Friday, January 13, 2006

"cultural ignorance, moralistic self-righteousness, unproductive micromanagement and unwarranted optimism..."

It's a good thing he's a foreigner so we don't need to pay attention to what he says.
That is how one British military expert perceives the US military in Iraq. His assessment was published by, of all sources, the U.S. Army.
Response is mixed, but predictable.
"...he is a very good officer, and therefore his viewpoint has some importance, as we do not think it is his alone... [somebody put him up to it]...I think he's an insufferable British snob...I think he's overstating the case..."

The original essay is some fourteen pages long, PDF format, available on line. It is also referenced by Financial Times. I glanced at it and it is not just a piece of propoganda. It is a sincere effort on the part of Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, British Army (boy, does that ever sound British) to offer constructive criticism. Here's a sample. He writes...

"U.S. Army personnel, like their colleagues in the other U.S. Services, had a strong sense of moral authority. They fervently believed in the mission’s underlying purpose, the delivery of democracy to Iraq, whereas other nations’ forces tended to be more ambivalent about why they were there. This was at once a strength and hindrance to progress. It bolstered U.S. will to continue in the face of setbacks. But it also encouraged the erroneous assumption that given the justness of the cause, actions that occurred in its name would be understood and accepted by the population, even if mistakes and civilian fatalities occurred in the implementation."

Emphasis added. My mind immediately flashed back to yesterday's post.

This sense of moral righteousness combined with an emotivity that was rarely far from the surface, and in extremis manifested as deep indignation or outrage that could serve to distort collective military judgement. The most striking example during this period occurred in April 2004 when insurgents captured and mutilated 4 U.S. contractors in Fallujah. In classic insurgency doctrine, this act was almost certainly a come-on, designed to invoke a disproportionate response, thereby further polarising the situation and driving a wedge between the domestic population and the Coalition forces. It succeeded. The precise chain of events leading to the committal of U.S. and Iraqi security forces, or reasons for the subsequent failure to clear what had become a terrorist stronghold, lie well beyond the classification of this paper. However, the essential point is that regardless of who gave the order to clear Fallujah of insurgents, even those U.S. commanders and staff who generally took the broader view of the campaign were so deeply affronted on this occasion that they became set on the total destruction of the enemy. Under emotional duress even the most broad-minded and pragmatic reverted to type: kinetic.

As is usually the case, I very much doubt that this essay will be read and digested by the people most in need grasping what it says, but for the record it will remain yet another of the many signals being disregarded by a public and its leadership who persist in what one writer called "magical thinking."

1 comment:

M. Simon said...

In warfare the moral dimension is the most critical to victory.

Given that soldiers do not give up their culture once they don a uniform, I'm optimistic.

Wars against insurgents are hard. They do not surrender. They fade away.

It is a long hard slog. Typically 10 to 20 years.

What insurgencies fear most is self government. So our strategy is right. The question now is will.

The will most important is the home front. The soldiers can take it. Can we?

I'm reminded of a fellow (in the North) during the War of Northern Agression when asked about the slaughter and didn't he wish to come home he replied - to the efect that the Army was willing to fight if the Nation was.