It’s hard to know how to interpret this news report in the Washington Times claiming that one of the agencies that may receive a budget cut as a result of the Obama administration’s cost-cutting (an attitude reserved, I note, for one department only) is the Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). This may very well be an example of what some call the “Washington Monument strategy” — the tendency of government agencies, when facing the loss of funds, to threaten closing the Washington Monument. But I think a budget cut is perfectly justifiable on the merits.
JIEDDO has done valuable work since it was formed in 2004 — it better have, considering that it has spent more than $20 billion. No doubt, the jammers and armored vehicles it has rushed first to Iraq and then to Afghanistan have saved some soldiers’ lives and limbs, and that, it goes without saying, is a real blessing. But if we have learned anything since 2003, it is that there is no technological fix to the insidious problem of roadside bombs. Every defensive measure will prompt insurgents to think of some new way to set off their explosives. And, at the end of the day, no perfect defense is possible; even an Abrams tanks can be stopped by a powerful enough bomb. (I remember in Iraq seeing one tank flipped over on its back in a ravine like a helpless turtle.)
The answer is to be found not in the realm of gee-whiz technology but in old-fashioned counterinsurgency tactics, which safeguard the population, flush out the insurgents, and prevent them from wreaking mayhem — whether with IEDs or with other methods. That is precisely what General David Petraeus is trying to do in Afghanistan. The support of the JIEDDO can be valuable but often only indirectly, if its funds are used, for example, to fund intelligence collectors and analysts who will track down the IED cells and other insurgents. In the end, the best way to defend the troops is to win the war and, sadly, there is no way to do that without putting them in harm’s way. That is the brutal logic of war — even in the Internet age.