Saturday, June 03, 2006

Avoiding the kick

American soldiers wouldn’t do that. They do it all the time. Sometimes soldiers just snap. Which is it?

Spot is talking, of course, about the events at Haditha and Ishaqi in Iraq. And maybe other places, too. The idea that American service people would kill non-combatants – children, even – in cold blood is almost too awful to contemplate. But Spot says it is entirely predictable.

It’s not predictable because Spot is an anti-war dog. It’s predictable because the very end of the Bell curve of possible human behaviors is odious and evil, not to mention panicked. Even those who believe mankind is essentially good – and Spotty is in this category; he gets a lot more pats on the head than kicks in the butt – know that people are capable of some pretty rotten stuff. For a dog, the object is to anticipate the kick and avoid it. For the military, it isn’t much different: anticipate the atrocity and studiously avoid situations where it might occur. How do you do that? Spot’s no expert, but he knows one thing for sure.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was the principal architect of a post-war Iraq occupation that was all but guaranteed to product Haditahs and Ishaqis. Spot is reading Cobra II now, a detailed history of the run-up to, and the invasion of Iraq. The authors, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, explain how Rumsfeld and the civilian leadership at the Pentagon were committed to the transformation of the armed forces of the United States into a leaner, meaner, and more mobile force. Afghanistan, and especially Iraq, were to be the laboratories in this transformation.

Throughout the planning for the invasion of Iraq – which commenced almost immediately after 9/11 – Rumsfeld kept pushing the military planners to use fewer forces in the attack. When the military told Rumsfeld and the Congress that it would take perhaps 400,000 troops to occupy Iraq, he replied that goodness gracious, it couldn’t possibly take more troops to occupy the country than to conquer it! But the military brass had said exactly that, and they proved to be right.

Rumsfeld also micro-managed the deployment of the troops, delaying the deployment of the Reserves that had the units that were so necessary for things like logistics and civilian affairs. The chaos after the collapse of the Baathist regime was entirely predictable, and in fact was predicted by a lot of the career types, but Rumsfeld didn’t listen to them.

Gordon and Trainor suggest that Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse was a consequence, at least in part, of the fact that the civilian affairs people (e.g., the military police) were not deployed in sufficient numbers in Iraq to run places like Abu Ghraib prison in a professional way. There are a lot of experienced police officers in the Reserves. Do you suppose having more of them around places like Abu Ghraib would have made a difference? Spot thinks so.

And being spread too thin as occupiers, and not being fully in control of the population, leads to panicked reactions. It’s human nature. Having inadequate supervision of troops makes more opportunities for that end-of-the-Bell-curve behavior to come out.

According to the BBC, troops are now going to get some ethical training in “core warrior values,” but it’s too late. We’ve poisoned the Iraqis – including their Prime Minister – beyond redemption. Spotty says this is not so much a reflection on the US armed services as it is their civilian boss.


Update: Perhaps the most important lesson is that since atrocities are inevitable, one should not start a war unless absolutely necessary.

Second update: Fixed the spelling of Haditha, per scolding from Dave.

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