Adam turned me on to John Robb’s article about emergent intelligence and the Iraqi insurgency. I posted a comment about it on Robb’s blog, but thought I’d reproduce it here as well.

If the five factors Robb mentions really are requirements, then the implication is that the elimination of any of them causes the collapse of the “intelligence” (whatever that means). This suggests a way to fight things like the insurgency in Iraq: destroy or prevent one or more of these factors. Taken in reverse order, this might be done as follows:

Openness to interaction is difficult to attack, because it is basically a personality trait, but it isn’t impossible. One way is to encourage “closed” men into authority by, say, eliminating rivals, providing intelligence or some other means. Another is to foster distrust between leaders. Any of these strategies, though, is fairly risky.

Pattern matching from stigmergic communication is a bit easier, because some of these environmental patterns can be manipulated or forged. Still, most of them can’t. Further, while it may be possible to anticipate the results of a pattern match, doing any of this requires high level of understanding of the insurgency thought process, which I don’t think the coalition has.

Random interactions are nearly impossible to stop. This is one area where the coalition is actively fighting (by incarcerating suspects to limit their movement). Ironically, this probably helps random interactions more than hinders them, as those few who are inevitably falsely imprisoned are certain to interact with real insurgents in an environment that breeds hostility to the coalition.

Local focus is more attackable than most of the other requirements, because it allows local action in opposition as well. Still, a crackdown in one locality likely just moves the “local action” to a different locality, so the best you could hope for here is somehow manipulating the insurgency into a locality of your own choosing. Those who subscribe to the “better to fight them in Iraq than here” mentality might reasonably claim that this has already been done successfully.

Preventing the critical mass of participants seems to me to be the most sure way to defeat this insurgency. Unfortunately, present tactics for doing so (incarceration into public and secret prisons) seem completely wrong, as they motivate individuals to participate who may not have otherwise. Fighting this requirement would seem to take a much longer timescale, essentially replacing the bias of the Muslim world’s educational system with one more slanted to the West. This is a timescale on which America is extremely bad at fighting, as its political system churns much faster.