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Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 18:33 | SYDNEY
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 18:33 | SYDNEY

The fog of war

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7 July 2009 11:04

To mark the death of former US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, here's a clip from the brilliant documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the life of Robert S McNamara. The first lesson is about empathy — understanding what motivates your adversary:

[youtube:xA80swzj-kU]

The recent release of the FBI's transcripts of its interrogation of Saddam Hussein show this lesson is as relevant as ever. Assumptions about Saddam's motivations were well set by early 2003; they centred on his antipathy to the US, but gave very little weight to Iraq's relations with Iran:

Even though Hussein claimed Iraq did not have WMD, the threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allow the return of the UN inspectors. Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq's weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions to the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq. In his opinion, the UN inspectors would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iraq.

The point about empathy is one I was fumbling toward at the end of the piece I wrote last week for ABC Online about intelligence analysis: there's a lot of emphasis placed on predicting the future and perhaps too little on trying to understand what motivates people in the here and now. But understanding those motivations can be the key to avoiding war.

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