The Talking Dog

May 5, 2007, You go to war with the Army you have

Such is the famous response of former SecDef Rumsfeld when pressed by a deployed soldier about why he and so many like him were supplied with inadequate body and vehicle armor, resulting in countless avoidable combat deaths and injuries. It seems that besides a cavalier attitude toward adequately equipping troops in the field (as opposed to lining the pockets of Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater, et al.), the former SecDef's cavalier attitude toward treating local populaces with dignity and respect and with humanely treating those captured has, in turn, also filtered down to the troops, with some pretty alarming survey results as documented in this WaPo piece. While there may well have been a "few bad apples" responsible for the abuses on the ground in Iraq, it seems clear that those "bad apples" had senior positions in the Pentagon.

Anyway... some of the alarming results of the internal survey conducted by the Army:

More than one-third of U.S. soldiers in Iraq surveyed by the Army said they believe torture should be allowed if it helps gather important information about insurgents, the Pentagon disclosed yesterday. Four in 10 said they approve of such illegal abuse if it would save the life of a fellow soldier.

In addition, about two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. "Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect," the Army report stated.

About 10 percent of the 1,767 troops in the official survey -- conducted in Iraq last fall -- reported that they had mistreated civilians in Iraq, such as kicking them or needlessly damaging their possessions.

The WaPo piece is by Thomas Ricks and Ann Scott Tyson; I am reading Mr. Ricks' book "Fiasco" right now, and Ricks observes that this general prevailing attitude-- that the local populace is the battlefield, or worse, the enemy, rather than what it really is, the prize, is the confusion between strategy (we don't really have one) and tactics... that in turn filters down to the troops leading to bad results. In a word, this attitude may be the leading cause of the failure of the mission in Iraq.

The mission of a counter-insurgency is to win over a populace to your side; such a mission can only fail if it foolishly follows the rudderless twits on top who mutter crap like "bring it on" and "dissent is treason", etc., and general and field grade officers start acting on this, and employ counter-productive tactics such as mass round-ups of all local men (or taking family members of those wanted hostage), or wantonly blowing up houses, or having convoys take unprovoked pot-shots at passing locals (while running them off the road), or responding to rifle shots with mortars, or numerous other heavy-handed tactics guaranteed to turn a potentially friendly local populace into a hostile one... forgetting that killing 10 "insurgents" does no long term good if it only generates the creation of 50 more.

Anyway, General David Petraeus understands this sort of thing, which is why his theater of operations was regarded as one of the success stories. The only problem is that Petraeus has been put in charge of things a little late; a surgical team of Drs. Barnard, DeBakey, Jarvik, Welby, Kildare and Hawkeye Pierce won't do much good if the patient has already been dead for two years...

Just something else to think about. The good news is that the Army is at least proactive enough to be asking the right questions (albeit a little too late). The bad news is that our own attitudes may ultimately be the biggest impediment to winning (whatever that is). But hey... why should we listen to experts about this too when we just know we know better?


We are still fighting the last war and we have been since WWII. We fought Vietnam like WWII without adjusting to the fact that the Vietnam war was in no way like WWII, the enemy that we fought was a popular resistance to tyrannies as opposed to a fascist agression. We could not win in Vietnam because we were looking for a win like WWII and it was not available. Same thing now in Iraq. We can (and did) sweep away the government of Iraq and devastate the infrastructure, but there is an understandable popular resistance and resentment to occupation, to wholesale death and dying at the discretion of America as represented by an army of 20 year olds who have been overcome by fascist jingoism. It's like the movie Dirty Harry and Stripes broadcast at the same time on the same screen. It's not a pretty picture.

Posted by Angel at May 6, 2007 11:10 AM