Iraq Invasion Anniversary: Inside the Decider’s Head

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White House photo / Paul Morse

President Bush announces the invasion of Iraq from the Oval Office on March 19, 2003

In the summer of 2002, during the lead-up to the Iraq war, a White House official expressed displeasure with an article written by journalist Ron Suskind in Esquire. He asserted that people like Suskind were trapped “in what we call the reality-based community,” which the official defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.”

Suskind murmured something about enlightenment principles grounded in scientific empiricism, but the official cut him off, saying, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore … We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own realityAnd while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” [Emphasis added.]

This is a revealing statement about the mentality in the Bush White House before the Iraq war.

Think about it: in effect, the official is claiming the mind of a decider, who is tasked with making decisions to cope with the constraints of the real world, has the power to create a new reality over and over again. Therefore the decider need not be worried about matching his actions against those constraints, or even observing those constraints, before making his decisions.

Arrogant? To be sure.

Unusual inside the Beltway? Not really, based on my experience in the Pentagon.

But this outlook also reflects an incredibly stupid and dangerous way to orient one’s decision cycle to events in the real world.

It is trite to say that madness occurs when the mind governing decisions and actions becomes systemically disconnected from the real world.

But in the Versailles on the Potomac, where madness has risen to a high art form, reinforced by pseudo science, ideology and greed, all neatly packaged in compelling PowerPoint briefings, transformative visions, and amplified by an adoring mainstream media, it is difficult to know what the real world really is.

Faced with this reality in the 1980s, the military reformers in the Pentagon led by Colonel John R. Boyd found it necessary to develop a more precise working definition of madness: we concluded that madness occurs when the decisionmaker’s “observation, orientation, decision, action” (OODA) loop becomes increasingly distorted and disconnected from its environment by the existence of incestuous amplification.

Let me explain.

Incestuous amplification is a common phenomenon in Versailles. It occurs when the preconceptions in the decider’s orientation (that is, his-her repository of ideology, belief systems, cultural heritage, previous experiences, education, genetic heritage, etc.) misshape the observations feeding that orientation.

Note that the key word is misshape: there is no question that one’s orientation always shapes everything that is apprehended in the environment, or that one’s orientation evolves and changes over time in response to changes in the interaction between the observing organism and its environment.

A 6-year-old sees the world very differently from when he is 60. The relevant measure of merit is whether that evolving orientation produces decisions and actions that improve the matchup between the decisionmaking organism and its environment, as it marches along the one-way arrow of time.

But when the decider’s orientation becomes infected by incestuous amplification, the opposite occurs: his or her orientation distorts observations in a way that drives the interaction to toward an ever increasing mismatch between the organism and its environment.

Viewed abstractly, here is how it happens:

Incestuous amplification, in effect, hijacks the orientation of decider’s OODA loop by overriding observations to a point where one’s orientation induces the decider to see and act on what he wants to see rather than what is. (By the way, when a self-styled decider or change agent uses the words like vision and transformation in the same paragraph, it is a sure warning sign that such a hijacking is well under way.)

It follows that the decisions and actions flowing from this kind of orientation must be disconnected from reality, except by accident or chance. But this initial disconnect is only the first-order effect; subsequent effects remove any significant possibility of a lucky break. That is because the disconnect between the actions and the environment that those actions purport to cope with pumps dysfunctional behavior back into the entire OODA loop, which then folds back on itself to magnify the mismatch.

How this happens becomes clear when one realizes that the consequences of the first-order actions (which, as noted above, are already disconnected from the exigencies of the environment) create changes or external effects that are then fed back into the OODA loop as subsequent observations. These new observations are distorted again by the hijacked orientation of the decider, who sees again what he wants to see. This produces new decisions and actions, which, in turn, are even more disconnected from reality. And so the cycle not only repeats itself but it turns in on and amplifies itself — the effect is a little like placing a microphone next a speaker when recording, only the result is far more dangerous.

That is because, as any student of nonlinear dynamics in control theory, or the theory of evolution by natural selection, can tell you, this kind of positive feedback loop, if not corrected by some form of selection (natural or otherwise), must produce an explosive spiral of ever increasing mismatches, leading to increasing confusion and disorder that inevitably degenerate into chaos or death or extinction. Left uncorrected, the decisionmaking organism exhibiting an incestuously amplifying OODA loop becomes increasingly disconnected from its environment, but nevertheless blunders forward to the tune of its internal dynamics.

Without a correction, there can be but one outcome: the environment eventually intrudes to make the irrevocable decision.

Put another way, all living organisms from the individual to a society can be viewed as open (thermodynamic) systems that must process a flux of matter, energy and information to maintain their coherence. To do this, they must communicate effectively with their environments. Incestuous amplification has the effect of closing off the system from its environment, and any activity in a closed system always generates entropy, thereby making it impossible to maintain that system’s coherence. So, without a correction or a change that opens the decider’s OODA loop to an effective communication with the real world, the only uncertainty in the outcome is how long an OODA loop driven mad by incestuous amplification can last before it degenerates into chaos and is selected out.

Now, with this working appreciation of madness in mind, let’s put these abstract ideas into action with regard to America’s Iraq debacle.

Job One, gathering the data has just been made much easier. I urge you to read carefully “The Iraq War Ten Years After: Declassified Documents Show Failed Intelligence, Policy Ad Hockery, Propaganda-Driven Decision-Making” and the links to the official documents it cites. This compilation of official documents illustrates the “information” that was used by U.S. decisionmakers to justify (to themselves and others) and to plan the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. These documents have been made accessible to anyone with an Internet connection by the invaluable National Security Archive of George Washington University.

After spending trillions of dollars, killing hundreds of thousands (approaching perhaps a million) of Iraqis, suffering over 4,000 U.S. combat-related deaths, and tens of thousands of wounded and stressed-out veterans — not to mention placing a huge indelible stain on our national honor — interested readers can use this archive to take a tour down memory lane to understand the evolving orientation that led to the Iraq horror story.

This is precisely the kind information needed to address the crucial question of whether or not incestuous amplification corrupted the OODA loops of the deciders who created this catastrophe. Surely, given the magnitude of the disaster, this is a project worth pursuing.

Perhaps more important, it is feasible for you or anyone else to use this data to make the analysis. To see why, I respectfully submit the following null hypothesis for your initial analysis of the question of whether or not the American OODA loop went mad in the run-up to the Iraq war: the decider’s OODA loop was not hijacked by the incestuous amplification of decider’s observations.

Note the careful wording of this hypothesis ensures that it can indeed be falsified should you choose to use the archive’s database to test its truth. This construction has the added benefit of ensuring that you will not fall prey to the epistemological trap laid so carefully by Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice during this period: namely that “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”


If the truth were known to all of the families in the so called heartland whose sons were damaged in that war, there would not be enough secret service agents to keep a blossoming of "strange fruit" from the twisted gnarled trees of Texas and Washington DC.


There's a lot here to consider about the OODA loop and one's consideration of decisions. Let's consider legality.

What the above argument neglects to consider is the illegality of the performance "of the Deciders who created this catastrophe." The "new reality" these "deciders" created involved creating a catastrophe, sure, but more importantly it involved  breaking the law. Warring against other countries, barring any immediate national threat, is patently illegal. Many people worked really hard around 1945 creating the United Nations in order to prevent this "new reality" (i.e. elective war).

from the UN Charter -- To maintain international peace and security,
# All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
# All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

We wouldn't say that the guy who shot an infant in his stroller recently merely created a new reality, one that was incredibly stupid and dangerous. We would say that he is a criminal that committed a heinous act of violence and he should be tried for it in a court of law. 

So these deciders for war should be brought to justice. Of course the US doesn't recognize the International Criminal Court, and the only people who have ever been referred to the ICC are from Africa. Call it the black man's burden, while the important white guys get away with wholesale murder.  There are exceptions -- current deciders have imposed economic sanctions upon Iran and have threatened military attack.  There has not been a peep from the UN Secretary General, because Ban K-moon is a U.S. puppet. So much for the U.N.

Letskeepontrack 1 Like

The theory in this article is fine and dandy, but the picture speaks more directly than the words.  Looking into those eyes, one gets an immediate, intuitive sense that altogether too little was going on inside the decider's head.

MarcusTaylor 2 Like

"Inside the decider's head"?  That echo you hear is his only brain cell crying out for company. Bush was a puppet whose "strings" were being pulled by everybody.  They told him what he wanted to hear, and boy, did they know how to manipulate this idiot!

"If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're going to get selfish, ignorant leaders." ~ George Carlin


@MarcusTaylor Regarding US citizens being ignorant and selfish, I don't buy it. Americans, like those in other countries, are smart and charitable. However they are led astray, given lies masquerading as facts,  by charlatans in the government and media. So I give what many call "the sheeple" a pass. It's not their fault that people they trust are not worthy of their trust.


It's an ongoing national syndrome, this madness, and it's not confined to the White House. There was no decider on Iraq, there were deciders. Deciding for war included  warmongers from both major parties, starting with the Iraq Liberation Act, and  then including not only Bush and Cheney but also other criminals like Gore and Biden. It's currently active with Iran, Syria and North Korea, the newly concocted U.S. enemies. We see it here.

This madness doesn't require data or information, only emotions. There are absolutely no facts that require the US to be at war with Iran, Syria or North Korea, only emotions.  It's faith-based, like religion. In fact religion is a big part of the US inclination currently to attack anything Islamic.  It's the religion of war, and as Randolph Bourne wrote years ago, War Is The Health Of The State.

Thanks for addressing it.


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