27 Apr 2010

PowerPointing the way to Afghan victory

Jonathan Rugman blogs on what has been described as the PowerPoint presentations of all presentations – on Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is the PowerPoint display to end all Power Point displays. Follow its twisted trail, and you will supposedly have won the war in Afghanistan. Today’s New York Times is reporting that this fine specimen (first uncovered by NBC) was shown to the head of Nato forces in Afghanistan last summer, and has since become a running joke in the Pentagon and other corridors of American power.
Click here to see a full size image

Power Points can be more than a joke, though, if they “create the illusion of understanding”, according to Brigadier General H.R. Mc Master, a US commander quoted in the same New York Times report.
A place like Afghanistan does not easily succumb to slide show explanations. “Death by PowerPoint” displays appear to tie up those officers tasked with preparing them, as well as sending their audiences into paroxysms of numbness.  
“Just agony”, says General David Petraeus, both a victim and a perpetrator of PowerPoint displays on the wars he is overseeing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, reportedly gets two PowerPoint briefings in Kabul a day, plus three more during the week.
The problem is that the very act of condensation reduces room for complexity, doubt and a whole host of unknown outcomes, potentially lulling the audience into a false sense of security and bestowing upon the PowerPoint presenter an undeserved halo of apparent control.
As for PowerPoint displays laid on for reporters – and I have sat through several – the phrase “hypnotising chickens”, used by a retired American Marine, seems as good as any.