Monday, July 10, 2006

The Left Was Right, pt. MMCXVI

Andrew Bacevich is rapidly becoming one of my favourite conservatives. Why? Because he isn't a bloody-minded idiot. In his WaPo column, "What's an Iraqi life worth?":
Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded U.S. forces when they entered Iraq more than three years ago, famously declared: "We don't do body counts." Franks was speaking in code. What he meant was this: The U.S. military has learned the lessons of Vietnam -- where body counts became a principal, and much derided, public measure of success -- and it has no intention of repeating that experience. Franks was not going to be one of those generals re-fighting the last war.

Unfortunately, Franks and other senior commanders had not so much learned from Vietnam as forgotten it. This disdain for counting bodies, especially those of Iraqi civilians killed in the course of U.S. operations, is among the reasons why U.S. forces find themselves in another quagmire. It's not that the United States has an aversion to all body counts. We tally every U.S. service member who falls in Iraq, and rightly so. But only in recent months have military leaders finally begun to count -- for internal use only -- some of the very large number of Iraqi noncombatants whom American bullets and bombs have killed.

Through the war's first three years, any Iraqi venturing too close to an American convoy or checkpoint was likely to come under fire. Thousands of these "escalation of force" episodes occurred. Now, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, has begun to recognize the hidden cost of such an approach. "People who were on the fence or supported us" in the past "have in fact decided to strike out against us," he recently acknowledged.
Franks was never, if I recall correctly, fired for his incredibly callous and demeaning remarks regarding the value of Iraqi life. Indeed, Franks was never fired at all, and he bloody well should have been. It would have taken a severely retarded monkey for an American General to lose the war against Saddam Hussein's army. But it required actual skill and intelligence to win the peace in Iraq - not to mention the spine to actually demand the troops necessary for the occupation. Tragically for all concerned, Franks had neither the skill, intelligence, or spine for the job. Moreover, he seems to have gone to war with ideas about the Iraqis that are just this side of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion:
In the early days of the insurgency, some U.S. commanders appeared oblivious to the possibility that excessive force might produce a backlash. They counted on the iron fist to create an atmosphere conducive to good behavior. The idea was not to distinguish between "good" and "bad" Iraqis, but to induce compliance through intimidation.

"You have to understand the Arab mind," one company commander told the New York Times, displaying all the self-assurance of Douglas MacArthur discoursing on Orientals in 1945. "The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face." Far from representing the views of a few underlings, such notions penetrated into the upper echelons of the American command. In their book "Cobra II," Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor offer this ugly comment from a senior officer: "The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I'm about to introduce them to it."
Some people in blogtopia have been concerned about news that the US Army has ended its prohibition on recruiting white supremacists. I haven't written anything about it, largely because the addition of a few more white racists to the already white and racist US officer corps seems a little like deck chairs on the Titanic at this point. Although as Steve Gilliard has pointed out, the fact that gangs and skinheads are joining the Army is probably going to be bad for unit cohesion. Though probably not as bad as, you know, being in Iraq.

Maybe this is the natural outcome of war - it's hard to kill lots of people unless you learn to hate them, I guess. But it's worth pointing out that Bacevich (and Trainor and Gordon) are saying something clearly: American forces went in to this war with their prejudices already in place. The conduct of the war has only confirmed their odious racism.

As much as I hate what Bush has done to his country, I hate what he's done to the Iraqis even more.


odograph said...

I've always seen a danger in the words "minimum civilian casualties"

May 2005 I pulled some of it together:

"I think this is cause for concern, and something that will certainly come back to bite us. I have no doubt that soldiers in the field are making every attempt to minimize civilian casualties … but there is at best a disconnect, when we don’t count."

odograph said...

BTW, I am a "lapsed Republican" turned off by the petty crookedness cut all through this administration and its strategies, and not "Left" myself.

A moderate by modern standards, I usually ageed with my moderate Democrat hiking buddy ... even if we started from different principles.

Capt. Jim Finley, USMC Retired said...

To attribute prejudices to American service members in general is to display prejudice - there are racists in the military, but there are a lot of non-racists, and when I was in (I'm a retired Marine) the non-racists were the majority by far.