This little gem – spotted amid Iraq documents leaked to the Telegraph and apparently quoting one Colonel J.K. Tanner, chief of staff to the British general commanding a division in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 – is calculated to warm the cockles of Richard‘s heart (enthusiast for EU military operations that he is):
“I realise now that I am a European, not an American. We managed to get on better militarily and administratively with our European partners and indeed at times with the Arabs than with the Americans. Europeans chat to each other whereas dialogue is alien to the US military.
They need to reintroduce dialogue as a tool of command because, although it is easy to speak to Americans face-to-face and understand each other completely, dealing with them corporately is akin to dealing with a group of Martians. If it isn’t on the PowerPoint slide, it doesn’t happen.”
It echoes the words of US counter-insurgency expert William Lind in one of my favourite columns of his, from March 2007:
The U.S. military has carried the formal meeting’s uselessness to a new height with its unique cultural totem, the PowerPoint brief. Almost all business in the American armed forces is now done through such briefings. An Exalted High Wingwang, usually a general or an admiral, formally leads the brief, playing the role of the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert. Grand Wazoos from various satrapies occupy the first rows of seats. Behind them sit rank upon rank of field-grade horse-holders, flower-strewers and bung-holers, desperately striving to keep their eyelids open through yet another iteration of what they have seen countless times before.
The briefing format was devised to use form to conceal a lack of substance. PowerPoint, by reducing everything to bullets, goes one better. It makes coherent thought impossible. Bulletizing effectively makes every point equal in importance, which prevents any train of logic from developing. Thoughts are presented like so many horse apples, spread randomly on the road. After several hundred PowerPoint slides, the brains of all in attendance are in any case reduced to mush. Those in the back rows quietly pray for a suicide bomber to provide some diversion and end their ordeal.
When General Greg Newbold, USMC, was J-3 on the Joint Staff, he prohibited briefings in matters that ended at his level (those above him, of course, still wanted their briefs). Instead, he asked for conversations with people who actually knew the material, regardless of their rank. Five or ten minutes of knowledgeable, informal conversation accomplished far more than hours of formal briefing.