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May 22, 2007

Comments

"the funny part for the end."

Unfortunately, there is no longer anythign funny about this.

"Can these two leaders share the controls enough that Iraq will become a U.S. project, rather than George Bush's war?"

The assumption, of course, is that Bush will allow anyone to share the controls. Written the way he did sets up Pelosi for part of the blame for being overly partisan and unwilling to share. Nothing can be set totally at this administrations feet unfortunately.

"The revamped policy, as outlined by senior administration officials, would be premised on the idea that, as the current surge of U.S. troops succeeds in reducing sectarian violence, America's role will be increasingly to help prepare the Iraqi military to take greater responsibility for securing the country."

Again, it assumes that the surge will reduce sectarian violence, which it is showing no signs of doing. Is there a plan in the works for if that doesn't happen?

"Is there a "bipartisan path out of this morass"?

The real question is "Is there any kind of path out of this morass"?


"Reduce, reuse, recycle"

It's a good plan for environmentalism, not so good for a badly managed occupation. Nothing will get fixed until the Republicans admit that their 'leader' is utterly incompetent when it comes to Iraq (and a large number of others). If the Republicans in Congress start to ignore Bush and come up with real bipartisan solutions, no one will have to worry about whether Bush wants to veto his way into infamy. 80 Senators or 300 House members will do a lot to show the world that Republicans have finally discovered that Bush doesn't matter any more.

"Reduce, reuse, recycle"

It's a good plan for environmentalism, not so good for a badly managed occupation. Nothing will get fixed until the Republicans admit that their 'leader' is utterly incompetent when it comes to Iraq (and a large number of others). If the Republicans in Congress start to ignore Bush and come up with real bipartisan solutions, no one will have to worry about whether Bush wants to veto his way into infamy. 80 Senators or 300 House members will do a lot to show the world that Republicans have finally discovered that Bush doesn't matter any more.

Why is refusing to rubber-stamp Bush Administration "stay the course, now with lemon scent" rhetoric a partisan position?

And please notice how Ignoramus presents the Bush Administration's policies as a "bipartisan" solution even though the plan is solely the "Decider's" decision. Me. I'd respond with "when Bush wants to negotiate, we're ready to start the give-and-take. So far, all we're getting is Bush's way or he'll deny the troops much-needed funding. This country can no longer buy whatever partisan solution Bush proposes."

Where is Fafnir when we need him?

Who is going to model this Fall's line of Iraq policy?

The talking points might make as much sense as bell bottoms, but they can still be brought back every few years.

You mean the major cause of violence and chaos in Iraq ISN'T Al Qaeda? Why didn't anyone tell me this earlier?

This is what our "coalition of the willing" partners are for -- I mean, when the Austrialian Defense Minister says:

"We've been training Iraqis pretty much since the time that we arrived and we've got 30 of our soldiers who are doing nothing but training and we've trained about 2,000 Iraqi soldiers in southern Iraq. We don't see that we can do training any better, or on a larger scale by embedding, than we are currently doing."

I mean, jeez -- can't you just wait until these thirty soldiers train the Iraqi soldiers. You must be one of those partisan Democrats hoping that we will lose this war. (Please note the sarcasm)

[Banging head on table]

We are doomed. And we as a people deserve it because we allow ourselves to be fed such drivel and marvel at how much it does in fact taste like chicken.

[resume banging head on table]

I can't wait for Ignatius' September column, in which he tells us that it's too soon to tell, but in another six months we'll see whether the Iraq adventure, er, "mission", is gonna pan out. It'll be just dripping with seriousness and civility, you can bet.

Putz.

I'm trying to remember when, but I seem to recall Rummy saying in a congressional hearing in the summer of what 2005, maybe even 2004 that we had trained 10s of thousands of police or military troops already. Can anyone who's smarter and less lazy confirm or disprove that?

Could be just me, but the concept of standing up and training a large army without a strong civilian government to take control of that army may not be the best idea. But that could just be me.

OCSteve: could be just me, but the idea of training a large army many of whose members are reportedly members of sectarian militias may not be the best way of ending a war among those very same sectarian militias.

Could be just us.

A few notes.

Clear, hold build isn't different from counterinsurgency; it is counterinsurgency.

Training the Iraqi forces isn't something new in this plan; they are talking about pulling back the U.S. presence and focusing their efforts almost entirely on training as opposed to patrolling. This would mean giving back whatever progress is made by the surge, unless sufficient Iraqi forces are on hand to take over from the U.S. I consider this unlikely, but not impossible.

Carry on.

G'Kar: really? I had always thought that counterinsurgency involved additional elements, of the 'concentrate less on sheer brute force and more on hearts and minds' variety. Live and learn, though. (That last bit without any snark.)

hilzoy,

Clear, hold, build includes those elements you mentioned. The basic concept is as follows:

Clear: get the insurgents out of the AO while causing as little disruption among the local populace as possible. This generally includes working to bring the locals over to the side of the counterinsurgency.

Hold: keep insurgents out of the cleared area, continue to develop contacts in the local population.

Build: help the locals develop their own institutions and security so they can hold out the insurgency when the government forces leave.

Ignatius' problem is that he talked to Bush's advisors, most likely the same ones who took him for a ride during the Rumsfeld era. His article is equal parts incoherence and reiteration of the existing plan (but with slightly different emphasis!). As I see it, Plan B is an acknowledgement of defeat, and if it comes to that point, we might as well implement a phased, orderly withdrawal.

What is becoming ever so clear is that September is a critical month for beltway politics and Iraq. The funding for the latest Democrat appropriation ends September 30, and Petraeus will be giving his update on the status of the surge strategy sometime that month. I was going to give it to year-end but the Dems aren't going to wait that long.

What is becoming ever so clear is that September is a critical month for beltway politics and Iraq. The funding for the latest Democrat appropriation ends September 30

And on October 1 fresh funds (already approved I believe) begin to flow as part of the regular budget. So, until those funds run out (around this time in 2008?) there is no need for the administration to go back to Congress.

So why is September so critical? I don't get it.

(And shouldn't that be, "...the latest Democratic appropriation"?)

What is becoming ever so clear is that September is a critical month for beltway politics and Iraq.

As opposed to the last 72+ months?

September is critical because the U.S. is, at last, implementing a COIN strategy that has some hope of success. Unfortunately, for it to succeed, it is going to need a lot more time. Malaya took 12 years, and that was an ideal situation for the counterinsurgent. Iraq is about the perfect solution for the insurgent, so it is going to take a lot more time. But if there are no milestones to point to in September, it is likely the Congress will pull the plug on the endeavor. So that makes it pretty critical.

I'm not so sure that those "fresh funds" are approved, Yukoner, and there's always plenty of haggling over appropriations.

I've found that it's more informative to hear what Petraeus & Co. are saying in-country than what Beltway pundits are getting from nameless suits in the WH.

Pooh,

There are 30 Australians. Out of about 500 total. There are thousands of Americans training. Iraq has to recruit and train 30,000 new soldiers a year just to maintain the number they have due to end of service committment, injury, death, and desertion. Training will continue to be the focus. Additionally, the initial training was for basic soldier skills. Now the Iraqis are selecting the best soldiers for training as NCO's and more senior positions. That type of development does not happen quickly: it takes years to develop. But now it is more Iraqis doing the training with Americans observing and mentoring the instructors, as opposed to americans giving the classes. That is a big change over the past 24 months.

I'm not so sure that those "fresh funds" are approved, Yukoner, and there's always plenty of haggling over appropriations.

Charles, Congress passed the 2008 budget (begins October 1,2007) on March 29. In the budget there is a line item for "Emercency funding for the Global War on Terror" of $140 billion or so. I understand that this is to pay (in part) for the occupation of Iraq. Is there really any practical or feasible way for Congress to pull this money out of the budget they have already passed?

G'Kar: how are the people implementing that strategy going to recognize insurgents? Are supporters of secterian violence insurgents, or only people aiming at Americans? Who is supposed to get the intelligence (data, not IQ) and translate it, preventing people from reporting anyone they have a fight with?

dutchmarbel,

The idea behind COIN is to make the locals eventually capable of providing for their own security. Insurgents tend to strike at the civilian population because they are softer targets and because attacking civilians undermines support for the government. Therefore, the people tend to recognize insurgents as the people planting bombs and otherwise trying to kill them. It's not rocket science by any means.

In the early going (clear and hold, generally) it is important to be cautious with intelligence provided by the locals to ensure it's not simply score-settling. That is one reason why the COIN forces have to be embedded in the local population, so they know who is who and can identify tips that are more or less likely to be accurate.

None of this is simple, and all of it takes time.

Yukoner: I could be wrong (I'm between things to do, so no time to check), but: I think what they passed recently was a budget resolution, which is a sort of general guiding document. The actual appropriating goes on separate bills for each department, e.g. the Defense Appropriations Bill. Those haven't been passed yet.

Hilzoy,
Thanks for the information. My misunderstanding of the finer points of US federal finacial sausage making has obviously led me astray.

"My misunderstanding of the finer points of US federal finacial sausage making has obviously led me astray."

It's somewhat ridiculously complicated, and thus extremely easy to get confused by, I'm afraid.

Here is another explanation, only faintly less complicated.

Thanks to you too Gary... I think. Even a quick perusal of your links makes me laugh at my own line at 11:38am, "Congress passed the 2008 budget on March 29" Ha!

My feeble excuse is that when I read that Congress had passed the 2008 budget I assumed that they had, you know, passed the 2008 budget. An innocent abroad and all that.

Insurgents tend to strike at the civilian population because they are softer targets and because attacking civilians undermines support for the government.

I want so suggest that our media reports are so inadequate that we don't at all know how true this is.

It's possible that insurgents mostly attack *us* and often kill civilians instead because civilians are so much easier to kill by accident.

In most polls of iraqis, the primary step iraqis take to avoid violence is to stay away from americans. Secondarily from iraqi troops, police, and government buildings. The polls don't say whether they do that so the americans won't kill them, or whether it's because americans are identifiable targets they want not to stand next to. Either way....

Insurgents *need* public support. Killing random civilians to prove the government can't protect them from insurgents is like -- like doing 9/11 to reduce US public support for the US government. It's utterly stupid. So the question is, are the insurgents utterly stupid, or do we stupidly believe they're that stupid? Or does the US government think that *we're* stupid enough to believe it?

What do we know about iraqi insurgents and how they think?

Staying away from Iraqi officials/police/etc. may also be a wise choice given that lots of death squads either wear official state uniform or it is those officials that also work in death squads.

Hartmut, that makes sense for sunnis.

"Hello, we're from the government and we're here to help you!"

Everybody runs away. A grandmother with no legs starts begging. "Please don't kill me! Please don't kill me!"

But everybody except kurds in kurdistan said they tried to avoid US soldiers, iraqi soldiers, police, and government buildings. Government death squads surely don't kill *everybody*. They have to be on somebody's side, don't they?

Of course they should avoid US soldiers. The doctrine has consistently been that if *anybody* shoots at our guys then they shoot at pretty much *everybody*. I don't know what training we've given iraqi soldiers, but wouldn't it make sense we'd teach them to respond the same way we do?

Of course, this doesn't make them much use for protecting civilians from bad guys.

J Thomas,

I was speaking of insurgents in general and not the Iraqi insurgency in particular. Any study of insurgency will show that attacks on civilian targets are common because it undermines support for the government and scares the citizens into aiding the insurgency. You may consider it stupid; that is your privilege. But history shows that it has worked very well for insurgencies in the past, and the available evidence from Iraq suggests it is what insurgencies in Iraq have done as well. This is a large part of why successful counterinsurgency involves putting COIN forces out among the population: it increases the security for the locals, allows the COIN forces to learn the local area, and makes it far more difficult for the insurgents to move freely.

The doctrine has consistently been that if *anybody* shoots at our guys then they shoot at pretty much *everybody*

This, however, suggests you are fundamentally either severely stupid or so ideologically blinded to the facts as to render reality irrelevant to your worldview. I won't speculate as to which it might be.

G'Kar; This, however, suggests you are fundamentally either severely stupid or so ideologically blinded to the facts as to render reality irrelevant to your worldview. I won't speculate as to which it might be.

This response to J Thomas pointing out that when insurgents shoot at US soldiers, US soldiers respond by shooting at everybody, suggests that you are fundamentally either severely stupid or so ideologically blinded to the facts as to render reality irrelevant to your worldview. As I don't think you're severely stupid, I conclude that your ideology blinds you to the facts. Reality for Iraqis, however, does not correspond to your ideological vision of US soldiers.

"It's possible that insurgents mostly attack *us* and often kill civilians instead because civilians are so much easier to kill by accident."

I don't think this explains car bombs in markets.

But referring to the various groupings in Iraq that are shooting, beyond the US/"Coalition" forces, and the Iraqi government forces, such as they are, as a homogenous group of "insurgents" isn't useful to understanding, either.

And in general, engaging in vague generalized and theoretical speculation, rather than making use of the known facts, also isn't apt to be helpful.

No more helpful, at least, than debates that personalize, such as accusations as to how smart or dumb, or blind or perceptive, someone else is. Those kind of discussions aren't apt to end well, or further understanding of, say, Iraq.

Actually, Jesurgislac, if you read what J Thomas wrote, you would note that he said that the doctrine is to fire in all directions. Since this is manifestly not U.S. doctrine, my conclusion was evident. However, since I am well aware that you cannot see past your ideological blinders, I'm sure that the distinction will escape you.

Gary,

Neither J Thomas nor Jesurgislac has any interest in understanding Iraq. They want to force their ideological viewpoint on others. I don't cotton to bullying.

Every single bullet fired by US troops is investigated and must be justified. Soldiers often don't shoot when it is justified to avoid the investigation. Every single day we have circumstances where the ROE allow us to fire, yet we have not, because soldiers are taking risk to themselves in support of the counter insurgency imperatives. We are directed not to return fire if it is just small arms fire and the vehicles are armored and returning fire endangers civilians. Positive identification of the target is required. There are times that civilians are caught in crossfire, but everything that can be done to avoid that is being done. "Death Blossoms" are not a normal or acceptable response to fire.

G'Kar, what J Thomas said was "Of course they should avoid US soldiers. The doctrine has consistently been that if *anybody* shoots at our guys then they shoot at pretty much *everybody*." And if you're seriously trying to tell me that you're completely and absolutely unaware of this - then yes, you are the one unable to see past your ideological blinders, or else have been studiously avoiding news stories about US soldiers in Iraq - such as they are: US soldiers have killed over two dozen journalists in Iraq since fighting began.

Jrudkis may claim that "Every single bullet fired by US troops is investigated and must be justified" but if that's true (obviously I have no idea of the mechanisms of internal investigation of what happens when US soldiers kill someone like Terry LLoyd, already wounded and being driven in a civilian vehicle away from the conflict when he was killed by a US soldier - but what comes out of the investigation is a justification of the soldier doing it. A wounded journalist in a civilian bus drivin away must have looked like a credible threat, so it was OK to shoot him. No US soldier has been held responsible for the killing of Terry Lloyd. And I mention him because, as a notable British journalist, his death was investigated, thoroughly.

Exactly how many US soldiers have been held liable when an Iraqi civilian has been killed by a US bullet? Who was charged when US soldiers fired into a peaceful demonstration in Fallujah in April 2003? No one.

G'Kar, if you want to understand the situation in Iraq, you have to take your ideological blinders off, and actually look at what happens, not what you would like to think happens.

Gary Farber linked to a Vanity Fair article on Haditha a few days ago, which has some relevance to how much investigating goes on in Iraq. Linking is always an adventure for me, but I think you can find it here

Gary has some further quotes too, I think, but one possibly botched link per post is my limit. Go to amygdala and scroll down

This is the post you're looking for, Donald. [makes subtle Jedi wrist gesture]

Aside from the long article by the great William Langewiesche (author of many extraordinary previous pieces of journalism; additional Q&A here), I also linked to this piece.

I believe Donald's point is related to the outlining of how frequently civilian deaths in Iraq are uninvestigated. Both stories have a lot of quotes from military personnel on this phenomenon.

[...] “The reality is then and the reality is now, you let loose marines in a T.I.C. against a hostile situation, taking small-arms fire,” Captain Dinsmore said, referring to “troops in contact,” “they don’t have the training nor do they have the presence of mind to differentiate between civilians and insurgents. It stinks.”
And so on.

I'd certainly be interested in G'Kar's take on both full articles.

I'd suggest to Jes that lectures on how other people need to take their "ideological blinders off" may not come off entirely the way she herself perceives them, but I don't expect the point would do any good coming from me, at least.

It does suddenly occur to me that, like LJ, Jes might not realize that G'Kar perhaps -- possibly -- might have some closer knowledge of the U.S. Army, and U.S. soldiers, than she does. Oh, well.

I'll include a slightly longer quote from the Times story:

[...] The presiding officer, Maj. Thomas McCann, seemed disconcerted about the testimony he had heard from several officers, from the general in charge of the Second Marine Division down to the first lieutenant whose men killed 24 civilians in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005. Several officers described civilian deaths as unfortunate but justifiable if they occurred during combat.

On Friday Major McCann, an experienced Marine lawyer, interjected some unsettling questions about how many civilian deaths it would take to constitute a violation of military regulations.

Alluding to Haditha, he asked, “At what point do we have to scratch our heads that we killed a lot more civilians than enemy?”

Because so many witnesses had testified that civilian deaths from “combat action” need not be investigated, Major McCann said, “I’m trying to figure out what authority they are citing.”

The witness testifying then, Col. Keith R. Anderson, a senior Marine Reserve lawyer now with the Department of the Navy, delivered a succinct and telling answer. “There is no authority,” he said. “I think it’s just a mind-set.”

The two officers had tackled some of the same issues that had troubled military investigators, including Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell of the Army, who bluntly criticized Marine commanders in a secret report last year for tolerating large numbers of civilian deaths in combat operations.

“All levels of command,” including the American command in Baghdad, “tended to view civilian casualties, even in significant numbers, as routine and as the natural and intended result of insurgent tactics,” General Bargewell wrote.

The report suggested that Marine commanders — from Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson, the commander of ground forces in Anbar Province, to First Lt. William T. Kallop, leader of Company K’s Third Platoon — created “an unintended command climate” that did not encourage compliance with the laws of armed conflict.

Testimony in the hearing last week, convened to determine whether Capt. Randy W. Stone had violated military laws for not investigating the civilian deaths, bore out many of General Bargewell’s main findings.

Maj. Carroll J. Connolly, for instance, a lawyer for the Marine regiment commanded then by Col. Stephen W. Davis, said he saw no need to investigate the civilian deaths in Haditha because they had come during combat with enemy fighters.

When Major McCann, the investigating officer, asked what the legal basis was for drawing that conclusion, Major Connolly, who was granted immunity from prosecution for his testimony, said he could not think of any.

[...]

Mr. Elliott, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, also pointed out that investigating the Haditha killings would be required to comply with Marine commanders’ requirements to report significant civilian deaths up the chain of command. “How can you report it,” he asked, “if you don’t see an obligation to investigate it in the first place?”

It was questions like those that Major McCann repeatedly seemed to grapple with.

Thanks Gary. One doesn't have to believe that US troops automatically go berserk when fired upon, but at the same time those articles seem to show that a significant number of civilian casualties go uninvestigated.

Digressing somewhat, this collection of short essays by soldiers on "How A Democrat Can Get My Vote" is interesting, and contains a number of views.

One soldier, Clint Douglas, writes this:

[...] Conservatives appear genuinely to respect people in the service. They don’t just assume that soldiers are economic victims or refugees from an unfair free market. They might even allow that one could enjoy soldiering without being a nut, a sadist, or a fascist.

Most of my non-Army friends would identify themselves as liberals or progressives or Democrats. My experience may be atypical, because I tend to hang around with opinionated people, but nearly all of them, I find, are suspicious of the military. “They’ll change you,” most warned after I announced my intention to enlist. “Don’t do it.” One acquaintance suggested psychotherapy instead. (This was my personal favorite in patronizing offensiveness.) When, later, I failed to turn into a mindless drone, they decided I would benefit from lectures about the Contras, the School of the Americas, or Augusto Pinochet. They’ve since moved on to Gitmo and the war in Iraq. I usually resign myself to the moralizing, turn to the bartender, and start ordering doubles.

Let’s face it: while only a tiny percentage of our total population has any direct relationship with the military, those numbers are even more anemic among the left-of-center types that gravitate toward the Democratic Party. My peers in this group have no qualms about holding forth about the armed forces, an institution with which they have no experience. Worse, when the windiness has subsided, they have no concrete suggestions on defense policy. They’ll do butter, but they won’t do guns. That would be someone else’s job.

He comes out for Obama in the end, though. But this perspective -- which in my limited experience is hardly uncommon -- doesn't strike me as wildly out of touch with reality.

I continue to be startled out of my wits, at times, when someone who has been voicing long and loud opinions about the military, and what they should and shouldn't be doing, reveals some vast and gaping ginormous void of knowledge on the most basic military fact relevant to their opinion. (Say, what the difference is between carpet-bombing and modern bombing, or what a platoon is, or what an aircraft carrier strike group is, or what counter-insurgency means, or what white phosphorus is used for, or whathaveyou.)

I can't imagine why it occurs to me to mention it in this thread, here and now, of course. Just pure randomness, I guess. But all the pieces are worth reading.

He has a point. However, there is an awful lot of cynicism and hypocracy ( as well as ignorance) in the so-called suppport that conservative civilians give to the military. Take the Q and O gang for instance. It's an article of faith with them that only Republicans support the troops. It is also a recurrent theme with them to attack any soldier who doesn't support their politics and (at least until I stopped reading their blog) a policy on their site to deny any evidence of over extension, underfunding, or understaffing in the war effort. So they are big supporters of the troops--but not the soldier on his fifth tour who doesn't believe in pro-war propaganda! Also they are firmly opposed to paying for the war.

An awful lot of conservative support of the troops is like that--all talk, no action, and limited only to those troops who toe the rightwing party line. Soldiers are room decorations to Republican politicians. Props.

I continue to be startled out of my wits, at times, when someone who has been voicing long and loud opinions about the military, and what they should and shouldn't be doing, reveals some vast and gaping ginormous void of knowledge on the most basic military fact relevant to their opinion.

This could be true of any subject, though. Law, science, religion, and so on. Most people can hold intelligent opinions and participate in discussion usefully on such things without holding a doctorate.

Joe/Jane Blogger may not know the exact order of battle of the 10th Mountain Division, but they can still discuss military policy, as the military acts in their name and, some say, their interest.

I don't know Gary--in my experience a fair number of liberal/lefties lean over backwards claiming to support the troops. I have no firsthand experience of the military and anything I think I know comes from books and magazines and the like but it seems to me that there are two extremes people often go to--one is to demonize the military (less common than it might have been in the 60's but more on that in a minute) and the other is to glorify it. I have trouble imagining a US politician with Presidential ambitions wondering out loud about whether there are too many US-inflicted civilian casualties that go uninvestigated, because people would say he or she wasn't supporting the troops. Well, they'd probably say harsher things than that.

Which is not to say one shouldn't cringe at the other extreme either--spitting, calling people babykillers, etc. (I was about to put in some more dot after the etc, but don't know the correct number.) Though since we're talking about that there are some on the left who say that the amount of disrespect shown to Vietnam vets by the antiwar movement has been greatly exaggerated and that much of the real disrespect shown was by conservative WWII vets towards antiwar Vietnam vets. I don't know, but if that's true I'd like to see it more generally known. But first I'd like some competent journalists and/or historians to settle the issue, if possible.

"(I was about to put in some more dot after the etc, but don't know the correct number.)"

The sentence works better without them. (It would have been four, since "etc" ends the sentence; thus, an ellipsis [three dots] and a period.) If the sentence works fine without an ellipsis, then an ellipsis is a bad idea. (Alas, that this is not law!)

I should have mentioned Spencer Ackerman's piece on the views of the troops, as well, since it's not linked at the links I gave. (Pet peeve: how the Washington Monthly makes it so damn hard to find a table of contents, and the contents of their magazine, instead of the blog.)

"Most people can hold intelligent opinions and participate in discussion usefully on such things without holding a doctorate."

Thus my stress on "the most basic military fact relevant to their opinion," rather than doctorate-level knowledge.

Knowing what a platoon is, when discussing what infantry are doing, or what a carrier strike force is, when discussing the strategic points of a carrier move, isn' doctorate-level.

"Most people can hold intelligent opinions and participate in discussion usefully on such things without holding a doctorate."

Thus my stress on "the most basic military fact relevant to their opinion," rather than doctorate-level knowledge.

Knowing what a platoon is, when discussing what infantry are doing, or what a carrier strike force is, when discussing the strategic points of a carrier move, isn't doctorate-level.

Knowing what a platoon is, when discussing what infantry are doing, or what a carrier strike force is, when discussing the strategic points of a carrier move, isn't doctorate-level.

I used "doctorate" to exaggerate for effect, and I certainly don't disagree that someone participating in a discussion on a certain topic should at least be a couple steps up from completely ignorant.


J Thomas asserted that it is U.S. doctrine for soldiers under attack to shoot at anything and everything they see.

Words have meaning.

Doctrine has a very specific meaning: it refers to the precise policies and procedures the military for responding to various tactical situations.

Doctrine regarding potential contact with the enemy involves a number of steps designed to minimize the chances of innocents in the combat zone being shot.

Therefore, J Thomas' statement was demonstrably inaccurate, and it was inaccurate in such a way that a small amount of research could have prevented him from making a false statement.

Exactly how many US soldiers have been held liable when an Iraqi civilian has been killed by a US bullet?

There have often been significant investigations after killings have gotten a whole lot of publicity in the US and european press.

Who was charged when US soldiers fired into a peaceful demonstration in Fallujah in April 2003? No one.

They said there were snipers shooting at them.

At any rate, the training may have changed and the actual behaviors may be changing, unit by unit. It would certainly make sense to change that.

As to the larger issue, I have no doubt that in some circumstances, U.S. soldiers do, in fact, overreact to contact. There is no question whatsoever that innocent Iraqis have been killed by U.S. troops who were following the rules simply because the rules are not and cannot be perfected. And I have no doubt that some U.S. troops have violated these rules and killed innocent Iraqis.

I would still, however, object to a claim that this was or is in any way the standard, and I submit that such an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence that neither J Thomas nor Jesurgislac can or will provide.

If someone wishes to debate specific cases or general ideas for how to reduce or eliminate these incidents (short of those I cannot control such as ending the war), I would be very pleased to hear them.

Doctrine has a very specific meaning: it refers to the precise policies and procedures the military for responding to various tactical situations.

Doctrine regarding potential contact with the enemy involves a number of steps designed to minimize the chances of innocents in the combat zone being shot.

You are right, and I was wrong. My intention was something more like "de facto doctrine". In terms of what the troops have done over the last few years, as opposed to what they claim on paper they're supposed to do. But it wasn't right to call that "doctrine" since "doctrine" refers only to the sanitised paper version and not to the reality. I should not have used that word at all.

G'Kar, I had a note about your objection to the word "doctrine", but I see in preview that J Thomas has already covered that.

I would still, however, object to a claim that this was or is in any way the standard

I do see what you mean now. What you appeared to be doing before was denying that this is what happens. If what you're saying is that this is not what is supposed to happen, well, that's rather different.

I would say, however, that the evidence is well in that when US soldiers kill Iraqi civilians, this seems to be regarded in most instances as either unavoidable or unimportant. Iraqi civilians don't follow "the rules" - which, Jim Henley suggested a couple of years ago, can be described as Thou shalt not frighten an American soldier.:

The soldiers want to live. I not only don’t blame them, I want them to live too. That’s why I wouldn’t have sent them there in the first place. It’s natural that the soldiers value their own lives over the lives of Iraqis. In general, I value American lives over Iraqi lives myself, to be crudely chauvinist about it. But it’s fundamentally strange that American lives should be valued more highly than Iraqi lives in Iraq.
So it is, though: and if you can show otherwise - if you can offer specific cases of US soldiers killing Iraqi civilians and being charged as they would be if they killed American civilians, I'd be very interested. Surprised, but interested.

I will also note that this issue illustrates the importance of discipline among the troops. It takes a great deal of self-discipline to face an oncoming potential SBIED or VBIED and not immediately engage because you are not certain whether or not your target is hostile. Undisciplined troops are far more likely to panic and pull the trigger when they shouldn't. And, in COIN, soldiers have to be trained to take additional risks because the enemy will push at every turn to try and provoke a disproportionate response that will bring the populace into their camp.

G'Kar, if you should happen to find the time, and inclination -- and I recognize that you certainly are apt to have neither, having far more important things to do, which is as it should be -- I'd be quite curious, nonetheless, if said time and inclination should drop by, to know any opinion/evaluation you might have of the William Langewiesche piece I posted about. It is a bit on the long side, I'm afraid.

Anyway, if you do read it, and write a response, feel free to let me know; if not, perfectly understandable.

G'Kar: I will also note that this issue illustrates the importance of discipline among the troops. It takes a great deal of self-discipline to face an oncoming potential SBIED or VBIED and not immediately engage because you are not certain whether or not your target is hostile.

Absolutely. It is - according to soldiers who have served in Northern Ireland - one of the most difficult, yet most essential things that they had to learn. I respect enormously a soldier who can wait for an oncoming car and overcome their fear of being shot at or blown up with the knowledge that killing Iraqi civilians because they've scared a US soldier will lose the US the war in Iraq.

Unfortunately, the history of the US occupation in Iraq says that not enough US soldiers were that brave or that disciplined, and certainly what we've heard of US military reaction to the killing of Iraqi civilians (or Italian security personnel, or foreign reporters) suggests strongly that if the US military had ever been instructed to regard an Iraqi civilian's life as more important than a US soldier's life, they'd long ago dismissed the idea and were not instructing soldiers to behave accordingly.

It would, I know, have taken enormous courage and terrific discipline. British soldiers have had specific training in how to handle situations like that in Northern Ireland, and even with the advantage of both soldiers and civilians speaking the same language, more or less, there were still incidents of soldiers killing civilians because the civilian had scared the soldiers out of good sense.

I don't presume to judge the individual soldiers who failed. I have talked about it with people who have been there and I honestly don't think I have any right to judge, when I have no idea how I'd react in that situation.

But I can judge the people who put them in tht situation: the military decisions that were made not to pursue the issue of US soldiers killing Iraqi civilians: the belief, which British soldiers who've done tours in Iraq have mentioned, that the British experience of dealing with a hostile population who must not be made more hostile, wasn't valued. Iraqi lives weren't valued. Neither the administration who sent them there, nor the military structure that kept them there, seem to have recognized that they needed to have US soldiers valuing Iraqi civilian lives above their own.

Gary,

I've downloaded the article to read.

Jesurgislac,

There were a few people who realized it, but the U.S. Army is still in the process of transforming from a conventional force to a COIN force. I suspect it will take at least 5-10 years for the transformation to be complete, and it may be reversed depending on what happens in Iraq in that time. Remember that after Vietnam the U.S. Army essentially decided that it wasn't going to do COIN any more, which is part of what led us to this point.

"Unfortunately, the history of the US occupation in Iraq says that not enough US soldiers were that brave or that disciplined, and certainly what we've heard of US military reaction to the killing of Iraqi civilians (or Italian security personnel, or foreign reporters) suggests strongly that if the US military had ever been instructed to regard an Iraqi civilian's life as more important than a US soldier's life, they'd long ago dismissed the idea and were not instructing soldiers to behave accordingly."

This won't comfort any Iraqis, to be sure, but I would note that simple logic indicates that the soldiers could be thoroughly instructed in this doctrine, and extremely well-trained, and it could be heavily emphasized, but since soldiers are there on tours for more than a year at a time, innumerable American combat soldiers may be in situations where they have to make such life-or-death decisions multiple times a day, day after day, week after week, month after month.

If a soldier only make a questionable decision one out of a thousand times, but they've had to face such decisions, say, five times a day, then that means they're apt to have shot or blown up an Iraqi that maybe they shouldn't have, in the best of all possible worlds, well before a year is over.

And that's just soldiers on their first tour.

(Naturally, less than half the military personnel in Iraq are actually out on combat patrol, although I'm not sure what the precise ratio is.)

So one really doesn't have to make the assumptions you make about American soldiers and their training to get to the reality that you suggest exists.

If someone wishes to debate specific cases or general ideas for how to reduce or eliminate these incidents (short of those I cannot control such as ending the war), I would be very pleased to hear them.

Training might help. Certainly in the early years of the war our troops got insufficient training in how to run a benign occupation while facing violent opposition. I hope that's being improved.

Cultural studies might help. Make sure the troops get a whole lot of exposure to the idea that iraqis are just as valuable as americans, their culture is just as honorable and wise, and we are guests in their country helping them recover from great misfortune. I'm not sure how well that would go over, but every little bit helps.

I'm sure it would reduce civilian casualties if most US infantry were armed only with precision weapons. If all they can do is take out specific individuals, if it's hard for them to lay down much fire, then they'll usually aim carefully at important targets. But that might increase US casualties, and I expect the troops wouldn't like it one little bit. I've heard some complaints about inadequate artillery backup. While it's true that sufficient artillery can save you if you get in serious trouble, used in cities it tends to be bad for civilians....

There used to be serious iraqi complaints about US vehicles on the roads. If an iraqi vehicle got too fast they of course took it out because it might be a suicide bomber trying to get close to them. And if they overtook a vehicle that didn't get out of their way quick enough they took it out for the same reason. I read that the orders were to destroy iraqi vehicles that got within 50 feet, but often vehicles were actually destroyed at 100 feet or 200 feet etc. (No, I got that confused. It was 50 meters and 100 meters etc.) We reduced that problem by doing less travel by road, but.... How are we going to have small units policing Baghdad without a lot of road traffic? Maybe we could establish perimeters where we stop car bombs from coming in, and then root out all the car-bomb factories inside, and then we're OK?

The, ah, customs (that's a good word) that caused so many iraqi civilian deaths didn't develop in a vacuum. Our soldiers aren't barbarians who just like to kill iraqi civilians. The practices evolved to keep US casualties low. And other things equal, if we change them now we can expect US casualties to rise.

So moving right along, we can reduce iraqi civilian casualties if we minimise contact between US soldiers and iraqis. I have the impression that approach was working for awhile, but then we felt like the iraqi army wasn't maturing fast enough and we needed US troops to stiffen them.

The obvious best solution to this problem is the one you can't consider -- to minimise exposure of US troops to iraqi civilians by getting them out of iraq, of course.

Any study of insurgency will show that attacks on civilian targets are common because it undermines support for the government and scares the citizens into aiding the insurgency.

G'Kar, this is widely believed by people doing counterinsurgency, and there's a kernel of truth to it.

Here's an example -- in the american insurgency, the insurgents didn't kill people at random in Philadelphia to scare the public into aiding them. That would have been utterly stupid.

The insurgents did kidnap a bunch of civilians, and they hanged some of them. But in every case they did their level best to make sure it was *Tories* they molested and not anybody else.

Counter-insurgents like to think that they're the good guys and the insurgents are the bad guys and the main reason people support the insurgents is they got terrorised into it. But it doesn't work.

Insurgents can't afford to alienate their own people or neutrals. They aim their civilian terrorism at *collaborators* and only collaborators. Except maybe some very stupid insurgents.

If the time ever comes that the chinese army is occupying northern virginia and a bunch of insurgents try to persuade me to support them on the grounds that they're more dangerous to me than the chinese are, I will look for a reasonably safe way to turn them in to the chinese. I want an insurgency but not *that* insurgency. (But if most of the chinese translators are insurgents then no, I won't say anything. I'll just root for both sides killing each other off.)

Yes, insurgents can do slave labor. They can round up a whole bunch of civilians to dig earthworks or whatever. But that causes a lot of harm unless they can give the civilians the illusion they volunteered.

We think of it as sheer terrorism because -- being occupiers etc -- we listen a lot to collaborators.

There were a few people who realized it, but the U.S. Army is still in the process of transforming from a conventional force to a COIN force. I suspect it will take at least 5-10 years for the transformation to be complete, and it may be reversed depending on what happens in Iraq in that time.

I understand where they're coming from and it's completely understandable, but still it's stupid. We have no earthly use for a counter-insurgency army.

I mean no offense, J Thomas, but when it comes to your opinion, which is based on I don't know what, and the opinion of people who have actually studied and fought insurgencies, I think I'm going to go with the experts.

G'Kar, I suggest you study carefully people who write about their experience fighting for insurgencies too. Get both sides of it.

That's how I got my opinions, looking at both sides, though I haven't read the recent stuff.

Soldiers get plenty of cultural awareness training. Most soldiers are as concerned about killing an innocent as anyone you know, and my company has refrained from firing many times already because there were too many civilians in the area to risk firing.

While the big sign on the back of the convoys say "do not get within 100 meters of vehicle," within Baghdad, that is impossible. Traffic in Baghdad is worse than NYC in many places, and were soldiers to shoot every vehicle that was inside the bubble, we would run out of bullets. Gunners have the uneviable task of identifying which of thousands of vehicles on the road is a VBIED, and endangering the convoy, while they are in gridlock.

Concern about troop losses that interferes with fighting the insurgency stems from the need to maintain public support at home as much as concern for the soldier, and you are right, that causes more civilian deaths. It is the same concern that led the Air Force to bomb from 15,000 feet in Kosovo to ensure no US deaths, but also ensured more civilian deaths and mistakes. Every loss of a soldier today is a strategic loss, trumpeted by those demanding pullout as demonstrative of futility and waste. The military can't take more risk with regard to soldiers and also get the time necessary to win.

Precision weapons won't stop VBIEDs.

G'Kar: There were a few people who realized it, but the U.S. Army is still in the process of transforming from a conventional force to a COIN force. I suspect it will take at least 5-10 years for the transformation to be complete, and it may be reversed depending on what happens in Iraq in that time.

My understanding is that you simply don't have 5-10 years, though. After four years in Iraq, everyone with inside information and freedom to speak about it says that the US military is at breaking point: the notion that you can keep going in Iraq as you are now for another five years seems like a hopeful fantasy. Further, if you're trying to say that US soldiers are being taught that they must value Iraqi civilian lives above their own, where and when, exactly, are they being taught this? Can you show examples of specific cases of US soldiers put on trial for killing Iraqi civilians?

Remember that after Vietnam the U.S. Army essentially decided that it wasn't going to do COIN any more, which is part of what led us to this point.

Actually, what led the US to this point was Bush's determination to invade Iraq and occupy it without having any plans for how to do that, and without having sufficient military personnel to be able to do it. A lot of what went wrong in the early part of the occupation was absolutely down to expecting the same troops who had been fighting the invasion to be a peaceful occupying force. That shouldn't have happened. Nor should the Iraqi military have been dismissed. Nor should the stockpiled weapons have been left for anyone to raid them. Nor should the Iraqi elections have been delayed for nearly two years after the invasion. Nor should the reconstruction money have been given to US companies to pay Americans. Basic human rights should have been guaranteed from the start - I don't just mean not kidnapping and torturing Iraqis, but also ensuring that Iraqi women had the same rights they had under Saddam Hussein, and considering what to do about the religious issues of Sunni and Shi'ite. There's a whole host of terrible mistakes that were made that ensured the US occupation would be unwelcome to your average Iraqi, that were in no way the fault of the US military, still less the soldiers at the sharp end. The fact that in Vietnam US soldiers killed civilians with impunity and that in Iraqi US soldiers kill civilians with impunity has a certain amount to do with the US losing the war, but in all honesty, I can and do blame the Bush administration for losing the war, more so than the US military mindset which saw the Iraqis as enemies.

jrudkis: Most soldiers are as concerned about killing an innocent as anyone you know

I'm sure they are. Nevertheless, they know that if they kill an Iraqi civilian, it won't be considered murder or manslaughter. Even torturing an Iraqi PoW to death doesn't merit any serious punishment. That they are concerned about killing innocents says they're human: that they're able to kill Iraqis with impunity says they will, and we know they do. As Jim Henley said: American lives in Iraq are considered more important than Iraqi lives.

Our soldiers aren't barbarians who just like to kill iraqi civilians.
The majority probably is not but from what I read there is a significant number that unfortunately fits that bill.
And officers that make pep talks about how the enemy is in league with Satan (as before Fallujah) are not going to improve that.
Given that all armies have their share of psychopaths and that the recruitment gap of the US forces have led to lowered barriers (cf. gang grafitti in Baghdad, or neonazis that want to get the experience they will need for the next US civil war), I have no doubt that there are too many out there that should not be.

Given that all armies have their share of psychopaths and that the recruitment gap of the US forces have led to lowered barriers (cf. gang grafitti in Baghdad, or neonazis that want to get the experience they will need for the next US civil war), I have no doubt that there are too many out there that should not be.

I personally only know of one. Because of his multiple felonies they decided he would be a mechanic, with no access to weapons or classified info. If they don't catch him at anything for a year they'll reconsider.

I kind of hope he gets away with everything long enough to get an honorable discharge. That would make a big difference for him.

Our military has a lot of experience dealing with thieves etc in the ranks. The security it takes to contain them is a good start toward the security needed to minimise enemy agents.

Concern about troop losses that interferes with fighting the insurgency stems from the need to maintain public support at home as much as concern for the soldier, and you are right, that causes more civilian deaths.

Yes. And if we counted civilian deaths that would interfere with public support too. It's hard.

[....] The military can't take more risk with regard to soldiers and also get the time necessary to win.

Yes. It would probably help if the military gave an official estimate of how long it should take to win. Something like 5-15 years or 10-20 years or 20-30 years. The US public needs that estimate so we can keep from getting discouraged. We started out saying the troops were going to come right home, and then it was down to 30,000 in 6 months, and things just keep getting worse in the short run. If the government came right out and said it was going to take 10 years then we'd know better where we stand.

Precision weapons won't stop VBIEDs.

Yes, it's a problem. Similarly, the news reported airstriks in Baghdad slums yesterday. Of course we can't protect innocent iraqi citizens from Sadrists without bombing them, but....

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