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Realism and newsgames merge in the 'zone of dangerous'


"You have this view from the air, and you have this Middle Eastern town, and you have this target. You see civilians walking on the streets, and these little black and white characters that are supposed to be terrorists. [You] can shoot, or not. You may kill some terrorists but there is a catch - you will almost certainly kill innocent civilians too. What happens is when you kill a civilian, you destroy the houses and environment, but then you see people coming by the dead bodies and they start crying. After a while, they transform themselves into terrorists. So, the more you shoot, and the more you destroy, you may kill terrorists, but you will encourage more and more people to become terrorists."

A reporting from Iraq or Afghanistan? No, but rather one of the most realistic games that I have seen -- but not one that makes its weapons realistic, nor its impacts or detonations realistic, but one that mimics current events in a manner that has been described as "a half-breed between political cartoons and games." Newsgames' September 12th is a game you can play without end but cannot win within its constraints.

The step from Newsgames to the three estimates of the July 2004 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq, approved by Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and the first formal assessment since the October 2002 NIE, is tiny and all too realistic:

  1. Best case, some might say halcyon, scenario: tenuous stability
  2. Middle case scenario: "increased extremism and fragmentation in Iraqi society impede efforts to build a central government and adversely affect efforts to democratize the country."
  3. Worst-case scenario: tripartite civil war between Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds

Pessimistic is the kindest one can say of the options prepared by the National Intelligence Council led by Robert Hutchings, reporting to DCI, prior to the recent decline of Iraq's security situation. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a study asserting "that Iraq's reconstruction efforts were largely stagnating or regressing, in part because of the deteriorating security situation." The state on the ground has now reached Republican bedrock and they are making their displeasure known, a sea state change in and of itself.

Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said:

Our committee heard blindly optimistic people from the administration prior to the war and people outside the administration - what I call the 'dancing in the street crowd' - that we just simply will be greeted with open arms. The nonsense of all of that is apparent. The lack of planning is apparent.

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) said of the overall lack of spending:

It's beyond pitiful, it's beyond embarrassing. It is now in the zone of dangerous.

The zone of dangerous, indeed, as I cannot see a mechanism on offer either within the current limitations of force projection or offsets that alter Iraqi opinion of, and cooperation towards, either the US or UN. Go here to play September 12th, a newsgame about the day after 11 September. Go here to play Madrid, a newsgame about the 11 March terrorist attacks in Atocha, Madrid, Spain.

When you tire of either, you will know, irrespective of the individual or unit talent on the ground, just a bit of how it is to operate in Iraq within current resources and current limitations.

My current take of the outcome in Iraq is reminiscent of the partition of British India, only more violent, and more of a see-saw of territorial control by the tripartite groups.  The frontline states cannot stand idly by and will intervene. Not the model of democracy that I would have liked to see the US export to the Middle East.

Games blur news and entertainment
By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent
Published: 2004/09/16 08:04:46 GMT

U.S. Intelligence Shows Pessimism on Iraq's Future
New York Times
September 16, 2004

U.S. seeks to shift funds to bolster Iraq security
David Stout NYT
September 16, 2004
International Herald Tribune

Group Offers Bush Bleak Iraq Assessment
Associated Press
Sep. 16, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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