Journal: Marcus Aurelius Flags Force Protection Blinders

Military, Peace Intelligence
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Protection Rackets

By Christopher Dickey | Newsweek Web Exclusive

Jul 31, 2009

In Afghanistan, Americans should deploy Pvt. Social Worker and Maj. Sociologist.

PBI:  The conclusion first:

“You have to learn to discriminate if you’re going to win,” said Villalobos. “And in Afghanistan, that’s the problem. You don’t know how to do that. You don’t speak the languages; you don’t understand the cultures. And then you have two other problems. First, you are the invader, the outsider.” And that’s not going to change. “And second, you add to this the problem with your own record of human-rights violations.” Villalobos mentioned the Iraq horror picture show at Abu Ghraib in 2004 and the long history of abuses at the Bagram military base.To achieve anything in that sort of environment, soldiers have to be willing and able to move around among the public. But the “force protection” that is at the heart of so many U.S. military tactics and procedures makes that awkward if not impossible. You can’t convince the people you can protect them from the insurgents, after all, if you look like you’re not sure you can protect yourself. They just ask why you’re there in the first place. And that question is increasingly hard to answer.

PBI: Now the middle meat:

“Afghanistan,” said Villalbos, “is super complicado.”

“In the old days, your problem was to defeat the enemy, and it didn’t matter which way you did it,” the veteran guerrilla told me. “We had rural societies that were cut off from each other; you could eliminate your enemies without people seeing, and you could create a long peace that way. But in a world that is more interconnected, the idea of human rights has become more universal, and there has developed a direct relationship between human rights and military effectiveness.” Is McChrystal reading Villalobos? They seem to be very much on the same page.

As Villalobos sees it, the power to intimidate is much more limited than it used to be, and the risk of too much intimidation is that you will scare civilians right into the arms of your enemies. (Indeed, this was one of Al Qaeda’s big mistakes in Iraq.) “Too much discussion about human rights has been about ethics,” said Villalobos, “and it’s not only an ethical problem, it’s an operational problem. The army of the future needs officers that are sociologists and soldiers that are social workers.

PBI:  Read the beginning and other bits by clicking the Newsweek logo.

+++++++Marcus Aurelius Comment+++++++

Quite possibly, much of the force protection problem can be traced to a terrorist attack on a US bus Honduras in the late 1980s.  That influenced future Southern Command (Latin America)  commander GEN George Joulwan who later was European command commander during the Balkans interventions.  GEN Joulwan’s very robust view of force protection arguably set the tone for much of what our forces are doing today in the CENTCOM AOR.

+++++++Phi Beta Iota Editorial Comment+++++++

“Force Protection” is code for “Friendly Casualty Aversion” as well as the US Army’s old mind-set of not allowing commanders any latitude in the way of mistakes–zero tolerance paved the way for micro-management and micro-reporting, and that is how the US Army trains, equips, and organizes.  It became effective at killing indiscriminately and very ineffective at winning and holding ground and the hearts and minds on that ground. The Battle of Jutland and the “Rules of the Game” lessons learned and not learned by the British Empire apply equally to the American Empire. What this boils down to is that the Americans have substituted technology for thinking and doctrine for strategy. There is no good strategic reason for being in Afghanistan, nor is there a good strategic reason for continuing to spend $1 trillion a year on a 1950’s force structure model, and now toward $90 billion a year on a secret intelligence community optimized to cover Soviet communications and little else.  At the same time, between partisan ideology, Wall Street special interests, and bureaucratic corporatism, US foreign policy can safely be said to be–we quote Madeline Albright–the equivalent of “gerbils on a wheel.”  See the other book below by Morton Halperin, a book that includes as one of the “rules of the game,” “Lie to the President if you can get away with it.”  With a lack of integrity so prevasive, America is her own worst enemy.

Andrew Gordon
Andrew Gordon
Morton Halperin
Morton Halperin