Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Future of American Warfighting: Lessons of the Contemporary Battlefield

Documentary filmmaker Carl Colby and David Johnson of Act 4 Entertainment present this collaboration between the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College and Carnegie Council.

This panel will explore the rapid evolution of transformative military technologies that are now appearing on the world’s battlefields and are redefining warfighting strategies and tactics. The panelists will pay particular attention to the role of autonomous and semi-autonomous platforms—unmanned arial vehicles or drones, remotely piloted aircraft, robotics—in tomorrow’s conflicts.

How will these technologies change the “on-the-ground” experience for combatants? How will it change for decision-makers? And how can these emerging warfighting technologies be deployed to substantially reduce the loss of life, both of service members and civilians?

Ben FitzGerald is senior fellow and program director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security.

Colonel Patrick J. Mahaney, Jr., U.S. Army, is a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He most recently commanded the Asymmetric Warfare Group based at Fort Meade, Maryland, where he was responsible for global support in countering asymmetric and irregular threats.

Noah Shachtman is executive editor of The Daily Beast and nonresident fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the foreign policy program at Brookings Institution.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Nam

I knew I had something I’d forgotten rolling around the back of my head and James Birdles’ Historiography of The Iraq War just reminded me what it was. A nod should also go to Don @ Carrying the Gun for his post Death Prose. If only I had a spare £250 quid laying around. image01 image02 image03 image04

THE NAM, 1997

by Fiona Banner

It has been described as unreadable

The Nam is a 1000 page all text flick book. It is a compilation of total descriptions of well known Vietnam films, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now!, Born on the Fourth of July, Hamburger Hill and Platoon. The films apparently never begin or end, but are described in their entirety, spliced together to make a gutting 11 hour supermovie.

Banner describes the films as if she is there, not influencing the plot, but always on set running alongside the action. The Nam is a constantly present, seamless account of the films. You might say that this book is the ultimate unedited text, a world in which nothing is prioritised, but everything. As you begin to know, you only see what you see.

‘…..read at a stretch, Banner’s simple, clear prose is hypnotic, and as exhausting as sitting through a Vietnam all-nighter. The text cascades in front of our eyes, melding and merging, and we read Banner’s commentary as she’s watching…’ Adrian Searle, Visual Arts, The Guardian, 22 April 1997.

Published in April 1997 by Frith Street Books and The Vanity Press with assistance from the Arts Council of England. The Nam is a 1000 page, 280,000 word hardback. Available from Frith Street Gallery, London at £250.00 and all leading bookshops in the UK and abroad.

Source: http://ift.tt/1kPb4fp

Monday, 27 January 2014

Military Orientalism

Arguing Afghanistan: Rory Stewart and Military Orientalism

As readers might’ve guessed, opponents of the campaign in Afghanistan are a nuisance of mine, from anti-war protestors who think because the country is hot and Muslim it must be like Iraq to more serious critics like Adam Holloway. The problem is not their position, which is valid, but the disingenuous arguments they use to support it. By misdescribing the conflict, they’re able to legitimise their position on withdrawal/drawdown and gather support from the public by appealing to instincts like defeatism and isolationism. This is annoying to those who try to see the conflict objectively, standing apart from both supporters and opponents.

One of the most effective advocates for military drawdown is Rory Stewart, who has challenged a lot of the assumptions underlying current policy in Afghanistan. He argues persuasively about the many problems we face, from corruption in the country to the political and economic challenges in building a viable state. There are serious flaws in Stewart’s critique, however, which makes the unquestioning faith some place in him worrying. He not only misdescribes the conflict but also views it through an orientalist perspective, particularly through an orientalist interpretation of Lawrence of Arabia. The way in which Stewart misdescribes the conflict has been touched on here, and others have also pointed out the false assumptions and impracticalities behind his recommendations for drawdown. I want to look at the way he creates a false distinction between himself and his opponents by imitating his hero T. E. Lawrence, even though both sides are guilty of military Orientalism. This should make us look more critically at his contribution to the debate about Afghanistan.

The theme which runs through all Stewart’s work is that our involvement in Central Asia and the Middle East is undermined because it is influenced by pseudo-intellectuals who want to impose abstract, doctrinal ideas on those regions. He criticizes the counterinsurgency doctrine on which our strategy in Afghanistan is based as too abstract to be a serious policy. ‘An incredibly impressive and elaborate intellectual edifice has been created by proponents of involvement in Afghanistan’, he notes dismissively. It minimises the differences between cultures, exaggerates our fears and aggrandises our ambitions. President Obama and policymakers generally are bamboozled by the beauty of counterinsurgency doctrine as interpreted by people like John Nagl and General Petraeus. ‘The path is broad enough to include Scandinavian humanitarians and American special forces; general enough to be applied to Botswana as easily as to Afghanistan; sinuous and sophisticated enough to draw in policymakers; suggestive enough of crude moral imperatives to attract the Daily Mail; and almost too abstract to be defined or refuted.’ But Stewart is sceptical because, unlike these people, he ‘knows’ the East. ‘Ten years in the Islamic world and in other places that had recently emerged from conflict had left me very suspicious of theories produced in seminars in Western capitals’, he wrote in Occupational Hazards. The case for our involvement in Afghanistan is ‘so buoyed by illusions, caulked in ambiguous language and encrusted with moral claims, analogies and political theories’, however, that it is almost futile to show how out-of-touch it is.

Stewart makes some legitimate points here. There are counterinsurgency experts who take doctrine and turn it into an ideology, unquestionable in its precepts and teaching. It contrasts with others like Andrew Exum and David Kilcullen, who accommodate doubt in their writing and acknowledge they could be wrong. But the overarching criticism is wide-of-the-mark because the latest counterinsurgency doctrine emphasises the importance of understanding ‘the East’ and its culture, which is partly the problem with it. ‘The “cultural turn” should be applauded for encouraging military actors to distance themselves from their own norms to imagine that of others’, writes Patrick Porter in Military Orientalism. If ‘knowing the enemy’ is to be a serious endeavour, however, then ‘there is much more to it than assuming behaviour is necessarily a linear continuum from pre-existing cultural systems.’ One can argue that Stewart sets-up the distinction between ‘abstract, doctrinal intellectuals’ and himself because he is trying to emulate T. E. Lawrence. The narrative which Lawrence spun after the First World War was that the Middle East was ruined because policymakers failed to listen to him, who ‘knew’ the region and what was good for it. It was a narrative that is heavily orientalist, making assumptions about ‘the East’ and its culture’s incompatibility with Western influence, and it informed Stewart’s recent documentary about Lawrence and is a theme throughout his work. But through aping the military Orientalism of T. E. Lawrence, Stewart makes the same fallacies as those he sets-up as his opponents, clinging to fixed ideas about culture in Afghanistan and ‘the East’ to support his arguments. ‘War is a power struggle, a deadly reactive dance,’ as Porter continues, ‘and culture is subject to its volatile nature.’

This post is not meant as a comprehensive study of Orientalism in Rory Stewart’s work or the presence of the Lawrence ‘myth’ in it, but is instead highlighting a new perspective with which to view his work more critically when it comes to arguing about Afghanistan.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The War As We Saw It

August 19, 2007

NYT Op-Ed Contributors

The War as We Saw It



VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counter-insurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and non-commissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.

The Moral Divide (More on the Iran Meeting)

From Tyler Boudreaus Journal: Psychatrix

Saturday, February 9, 2008 at 3:58PM

I recently had an interesting conversation.

It all started in a room filled with people who were united in their deep concern for the welfare of returning veterans. Many people spoke. Veterans spoke. Stories were told. Hearts were poured out.

But suddenly, amidst all this good will, a rift spread across the room. A difference of opinion emerged. How to best serve a returning veteran? It was not so easy a question as we might have guessed.

The cause of the rift?


Imagine that. Peace, as the catalyst of confrontation.

But it was.

A crowd of very decent, well-meaning people sat in the middle and said, “We want to care for our veterans. We also want to talk about peace.”

Battle lines were hastily drawn. On one side, were three men affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs. On the other side, the veterans.

“Oh no, no,” the VA men said. “You cannot speak of peace. If you ever want to build rapport with veterans, you cannot utter a word about peace!” They went on to explain that veterans view peace-activists as the enemy. “If they so much as hear that word—peace—they will turn tail and run the other way. And you’ll have lost them forever.”

These were the experts. They knew veterans. They carried that weight with them.

Then the veterans in the room responded. They said, “Um, yes but…we’re not all opposed to talking about peace. In fact, given our troubles with war, we rather enjoy the discussion.”

Now there is truth, of course, in the suggestion that many veterans do feel a certain hostility from the peace movement—even those veterans who have been disquieted by their own experiences in war. But my feeling, as an Iraq War veteran, is that they tend to be threatened mostly by the rhetoric that is leveled directly against the actions they took in war. Veterans are not inherently opposed to peaceful days, and most, I think would be perfectly receptive to a discussion of diplomacy vs. military action in future situations.

And so the debate went back and forth, the moral divide opened, and the well-meaning people in the middle began to slip down into it. They looked to the left at the few passionate veterans in the room, and then they looked to the right at the men from the VA who said they’d worked with and heard the stories from thousands of veterans.

“Trust us,” they said. “We know what we’re talking about.”

You could see the struggle ensue before your eyes. You could feel it.

In the end, the well-meaning people in the middle grabbed hold of a rope called neutrality.

And there they hung, murmuring, “We do not want to upset our veterans, so we will not talk about peace. We will not talk about politics. We will not talk about stopping the war in Iraq. We will not talk about preventing a war in Iran. We will not talk about anything.”

The cause for war had won.

The interesting conversation came after all this.

I was disturbed by what I’d heard those VA men say. But I was not entirely surprised. One man was a psychiatrist. He explained the psychological dimensions of PTSD. Another was a chaplain. He explained the spiritual dimensions of PTSD. But by virtue of their jobs and the hands that fed them, they could not delve too deeply into the moral questions of policy.

This is where I became most incensed.

“Because war with Iran is not yet a policy,” I said to my friend who was also at the meeting. “There are no troops on the ground to support or not to support. There are no units in contact. There is no mission to believe in or to doubt. This is a great burden off our shoulders and clears the table for the possibility of diplomacy. This is the time to talk about it. This is the time to talk about non-violence, before the violence begins, before the troops are sent, and before we have another polarizing war which we cannot speak of critically without offending somebody.”

What was so extraordinary about this particular episode was that the painstaking neutrality embraced by all these well-meaning people to spare the feelings of the veterans had effectively trumped their own instincts to speak for peace. They were silenced. They silenced themselves, not only about the present war, but about future ones as well.

My friend and I agreed, we’d witnessed a surprising phenomenon. And we realized that the effort to prevent future wars might be effectively impeded through its manipulation.

If, for example, Iran was pressed upon the American people not as a war of its own, but merely as an extension of the same war on terror already taking place in Iraq, then so much the more difficult it would be to oppose for those people desperately wishing to show support for the troops.

I am grateful that the members of the American Legion Post 271 in Hadley have not allowed this rationale to prevent them from graciously inviting Congressman Neal and his constituents into their hall to discuss the situation in Iran.

It was a noble thing to do, and I’m pleased that it was veterans who did it.

This is a complex issue with many perspectives to consider, all of which I have not captured in this essay. The exchanges I’ve just described are my own impressions alone. They are not intended to be an indictment. What is most important to keep in mind is not the particular personalities involved here or the particular groups represented, but the phenomenon itself.

That’s the ball to keep one’s eye on.

It is the danger of dialogue being squelched among people who desire peace, but who also feel obligated to support the troops at any cost including silence. That moral dilemma will surely be exploited by those who desire war.

I look forward to participating in and listening to the exchange of ideas on February 20th.

This indeed is a great opportunity for our community. It is what representative democracy is all about.

As for those who remain silently dangling from the rope of neutrality, and those who cannot find space in their hearts for peace, I must sadly let them go and make my own strongest bond with the future.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

What’s In A Hug?

Massachusetts Review

The Morally Injured

Tyler Boudreau

On a summer evening in 2004, I participated in the search of an

isolated farmhouse in Yousifiyah, a small town along the Euphrates

River in the northern Babil province of Iraq. I was an infantry captain

in the Marine Corps. We staged our trucks out of sight from the house

until darkness fell. Then we moved in with terrible speed, our engines

roaring, our hearts racing, and our hands tight on loaded weapons. We

felt some fear during these missions, I suppose, but that emotion always

seemed peripheral or almost disingenuous. Our heavy breaths rose from

something else. I don’t think “thrill” would be too strong a word. There

was something about these raids that served neither cause nor country,

just our own lust for excitement.

Missions, however, are not initiated for the thrill (not explicitly anyway),

but in response to what is known as “actionable intelligence,” information

gathered on the ground through various sources and agents, processed

through intelligence staffs, handed up and down the chain of command,

until it becomes the basis of an operation. In this case, the specific farmhouse

was not suspected but was located in the general vicinity of another

house that was, and so was targeted for good measure. The search itself

was conducted flawlessly: I watched from my vehicle as the marines

knocked on the front door. A man answered and, through an interpreter,

they politely explained that we needed to search the premises for weapons

and bomb-making materials. They asked him if he’d mind stepping outside

with his wife and children while we looked around. The man was

cooperative and amiable. There was no shouting or pushing. The marines

wore friendly smiles. They stepped gently through the house and were

careful to replace anything they moved. Outside, other marines chatted

playfully with the kids and gave them pieces of candy. When the search was

complete and nothing was found, we thanked the man and apologized for

the inconvenience. It was over. Not a shot was fired, not a drop of blood or

a tear was shed, and yet, as we withdrew from that farmhouse and roared

off into the night, I felt something inside me begin to hurt.

What can I call that hurt?

Since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s been a lot of talk

about the “invisible wounds” of war. I’ve talked a lot about them myself.

Thousands of veterans have come home in a state of near mental collapse,

harried by their memories of the battlefield. Some of those veterans have

ended up addicted to drugs or alcohol, or in jail, or homeless. Others have

lost their jobs, their families, or their savings. Many of them, unable to face

their nightmares any longer, have resorted desperately to suicide. And when

the veterans, and the families and friends, and the communities all cried

out, “What do we call this? What do we call this thing that has torn our

young soldiers apart?” the resounding answer was post-traumatic stress.

That was the lesson we learned from the Vietnam War.

To nearly anyone who’d care enough to listen — counselors, doctors,

ministers, peace activists, folks in the community — I would bellow again

and again, “I’m hurting!” And they were all sympathetic, they really were,

and they’d assure me, nearly every one of them, that I was experiencing

this thing called post-traumatic stress. (It seems to be an affliction freshly

discovered after every war.) Of course, I’d heard of it before. When I was

a rifle company commander, at least a dozen of my marines were medically

discharged after we came home from Iraq for PTSD. A dozen more

were punitively discharged for having suddenly picked up a drug habit

in the wake of war. There was talk that they were trying to get out of

our upcoming deployment, scheduled nine months after we got home.

But I felt this drug epidemic wasn’t so much about escaping the future

deployment as much as it was about escaping the past one. Drugs probably

seemed like the most effective means to get their heads out of Iraq.

So yes, by the time I left the military, I’d already heard plenty about the

debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress. But was that what was going

on for me? Could I really call my farmhouse episode traumatic? I think

that would be a difficult argument to make.

And what about all those times when the searches were not so benign?

What about the orders I gave, from time to time, to use a heavy hand?

What about the patrols I dispatched that returned to base with young

marines in body bags? What about the approval I issued to snipers over

the radio one night to shoot a man armed only with a shovel? (He was

suspected of digging a hole for a roadside bomb.) Could any of these

scenarios be called traumatic for me? In each case, there was violence felt

and inflicted by somebody, absolutely, but my role was indirect; I was too

far off to even hear the shot that felled that man with a shovel. Would

any clinician in good conscience diagnose me with PTSD for those experiences

alone? I was in Camp Fallujah in 2004 when the news of Abu Ghraib broke, just a few miles down the road from the infamous facility.

Several of us gathered around to examine the glossy pictorial of the tortured

Iraqi prisoners. The images were distressing, certainly, but I doubt

I’d pick up any disability benefits for having seen them. And yet, for all

these things, including the pictures, I felt that hurt again.

After resigning my commission in 2005, I came home to Massachusetts

and was diagnosed with PTSD by the Department of Veterans Affairs

(VA). I’d been shot at and shelled enough to explain away my very turbulent

emotions. I accepted the diagnosis from the VA and from everyone

else, and I’m sure that my condition was in part that, but inwardly I

knew that the greatest pain I felt was not linked to those moments when

violence was being directed at me but when I was involved in inflicting

it on others. Post-traumatic stress just didn’t seem to fit. So what could I

call this pain? It felt a lot like guilt, so that’s what I started calling it, but

in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) under

PTSD there is no mention of guilt, except for “survivor’s guilt,”which

is about being alive while one’s comrades are dead, not about harming

others. There has been no official name for this type of guilt and that

has struck me since getting out of the military as a significant gap in the

discourse on war casualties.

The term “moral injury” has recently come afloat, and it applies to

exactly the kind of guilt I’m talking about. Though not everyone agrees

exactly on the definition, it’s a term being used more frequently now

across the medical community and among political activists, various faith

groups, and others. “Moral injury” is capturing attention in the media

and veterans’ organizations. Even the military has begun to recognize

moral injury as a category of wound that service members are facing.

Researchers from the VA describe “moral injury” as “involving an act

of transgression that creates dissonance and conflict because it violates

assumptions and beliefs about right and wrong and personal goodness.”

Generally speaking “moral injury” is meant to displace the more severe

sense of guilt, and to give space for the kinds of wounds we inflict on

ourselves that come inherently with the wounds we inflict upon others.

It resonates with the notion that killing hurts the killer, too, even in

self-defense or in the line of duty and that no justification, legal, political,

religious, or otherwise, can heal those wounds. The problem with the

word “guilt” is that it seems to load a disproportionate burden on the

shoulders of individual veterans. A man might wring his hands and say

in anguish, “I killed!” But it’s not as though he thought it up and did it

on his own. There were other factors and other agents involved. There

were greater circumstances to consider. Even war crimes can’t be owned

exclusively by the perpetrators. Moral injury is about the damage done

to our moral fiber when transgressions occur by our hands, through our

orders, or with our connivance. When we accept these transgressions,

however pragmatically (for survival, for instance), we sacrifice a piece of

our moral integrity. That’s what moral injury is all about.

Moral injury does not replace post-traumatic stress. It works alongside

it. An event could be both traumatic and morally injurious, or it could be

only one without the other. VA researchers have found that the two manifest

themselves in similar ways. For example, both have been connected to

symptoms of “re-experiencing” and “avoidance” while generally “hyperarousal”

is associated only with PTSD and not moral injury. What we’ll

probably discover in the future is that most symptomatic veterans are

suffering from both PTSD and moral injury. So far, roughly two million

Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. A now well-known

RAND study conducted in 2008 suggested that about 20 percent of

them will have symptoms of PTSD. It’s very likely those figures reflect

a lot of moral injuries as well; however, at the time of the study scarcely

anyone had heard the term.

The problem for now is that while “moral injury” is gaining traction

in the public discourse, it is still viewed by the VA and the military as a

medical issue and those who suffer from it as “patients.” Moreover, the

concept of moral injury is in its nascent stages, remains widely unfamiliar,

and is, therefore, not yet available as a formal diagnosis or a commonly

understood condition for people to rally around. So when veterans or

soldiers feel something hurt inside themselves, there is still only one brand

to choose — PTSD. That’s not good. It’s not always accurate. And it renders

soldiers automatically into mental patients instead of wounded souls.

Since post-traumatic stress has been, so to speak, the only game in town,

it has served as something of a one-size-fits-all response to any mention

of grief by a veteran. This default medicalization of a veteran’s moral angst

has created an ongoing dilemma for the mental health community. They

are confronted all the time with veterans who are struggling, searching,

digging, aching to know whether their personal actions and their wars

were just or unjust.

“What do I say to that?” one provider will ask.

“I just try to honor their experience without judgement,” another will

respond. These are typical comments I’ve heard time and again at the many

conferences, events, and gatherings I’ve attended over the past five years

related to combat stress.

While these veterans’ questions undoubtedly relate to their mental

health, the answers do not fall squarely within the providers’ field of

expertise or within any treatment for PTSD. Furthermore, a clinician’s

suppression of subjectivity while attempting to navigate such morally

treacherous terrain is neither possible nor desirable. As a veteran, I really

can’t imagine a more disheartening scenario than being stuck in a room

with a person listening with stony detachment as I grapple exasperatedly

with the moral implications of my actions in war. I’d rather say nothing

at all. And the consensus I’ve gathered from the clinicians I’ve met (and

I’ve met quite a few) is that they’d rather stick with therapy and leave the

larger moral questions to someone else. But who? If PTSD is the only

diagnosis available for these invisible wounds of war, then who can we

turn to for help, if not the doctors?

PTSD as a diagnosis has a tendency to depoliticize a veteran’s disquietude

and turn it into a mental disorder. What’s most useful about the

term “moral injury” is that it takes the problem out of the hands of the

mental health profession and the military and attempts to place it where

it belongs — in society, in the community, and in the family — precisely

where moral questions should be posed and wrangled with. It transforms

“patients” back into citizens, and “diagnoses” into dialogue. At this stage

of American history, it’s hard to imagine just what that might look like,

but, all the same, it’s an attempt that must be made. It’s far too easy for

people at home, particularly those not directly affected by war (and right

now that’s about 98 percent of the population) to shed a disingenuous

tear for the veterans, donate a few bucks, and whisk them off to the

closest shrink . . . out of sight and out of mind. As long as the invisible

wounds of war are medical, there is no incentive in the community or

in the household to engage them. After a while the veterans themselves

become invisible.

So, in practical terms, what does a moral injury look like? The question,

while succinct, has a broad and rather ambiguous answer. The word “war”

itself contributes to the ambiguity, particularly today, because neither efforts

in Iraq or Afghanistan are truly wars in the conventional sense. Officially,

they’re characterized as counterinsurgency operations but it would be

most accurate to call them occupations. Of course these days, “occupation”

is not a label favored in political circles; however, it does give a more precise

picture of just what today’s combat tour is all about. That’s important if we

want to understand the nature of the mental and emotional crises that

follow in its wake. It’s easy to imagine the famous battles of the past in the

trenches, and the beaches, and the mountains, and the jungles, all of them

covered with corpses and steeped in blood. The American consciousness

has been imbued with these images through every mode of popular culture.

But occupations look much different.

In Iraq, with the exceptions of the invasion itself, the assault on Fallujah,

and a few other small-scale battles, the most typical engagements between

Americans and Iraqi insurgents, seen day-to-day, have been minor skirmishes

that would hardly register in the most detailed historical accounts.

The amount of violence witnessed by the average soldier deployed to

Iraq or Afghanistan is quite low relative to that experienced in past wars.

But again, this is a poor comparison because, really, Iraq isn’t a war—not

anymore. At any rate, the fact remains that the US presence in Iraq has

been far more perilous for Iraqis than it has for Americans. Even the most

conservative statistics demonstrate that clearly.

However, mentioning the several hundred thousand Iraqi people

killed since the US invasion in 2003, or the two and a half million displaced,

or the millions more without money or medical care, appears to

be taboo in the American media, the government, and in social circles.

Nobody wants to talk about the Iraqis. It’s always about the troops. But

“moral injury” by definition includes the memories of those who have

been harmed. Without the Iraqi people, the troops can have no moral injuries

to speak of. And the only way Americans can fathom the meaning

of this term, “moral injury,” is to acknowledge the humanity of the Iraqis.

The two ideas are inseparable. What I’ve found most difficult for people

to grasp (and for a while this was hard for me, too) is the full range of

“moral injuries” sustained in Iraq; because it’s not always about the killing.

This is where the precision of the word “occupation” is so helpful,

because one has to imagine just what the troops are involved in to get an

accurate sense of their reactions to it.

I once watched an old video of some Vietnam veterans giving testimony

of war crimes that they’d either witnessed or participated in. What

was most stunning about these testimonies, besides the gruesome events

that they described, was the extraordinary stoicism with which they described

them. Later, I listened to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan talk

about their roles in what they called “atrocities.” The strange thing was

that hardly any of their stories were particularly atrocious by the typical

wartime standards. And yet these men cried. They wept and wept as they

testified to deeds such as striking a man, or ransacking a house, or terrorizing

families, or maybe even shooting a civilian. They described the

daily grind of driving in and out of towns, patrolling through the streets,

searching houses, detaining suspected insurgents, questioning locals, and

all the while trying to stay alive. These were sad stories, to be sure, but

somehow disproportionate to the word “atrocity” and to the intense

emotions displayed by the tellers, particularly in contrast to those Vietnam

testimonies that were, by any standard, horrendous. I thought maybe my

contemporaries were being a little melodramatic.

Then last year, I discovered some of that same melodrama lurking in

myself. I was watching a documentary about Iraq with a friend of mine

(not a veteran). Midway through the piece, a short video clip was shown of

two soldiers searching an Iraqi home. The footage was uneventful, boring

even, capturing nothing but a bit of walking around and some chitchat

between the Americans and the family. Then one of the soldiers, clad in

body armor, sunglasses, and an automatic rifle, feeling in an amorous mood

I suppose, leaned toward a young Iraqi man in the living room and gave

him a hug. The Iraqi submitted with limp arms and an unenthusiastic

smile. The soldier, maybe nineteen or twenty years old, laughed. The

other soldier laughed, too. And that was it. The footage ended.

I felt my face get hot with rage. I blurted something out in anger, something

profane, to match the profanity of what had just been presented in

this documentary without so much as a comment from the narrator.

“What?” my friend asked me. “What’s wrong? Where’s the harm in

a hug?”

“There is harm in a hug!” I shouted. “Can’t you see?”

But he didn’t see. He couldn’t grasp the magnitude of what had just

happened. And in explaining my reaction I felt almost obligated, morally

beholden, to express myself with fury. I wasn’t angry at my friend. I was

angry at how this type of atrocity could be shrouded in a guise of bonhomie.

And I couldn’t avoid that word, by the way — atrocity. So I used

my ire to make up for the apparent mildness of the scene.

The trouble is that no matter how that Iraqi man felt about the hug,

there’s nothing he could have done to stop it. He couldn’t say no to the

hug. And there was no one who could help him. Nobody at all could

stop that American soldier from hugging that Iraqi man — and you could

see in their faces, they both knew it. That’s what an occupation looks like.

And that’s the harm in a hug.

For all my years in the military, all my time training with guns, and

alongside artillery, and tanks, and aircraft, I never comprehended the full

force, the weight, of the United States military until I witnessed its massive

presence in Iraq as one body. Then I began to grasp the grave reality of

American foreign policy and the extent of what it means to be a superpower

on earth. It means nothing can stop us from going anywhere and

doing anything we want to do, whether bombing, or building, or shooting,

or hugging — anything. There may be limits, legal limits, political limits,

moral limits, but I know now that those limits will never be recognized

until after they’ve already been broken; then we’ll decide retrospectively

whether or not to honor them. When that Iraqi man was hugged by the

soldier, he felt, in that instant, the embrace of total American power. That

was the harm. That was the atrocity that I could only convey through

exaggerated emotion. And that was when I understood the melodrama of

my comrades who also used emotion to try to make the very same point.

Through these ostensibly mundane stories, we cried out to the world,

“Our moral fibers have been torn by what we were asked to do and by

what we agreed to do.”

Moral injury does not necessarily imply that the injuries are inflicted by

others, like when a soldier is ordered to perform a morally dubious task,

although the term does leave room for that. In some cases, we injure ourselves

through acts of commission or omission, through direct participation

or indirect approval. Back at that farmhouse in Yousifiyah, I remember

fighting an urge to go inside, just to look around. I had no tactical

reason to go in, but then I didn’t need much excuse; I was a captain, after

all. But, at the same time, I was reluctant. Somehow I knew that crossing

that threshold would increase my culpability in this occupation. If just

being present on a search, if feeling the thrill of it, was a moral affliction

upon my soul, then wandering into this home, uninvited, unnecessarily,

and purely out of curiosity, would surely be a larger wound to bear. So I

stayed outside. I think at that point in the deployment I’d already begun

to sense what I was doing to myself and what I was quietly standing by

allowing my country to do to others.

Moral injury is a term that loosens the noose a bit around the necks of

veterans who are harangued by enormous personal guilt and distributes

the responsibility for their actions (justified or not) more evenly among

the chain of command, the government, and maybe even the American

people. Simultaneously, moral injury reaches out to those who may be too

quick to exculpate themselves. It broadens the burden of responsibility

for acts that may not be criminal by the strict letter of the law but that

are clearly hurtful to other people and, therefore, morally questionable.

It implicates all participants of war, whether commanding, supporting,

or just standing idly by, and it gives a name for the hurt that comes from

doing so. It pulls moral transgressions that are not necessarily traumatic

out of the mental health profession and into society, into the living room,

and makes these notorious “invisible wounds” all of our problems, not

just the problems of the VA.

Moral injuries are not about benefits or blame. They’re not about treatment

or medications. They’re not about disability. They are about our

society and our moral values. A moral injury is not inherently the same

thing as a war crime, though clearly the two ideas overlap. But when we

talk about war crimes, we seek justice; when we talk about moral injuries,

we seek a deeper understanding of our humanity. We seek healing, in

some spiritual sense.

The goal for now is to get the idea of “moral injury” out there, get it

heard, get it recognized universally as a wound that must be healed communally,

not medically. And the first step is understanding what a moral

injury looks like in an occupation environment. No doubt, it will sound

strange to those accustomed to the more traditional war stories, because

occupations look so much different. There aren’t going to be staggering

American casualty statistics. There won’t be massive armies clashing

on the fields of battle. There aren’t going to be blood-speckled bodies

stacked up around fighting holes or littered in the trenches. There won’t

be any glorious combat actions and medals of honor to go with them. It’s

not going to be material for thrilling stories that yank you to the edge of

your seat. In an occupation, moral injury just isn’t going to look like that.

It’s going to be dull. It’s going to be a man with a shovel or a farmhouse


It’s going to be a hug.

Source: http://www.tylerboudreau.com/articles/

Saturday, 14 September 2013

A Failure in Generalship

By Lt. Col. Paul Yingling

Armed Forces Journal

May 2007

For the second time in a generation, the United States faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of an insurgency. In April 1975, the U.S. fled the Republic of Vietnam, abandoning our allies to their fate at the hands of North Vietnamese communists. In 2007, Iraq’s grave and deteriorating condition offers diminishing hope for an American victory and portends risk of an even wider and more destructive regional war.

These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America’s general officer corps. America’s generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America’s generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress.

The Responsibilities of Generalship

Armies do not fight wars; nations fight wars. War is not a military activity conducted by soldiers, but rather a social activity that involves entire nations. Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz noted that passion, probability and policy each play their role in war. Any understanding of war that ignores one of these elements is fundamentally flawed.

The passion of the people is necessary to endure the sacrifices inherent in war. Regardless of the system of government, the people supply the blood and treasure required to prosecute war. The statesman must stir these passions to a level commensurate with the popular sacrifices required. When the ends of policy are small, the statesman can prosecute a conflict without asking the public for great sacrifice. Global conflicts such as World War II require the full mobilization of entire societies to provide the men and materiel necessary for the successful prosecution of war. The greatest error the statesman can make is to commit his nation to a great conflict without mobilizing popular passions to a level commensurate with the stakes of the conflict.

Popular passions are necessary for the successful prosecution of war, but cannot be sufficient. To prevail, generals must provide policymakers and the public with a correct estimation of strategic probabilities. The general is responsible for estimating the likelihood of success in applying force to achieve the aims of policy. The general describes both the means necessary for the successful prosecution of war and the ways in which the nation will employ those means. If the policymaker desires ends for which the means he provides are insufficient, the general is responsible for advising the statesman of this incongruence. The statesman must then scale back the ends of policy or mobilize popular passions to provide greater means. If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means, he shares culpability for the results.

However much it is influenced by passion and probability, war is ultimately an instrument of policy and its conduct is the responsibility of policymakers. War is a social activity undertaken on behalf of the nation; Augustine counsels us that the only purpose of war is to achieve a better peace. The choice of making war to achieve a better peace is inherently a value judgement in which the statesman must decide those interests and beliefs worth killing and dying for. The military man is no better qualified than the common citizen to make such judgments. He must therefore confine his input to his area of expertise — the estimation of strategic probabilities.

The correct estimation of strategic possibilities can be further subdivided into the preparation for war and the conduct of war. Preparation for war consists in the raising, arming, equipping and training of forces. The conduct of war consists of both planning for the use of those forces and directing those forces in operations.

To prepare forces for war, the general must visualize the conditions of future combat. To raise military forces properly, the general must visualize the quality and quantity of forces needed in the next war. To arm and equip military forces properly, the general must visualize the materiel requirements of future engagements. To train military forces properly, the general must visualize the human demands on future battlefields, and replicate those conditions in peacetime exercises. Of course, not even the most skilled general can visualize precisely how future wars will be fought. According to British military historian and soldier Sir Michael Howard, “In structuring and preparing an army for war, you can be clear that you will not get it precisely right, but the important thing is not to be too far wrong, so that you can put it right quickly.”

The most tragic error a general can make is to assume without much reflection that wars of the future will look much like wars of the past. Following World War I, French generals committed this error, assuming that the next war would involve static battles dominated by firepower and fixed fortifications. Throughout the interwar years, French generals raised, equipped, armed and trained the French military to fight the last war. In stark contrast, German generals spent the interwar years attempting to break the stalemate created by firepower and fortifications. They developed a new form of war — the blitzkrieg — that integrated mobility, firepower and decentralized tactics. The German Army did not get this new form of warfare precisely right. After the 1939 conquest of Poland, the German Army undertook a critical self-examination of its operations. However, German generals did not get it too far wrong either, and in less than a year had adapted their tactics for the invasion of France.

After visualizing the conditions of future combat, the general is responsible for explaining to civilian policymakers the demands of future combat and the risks entailed in failing to meet those demands. Civilian policymakers have neither the expertise nor the inclination to think deeply about strategic probabilities in the distant future. Policymakers, especially elected representatives, face powerful incentives to focus on near-term challenges that are of immediate concern to the public. Generating military capability is the labor of decades. If the general waits until the public and its elected representatives are immediately concerned with national security threats before finding his voice, he has waited too long. The general who speaks too loudly of preparing for war while the nation is at peace places at risk his position and status. However, the general who speaks too softly places at risk the security of his country.

Failing to visualize future battlefields represents a lapse in professional competence, but seeing those fields clearly and saying nothing is an even more serious lapse in professional character. Moral courage is often inversely proportional to popularity and this observation in nowhere more true than in the profession of arms. The history of military innovation is littered with the truncated careers of reformers who saw gathering threats clearly and advocated change boldly. A military professional must possess both the physical courage to face the hazards of battle and the moral courage to withstand the barbs of public scorn. On and off the battlefield, courage is the first characteristic of generalship.

Failures of Generalship in Vietnam

America’s defeat in Vietnam is the most egregious failure in the history of American arms. America’s general officer corps refused to prepare the Army to fight unconventional wars, despite ample indications that such preparations were in order. Having failed to prepare for such wars, America’s generals sent our forces into battle without a coherent plan for victory. Unprepared for war and lacking a coherent strategy, America lost the war and the lives of more than 58,000 service members.

Following World War II, there were ample indicators that America’s enemies would turn to insurgency to negate our advantages in firepower and mobility. The French experiences in Indochina and Algeria offered object lessons to Western armies facing unconventional foes. These lessons were not lost on the more astute members of America’s political class. In 1961, President Kennedy warned of “another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origin — war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat, by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by evading and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him.” In response to these threats, Kennedy undertook a comprehensive program to prepare America’s armed forces for counterinsurgency.

Despite the experience of their allies and the urging of their president, America’s generals failed to prepare their forces for counterinsurgency. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Decker assured his young president, “Any good soldier can handle guerrillas.” Despite Kennedy’s guidance to the contrary, the Army viewed the conflict in Vietnam in conventional terms. As late as 1964, Gen. Earle Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated flatly that “the essence of the problem in Vietnam is military.” While the Army made minor organizational adjustments at the urging of the president, the generals clung to what Andrew Krepinevich has called “the Army concept,” a vision of warfare focused on the destruction of the enemy’s forces.

Having failed to visualize accurately the conditions of combat in Vietnam, America’s generals prosecuted the war in conventional terms. The U.S. military embarked on a graduated attrition strategy intended to compel North Vietnam to accept a negotiated peace. The U.S. undertook modest efforts at innovation in Vietnam. Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS), spearheaded by the State Department’s “Blowtorch” Bob Kromer, was a serious effort to address the political and economic causes of the insurgency. The Marine Corps’ Combined Action Program (CAP) was an innovative approach to population security. However, these efforts are best described as too little, too late. Innovations such as CORDS and CAP never received the resources necessary to make a large-scale difference. The U.S. military grudgingly accepted these innovations late in the war, after the American public’s commitment to the conflict began to wane.

America’s generals not only failed to develop a strategy for victory in Vietnam, but also remained largely silent while the strategy developed by civilian politicians led to defeat. As H.R. McMaster noted in “Dereliction of Duty,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff were divided by service parochialism and failed to develop a unified and coherent recommendation to the president for prosecuting the war to a successful conclusion. Army Chief of Staff Harold K. Johnson estimated in 1965 that victory would require as many as 700,000 troops for up to five years. Commandant of the Marine Corps Wallace Greene made a similar estimate on troop levels. As President Johnson incrementally escalated the war, neither man made his views known to the president or Congress. President Johnson made a concerted effort to conceal the costs and consequences of Vietnam from the public, but such duplicity required the passive consent of America’s generals.

Having participated in the deception of the American people during the war, the Army chose after the war to deceive itself. In “Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife,” John Nagl argued that instead of learning from defeat, the Army after Vietnam focused its energies on the kind of wars it knew how to win — high-technology conventional wars. An essential contribution to this strategy of denial was the publication of “On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War,” by Col. Harry Summers. Summers, a faculty member of the U.S. Army War College, argued that the Army had erred by not focusing enough on conventional warfare in Vietnam, a lesson the Army was happy to hear. Despite having been recently defeated by an insurgency, the Army slashed training and resources devoted to counterinsurgency.

By the early 1990s, the Army’s focus on conventional war-fighting appeared to have been vindicated. During the 1980s, the U.S. military benefited from the largest peacetime military buildup in the nation’s history. High-technology equipment dramatically increased the mobility and lethality of our ground forces. The Army’s National Training Center honed the Army’s conventional war-fighting skills to a razor’s edge. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 signaled the demise of the Soviet Union and the futility of direct confrontation with the U.S. Despite the fact the U.S. supported insurgencies in Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Angola to hasten the Soviet Union’s demise, the U.S. military gave little thought to counterinsurgency throughout the 1990s. America’s generals assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like the wars of the past — state-on-state conflicts against conventional forces. America’s swift defeat of the Iraqi Army, the world’s fourth-largest, in 1991 seemed to confirm the wisdom of the U.S. military’s post-Vietnam reforms. But the military learned the wrong lessons from Operation Desert Storm. It continued to prepare for the last war, while its future enemies prepared for a new kind of war.

Failures of Generalship in Iraq

America’s generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq. First, throughout the 1990s our generals failed to envision the conditions of future combat and prepare their forces accordingly. Second, America’s generals failed to estimate correctly both the means and the ways necessary to achieve the aims of policy prior to beginning the war in Iraq. Finally, America’s generals did not provide Congress and the public with an accurate assessment of the conflict in Iraq.

Despite paying lip service to “transformation” throughout the 1990s, America’s armed forces failed to change in significant ways after the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In “The Sling and the Stone,” T.X. Hammes argues that the Defense Department’s transformation strategy focuses almost exclusively on high-technology conventional wars. The doctrine, organizations, equipment and training of the U.S. military confirm this observation. The armed forces fought the global war on terrorism for the first five years with a counterinsurgency doctrine last revised in the Reagan administration. Despite engaging in numerous stability operations throughout the 1990s, the armed forces did little to bolster their capabilities for civic reconstruction and security force development. Procurement priorities during the 1990s followed the Cold War model, with significant funding devoted to new fighter aircraft and artillery systems. The most commonly used tactical scenarios in both schools and training centers replicated high-intensity interstate conflict. At the dawn of the 21st century, the U.S. is fighting brutal, adaptive insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, while our armed forces have spent the preceding decade having done little to prepare for such conflicts.

Having spent a decade preparing to fight the wrong war, America’s generals then miscalculated both the means and ways necessary to succeed in Iraq. The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq’s population. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) estimated in its 1998 war plan that 380,000 troops would be necessary for an invasion of Iraq. Using operations in Bosnia and Kosovo as a model for predicting troop requirements, one Army study estimated a need for 470,000 troops. Alone among America’s generals, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki publicly stated that “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. Prior to the war, President Bush promised to give field commanders everything necessary for victory. Privately, many senior general officers both active and retired expressed serious misgivings about the insufficiency of forces for Iraq. These leaders would later express their concerns in tell-all books such as “Fiasco” and “Cobra II.” However, when the U.S. went to war in Iraq with less than half the strength required to win, these leaders did not make their objections public.

Given the lack of troop strength, not even the most brilliant general could have devised the ways necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. However, inept planning for postwar Iraq took the crisis caused by a lack of troops and quickly transformed it into a debacle. In 1997, the U.S. Central Command exercise “Desert Crossing” demonstrated that many postwar stabilization tasks would fall to the military. The other branches of the U.S. government lacked sufficient capability to do such work on the scale required in Iraq. Despite these results, CENTCOM accepted the assumption that the State Department would administer postwar Iraq. The military never explained to the president the magnitude of the challenges inherent in stabilizing postwar Iraq.

After failing to visualize the conditions of combat in Iraq, America’s generals failed to adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency theory prescribes providing continuous security to the population. However, for most of the war American forces in Iraq have been concentrated on large forward-operating bases, isolated from the Iraqi people and focused on capturing or killing insurgents. Counterinsurgency theory requires strengthening the capability of host-nation institutions to provide security and other essential services to the population. America’s generals treated efforts to create transition teams to develop local security forces and provincial reconstruction teams to improve essential services as afterthoughts, never providing the quantity or quality of personnel necessary for success.

After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America’s general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public. The Iraq Study Group concluded that “there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq.” The ISG noted that “on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.” Population security is the most important measure of effectiveness in counterinsurgency. For more than three years, America’s generals continued to insist that the U.S. was making progress in Iraq. However, for Iraqi civilians, each year from 2003 onward was more deadly than the one preceding it. For reasons that are not yet clear, America’s general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq’s government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq. Moreover, America’s generals have not explained clearly the larger strategic risks of committing so large a portion of the nation’s deployable land power to a single theater of operations.

The intellectual and moral failures common to America’s general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitute a crisis in American generalship. Any explanation that fixes culpability on individuals is insufficient. No one leader, civilian or military, caused failure in Vietnam or Iraq. Different military and civilian leaders in the two conflicts produced similar results. In both conflicts, the general officer corps designed to advise policymakers, prepare forces and conduct operations failed to perform its intended functions. To understand how the U.S. could face defeat at the hands of a weaker insurgent enemy for the second time in a generation, we must look at the structural influences that produce our general officer corps.

The Generals We Need

The most insightful examination of failed generalship comes from J.F.C. Fuller’s “Generalship: Its Diseases and Their Cure.” Fuller was a British major general who saw action in the first attempts at armored warfare in World War I. He found three common characteristics in great generals — courage, creative intelligence and physical fitness.

The need for intelligent, creative and courageous general officers is self-evident. An understanding of the larger aspects of war is essential to great generalship. However, a survey of Army three- and four-star generals shows that only 25 percent hold advanced degrees from civilian institutions in the social sciences or humanities. Counterinsurgency theory holds that proficiency in foreign languages is essential to success, yet only one in four of the Army’s senior generals speaks another language. While the physical courage of America’s generals is not in doubt, there is less certainty regarding their moral courage. In almost surreal language, professional military men blame their recent lack of candor on the intimidating management style of their civilian masters. Now that the public is immediately concerned with the crisis in Iraq, some of our generals are finding their voices. They may have waited too long.

Neither the executive branch nor the services themselves are likely to remedy the shortcomings in America’s general officer corps. Indeed, the tendency of the executive branch to seek out mild-mannered team players to serve as senior generals is part of the problem. The services themselves are equally to blame. The system that produces our generals does little to reward creativity and moral courage. Officers rise to flag rank by following remarkably similar career patterns. Senior generals, both active and retired, are the most important figures in determining an officer’s potential for flag rank. The views of subordinates and peers play no role in an officer’s advancement; to move up he must only please his superiors. In a system in which senior officers select for promotion those like themselves, there are powerful incentives for conformity. It is unreasonable to expect that an officer who spends 25 years conforming to institutional expectations will emerge as an innovator in his late forties.

If America desires creative intelligence and moral courage in its general officer corps, it must create a system that rewards these qualities. Congress can create such incentives by exercising its proper oversight function in three areas. First, Congress must change the system for selecting general officers. Second, oversight committees must apply increased scrutiny over generating the necessary means and pursuing appropriate ways for applying America’s military power. Third, the Senate must hold accountable through its confirmation powers those officers who fail to achieve the aims of policy at an acceptable cost in blood and treasure.

To improve the creative intelligence of our generals, Congress must change the officer promotion system in ways that reward adaptation and intellectual achievement. Congress should require the armed services to implement 360-degree evaluations for field-grade and flag officers. Junior officers and noncommissioned officers are often the first to adapt because they bear the brunt of failed tactics most directly. They are also less wed to organizational norms and less influenced by organizational taboos. Junior leaders have valuable insights regarding the effectiveness of their leaders, but the current promotion system excludes these judgments. Incorporating subordinate and peer reviews into promotion decisions for senior leaders would produce officers more willing to adapt to changing circumstances, and less likely to conform to outmoded practices.

Congress should also modify the officer promotion system in ways that reward intellectual achievement. The Senate should examine the education and professional writing of nominees for three- and four-star billets as part of the confirmation process. The Senate would never confirm to the Supreme Court a nominee who had neither been to law school nor written legal opinions. However, it routinely confirms four-star generals who possess neither graduate education in the social sciences or humanities nor the capability to speak a foreign language. Senior general officers must have a vision of what future conflicts will look like and what capabilities the U.S. requires to prevail in those conflicts. They must possess the capability to understand and interact with foreign cultures. A solid record of intellectual achievement and fluency in foreign languages are effective indicators of an officer’s potential for senior leadership.

To reward moral courage in our general officers, Congress must ask hard questions about the means and ways for war as part of its oversight responsibility. Some of the answers will be shocking, which is perhaps why Congress has not asked and the generals have not told. Congress must ask for a candid assessment of the money and manpower required over the next generation to prevail in the Long War. The money required to prevail may place fiscal constraints on popular domestic priorities. The quantity and quality of manpower required may call into question the viability of the all-volunteer military. Congress must re-examine the allocation of existing resources, and demand that procurement priorities reflect the most likely threats we will face. Congress must be equally rigorous in ensuring that the ways of war contribute to conflict termination consistent with the aims of national policy. If our operations produce more enemies than they defeat, no amount of force is sufficient to prevail. Current oversight efforts have proved inadequate, allowing the executive branch, the services and lobbyists to present information that is sometimes incomplete, inaccurate or self-serving. Exercising adequate oversight will require members of Congress to develop the expertise necessary to ask the right questions and display the courage to follow the truth wherever it leads them.

Finally, Congress must enhance accountability by exercising its little-used authority to confirm the retired rank of general officers. By law, Congress must confirm an officer who retires at three- or four-star rank. In the past this requirement has been pro forma in all but a few cases. A general who presides over a massive human rights scandal or a substantial deterioration in security ought to be retired at a lower rank than one who serves with distinction. A general who fails to provide Congress with an accurate and candid assessment of strategic probabilities ought to suffer the same penalty. As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war. By exercising its powers to confirm the retired ranks of general officers, Congress can restore accountability among senior military leaders.

Mortal Danger

This article began with Frederick the Great’s admonition to his officers to focus their energies on the larger aspects of war. The Prussian monarch’s innovations had made his army the terror of Europe, but he knew that his adversaries were learning and adapting. Frederick feared that his generals would master his system of war without thinking deeply about the ever-changing nature of war, and in doing so would place Prussia’s security at risk. These fears would prove prophetic. At the Battle of Valmy in 1792, Frederick’s successors were checked by France’s ragtag citizen army. In the fourteen years that followed, Prussia’s generals assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like those of the past. In 1806, the Prussian Army marched lockstep into defeat and disaster at the hands of Napoleon at Jena. Frederick’s prophecy had come to pass; Prussia became a French vassal.

Iraq is America’s Valmy. America’s generals have been checked by a form of war that they did not prepare for and do not understand. They spent the years following the 1991 Gulf War mastering a system of war without thinking deeply about the ever changing nature of war. They marched into Iraq having assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like the wars of the past. Those few who saw clearly our vulnerability to insurgent tactics said and did little to prepare for these dangers. As at Valmy, this one debacle, however humiliating, will not in itself signal national disaster. The hour is late, but not too late to prepare for the challenges of the Long War. We still have time to select as our generals those who possess the intelligence to visualize future conflicts and the moral courage to advise civilian policymakers on the preparations needed for our security. The power and the responsibility to identify such generals lie with the U.S. Congress. If Congress does not act, our Jena awaits us.

Source: http://armedforcesjournal.com/article/2007/05/2635198

Monday, 24 June 2013

After The Storm

I haven’t returned to Baghdad to be a war tourist, attuning my eyes to the many long shadows cast by trauma, but it’s difficult not to do just that. The last time I was here I wore desert camouflage and carried an M4 carbine as a sergeant in the U.S. Army’s Second Infantry Division. That was in 2003 and 2004, when there were up to 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. In the years since, I’ve often wondered what it must be like for Iraqis struggling to reclaim a life for themselves: the welder, the student, the taxi driver, the old woman, the couple getting married. I’ve also wondered how it would feel to walk down a Baghdad street without a flak vest and 210 rounds of ball ammunition strapped to my chest.

Back then, my unit escorted long, serpentine supply convoys through the city. Insurgents staged complex ambushes, driving cars loaded down with explosives. The black scorch marks of vehicles burned to the ground remained long after their hulks were removed, giving me pause whenever we passed them by. One day our squad leader yelled at my machine gunner and me to drop down from our positions in the hatches at the rear of our Stryker vehicle—and mortar rounds suddenly burst in the air, raining down a deadly spray of shrapnel. We rode through the storm of metal, hearts pounding in our chests. Memories like these reenact themselves in my mind now as we drive through the city, and for a moment I imagine I’ve returned to Baghdad the way a ghost might haunt the world it once inhabited.

But things have changed. This isn’t the Baghdad I once knew. Just off Abu Nuwas Street near the Tigris River, where sniper fire was once a daily hazard, the sounds of war have been replaced by the sounds of children playing soccer on the grass. They whoop, high-pitched and full throated, like birds calling to each other. On Haifa Street, where bitter sectarian fighting raged from 2006 to 2008, young men pause in the doorway of a local market to finish a conversation as Iraqi pop music blares from a boombox. Near the university several young women laugh as they cradle textbooks and notebooks, their head scarves a splash of color against the drab building facades. Everywhere around Baghdad there is the sound of a city regaining its voice.

When I stepped off the plane, collected my bag from the luggage belt, and walked out into the city, I didn’t know what to expect. It was late December 2010. News reports of targeted assassinations via silencer-equipped pistols occupied my thoughts. I couldn’t dismiss the possibility of being kidnapped. But as much as my fear counseled me to jump back on that plane, I wanted to know what had become of this place where I’d once come to war. If I was going to meet the new Baghdad, I’d have to put some old habits and memories to the side.

A City of Walls

My first day back I spread out a map of the city on a table in a shaded inner courtyard. It’s an outdated map with many red and blue adhesive dots placed on various parts of the city. Many of the names of neighborhoods have changed since the invasion. Saddam City, as it’s listed on my old map, for example, now goes by Sadr City, after the deceased Shiite leader Muhammad al Sadr. The dots create an overall pattern as I step back for a bird’s-eye view: blue to one side, red to the other; Shiites dominating the eastern side of the Tigris, Sunnis clustered on the western. The Sunnis have pushed farther west as Shiites have made inroads into neighborhoods adjacent to the river. Although there are still a few mixed neighborhoods, Baghdad is no longer a model secular city of the Middle East, as Iraqis once proudly described it. Years of violence have created a new landscape defined by tribe and religion.

With a population of nearly six million, Baghdad has become a city of walled enclaves regulated by Iraqi Army troops, federal police officers, local policemen, private security guards, and other groups such as the Sons of Iraq, who are like your local Neighborhood Watch crew, only armed with AK-47s. The demarcations are formed by massive concrete blast walls known colloquially as T-walls because they resemble giant T’s flipped upside down. Religious flags wave from rooftops, mosques, and intersections in predominately Shiite areas. Sunni neighborhoods are marked by a lack of flags.

“Baghdad is a huge camp, man,” says my interpreter, Yousif al-Timimi. “America didn’t bring democracy. It brought walls.”

The River Taxi

One morning I take a water taxi out onto the Tigris River with a boatman named Ismail, who tells me that he inherited his trade from his father in a tradition stretching back for generations. As he steers the prop with his left hand and talks about his life, I try to push to the back of my mind the fact that we’re out in the open, in a clear field of fire, and that a sniper could be in a hide right now debating the physics of his ballistic art—steeped in the contemplation of the elevation and windage, the slight breeze I now feel in my hair, the pitch and yaw of the boat as it slices upriver through the waves, the humidity in the air between us.

And so I focus on the Tigris as it winds its way through the heart of Baghdad. It’s a wide river with an unassuming surface of sunlight and shadow, a storied river that doesn’t advertise the inexorable pathos transported in its depths. In the winter of A.D. 1258, when the Mongols sacked Baghdad under Hulegu Khan, great destruction was visited upon the city and its inhabitants. The Bayt al Hikma, or House of Wisdom, was plundered, its contents thrown into the Tigris—philosophical tracts and treatises, art, poetry, historical tomes, scientific and mathematical works—the intellectual wealth of centuries. When the Mongols were done pillaging, it’s been said, the Tigris ran black with ink.

More recently, it flowed with bodies. In the winter of 2004 soldiers from my battalion manned a johnboat to search an island upriver in the city of Mosul, where a mortar firing position was rumored to be. The boat capsized, and weighed down by their equipment, one soldier and three Iraqi policemen disappeared into the water. My company helped cordon off the riverbanks so that patrol boats and Navy divers could recover their bodies. Before they could find them, the search teams pulled up the bodies of a student from Kirkuk and an Iraqi policeman we weren’t even looking for. As I sit in Ismail’s water taxi, I’m hesitant to reach over and put my hand into the water. The Tigris has become a kind of graveyard; it deserves respect.

I take a series of photographs. Iraqi Army soldiers materialize from their posts under the bridge abutments and order us to shore. We’re briefly detained and questioned by the local commander, who stands in the doorway of a guard shack wearing only a bemused expression and thermal underwear, his combat boots left unlaced, a tiny cup of Arabic coffee in his hand. He orders us not to take any more pictures of the bridges and then releases us. Before we can go, one of the soldiers insists I share from his plate of scrambled eggs. He tears his flatbread in two and shoves a piece into my hands with a smile.

Back out on the Tigris, Ismail tells me there was an incident last week involving a magnetic “sticky” bomb, and that it may also have involved a water taxi. The Iraqi military keeps a vigilant eye on the river. Which makes me wonder how Ismail is able to make a living under such conditions. When were the good times? I ask.

Ismail responds, “Good times?”

Al Mutanabbi Street

A small bird roosts in a cage just outside the door of the Shahbandar café on Al Mutanabbi Street, where poets and philosophers refuse the chessboard for the stimulant of engaging conversation, debate, and intellectual inquiry. As I take a seat beside Mohammed Jawad, a 63-year-old biology professor, I can’t help but notice the framed photos of those who died in a 2007 bombing that killed dozens inside and outside the coffee shop. When I ask him about the attack, Jawad says, “The bombings are like the rings on a tree. What do you call them? The growth rings?” I nod as he continues. “Trees experience fire and times of no water. It’s a matter of periods. The growth rings show us the good times and the bad times. These are the bad times now, but it’s all a part of the growth of the tree.” He pauses, sips his chai. “Let me tell you, history is manufactured by war.”

Later, as I walk down Al Mutanabbi Street, where tables are stacked with poetry collections and textbooks for sale, I notice the many short, hard glances I’m getting from those going about their business. It’s Saturday, around noon, and the street is busy but not packed. Although I hadn’t noticed it at first, something inside of me has clicked back into place. I catch myself turning in slow, smooth circles as I walk—I’m scanning the scene behind me to determine if there are any threats. It’s a habit I’ve mostly broken back home in the States. I try to look casual, as if I’m merely curious about the books I’ve just passed, but in fact I’ve instinctively reverted back to my days on foot patrol. Whom do I discover trailing me? A poet, who simply wanted to resume a conversation we’d started in the café.

“Of course, I’m a poet,” he says. “What else can you do but write poetry in a country like this?”

In Firdos Square the ghost of Saddam Hussein hovers over the pedestal where a statue of him was famously pulled down. So many people here will tell you that although they may have wished for Saddam’s removal from power, they miss the grand vision in which the difficult seemed possible during his reign. After one of the bridges over the Tigris was bombed during the 1991 air campaign of the Gulf War, for example, Saddam vowed that the bridge would be operational within one month. It was an audacious deadline that locals say the construction crews succeeded in meeting. In contrast, the Saddam mosque at the center of the city remains unfinished after more than a decade. Massive concrete columns and rebar rise to impressive heights, while the domes they’re meant to support exist only in the architect’s blueprints. It was envisioned to be the largest mosque in the Middle East but stands now as a mere sketch of greatness.

The Private Club

Tonight I find myself smoking a sheesha, or hookah, loaded up with mint-flavored tobacco, at Al Alawiyah Club near Firdos Square. Swanky. Once past a maze of blast walls and bored security personnel, I sit in a large gazebo near a water fountain lit by blue filtered lights. A well-dressed and sober-faced man smokes his own sheesha two tables over. According to gossip, he’s an Iraqi Army general who would rather smoke alone than go home to his wife. I’m told this by Rawaa al-Neaami, the businesswoman who invited me to the club.

Al-Neaami wears jeans tucked into black leather boots, a frilly blouse, and huge earrings. Her hair is cut short and dyed a mixture of colors, mostly reddish hues. She’s started a nongovernmental organization in Baghdad to empower young adults. Classes at her school include yoga, dramatic dance, filmmaking, graphic design, and creative writing. “I believe, as a human being, not just as an Iraqi woman, that these skills have a major role in developing students. In fact, they are the soul of our life,” she says. “This is the real jihad. The real jihad doesn’t mean I have to carry a weapon and kill.”

Her latest project, she tells me, involves going into juvenile detention centers in Baghdad to encourage young people through art. She’s been surprised by those she’s discovered there. The inmates range in age from 5 to 18 years old. Many are simply orphans created by the years of sectarian violence. She plans to film a documentary to tell their stories.

The Barbershop

One evening I decide to get a haircut on Al Karradah Street. When I was here as a soldier, three of us once left an abandoned house where we’d set up an observation post to buy a block of ice from a delivery truck. It was August, and we didn’t spot a truck. But on the way back to the house we passed a barbershop, and I mentioned that I could use a haircut.

“You want to get a haircut?” my squad leader asked.


I don’t know what any of us were thinking, because the security situation in 2004 made sitting in a barbershop with a plate glass window ludicrous. Still, I went inside while my squad leader and grenadier pulled watch out on the sidewalk. The only other customer was an out-of-work university professor who spoke excellent English. I propped up my weapon within arm’s reach, sat down, and had an amiable conversation with the good professor while the barber worked his trade. So I guess I got what I was really after, a sense of normalcy.

Congenial as our talk was, running through the back of my mind was a wide variety of dangerous scenarios. The plate glass window facing the street was an invitation for all of us to make a small-print, page-18 news column back home. When the barber scraped the bristled hairs on the back of my neck with the flattened edge of a straight razor, I felt alert to every nuance possible within the moment. A subdued but crackling tension seemed to fill the air.

I now sit in a brightly lit and busy barbershop. The atmosphere is relaxed, even cheerful. It’s after sundown, and outside, a man with a pushcart kitchen slices thin cuts of meat from a rotisserie for shawarma, or flatbread sandwiches. Redolent smoke drifts along the crowded sidewalk. Inside the barbershop, mirrors in front of and behind us create an illusion of multitudes. As the hair falls to the floor below, I’m acutely aware that for some of those present, I’m beginning to look more and more like the soldier I once was.

The New Baghdad

Before leaving Baghdad, I stop in Al Karradah district to buy an Iraqi-made hookah to take back home. Jaywalking through early evening traffic, I notice how energetic street life is. Shop doors are propped open. Upscale fashion retailers feature the latest clothing lines on headless mannequins in glass-front displays. Toy stores, hardware stores, cell phone shops, local grocers—there’s a bustle and vibrancy of activity not only among the street vendors but also among the established merchants.

Even so, only yesterday a mortar crew attacked a Shiite gathering in Baghdad, wounding five. A bomb exploded near a mosque in Al Utayfiyah district, injuring three. In Mosul a woman’s body was left in the street. When I speak with people here, I recognize years and years of frustration in their voices. And yet, as I look around city neighborhoods, beyond the T-walls and the Hueys patrolling overhead, I also see signs of renewal and growth.

Something has changed within me as well. With each passing day, the adrenaline that accompanied my return to the city has subsided. I can see more clearly now that Baghdad is becoming a new version of itself—not a place defined by war, where journalists and the addicts of danger ply their trades, but a more livable, thriving place. Although it will certainly take time, and the aftermath of war will leave an indelible signature here for the rest of our lives, Baghdad has begun to re-imagine itself as a majestic city once more.

Brian Turner