July 18, 2004
Another lesson of the Iraq war was that speeding up the decision making process is never a bad thing. This was made clear because of a debate in the American military over the wisdom of using video teleconferencing during wartime. It was thought that these long distance face-to-face would encourage commanders to overlook vital details and make hasty, and perhaps disastrous, decisions. Video teleconferencing was used anyway, and used increasingly as the Iraq campaign went on. This was because lower ranking commanders could be reached for video teleconferencing, meetings that were, not possible in the past, at least while the fighting was going on. The senior guys now got a better idea of what was actually happening on the firing line, and the junior commanders felt more confident that their orders from on high were in sync with what was actually happening where the fighting was going on. These video meetings played a major role in keeping the troops moving during their rapid, three week, march on Baghdad.
Video teleconferencing, which began with the video phone in the 1960s, never caught on until the 1990s, when fast Internet connections became cheaper, and more widely available. Before that, video conferencing needed special equipment, and the images were often choppy. But the wider amount of video teleconferencing software available, and much better quality of the video, turned video teleconferencing from an unreliable, high tech headache, into an easily available Internet tool. By 2000, the American military was taking high speed satellite communications with them to the field, making it possible to hold video teleconferences in places they had never been held before. By the time 2003 came along, the combat units headed for Iraq took video teleconferencing gear with them, and they used it. By the end of the fighting, they were using it a lot. Despite the fears that this new capability might backfire, it did just the opposite. As the most effective generals in World War II learned, you lead best if you get out there and meet face to face with battalion commanders while the fighting is going on. Now you can do this with a lot more of your subordinates, and do it without getting shot at.