses into a historically validated framework that could provide contextual input to a commander’s decision-making process. In other words, military operational research specialists will struggle to see subsurface historical and social differences when comparing societies with which they are unfamiliar. Frustration with a qualitative approach is understandable because of the time it can take. A desire for predictability is understandable as well. However, the idea that quantitative analysis, even when it does take less time, will predict the outcomes of military actions is an illusion—especially if outcomes are to be considered beyond a given mission or operation. Moreover, a quantitative analysis is faster only when it is limited to analyzing the accomplishment of a given mission at a given time—which is not the same as strategic thinking. One common English definition of strategy is “a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time.”12 Any definition of strategy is based on aligning present decisions with an idea about a desired future. Strategic thinking is about “thinking in time,” and thinking in time is about thinking in terms of the interrelated nature of variables across time—about context. What is the Real Question? Decision makers who think strategically will try to understand qualitative changes in complex political, economic, psychological, and military contexts. A qualitative approach to strategic thought is concerned with describing the values and interests of legitimate social groups and ensuring those values and interests are represented in public decision-making processes. According to Bent Flyvbjerg, this helps ensure “due diligence” in the public r V