Great Power Competition in the Middle East

mural depicting saddam victory in jerusalem

We’ve heard this before. Competition between states is going to happen in other places – not directly in or on the borders of those same states.

“It is quite clear that the Middle East is a critical arena for China.”

Linda Robinson (see Infinite Competition)

This episode of the IWI podcast dives into the concept of competition between states in other places – specifically Russia, China, and Iran.

Here’s the question that had me listening more closely:

“What are the skill-sets and capabilities needed to implement integrated deterrence in the CENTCOM area of responsibility given the character of these threats?”

The answer? Language and culture.

If you don’t understand the language of the people you’re dealing with, if you don’t understand their culture, then you’re going to have a really hard time appreciating how a particular action plays out in that culture, or doesn’t play out.

Rear Admiral Mitch Bradley, ~44:15

The conversation goes on from there stressing the importance of education in developing leaders who can truly understand their environments and the implications of their actions or inactions.

This, of course, is refreshing to hear.

The challenge is two-fold. First, to truly develop the skills that we’re talking about (language proficiency beyond building rapport and cultural understanding beyond the surface level) we are talking about an immense investment of time. A short course on language or culture isn’t going to do it. This stuff takes years – decades even.

Which brings me to the second challenge: incentives. If we are saying that what we want is the above, are we incentivizing this? Are we promoting and rewarding those who have put in the work?

It goes back to the infinite competition episode and another great question: “Do you think the system is promoting the right types of leaders and talent to engage in political warfare or great power competition?”

The desire is there. The need is there. Now it’s about aligning incentives to meet it.

Lastly, I love it anytime senior leaders talk about the need to develop our own “Lawrence of Arabia.”

“…not only a Lawrence of Arabia, but a Lawrence of Africa… and I would say, a Lawrence of southern Arabia, and all of these other places where the Chinese and the Iranians and the Russians are trying to compete…”

I appreciate the further parsing – knowledge that is useful has to be extremely granular. And developing that granular knowledge takes time.

Lawrence’s education began well before he stepped foot in Arabia as a military man.

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Can a soldier wear a GoPro on deployment?

Military GoPro videos, like the one below, have become pretty popular recently. Sites like “Funker350” share the videos which get passed around rapidly in the military community online. The GoPro, for those who don’t know, is a company popular for selling small cameras that can be attached to things, like a soldier’s helmet, to capture human experiences as they happen from the virtual point of view of the person. They’re really popular in extreme sports, and the jump to the military isn’t surprising.

Watching the video below, it looks like a first person shooter video game, only it’s completely real.

This trend isn’t all that surprising. Cameras have gotten smaller, lighter, better, and cheaper over the years and social media thrives on pictures and videos of “extreme” things.

I have a hard time deciding whether soldiers wearing GoPros would be a good thing or a bad thing. In the “good” category, you would have a fairly accurate log of what occurs on a combat patrol because it’s live video. There would be no questions as to what happened afterwards because you could simply “roll the videotape.”

Conversely, the same is true. What happens on patrol would not stay on patrol. There are things that may happen outside the wire that, if nothing else, might be pretty embarrassing.

Those two things together, the GoPro seems to be a positive addition, if for nothing else, to serve as a forcing function of good behavior. But, also conversely true, soldier behavior may be affected when they know the GoPro is watching them in a different way. Everyone knows about the “spotlight Ranger” who only performs when the leadership is there to see it. There is also a concern of a guy looking to get an “epic video” doing something that he might not even consider doing if it wouldn’t be caught on video. 

GoPro’s motto is “Be a HERO” after all.

Boiling that argument down, the pro of wearing the GoPro is “everything will be recorded” while the con of wearing the GoPro is “everything will be recorded.”

What are the rules on this, though, as it pertains to soldiers in combat?

While I wasn’t able to find any policies specifically banning the GoPro, General Order Number 1C (GO-1C), which governs troop behavior in the CENTCOM area of responsibility says:

 h. Photography and Videotaping.

          (1) Except as authorized for official use and purposes described below, this Order prohibits the taking, making possession, reproduction, or transfer (to include uploading) of photographs, videos, depictions, and audio-visual recordings of the following:

               (a) detainees or former detainees; detention facilities; active combat operations (e.g., firefights); flight-line operations or equipment, subject to written, local exceptions…

The order specifically prohibits firefights from being photographed or videotaped. If you read through the rest of the order, pretty much anything exciting is banned with the exception of photography relevant to the mission – tactical site exploitation, for example.

My sense of things, as trends go, is wearing the GoPro or something like it, while spooky to senior leaders now, will eventually become mandatory in the near future. Surveillance and recording is not on a down-sloping trend. It would probably do us more good to embrace it now and get good at working with it sooner rather than let a populace armed with smartphones tell our story for us.

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