David Killcullen and his Power Point Show

502f303730303631303731352e30312e5f5 Killcullen is all the rage these days in the trendy counterinsurgency set.  A friend at RAND sent me this PP show of his.  It was presented at a trendy conference in Washington.  I leave the content to your judgment without comment although I must say that his "cheek" in putting his picture on the same page as that of Bernard Fall is disturbing. pl

Download kilcullen_rand_insurgency_board_presentation_8_may_2008.ppt


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39 Responses to David Killcullen and his Power Point Show

  1. J says:

    looks like mr. killcullen is might proud of his own mug. am curious as to why did state employ mr australian killcullen instead of born-bred american socom personnel?

  2. Cieran says:

    Think he got enough pictures of himself in there? Maybe if he used even smaller fonts he could squeeze in some more self-portraits.
    But Killcullen’s Powerpoint skills are much better than Kagan’s (whose Surge presentation you linked to awhile back). Kagan’s presentation was infantile, where Killcullen’s demonstrates at least a junior-high-school grasp of computer skills.

  3. Paul says:

    Bernard Fall wrote full-length books to describe discrete events; “Hell in a Very Small Place”, for example. There was always a “story behind the story” theme to Fall’s books.
    Power Point is rubbish because it only appeals to those with a 5th Grade reading level. That’s why he is so loved in Washington.
    No amount of posturing will defeat insurgents who wish (and have the means) to remove an occupier from their land.
    He aint no Bernard Fall.

  4. Walrus says:

    Tactics, not strategy, and good tactics according to my very limited knowledge.
    But if the strategy on top is flawed……as it is….?

  5. Twit says:

    I think as a German Nietzsche would have appreciated the sheer efficiency of powerpoint for ‘clumsy spectating and familiar curiosity.’

  6. Walrus says:

    P.S……But then that is the Australian weakness….superlative tactics in support of a sub optimal strategy with no consideration of the political dimension because this has always been decided for us by Britain or America.
    Gallipoli anyone?

  7. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    As a back row civilian, I’d like to ask a few questions. Unfortunately I don’t have handy a copy of Bernard Fall’s book, Street Without Joy, as I write from afar.
    But I have a very distinct memory that in Fall’s chapter, “The Future of Revolutionary Warfare”, Fall emphasized an aspect of counterinsurgency that I determined was the most important of all. This principle seemed so important that it broke the barriers of time, meaning that it was the first rule that one applied when trying to create a “counterinsurgency” template. By that, I mean that it is a threshold principle that must always be addressed and considered. If it is not, odds increase that counterinsurgency efforts will fail.
    And at least from what I can tell, I am yet to see this principle highlighted.
    Based on my recollection, the principle goes something like this: to win at counterinsurgency, a nation must give up aspects of a strategy that are not essential to its own national security, particularly aspects that offer ideological legitimacy to a nation’s enemy. Inherent in such an idea is an obligation that a nation take affirmative steps to give up aspects of a strategy that pose a national security risk.
    The historical example offered in Fall’s work was the counter-insurgency efforts of the British in Malaysia from 48-60, a time called the “Malayan emergency”. If I understood the historical interpretation correctly, the British succeeded because they decided that granting independence to Malaysia would not effect British national security interests, plus such a decision would take the ideological winds out of the sails of the Malayan communists.
    If I may, when I did a quick reading of Petraus’ manual on COIN, I concluded he did not emphasize this aspect of Fall’s work. Maybe I am wrong, but, as a civilian, I questioned his interpretation of the British efforts in Malaysia.
    So to cut to the chase, Fall’s analysis would seem to suggest that the US in the Middle East should give up the aspects of its strategy that does not effect national security interests, particularly such aspects that give the enemy the ideological weapons to win the hearts and minds.
    So my questions to Killcullin would have been along these lines: what aspects of a Middle East strategy should the US shed, if any? Assuming the New Historians of Israel are correct, should the USM publicly stated that it rejects a legacy of ethnic cleansing and all military tactics that seek such an aim? Is ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians vital for US national security interests? Would shedding this aspect of a strategic policy help US national security interests and help win over the hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims worldwide, including those in Iraq?

  8. mike says:

    “cheek”??? Maybe, but then on the same slide he does admit to using Fall’s methodology.
    But he is not above a little brown-nosing. Note his statement that one of the key factors was the “Quality of senior leadership (Petraeus, Crocker, Odierno)”.
    And not to get anal, but my pet peeve is with the Aussie-isms such as “Coy” as the abbreviation for Company.
    I was amazed to see him quote Laszlo Almaszy as a close advisor to Rommel as I understood that Almaszy’s role was as a spy rather than an adviser. I will have to see if I can find an old biography in the used bookstores. I know that Pressfield uses him in his latest work, but I would prefer a non-fiction account.
    I would also like to learn more about the Archer Teams and Taji Academy that he praises on slide 50.

  9. ked says:

    I think the ppt needed a few more slides of himself in action.

  10. Walrus says:

    “looks like mr. killcullen is might proud of his own mug. am curious as to why did state employ mr australian killcullen instead of born-bred american socom personnel?”
    I suspect he was employed because he appears to be an expert in a field (counterinsugency) that born-bred American personnel have been studiously ignoring for the last twenty years.
    As for the mug shots, I suspect he has a very high narcissistic drive. The question is whether he has that under control and can thus forge good relationships between those above and, more importantly, those below him.
    If that is lacking, then what we have seen in the presentation is probably too good to be true, but if it is true, then Mr. Kilcullen is going to write a heck of a good book one day, and I hope I’m around to buy a copy when he does.

  11. FB Ali says:

    Most politicians and generals have limited education (and, often, limited intelligence). Nothing like a slick PP show with fancy diagrams and graphs, and lots of big words, to bamboozle them into believing something profound is being presented. There are always clever people who know this, and exploit it. Kilcullen seems to be one of these.
    The hollowness of his show is well illustrated by his use of the Rommel/Almaszy example. Rommel never fought a counterinsurgency campaign. Almaszy was never his COIN adviser.
    The man is clever trickster.

  12. Will says:

    Sidney Smith restates the obvious in a scholarly way.
    The driving force of US foreign policy since its capture by the ZionCons post Eisenhower is to facilitate a greater Israel and its growth into the West Bank and Gaza at the expense of the indigenous population both Muslim and Christian. It goes without saying, if the Palestinians were 100% Christian instead of 20% Christian: 80% Muslim, this could not have been sold to the U.S. and British Publics.
    But by stirring hatred against Muslims and Arabs this project has been sold these past years to the detriment of the National Security of the West, our treasure and our young men’s blood limbs.
    How else can one explain the destruction of a secular Irak by canceling the last phase of the CENTCOM war plans, recalling the Dream Team of Generals and leaving the most junior lieutenant general of the Army, to wit: Sanchez, in charge of the country.
    (hint, Wolfwitz, No. 2 at Pentagon, Feith, No. 3, Scooter Libby, chief of staff for Pumphead Cheney)

  13. Grimgrin says:

    One thing Mr. Killcullen makes one statement in his presentation is simply wrong. Namely that COIN work is governed by “tyranny of rising expectations”. This is, in a word, bullshit.
    The political expectations set at the start of this war was that the US was going to march in, kick over Saddam as easy as knocking over a sandcastle, and six months later march out having left behind a stable, democratic, US friendly, Israel freindly, Exxon/Mobil friendly Arab state in the heart of the middle east.
    What’s the political expectation for Iraq today?
    That a government comprised of militias friendly to (or bought off by) will one day be able to play host to US bases without too many American casualties a month?
    I’d guess that the line about ‘rising expectations’, like most official bullshit, serves a purpose. In this case it’s to explain why COIN operations seem to so often fail to produce satisfactory results. It’s not the fault of our methods, it’s because fault the goalposts keep getting changed.
    On a more general note, I’ve seen a few of these powerpoints and they all keep screaming the same thing at me. “How do you actually do this?” How do you turn your neat little feedback cycle into real action? How do you translate these slides into orders, policies, methods that prove effective? In a sense they remind me of Kurt’s pamphlet from “Heart of Darkness”
    “This was the unbounded power of eloquence — of words — of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases…”
    Although I admit it’s a stretch to call power point slides eloquent, I think there’s a parallel there.

  14. What total crap! I couldn’t make it past the 4th slide without wanting to take a hammer to my computer monitor. “Gated Communities?” So, we are going to install golf courses and tennis courts in Baghdad, patrolled by donut eating rent-a-cops? This guy Killcullen is a total wanker.
    SubKommander Dred

  15. Gated Communities…What was I thinking? We already have one! It’s called “The Green Zone.”
    SubKommander Dred

  16. J says:

    looks like mr. australian killkullan has an affinity for ‘gated communities’ that protect his keester with a gate guard in a pretty uniform without a weapon most probably hired from a nation where their citizens are desperate for jobs and will put themselves in harms way smack dab in the middle of a klll box just to be ’employed’, even if it’s as an unarmed gated community guard so they can send what little money they get for their dangerous job to send back home to their relatives.
    soooo sad.

  17. Power Point has given to the briefer class (those who brief but don’t always think) new power. Often Pentagon briefers get promoted for example. Problem is that briefing is only one of many skills and those with it may be lacking in decision-making skills. Because COIN needs good decisionmakers not briefers as its basic skill always worrisome to see a briefer book become established as “Gospel.” Certainly Bernard Fall’s writings and Francis Fitzgerald’s “Fire In The Lake” should be bookends on Vietnam which reminds me what has been translated into English from Vietnamese about that war or wars? And what has been translated from English to Vietnamese? Doesn’t understanding start from knowledge?

  18. Montag says:

    T.E. Lawrence described a bayonet as a weapon “with a fool at each end.” Much the same could be said of a Power Point Presentation. Isn’t that how we were seduced into Iraq, by reducing the NIE down to the intellectual standards of an article in the Sunday Supplement of a newspaper?

  19. Paul says:

    The Washington Post of 23-May-08 features and article and video of Apache helicopters firing Hellfire missiles inside Sadr City. Senior military officials state that the tactic is “useful” because it protects American soldiers. It may also be true that the tactic might be “useful” to those who resent the occupation of their country.
    The young pilot shown in the video seems thrilled that he has bagged a few “bad guys”. Apparently they are seeking people who have “hostile intent”. They will, to be sure, uncover those who set up mortars or other weapons, but what about other activities. Does he fire at someone who gives him a finger wave? Since when does a young kid decide who has, and does not have, “hostile intent”?
    Video games have been brought to the battlefield. Is this in the realm of COIN warfare? Like the games themselves, these tactics seem mindless and coarse. What happened to honor?
    The article identifies civilian casualties but nothing is said about damage to personal property or homes. One can only image the collateral damage inflicted by a Hellfire missile in a crowded space. A helicopter firing missiles in my neighborhood or near my home would invite profound anger and eventual retaliation.
    What were they thinking when they dreamed up this scheme. The Israelis have been using F-16s to quell neighborhoods for years and look what it has reaped.
    Nothing will solve the Iraq problem but a massive ground presence. Since the Army and MarCor are worn-out it is only a matter of time before we walk out or are kicked out.

  20. Cold War Zoomie says:

    My view is that his diagnosis is insufficient since he only concentrates on one “violence loop.” And if your diagnosis is wrong, you’ve got big problems.
    He needs to show multiple intersecting, dynamic violence loops and add far more accelerants to his list, including the presence of a foreign occupying force!
    What really bothers me about these types of presentations is that they reduce human beings down to statistics and graphs. There are real and living people on all sides of the conflict with multiple motivations. Heaven forbid we should try to put ourselves in each of their shoes. I get absolutely no sense that he really cares about the people involved – everyone’s just reduced to a data point in some huge science experiment.
    Ugh. There is no victory in any of this mess – all we can hope to do is to soften the landing a little.

  21. J says:

    notice how mr. australian killcullen makes sure his ‘profile’ is just sooo sooo before the shutter clicks on the camera. you can see such by looking at his eyes. oh vanity of vanities. makes one wonder if killcullen has a makeup powder box in his hip pocket to make sure that his ‘oily spots’ don’t show up on film. he’s gotta look great for the rice crowd, doesn’t he? appears that mr. killcullen’s ppp is all about ‘looks’ with little substance. hmmm……..

  22. Andy says:

    The problem with powerpoint slides is they only paint half the picture. Without seeing the actual presentation or without some kind of transcript or equivalent, important context and additional content goes missing. Without that extra content and context it’s all too easy to misinterpret a presentation or portions thereof. I’ve seen such misinterpretations occur many times myself which is one reason I always try to add explanation and context on the notes pages of each slide in presentations I create, though time constraints don’t always allow it. I’m also reminded of Edward Tufte’s book on the subject and his analysis of powerpoint’s role in the Columbia disaster.
    Secondly, the slide with Almazsy does not say he was a COIN advisor – rather it says “Commanding Generals have a long history of employing specialist advisers” and provides several examples of advisor-General relationships, including Almazsy. The implication, of course, is that Killcullen is such a specialist advisor and one of equivalent historic importance and stature to the examples he provides. Such a self-comparison carries a certain amount of ego to be sure. Whether it is deserved or not, I’ll personally leave that to history to decide.

  23. Eliot says:

    Pentagon Power Point Tips
    1 – Drop Shadow
    2 – Maps
    Use of official jargon helps as well. This comes from my friend the contractor.

  24. Andy-
    You bring up a good point about PP presentations. After posting my comment I thought about Kilcullen out there in the field among the “players” and think my assessment that he doesn’t give a damn about the people involved is probably way too harsh. (I have a teeny-tiny history of posting-before-thinking syndrome here at SST!) It just makes my blood boil when I see war reduced to line graphs and data points.
    Eliot…perhaps you missed my favorite website a few months ago…
    Jim Placke’s Site
    And this still cracks me up no matter how many times I’ve seen it:
    Jim Placke’s Powerpoint Presentation
    You’ve got to play the presentation to enjoy it. Who knows how many times it’s made its way around DoD.
    I wear my PowerPoint Ranger tab with pride!

  25. walrus56 says:

    Some of you might like to read a few of the comments on smallwarsjournal.com about this presentation since at least one of the posters (Steve Metz) was by his own account five feet from Kilcullen while he made it.
    Mr. J, could you please try and be more offensive to Australians in your posts? Your standard seems to be slipping.

  26. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Perhaps commenter Mr. Cummings would find this link and information about “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint” useful:
    Having given more PPT presentations than I care to recall, I began to realize how limited they are in providing the analytical content that’s essential to good decision-making.
    PPT is a good sales tool. It is a very poor tool in any situation that requires critical analysis — or at least, as people use it, it’s an extremely poor tool.
    More at Tufte’s link.

  27. Andy says:

    Oh yeah, I’m very familiar with Placke’s site and brief. Powerpoint Rangers lead the way! Funny stuff.

  28. Carl Osgood says:

    Aside from being full of himself, as others here have noted, Kilcullen is covering up, as are most of the partisans of the new COIN doctrine, the actual intention behind all of this. The model for COIN doctrine is British imperial policing. Lt. Gen. Jonathon Riley, who was (maybe still is, I don’t know) the senior British officer at Centcom said so in a speech at the Association of the U.S. Army annual conference in 2006, I think. He was, of course, promoting the British operation in Malaya and Robert Thompson’s account of it (which, regrettably, I still have not read). Harvard’s Sarah Sewall, writing in an introduction in the mass paperback version of the COIN manual said the same thing.
    I have a problem with this notion, however. Our War of Independence was fought against the British Empire, so that we would not be a part of it, and even be, as a famous observer wrote, a beacon of hope and temple of liberty for all mankind. FDR recognized that the British and other colonial empires were THE threat to world peace and told Churchill in unambiguous terms, that the U.S. would move to dismantle those empires once World War II was over. Sadly, FDR died before he could do that, and we’ve been playing the British game ever since much to our own detriment.

  29. SWJED says:

    PowerPoint is not an end-all, merely one tool to convey information. It is a shame that Dr, Kilcullen has been judged here by some who have not read his works, have not worked with him, do not know him and did not hear the words that accompanied the briefing linked to on this thread.
    Moreover, Dr, Kilcullen is indeed the Bernard Fall of this generation. Too bad some take issue with this. I won’t speculate why they take such issue.

  30. Patrick Lang says:

    I share your shock at the lack of respect shown to
    Dr. Kilcullen. There are many among the commenters on this page who show little reverence for anything.
    I take it that SWJ is some sort of magazine? pl

  31. walrus says:

    SWJ = smallwarsjournal.com some of you might like to visit it.

  32. Patrick Lang says:

    Thanks so much for the information. pl

  33. Cieran says:

    PowerPoint is not an end-all, merely one tool to convey information. It is a shame that Dr, Kilcullen has been judged here by some who have not read his works, have not worked with him, do not know him and did not hear the words that accompanied the briefing linked to on this thread.
    I’ve read just about everything I could find about Kilcullen since discovering his “28 Articles” a couple years ago. The notion of someone recycling T.E. Lawrence’s principles (since Lawrence was one of the inspirations for the Iraqi insurgents) indicated a certain innovation in thinking not often found in Bush administration military leaders.
    But the respect I’ve developed for some of Kilcullen’s thoughts doesn’t carry over to his presentation skills (nor should it). The presentation that Colonel Lang linked to is awful, and exhibits none of the organization or clarity that characterizes Kilcullen’s other works. In fact, on a first reading (including the file’s metadata), I found it hard to believe that it was the work of Kilcullen, e.g., it was last saved by one Scott Downey.
    But finding fault with that presentation is not a judgment on Dr. Kilcullen — it’s a simple and obvious observation that can be validated by the most basic references on effective presentation, whether those references come from Edward Tufte or Guy Kawasaki. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to see our top military talent develop communications skills worthy of their military stations… and especially given that using Powerpoint effectively isn’t exactly rocket science.
    Finally, what I find novel about Kilcullen’s ideas has been better expressed by others already (e.g., John Robb, who is well-known to readers of SWJ). So Kilcullen has my qualified respect, but the presentation attributed to him certainly doesn’t.

  34. SWJED-
    I’m not shocked in the least that Dr. Killcullen’s presentation is viewed with skepticism and disrespect by so many. We’ve been fed a steady stream of propaganda for so long that anyone in a leadership role, especially by choice, is tarred and feathered simply by association. Is it fair? No. But it is understandable.
    I cannot see into Dr. Killcullen’s heart. And many Americans are too busy managing their own lives to become COIN experts. With the media concentrating on horse race politics and celebrity gossip, we’ve been left to our own devices to figure out what the Hell is going on. We’ve been sold a bill of goods for the last six years, and Dr. Killcullen is a player in this administration by choice. Don’t be surprised when his presentation is viewed with a negative bias.
    Maybe his motivation is pure. Maybe he really wants to do some good. I don’t know. But he has chosen to work with the highest echelons of an administration full of liars and opportunists.

  35. FA says:

    As someone who actually saw him speak, Dr. Kilcullen went through all the slides in about 3 minutes and then proceeded to deliver a very informative presentation for the next hour and a half.
    He specifically said that he didn’t like power point and that someone else put together the slideshow, which he would go through to give a quick feel for the theater of operations for those who had not yet been there.
    So, I think you all have been trashing him pretty unfairly.

  36. FA says:

    actually – that was a slightly different PPT presentation he rushed through with us. I can’t say for sure what he did with the RAND one.
    In any case, he made clear that he doesn’t like briefing using powerpoint. Also, he’s very intelligent and really shouldn’t be trashed for being Australian, working with MNF-I, or any of that. He doesn’t have to be there; he chose to go. And it’s really not even his country’s war.
    Show the guy a modicum of respect for goodness sake.

  37. Cieran says:

    In any case, he made clear that he doesn’t like briefing using powerpoint.
    Again, Powerpoint is just a tool, which can be used for good or ill. And it’s not too much to ask that our military leadership be capable of using standard tools for communication. Heck, a paint brush is a tool, too, and Winston Churchill took the time to learn to use it effectively — and he certainly turned out all right.
    And finally, it may not be his country’s war, but he’s still in the employ of the U.S. government, correct? So he’s working for the U.S. taxpayer, I do believe, and hence it’s appropriate to entertain comments from his employers.

  38. Cold War Zoomie says:

    He doesn’t have to be there; he chose to go. And it’s really not even his country’s war.
    My point exactly. After dealing with an Administration that shows absolutely NO RESPECT for the citizens it is supposedly here to serve, what are we to think of someone who chooses to come here and work for these liars?
    He is working for one of the very people who got us into this mess. Our taxes are paying his salary.
    Boo-hoo if we don’t give him a modicum of respect and jump to negative conclusions. That’s what happens when people are swindled by likes of Condi Rice, his chosen “client.”
    Now that’s my emotional side talking. From the intellectual view, he most likely has done some good considering the results so far. He did put his arse on the line by going over. And it’s obvious the guy’s well educated.
    But let’s keep something straight – the propaganda drumming up support for this war was directed at us by the very people he works for. That is a very serious issue to work through before the intellectual side can take control.
    And with this Administration, “cooling off” and being reasonable just gets you more trouble.
    There’s an old saying: don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining. That fits here somehow.
    I’m going to bust a vessel if I don’t stop now. So…
    Here endeth the venting rant.

  39. Ralph Hitchens says:

    Not sure why Fall is even mentioned. His best stuff was historical in nature, and the later reporting from the US war was insightful but incidental — his untimely death deprived us of what would surely have been some marvelous combat narratives of lasting value.

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