In military strategy discussions, some additional aspects of the dynamics of strategy surface that haven't received a formal label quite yet. Analysts and practicioners alike understand these principles, even if they haven't risen to the level of formal definition that concepts like friction have achieved.
The first is simplicity. Why have a complex plan, when a simple one will do? Complexity leads to needless problems, particularly since friction can play havoc with any part of it. The more failure points, the more failures.
For people who aren't familiar with military history, the simplicity of most successful strategies may seem surprising. Perhaps people expect that military professionals use their special expertise to create baffling, Mission Impossible-like plans. The stark simplicity of, say, Operation DESERT STORM (first bomb around the clock, then a direct thrust through the desert to cut off and destroy the Iraqis) may seem disappointing.
The simplest plans aren't necessarily easy to execute. You still have to know when to take action, with which forces, against which targets. You also have to keep in mind the point of the operation--something that easily gets lost in the confusion and clamor of battle. Some of history's best generals, such as Lee or Napoleon, have had a talen for appraising the battlefield in an instant and knowing exactly the right thing to do. That takes a special kind of intuition, or spatial thinking, or instinct about what the enemy is doing, that's not what you might think of when you hear the term "military genius".
Military organizations are just that--organizations. Here's where a lot of organizational theory from people like Crozier, Wilson, Weber, and others has an important role in understanding military affairs. Large military bureaucracies are designed to be responsive to what the commander wants: otherwise, you couldn't get the same squad to attack a hill, march down it, and attack it again a day later. Organizations can only be responsive to a point, after which their ability to execute a plan, however brilliant on paper, breaks down.
There's an analog to this principle in the software industry, by the way. I've known a lot of incredibly bright people--graduates of MIT, Cal Tech, and other prestige universities--designed failed products for a predictable reason: the people using the technology are not themselves Cal Tech graduates. Your software is only as good as the person implementing it, who may not be the best and the brightest. The more complex, unusual, or otherwise challenging you make a new technology, the less likely it is to be successful. Even if there were not a skill gap between the software architect and the systems integrator, most people want to do their jobs and get along with the rest of their lives. Arcane software implementation puzzles don't fascinate everyone, nor do they share the same level of interest in innovative software design. Software complexity also retards the ability of the larger organization to consume a new technology, since its information arteries are blocked whenever complex systems break down (and believe me, the principle of friction applies to IT as much as warfare).
This organizational reality, among other things, leads to the second principle, redundancy. Since you have to deal with the unexpected--enemy countermeasures, weird twists of fate, etc.--you need to have redundancy built into both your resources and your plans. You always need more resources than you think you do, so allocate more. Why risk failure at taking the hill with a squad when you'd have better chances with a platoon? Balancing resources this way--having more than you need in some places, while still having enough free to do other things--is another one of those ineffable qualities of good commanders that's hard to transform into a formula, but is a critical element of success.
Redundancy in plans means, simply, having a plan B. You can't cover every possible contingency, but you need to plan for some likely ones. At the very least, you need an avenue of retreat. If the enemy turns out to have not 10 troops, but 100, guarding a bridge, you might want to back out of the attack. All or nothing plans are bad; plans based on too many ifs are even worse. You can continue propping one possibility against another until it looks like you have a sturdy plan: if the Germans have not detected us yet, and if (as we expect) they're low on fuel and ammunition, and if we can get the air support we need, and if we can launch the attack before dawn, we'll be able to take the town. However, how many American commanders in WWII would have given the order to attack until most or all of these ifs were replaced with solid answers?
Deciding on when you have enough contingency planning, and how much uncertainty in the plan you will tolerate, is again, a leadership trait that takes experience, instinct, training, and some raw talent to acquire. Not everyone will have it, so promoting the people who do is one of the important functions of a military bureaucracy.
Since 9/11, the US government has certainly applied the principle of simplicity--for the most part. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were very simple, direct, and successful plans, executed with the usual operational and tactical efficiency for which the US military is justifiably famous.
Unfortunately, the campaigns in these two countries only started with the invasions. The occupation phases have been far more challenging, in part because the US approach has been plagued with, among other problems, no equally simple, direct strategy like the invasion plans. A major complicating factor is how the unity of command has broken down, particularly in Afghanistan, since the invasion. Rather than having multiple bureaucracies executing a single plan, we now have multiple bureaucracies executing multiple plans. Coalition warfare makes this challenge harder, but not intractable. The reason we're not making more progress against the Taliban and al Qaeda has very little to do with unity of command among NATO and Afghan forces, however, and a lot more to do with the disconnect between military and non-military actions. In the Vietnam War, it wasn't until the politico-military integration that the CORDS program and other initiatives brought that the US effort began making real progress against the NLF insurgency. We'll continue to be frustrated in Iraq and Afghanistan as long as US efforts fail to achieve this unity (and thereby simplicity) of effort.
One might say, by the way, that the US strategy in the Iraq occupation has been too simple, simplistic in its ignorance of Iraqi political realities. I'd agree with that statement, but even if the US were to gain a better appreciation the complexities of post-Hussein Iraq, that doesn't mean it will craft a simple, direct plan in response. Different organizations--some American, some not--will continue to pursue different agendas and strategies, based on different perceptions of the situation.
Certainly, the Bush Administration has failed to follow the principle of redundancy in both conflicts. Not only have the resources proven to be inadequate, but the plans had any real flexibility. Many people asked, before the invasion, what would happen if the Iraqis didn't welcome us with open arms, if there were no stable post-Baathist regime, if Iraqi groups started fighting the US and Coalition occupiers, if the invasion proved harder than expected...At least, with that last question, didn't throw US planners a curve ball. These conventional, maneuver warfare issues were, of course, the topic with which US military planners were most familiar.
On the other topics, the Bush Administration was far too comfortable with the number of ifs in its invasion/occupation strategy. Not only did the civilian leaders think they had the answers to these questions, but they were actively hostile to people who did have expertise in these areas.
That mistake, seen purely from the lessons of past conflicts, was eminently avoidable. Both the White House and 10 Downing Street are dissembling when they say, "No one could have known," or, "Our best experts told us the Iraq War would be over by now." Many people tried to point out the risks the Americans and British were taking in ignoring the principle of redundancy. At best, these critics were ignored; at worst, they were called traitors by red-faced demagogues. No amount of bluster and blindness will make the failure go away, however.