2003 April 19 Saturday
US Soldiers Well Trained In Peacekeeping Operations

Reports in the New York Times and the Financial Times both show that the US soldiers in Iraq are well trained for peacekeeping operations.

Captain Robbins said his Kosovo tour gave him and his men some useful background in working with Muslims and in protecting American soldiers against potential threats in cities. It made them more familiar with a nation with minimal services and a damaged infrastructure. It also gave troops experience in how to forge links with a foreign population and form a civil leadership out of the ruins of an old order. "Every neighborhood has a big shot," he said. "You have to identify these folk, learn how to deal with them and get them on your side so they will not cause trouble for you and will report the bad guys."

One problem is that the soldiers do not appear to be getting enough support from higher ups to allow them to do small favors for the local populace.

I find the 101st soldiers have been well drilled on observing local customs and generally have very good judgment about dealing with civilians. Even without their officers and NCOs watching them, they are well behaved and understand their mission of peacekeeping. The frustrating thing is their inability to offer any sort of aid to the public, to get the electricity turned back on, for example. One Lieutenant from the company said the higher these requests go up the chain of command, the less interested the military brass is in hearing them "They're always saying 'there are bigger problems'. But what we see is that its the little things that make the most difference to these communities".

When invading a country to overthrow the government it ought to be considered a valid military objective to be able to very rapidly provide a large range of types of visible help to the local populace. The logistics capability of the military ought to be made sufficient to be able to bring up supplies for civilians as fast as the main body of the invading force advances. Also, the military should advance with sufficient force and resources to be able to instantly deploy a police force to maintain order in each populated area that is captured.

In conventional military terms the invasion of Iraq is an unqualified success. With a population of 24 million people and a land area of 171,000 square miles Iraq is territorially slightly larger than California (which is 163,707 square miles) but with approximately 70% of California's population. It was captured in under 3 weeks by less than four divisions and with less than 200 deaths in coalition forces. The rapid collapse of the regime in Baghdad even allowed a much lower number of civilian casualties than expected. However, as Daniel Pipes writes, military campaigns are no longer judged by the historical standards for war.

In the aggregate, these changes amount to a transformation of warfare. In important ways, Western operations against non-Western states resemble police raids more than warfare. Western governments are the police, local tyrants are the criminals and the subject populations are the victims. Note the parallels: Like gangland capos, Mullah Omar and Saddam Hussein disappeared (will Arafat be next?). The outcome of these operations is not in doubt. The rights of victims are as important as the safety of police. Not using excessive force is a paramount concern. And the Left goes easy on the criminals.

Expectations have risen in part because it has become possible for the United States to fight wars in ways less injurious to civilian populations and in part because the goals of war have changed. Expansion of empire and capture of the wealth of distant lands are no longer legitimate goals of war. Enemy civilians are no longer demonized. The opposite is the case one justification offered for war is to free and improve the lives of the populaces ruled by enemy regimes. If wars are going to be justifed in part because of their beneficial effects upon invaded countries then those populaces must be treated in ways that convince them that the invading forces have come to their lands to deliver real benefits to them. Also, those benefits must come in ways that the populaces can easily and quickly understand.

The populace of an Arab Muslim country which has both ethnic and sectarian religious divisions and which has been ruled by a brutal totalitarian dictatorship lacks the beliefs and habits needed to support a liberal democracy. At the same time, the populaces of countries in the Middle East have been fed a steady diet of arguments for distrusting US intentions. For these reasons a quick withdrawal of the invading forces will lead to the rise of a new repressive and hostile regime whose character and behavior will defeat all the purposes for which the war was fought in the first place. Therefore long term involvement of the invading powers is a necessity if all war aims are to be achieved.

To achieve all the objectives of a war against a regime such as Saddam Hussein's the US military must conduct itself in a way that builds goodwill and trust in the populace of an invaded country. Without that goodwill and trust the populace will be more resistant to the occupying forces. As a consequence any political reforms introduced by the occupying powers will be seen as lacking in legitimacy and will not be embraced and supported by the occupied populace.

Keep in mind that many values which Westerners hold highly such as freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech and assembly are - to the extent that they are accepted at all - still not accorded the same importance by ordinary Iraqis as they are by people in most Western countries. Any behavior by US and other coalition forces that tarnishes the image that Iraqis have of those forces will provide an opening for demagogues to argue that the coalition is hypocritical, duplicitous, unjust, and not benevolent. The demagogues will then have a more receptive audience for their arguments against Western values and in favor of older and more familiar values which have characterised their society for many centuries. Well-intentioned reforms will fail as the values which provide the justification for those reforms are rejected by a populace whose doubts develop into a deep cynicism toward the coalition rulers. A populace made cynical will then either turn toward Islamist political values or toward the pursuit of advance for family and tribe and other selfish concerns. Keep in mind that the illiberal message the Islamists are delivering is a message that comes right out of the Koran and they are delivering it to believing Muslims.

"The theory and practice of jihad was not concocted in the Pentagon," said Ibn Warraq, a speaker at the conference on Islam sponsored by the Council for Secular Humanism at the Capitol Hilton. "It was taken from the Koran, the Hadith [additional sayings of Muhammad] and Islamic tradition. Western liberals, especially humanists, find it hard to believe this. The trouble with Western liberals is they are pathologically nice. They think that everyone thinks like them, including the Islamic fundamentalists.

"For humanists, terrorists are frustrated angels forever thwarted by the United States of America," he said.

In our efforts to remake Iraq we are opposed by a very formidable religious ideology. Its believers will ruthlessly exploit any mistakes that we make.

So far I would give the US military a "B-" grade in terms of how well it has acted as a police force and as an agent of humanitarian aid to the Iraqis. The logistics train that followed the military advance turned out to be (in spite of all criticism to the contrary while the military campaign was under way) big enough to keep the fighting forces well supplied. The underestimated resistance of the Baathists and Fedayaeen did not greatly slow the advance. But the logistics train was not big enough to support a larger medical assistance effort to the Iraqi civilians while the advance was on-going and in its immediate aftermath when the medical help was most needed.

Also, the lack of ability to enforce order (with the resulting looting and probably rape and other crimes that were less publicised) in many cities, the sustained period without electric power, and the lack of help to make their hospitals immediately able to do emergency treatment for the inevitable civilian casualties (e.g. electric generators to at least provide electricity to the hospitals) all represent lost opportunities for the invading forces to make a great first impression. While a larger ground force turned out not to be necessary for conventional fighting purposes it certainly would have been helpful for policing purposes and, as Daniel Pipes argued above, this invasion was more like a police operation than like a conventional military operation. That fact should have had a bigger impact on military planning.

The need to turn to the police of the old regime for help in policing also has weakened the transformative power of the occupying force. The conventional Iraqi police did not have a good reputation with the populace. Putting the old regime's police back on the streets gives the impression to the populace of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss".

This lost opportunity to make a better initial impression is very unfortunate because, while American and coalition performance will certainly improve, first impressions are very important. A population that has been fed a steady diet of anti-American and anti-Western demagoguery will naturally look at an invading force with considerable doubt and suspicion. That does not make it impossible to win them over. After all, the Iraqis know that their regime has lied to them about a great many things. But the effort to change their opinions of America and its allies would have been greatly helped by a exemplary performance by the military forces in terms of protecting and helping the Iraqis from the very moment of the collapse of regime control.

Another loss that came from the failure to be able to take over policing of Baghdad more quickly was a loss in intelligence information. The looting of many government buildings likely caused an intelligence loss as files and computers were walked out of the door by looters who desired the filing cabinets and computers for their market value. Also, some Iraqis whose relatives were taken away by Saddam's regime took files and ransacked thru files looking for information about their lost relatives. Those crucial early days as the US troops made their first forays into Baghdad were a period where a larger ground force could have taken control of more buildings more quickly and in the process prevented intelligence losses due to theft and fires.

Arguments that emphasise the performance of the US military in comparison to previous conventional military campaigns in history miss the point that the war was justified by an additional set of objectives beyond defeat of a hostile force. Conventional conquest was explicitly disavowed as a motive for the war. The war was justified in order to achieve a set of political objectives and the handling of its conduct and immediate aftermath should be measured in terms of how well that handling furthers the achievement of those political objectives.

The war's objectives were for the benefit of American security and more generally the security of the world. The prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was a major justification. Certainly in the short to medium run as a result of this war Iraq will not be a source of WMD. But the war was also justified as part of a mission to democratize the Middle East, and in so doing, to change the Middle East in a way that will reduce the ability and the desire of its peoples and governments to support terrorism. To achieve that war aim requires that the US conduct itself in ways that demonstrate its goodwill toward the highly suspicious and distrusting populaces of Iraq and other countries in the region. Also, only liberal transformation of Iraqi political culture holds the prospect of permanently removing the desire for Iraq to develop WMD further in the future.

Keep in mind that I am not arguing that efforts to remake Iraqi into a Western-style democracy are going to succeed even if American management of post-war Iraqi is exemplary. I really think the odds are against a successful transformation of Iraqi society and politics to make an even semi-liberal democracy. But because the odds are so heavily against success and the costs and duration of an effort to achieve sustainable democratization will be considerable we need to do an absolutely first class job in all aspects of our intervention in Iraq to optimize our ability to affect the political development of that country.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 April 19 07:29 PM  Reconstruction and Reformation


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