The Sims Iraq – The Future of Military Wargaming?

An interesting (and serious) article that came out on April Fools Day and shouldn’t get lost among satire fluff about Ridge and Ashcroft is Kevin Maney’s Cyberspeak column for USA Today. Always interesting, I found this Maney column to be especially insightful.

He basically talks about how the initial strike against Iraq was meant to be a “decapitation” strike by aiming squarely at Saddam (right on – if you pull the trigger then pull no punches and get it over with ASAP). Subsequent individual Iraqi soldier resistance and lackluster civilian acceptance of Anglo-American liberation was unexpected. In other words, cut off the head of government in a decapitation strike, and you’re still left with “complex adaptive systems that display emergent behavior” as computer gamers would say. The military acknowledges this is true. “The enemy we’re fighting against is different from the one we’d war-gamed against.” said US Gen. William Wallace, a comment that garnered him much grief from his superiors. Operational efforts in recent days are back on an upswing and The Plan may yet be ultimately valid, but its success will not vindicate it from being very risky, perhaps unacceptably so. Starting the Iraq War immediately anyway despite the diplomatic loss of major US troop movements thru Turkey to beat the summer (and political) heat is the most glaring example of the risks that have been taken.

Future versions of such Plans may well benefit from video game technology used in The Sims and the new “sequel”, The Sims Online. “The Iraqi system is more decentralized and emergent than we realized,” says Steven Johnson, author of Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. What if the U.S. had a very good Sims-like simulation of Iraqi society — one that started with the reactions of individuals and worked up? Not a sci-fi fantasy, the CIA has consulted with Sims creator Will Wright a number of times about Sims-style modeling of nations or governments. One existing advanced version of such a wargame is a sophisticated emergent model of a generic Middle Eastern country called MEPolity built by University of Pennsylvania professor Ian Lustick. As USA Today columist Maney notes, such “games” might prevent the kind of surprise the military got in this war.