Wednesday, June 20, 2007

US military policy

Global Policy Forum has a wide-ranging report criticising US-led military actions in Iraq for attacking cities, killing civilians, destroying cultural heritage, and so on. Bernhard at Moon of Alabama calls particular attention to Section 6 of the report, on attacking cities, with its description of walling off cities, forced evacuation, cutting off water, heavy bombardment, blockage of media coverage, attacks on medical facilities, civilian casualties, and on and on. Bernhard recalls the term "urbicide" was coined for this type of operation in Bosnia, and in the West Bank. The GPF report deals with this and other issues mainly under the rubric of violations of international law. And in a similar vein, Robert Farley at Lawyers Guns and Money says the US now appears to have gone back to "pointless and destructive" sweep operations, writing:
Part of the point of the Surge was to allow the possibility for traditional counter-insurgency operations, in which insurgents were forced to launch their own offensives against American forces, and consequently be destroyed. This was, given the trivial size of the Surge compared to what Petraeus own counter-insurgency manual demanded, a forlorn hope. That the US has apparently returned to pointless and destructive sweep operations may be a recognition of that within the command structure. These operations are emotionally satisfying, but by and large have never worked, and almost inevitably cause more damage than they prevent.
It is sometimes pointed out that the increasing reliance on this kind of massive use of force is contrary to the principles laid down in the famous counterinsurgency manual 3-24 attributed to General Petraeus himself. The idea being that operations have deviated from policy.

However, there is another way of looking at this, namely that policy itself has entered a new phase.

When counterinsurgency expert Andrew Krepinevich briefed congressional staffers back in February, he ran through strategic approaches including what is called "counterinsurgency best practices" (the manual, in other words). He also said there were other approaches, and we can glean only this much from the bullet-point outline which has come down to us:

The Roman Model: Massive retaliation
Strategy: Rome creates a desert and calls it peace
Success Rate: Very high
Examples: Britain revolt c 60 AD; Israelite revolt c 70 AD
US adaptibility: Low. Owing to US political culture, it is unlikely the Roman model would apply, except in the most dire of circumstances.
The first point is that if the only bulwark against recourse to this kind of a scorched-earth strategy is "US political culture", without reference to international law, then it isn't really that remote. And secondly, we have to consider the possibility that what Krepinevich called "only the most dire of circumstances" is in fact, from the Bush-administration point of view, already upon us. (There is a discussion of the Krepinevich briefing and a gloss by another political scientist at the earlier post here called Flim-flam and its two prior posts).

In other words: The growing use of massive force in civilian environments may not be attributable just to excesses in particular cases, but rather to policy. People seem to be losing sight of the distinction. But recall that torture was also attributed to particular individual cases, and we still haven't gotten to the bottom of that policy scandal either.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks badger - I didn't make that connection but I believe you are right on here.

I also underestimated the size of the current ongoing operation.

The US is trying one "serious blow" now all around and in wider Baghdad. It's a Corp size operation with at least three full divisions engaged.

This is still an insufficient force for "success" but without media coverage hiding the resulting devastation and fruitlessness.

When the media coverage comes in as it will at some point the "US adaptibility: Low" point may gain some credit again.

Next up: Sadr cuts U.S. supply lines to help those people being attacked now.


12:25 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I am all ears

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can there be any doubt now (after this and the doubledown air strikes) that the new and ballyhooed Petraeus counterinsurgency plan is nothing but same old same old, served in new bottles for the belt way drinking class.

anna missed

1:33 AM  
Anonymous Lysander said...

Roman strategy is likely what they wish they could do. They are now employing a city destroying strategy. This creates mass refugees and doen kill substantial numbers of people. Such a strategy has been tried by a number of countries and has failed. The Russians could not stop the insurgency in afghanistan, have had only partial success in Chechnya. The Germans couldn't silence insurgencies in Poland or Yugoslavia or occupied Russia. Are advocates of the war prepared to employ methods that even the Soviets and Nazis were too squeemish to implement. People who advocate extreme brutality to end rebelion really have no idea how much brutality is needed.

Roman strategy was mass extermination, literally millions in Gual, and slavery. That can't be done from the air short of nukes. Somebody on the ground is literally going to have to line up hundreds of thousands of people and kill them. It's hard to do that unnoticed. Death squads can't do it fast enough.

8:55 AM  
Blogger The Rational said...

"This is still an insufficient force for "success" but without media coverage hiding the resulting devastation and fruitlessness.

When the media coverage comes in as it will at some point the "US adaptibility: Low" point may gain some credit again."

Take for what you will, but it seems access is surprisingly lax for reporters. And news gets out whether it is 'allowed' or not. It seems to be far from the nightmares of city destruction many seem to fear. But he's probably biased.

10:08 PM  

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