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Thursday, January 12, 2006

US army in Iraq institutionally racist, claims British officer.

From the Al-Guardian:

A senior British officer has criticised the US army for its conduct in Iraq, accusing it of institutional racism, moral righteousness, misplaced optimism, and of being ill-suited to engage in counter-insurgency operations.


Moral righteousness is a sin? Misplaced optimism is a mistake?
Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster was second in command at the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team (CMATT), the military training arm of the Office of Security Cooperation (OSC), a division of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Google anything that has to do with military persons above the rank of major and you find yourself wading into a cesspool of information, looking for a diamond of fact. Sure, you find a mountain of facts and figures, but you have to dig through it all, decrypting acronyms as you go, fighting to stay awake as you imagine a flowchart written by a man standing on a trampoline in an earthquake.

In the dark. Drunk. In a foreign language.

Anyway, Aylwin-Foster’s job was training Iraqi soldiers and cops. Seems he wasn’t happy at having to work with a bunch of yahoo white trash hick colonials. From the Al-Guardian article:
American soldiers, says Brig Aylwin-Foster, were "almost unfailingly courteous and considerate". But he says "at times their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism".
Inadvertent cultural insensitivity = racism. I’m sorry, institutional racism. Okay. What kind of “inadvertent cultural insensitivity”? Did some Guardsmen from North Carolina walk into a mosque and light a candle in front of a picture of Dale Earnhardt? Did some female soldier fail to wear a desert camo burqa? Did someone call a “morale officer” Reverend? Because, as we all know, not knowing everything about another culture and not acting in accordance with another culture’s mores is proof positive, admissible in a court of law, that you are racist.
Tomorrow I’m going to my lawyer and drawing papers suing Ted Kennedy for depriving me of my civil rights. I’m going to demand that he appear in public wearing a yarmulka at all times, and that he say the proper blessing on Scotch when he takes a swig from his hip flask- although he usually does this when the CSPAN cameras are on Senatrix Boxter, so that might not fly.

After all, his failing to follow the rules of my culture is, by definition, racist.
General Aylwin-Foster goes on to say that the US army is imbued with an unparalleled sense of patriotism, duty, passion and talent. "Yet it seemed weighed down by bureaucracy, a stiflingly hierarchical outlook, a predisposition to offensive operations and a sense that duty required all issues to be confronted head-on."

Okay, Nigel. I’ll give you the bureaucracy and the stiflingly hierarchical outlook, although it seems to me that a military kinda sorta needs a hierarchy. But the predisposition to offensive operations? The sense that all issues need to be confronted head on? Wha? You kiddin, right? We invaded Iraq, man. You don’t win an invasion with defensive operations. We proved that in Vietnam, and the Israelis proved it again in Lebanon.
The story goes on:
While US officers in Iraq criticised their allies for being too reluctant to use force, their strategy was "to kill or capture all terrorists and insurgents: they saw military destruction of the enemy as a strategic goal in its own right". In short, the brigadier says, "the US army has developed over time a singular focus on conventional warfare, of a particularly swift and violent kind". Such an unsophisticated approach, ingrained in American military doctrine, is counter-productive, exacerbating the task the US faced by alienating significant sections of the population, argues Brig Aylwin-Foster.

Well, I suppose that romping and stomping through Iraq, killing everything that moves and setting fire to everything that doesn’t, is rather unsubtle. While it would be a good way to accomplish our goals of making the bad people dead, it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that not everyone in Iraq is bad people. But that isn’t what they’ve been doing there. Our soldiers in Iraq are bending over backward to be solicitous to civilians who live in the middle of a combat zone. The US military has, arguably, put its own soldiers’ lives in danger by not allowing them to fire on mosques even when they were taking fire from those mosques.
But, says General Aylwin-Foster, US military commanders are too darn focused on doing the thing the US military pays them for, i.e. shooting bad guys and making sure stuff gets blowed up good. Those guys should, like, learn to see the big picture, maaaan.
What he calls a sense of "moral righteousness" contributed to the US response to the killing of four American contractors in Falluja in the spring of 2004. As a "come-on" tactic by insurgents, designed to provoke a disproportionate response, it succeeded, says the brigadier, as US commanders were "set on the total destruction of the enemy".

What? Outrageous! Who ever heard of such a thing, soldiers set on the total destruction of the enemy! Why, its exactly this kind of violent tendencies that cause Girl Scouts not to invite Marine Corps gunnery sergeants to their tea parties. They’re all so totally set on the total destruction of the enemy that they can hardly focus on the drama between Mister Bunny and Barbie.

Those soldiers sure are a bunch of meanies. You’d almost think they’re over there to fight a war or something, the way they go around being heavily armed and all wearing the same thing and having a rigid hierarchy and being totally set on the destruction of the enemy all the time like that. Plus, they also go around being racist in an institutional manner. Not to mention the insensitivity to the local culture.


Okay, devil’s advocate time. The soldiery is aces at seeing that things get blowed up real good, of course, but notso hotso at rebuilding the sewage system and getting school back in session and finding and staffing the new fire truck at Hook and Ladder Company 42 (“The Thieves of Baghdad”). To be fair, they aren’t trained for things like that. It simply isn’t realistic to expect soldiers to be good civil engineers and governmental administrators. They are having to rely on common sense for things like how to put a country back together again once you’ve blown it apart (not to mention the fact that it really wasn’t working all that great beforehand). Credit where credit is due, the common sense approach has worked a lot better than we had any right to expect. But it isn’t really enough. In this, the smelly hippies have a small inkling of a point.

So, President Bush, before we invade Iran, can we take like six months to put together a corps of, oh, colonial administrators? The British didn’t just move into a country and kill everyone, back in the day. They wanted to make a buck off the place, after all. So they had civil servants ready and waiting right behind the army in order to get things running as soon as possible. Not a bad idea.

I hear Nigel Aylwin-Foster has some good ideas on the subject, maybe you can ask him.