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                  D. J. Power, Editor
           December 3, 2006 -- Vol. 7, No. 25

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* Ask Dan: Can computerized decision support improve 
national security decision making?
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Ask Dan!

Can computerized decision support improve national 
security decision making?

by Dan Power

PERHAPS. The current review of options for exiting from Iraq
demonstrates the complexity of national security decision making, but
it also emphasizes the importance of finding new approaches to
improving such decision processes. On Saturday evening, December 2,
2006, Michael R. Gordon and David S. Cloud reported on The New York
Times Internet site ( the content of a secret memo from
U. S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to President George Bush
written two days before Rumsfeld resigned acknowledging that "what
U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or
fast enough". As a decision scientist, what interests me is examining
the list of 21 illustrative new courses of action discussed in the
memo to see how computerized decision support could be of assistance.

First, in the memo Rumsfeld notes "many of these options could and,
in a number of cases, should be done in combination with others".
This acknowledgement increases the complexity of analyzing the
options whether the analysis is computer supported or unaided. There
seem to be 6 major strategies: 1) troop pull back and phased
withdrawal with benchmarks, 2) increase forces in Baghdad to attempt
to control it, 3) increase forces in Iraq substantially, 4) set a
firm withdrawal date to leave. Declare that with Saddam gone and Iraq
a sovereign nation, the Iraqi people can govern themselves. Tell Iran
and Syria to stay out, 5) establish three separate states - Sunni,
Shia, and Kurd and then leave, and 6) try a Dayton-like peace
negotiation process. Each of these strategies would result in short
and long-run consequences and experts can offer arguments for and
against each of them. More than likely someone could develop a
cost-benefit analysis for each course of action. All of the
strategies have risks associated with them that can also be
quantified. Part of the difficulty for President Bush and his
advisors is organizing all of the information and opinions relevant
to each course of action. Appropriately designed information and
decision support systems could help organize and manage such

Can political and military leaders rationally analyze and evaluate
these alternatives? Would computerized decision support help?
Potentially computerized decision support can play a greater role in
complex, strategic decision making situations like national security
decision making and that is why I have been working on and computerized decision aids for many years. Today
however computerized support would likely be confined to one or more
special studies of these options.

In the United States, we have a "strong" President model for national
security decisions. Such decision making is centralized and
autocratic. The President as Commander in Chief is charged with
assessing the magnitude and potential urgency of threats and with
responding appropriately. Today the decision reaction time to hostile
acts is significantly longer than in the "Cold War" era of nuclear
confrontation with the Soviet Union, but the decisions seem
increasingly complex and multidimensional. Decision making is
becoming increasingly difficult.

Sitting in our homes reading our email or surfing the Web, it is
difficult to appreciate and understand the dynamics of the exercise
of Presidential power. Any computerized decision support must be
integrated into a fluid, loosely defined decision process that can be
changed as needed by the President. We have watched the President of
the United States in Video Conferences with Pentagon and Civilian
leaders and we know the President receives intelligence briefings and
that sometimes information is incomplete or even incorrect. Civilian
and Military planners regularly develop contingency plans and assess
various threats. But, it is difficult to imagine the President with a
Blackberry sending and receiving emails or chatting on a cell phone
with Military commanders in Iraq while flying by helicopter to Camp
David. It is even more difficult to imagine the President watching a
visual simulation of possible exit strategies from Iraq. Also, it is
hard to imagine the President reading planning documents on a Tablet
PC and annotating the plans using the pen interface. At this point,
no one is certain about the future role of computers in national
security decision making. If we are to develop more computerized
support, we will need to examine current decision processes in more
detail and devise and evaluate appropriate systems.

Making decisions is an important part of government activity. The
study of decision-making and computerized decision support is
multi-disciplinary. Researchers come from many fields including
management, economics, psychology, political science, military
science, computer science and sociology. Various researchers have
identified alternative, possibly overlapping views of national
security decision making. Some stress the rational and analytical
processes that do and should occur. From this perspective, all
possible alternatives are identified and the costs and benefits of
each are assessed. The option that promises to yield the greatest net
benefit is then selected. Increasing computerized decision support is
congruent with this perspective.

Other researchers stress the behavioral and political factors that
interfere with rational deliberations. This perspective suggests that
the President is involved in a "struggle for power" and that decisions
emerge from that struggle. This more Machiavellian view of political
decision making identifies the importance of "bargaining,
accommodation, and consensus, as well as controversy, conflict,
bluff, threat, and even deceit" (Riemer et al., 2006). Computer
support can aid in this struggle for power, but the systems and tools
would be different. An alternative view emphasizes a highly
bureacratic decision process. Prior policies and standard operating
procedures strongly impact government decisions. The military chain
of command and government bureaucrats frame problems, obtain
information, shape alternatives, assess costs and benefits, and hence
significantly influence the choices made by political leaders.
Bureaucrats are often receptive to computerized tools, but the
results from using them may or may not impact actual decisions. These
perspectives are not mutually exclusive, but they do suggest the need
to develop and implement a wide variety of computerized decision
support systems. We probably need to develop and implement diverse
systems grounded in all three perspectives. What specific DSS can we
realistically build for helping with national security decision

Let's examine the initial decision to attack Iraq and try to identify
opportunities to include computerized support in that decision

According to Bob Woodward (10/24/2004), on November 21, 2001
"President Bush took Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld aside and said
he wanted to look at the Iraq war plans." Should miltary contingency
plans be stored in document-driven DSS? Should contingency plans
related to national security situations include risk assessment,
simulations and specialized databases? Should data-driven DSS monitor
contingencies, weak signals and threat triggers?

Woodward also reports "In August 2002 (about seven months before the
start of war in March 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell told the
president over a two-hour dinner that an Iraq war would have
consequences that had not been considered or imagined. He said that
an invasion would lead to the collapse of Iraq -- 'You break it, you
own it.'" Can computerized decision support help insure that
consequences of actions especially second order consequences are more
systematically considered and reviewed? Can computerized planning
decision support help insure that adequate planning is done for both
conducting a war and for managing the aftermath of a conflict? Can
knowledge-driven DSS help insure lessons learned from prior conflicts
are not forgotten?

Finally, according to Woodward, "On Jan. 9, 2003, the President asked
Gen. Franks: What is my last decision point? Franks said it would be
when Special Forces were put on the ground inside Iraq." What
information should a President receive during a crisis and how open
should s/he be to new or disconfirming information? Should
data-driven DSS provide summaries of opinions of intelligence
analysts and experts on various topics? Should data-driven DSS track
public opinion in such crises? If so what information about public
opinion should be tracked and how should it be summarized? 

How does a President set up a system or a process to enable his
administration to alter a course of action or get a "fresh" or
unbiased evaluation of its actions and possible consequences? What
sort of consultation process can and should computerized decision
support provide for national security decisions? Who should
collaborate in national security decision making? How should views
and opinions be captured, aggregated and organized?

So how does the U.S. make the decision to withdraw from Iraq? Imagine
a "best case" computerized simulation of reduction of hostilities in
Iraq. How likely is it that we will succeed in pacifying the country
and reducing the sectarian violence? Approximately how many soldiers
are likely to die if U.S. involvement continues at various levels for
18 months? What will be gained? What are the long-term consequences of
our actions?

One of the major objectives of the Iraq War was regime change, that
mission has been accomplished. The Iraq people have a freely elected
government and the country has a "new" military organization. Some
goals have been accomplished. So a fundamental issue is establishing
the goals that should be considered in making a decision.
Computerized decision support can assist in setting and monitoring
goals for national security decision situations. If we can
identify critical success factors (CSF) and benchmarks like the
number of terrorist attacks or incidents, then data-driven DSS can
track the CSF and benchmarks. In Iraq, CSF and benchmarks would
probably be tracked by the media however and computerized support
would not be needed.

On May 1, 2003 aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, President
Bush proclaimed the United States had accomplished its mission in
Iraq. Whatever one's view of the decision to undertake the Iraq war,
the U.S. President, the Congress and Military leaders still need to
formulate a responsible exit strategy. Computerized decision support
currently cannot do this. Perhaps in the future computerized decision
support will provide more systems and tools to help the President
"faithfully execute the Office". It seems reasonable that as
technology for decision support improves, the President and Congress
should explore how information technology can help improve national
security decision making.

More that 60 years ago, Winston Churchill stated "freedom and
democracy must be earned with the blood, toil, sweat and tears of
those who would be free". Iraq's 26 million people have and probably
will continue to pay a high price for their freedom. Those of us who
live in the United States of America must also continue to earn our
freedom and democracy. Perhaps information and decision support
technologies will help us reduce that cost.

As always your comments are appreciated.


Kennedy, Robert F. 1999. Thirteen Days. New York: W.W. Norton.

Kissinger, H., "Lessons for an Exit Strategy," Washington Post,
Friday, August 12, 2005; Page A19

Riemer, N. D. W. Simon, and J. Romance, The Challenge of Politics: An
Introduction to Political Science, (2nd. edition) CQPress, 2006,, see especially Chapter 14:
Decision Making in Politics.

Rumsfeld, D., "Memo of Options for Iraq War," Nov. 6, 2006, URL
_r=1&oref=slogin . 

Woodward, B., "Decision Iraq: Would Kerry Have Done Things
Differently?" Washington Post, Sunday, October 24, 2004,


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DSS Conferences 

1. Pre-ICIS 2006: SIG DSS Research workshop, Sunday, 
December 10, 2006, Milwaukee, WI. 
Check .

2. ICDSS 2007, 9th International Conference on DSS, Jan. 2-4, 2007, 
Calcutta, India. Theme: Decision Support for Global Enterprises.
Check . 


What's New at DSSResources.COM

12/03/2006 Posted an interview with Henry Morris "Decision support
and analytic applications". Check the interviews page.


   "Decision Support for Global Enterprises" Conference
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