Is America Inside Its Own OODA LOOP???

January 26, 2005

Comment #536

Thread-1: Boyd and Military Strategy

Many Blasters have discussed and explained the strategic theories of Colonel John Boyd. I will only summarize his ideas here; new subscribers or interested readers can find these Blasters as well as Boyd's work throughout the DNI archive, particularly Thread 1. Boyd built his theory of conflict around the moral - mental - physical aspects of an organism's decision cyclewhat he called the Observation - Orientation - Decision - Action Loop. Boyd showed that an OODA Loop (the decision cycle of an individual or any collection of individuals) is an open, far-from-equilibrium process. This is a crucial finding: students of chaos theory, systems control theory, or the theory of evolution will immediately recognize the implications of such a construction: the OODA Loop is capable of expansion and growth, but it is also inherently unpredictable and its pathway can lead also to chaos, because it incorporates positive as well as negative feedback control loops. OODA loops are enormously powerful, but with that power comes real danger.

The most dangerous form of positive feedback comes from the most powerful part of the OODA Loopthe Orientation activity. Orientation and the ability to change one's Orientation give the OODA Loop both its power and its vulnerability.

Observations feed into Orientation, but they are also shaped and filtered by the lens of Orientation. The idea of an "objective" observation existing independent of the observer is a myth still held by many hidebound defense analysts, sociologists, and economists but is now rejected by most anthropologists, biologists and physical scientists.

Observations feed into the organism's Orientation activity. Boyd showed how Orientation exhibits a shaping pressure on what is seen and on the interpretation of what is seen. Decisions and actions flow out of this two-way interplay of Observation and Orientation. He showed why the most dangerous internal state of an OODA loop occurs when the Orientation process becomes so powerful that it force fits the organism's observations into fitting a preconceived template, even when those observations threaten the relevance of that template.

In essence, like the communist ideologue, the organism sees what it wants to see, interprets events the way it wants to interpret events, and sees no reason to change. It makes decisions and actions accordingly. When this happens, the loop has turned inside itself. It loses its capacity to adapt to changing external circumstances, and in effect, the open far-from-equilibrium system becomes an incestuously amplifying closed systemand echo chamber amplifying its own echoes: Any tendency toward self-correction breaks down, because Observations of the results of its Actions are fed through the same non-adaptive template, over and over again. The organism becomes increasingly disconnected from reality.

The power of Boyd's intellectual achievement is that he showed why the inevitable result of such an inwardly focused OODA Loop is a build up of internal confusion and disorder (entropy). He showed why, when such loops are put under menacing pressure, the confusion and disorder naturally expands into panic and chaos, which in turn can generate overload, paralysis, and even collapse. Boyd's entire strategy of conflict centered on the idea of inducing his opponent's OODA loop to turn inside itself.

But you don't need conflict to close an OODA loop. A closed OODA loop, with the attendant build up of entropy, can be also be the result of a self-inflicted wound, as was the case in the old Soviet Union.

With these thoughts in mind, I urge you to read carefully the attached article which appears in the current issue of Newsweek International. Judge for yourself whether or not America is in danger of folding itself inside its own OODA Loop.

(note: The original can be found at the web link cited.)

Dream On America

The U.S. Model: For years, much of the world did aspire to the American way of life. But today countries are finding more appealing systems in their own backyards.

by Andrew Moravcsik

Published in the January 31, 2005 issue of Newsweek International

Foreigners take an entirely different view: 58 percent in the BBC poll see Bush's re-election as a threat to world peace. Among America's traditional allies, the figure is strikingly higher: 77 percent in Germany, 64 percent in Britain and 82 percent in Turkey. Among the 1.3 billion members of the Islamic world, public support for the United States is measured in single digits. Only Poland, the Philippines and India viewed Bush's second Inaugural positively.

Futurologist Jeremy Rifkin, in his recent book "The European Dream," hails an emerging European Union based on generous social welfare, cultural diversity and respect for international law—a model that's caught on quickly across the former nations of Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

Jiri Pehe, adviser to former president Vaclav Havel, recalls the Czechs' firm decision to adopt a European-style parliamentary system with strict limits on campaigning. "For Europeans, money talks too much in American democracy. It's very prone to certain kinds of corruption, or at least influence from powerful lobbies," he says.

Europeans are aware that their systems provide better primary education, more job security and a more generous social net. They are willing to pay higher taxes and submit to regulation in order to bolster their quality of life. Americans work far longer hours than Europeans do, for instance. But they are not necessarily more productive—nor happier, buried as they are in household debt, without the time (or money) available to Europeans for vacation and international travel. George Monbiot, a British public intellectual, speaks for many when he says, "The American model has become an American nightmare rather than an American dream."

Two decades ago, a U.S. CEO earned 39 times the average worker; today he pulls in 1,000 times as much. Cross-national studies show that America has recently become a relatively difficult country for poorer people to get ahead. Monbiot summarizes the scientific data: "In Sweden, you are three times more likely to rise out of the economic class into which you were born than you are in the U.S."

A former French minister muses that the United States is the last "Bismarckian power"—the last country to believe that the pinpoint application of military power is the critical instrument of foreign policy.

With Christian Caryl in Tokyo, Katka Krosnar in Prague, Mac Margolis in Rio de Janeiro, Tracy Mcnicoll in Paris, Paul Mooney in Beijing, Henk Rossouw in Johannesburg and Marie Valla in London

© Copyright 2005 Newsweek International

Chuck Spinney

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Archive of Comments

Return to DNI