The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Nathniel Flick And The Limits Of Social Networking

Last updated: 07/31/2020 08:00 | 01/28/2009 01:48
Frazer Pugh

Jonathan Stray, an energetic blogger, has constructed a social-network chart detailing the connections between the so-called Counterinsurgents. It has some errors — I’m assuming ‘Nathniel Flick’ is Nate Fick of the Center for a New American Security — and as Abu Muqawama says, “a better graph than the one this dude came up with would have been far more extensive and incestuous.” But a few rounds of crowdsourcing from the comment threads of AM or Small Wars Journal can probably fix that.

Still, there’s kind of a broader question: what does a social-network chart really tell you?

Here’s what Stray says he found:

The resulting network shows that the Obama administration is relying heavily on the talents of a group called the Center for A New American Security (CNAS), which has close ties to the authors of the most recent US Army counterinsurgency manual. This means that Obama is unlikely to break with the current military strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan — but even if he wanted to, could he?

That just doesn’t follow.

First, it presumes that there’s anything approaching a counterinsurgent consensus about what to do about Afghanistan. (Let’s leave Iraq aside for the moment.) Some people in the chart, including the aforementioned Flick/Fick, have some ideas; but even if you asked this crowd, “Should we get all counterinsurgenty up in Afghanistan?” you would still have obscured more than you’ve clarified.

Some argue that the biggest COIN principle to follow in Afghanistan is attention to local concerns; others privilege specific tactical approaches. There’s not much of a consensus about what to do going forward. (I guess adding more troops is an exception, but that’s anecdotal.) Furthermore, there isn’t much of a “current military strategy” in Afghanistan, as the war has heretofore been defined more by drift than design, so it’s hard to see the COINdinistas arguing for more of the same. (If the effect is the same, it’ll probably indicate that Afghanistan is hopeless more than anything else.)

And then there’s a further concern. What does it really reveal to note that Colin Kahl has been palling around with Nathniel Flick? Eli Lake of The Washington Times has been palling around with Spencer Ackerman for six years, but it hasn’t made him, for instance, favor withdrawal from Iraq. You can’t really overlay areas of policy agreement based on frequency of contact. One of the most inspired parts of Bart Gellman’s book, “Angler,” is where he notes that if you thought that way, you’d probably have to conclude that former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had worked together for more than 20 years, were bureaucratic allies instead of bitter rivals.

I don’t mean to pick on Stray. The truth is that the military and intelligence apparatuses use these kind of org charts frequently when trying to map terrorist networks or tribal ties. And it’s never been clear to me why, or even indeed whether, the social cartographers really have faith in such a flawed model or if, instead, there’s a recognition that the social networks operate as a placeholder for actual information about the different nodes on the chart. I’m also not saying that it’s a mistake to try to understand the counterinsurgents as a distinct cohort — that would be pretty stupid and hypocritical of me. All I’m saying is that viewing the Network itself tells you deceptively little.

Frazer Pugh | I work in the investment management sector as a professional. Previously, I advised top financial services companies on balance sheet management, portfolio planning, and valuations as a consultant. I am currently pursuing a part-time MBA at Melbourne University, where I am a lecturer in accounting and hedge fund strategies, as well as a mentor/coach in a part-time equity analysis initiative. I have a bachelor's degree in economics, a master's degree in finance, and am a Chartered Accountant. I enjoy instructing and assisting others in achieving their objectives.


MA-Sen: 150 Conservative Bloggers Fan Out, Looking for Scandals

BOSTON -- The mysterious Election Journal blog, which first released the infamous 2008 video of two bumbling New Black Panther Party members waving nightsticks

MA-Sen: 66 to 19

BOSTON -- That, via Alex Isenstadt and Josh Kraushaar, is the number that defined the Massachusetts Senate race more than anything else. From the primary

MA-Sen: A Text Message From Scott Brown

BOSTON -- Having signed up for Scott Brown’s text message service for election day, I just got this text: Are you about to have lunch? It’s a great time to

MA-Sen: Loyal Democrats Grouse About Coakley

BOSTON -- A little while after noon, a steady crowd of Democratic voters streamed into the Cathedral High School Gymnasium to cast votes for their party’s

MA-Sen Photos: ‘Paint the Town Red! Croakley’s Dead!’

Below are some photos of yesterday’s People’s Rally in Worcester, the rally that Brown held to counter-program the Obama rally in Boston. The crush of

MA-Sen: Brown Wins

BOSTON -- At 9:20, the first rumors of Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race started to work around the room. A moment later, Doug Flutie

MA-Sen: Out-of-Staters for Brown

BOSTON -- A surprising discovery at yesterday’s People’s Rally in Worcester was just how many people had traveled into the state to assist, in whatever way,

MA-Sen: Republicans Celebrate Coakley’s Gaffes in Worcester

WORCESTER, Mass. - By the way, said Curt Schilling. One more thing. I am not a Yankees fan. The overflowing crowd at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall on

Net Investors Bullish on Palin’s Prospects for Staying on Ticket

Just for fun, the Internet prediction Website Intrade has opened a contract on whether Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will be withdrawn as McCain’s running mate.

© Copyright 2021 The Washington Independent All Rights Reserved

Terms & Privacy |