Thursday, March 07, 2013

Who crowned him?







Turning to the topic of counter-insurgency.  The 'tool' that targets native populations is really not called out on the left.  Either you get so-called lefties endorsing it or everyone wants to dummy up.  (Tom Hayden and David H. Price are two of the few on the left who have addressed it.)  War on a native people.  Today Mona Mahmood, Maggie O'Kane, Chavala Madlena and Teresa Smith (Guardian) report:

The allegations made by US and Iraqi witnesses in the Guardian/BBC documentary, implicate US advisers for the first time in the human rights abuses committed by the commandos. It is also the first time that Petraeus – who last November was forced to resign as director of the CIA after a sex scandal – has been linked through an adviser to this abuse.
Coffman reported to Petraeus and described himself in an interview with the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes as Petraeus's "eyes and ears out on the ground" in Iraq.

Yes, we're at the topic of counter-insurgency.  Will the usual cowards rush off to hide?  Probably.  Back in February of 2012, Paula Broadwell could be found hailing David Petraeus as "the King of COIN" -- "COIN" being counter-insurgency (link goes to Mark Silva's report for Bloomberg News and is text and video).  Paula should know, right?  She wrote a book about him and had an affair with him -- the affair that forced him to resign as CIA Director.  Before that happened, Petraeus came to fame as the top US commander in Iraq.  Though the press praised him hugely in real time, they never cared much about reporting reality.  In 2010, Robert Dreyfuss (Huffington Post) observed, "[. . .] Petraeus literally wrote the book -- namely, The U.S. Army/ Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.   If the COIN cult has a guru (whom all obey unquestioningly), it's Petraeus."  They didn't call out counterinsurgency.  That was apparently too much work for their tender hands.  Last November, Michael Cohen (Guardian) offered the typical 'criticism' from the left:

More than three years ago, I sat in an overflow room in Washington, DC's Willard Hotel listening to General David Petraeus explain (pdf) how the only solution for the failing war in Afghanistan was a "comprehensive counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy", modeled after the one that had allegedly achieved so much success in Iraq.
Petraeus's speech came at the annual meeting of the Center for New American Security, a DC-based thinktank that had become a locus of COIN thinking in DC. And Petraeus was at the peak of his power and acclaim – heralded by both Democrats and Republicans as the man responsible for saving the Iraq war.
The four-star general's in-depth powerpoint presentation (pdf), with its discussion of securing and serving the population, "understanding local circumstances" separating irreconcilables from reconcilables and living "among the people" was the apogee of COIN thinking, which dominated national security debates in Washington in 2008 and 2009. But, like Petraeus's career, COIN and its usefulness as a tool for US military planners now lies in tatters.
Please note, those three paragraphs represent the nonsense that has passed for a debate when it comes to counterinsurgency: Is it working?  Heaven forbid we should ever question the wisdom or ethics of using it to begin with.  COIN cheerleaders like former journalist Thomas E. Ricks would love to get in a back and forth or success or failure, they just don't want to have the larger conversation where counter-insurgency itself -- war on a native people -- is addressed.

NYU Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff  is among the few in the current era to question counter-insurgency.  He's noted that what counter-insurgency has done is produce a war culture, a culture where war itself is seen as natural and cultural.  These and other points can be found in his article [PDF format warning] "War is Culture: Global Counterinsurgency, Visuality, and the Petraeus Doctrine:"

Counterinsurgency has become a digitally mediated version of imperialists techniques to produce legitimacy.  Its success in the United States is unquestioned: who  in public life is against counterinsurgency, even if they oppose the war in Iraq or invasions elsewhere?  War is culture.

When counter-insurgency 'succeeds', Mirzoeff argues, "war will have rendered a culture in its own image, that it preaches the importance of "the preservation of life, determined by foreign policy interests.  Counterinsurgency now actively imagines itself as a medical practice: 'With good intelligence, counterinsurgents are like surgeons cutting out cancerous tissue while keeping other vital organs intact' (US, Dept. of the Army 1-126).

While some, like Sarah Sewell, insist that counter-insurgency is culturally sensitive, it's not.  It's culturally hierarchical with the built-in assumption that the Americans are so much wiser and so much more advanced and, yes, valuable than the native population that US counter-insurgency is being used upon.  (That's also known as cultural chauvinism.)  The people doing the 'surgery' are doing 'surgery' and 'treatment' based upon what they themselves value.  And what Iraqi society values and what the US military values are completely different things.  Which gets to Mirzoeff's point about what counter-insurgency leads to -- a culture in its own image.  That's one of the reasons Iraq doesn't function today.  It was not set up as Iraqis would have set it up themselves.  It was forced onto the Iraqi population with US 'advisors' determining what were the needed goals and desires of Iraqi society.

Counter-insurgency comes about because of the success of insurgency -- in Cuba, in Vietnam and elsewhere.  It's a bad response to guerrilla actions -- it's overblown and overspent and, at its very core, outright pathetic.  But what happened in Cuba and Vietnam, for example, created envy among the US War Hawks who were convinced they could co-opt it with a 'response.'  They can't.  What they try to do is to demonize local leaders who may hold sway. 

Counter-insurgency always turns ugly because the people who support are ugly.  Petraeus might have started out a decent person, I have no idea.  But he practiced counter-insurgency and that it led to torture and abuse by his underlings is no surprise.  At its heart, counter-insurgency is "I know best and I will convince you through any means or I will rid the society of you."  That's not a peaceful approach, that's not embracing approach.  That approach says, "You will do as I do or I will eradicate you."  When that is your operating principle, you have so little respect for humanity that you're well on your way to utilizing torture.

As Howard B. Radest points out, in Bioethics: Catastrophic Events in a Time of Terror, of the 'making' movements of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, they "attempt the grandiose, seeing themselves as world forming and as world reforming.  Thus, the effort to convert the world to any single belief system like Islam or Christianity or communism, or to any unequivocal norm like a market economy.  The ideological move forecasts failure.  The world does not yield to our wishes and to our fears.  It is surely not finally controlled by us."

Sarah Sewer Sewell (who hates this piece Ava and I wrote about her, her roll dog Monty McFate, Charlie Rose and counter-insurgency back in 2007) would most likely insist that counter-insurgency is benign, if not benevolent.  It is neither.  The value judgments required to arrive at a plan are dangerous in and of themselves.  Equally true, it is not the warm fuzzy Sewell tries to pretend it is.  The Australian David Kilcullen -- who has worked counter-insurgency for Australia and the US -- is much more honest as pro counter-insurgency George Packer noted in his essay "Knowing the Enemy" (The New Yorker, December 18, 2006):

Kilcullen doesn't believe that an entirely "soft" counterinsurgency approach can work against such tactics.  In his view, winning hearts and minds is not a matter of making local people think like you -- as some American initiates to counterinsurgency whom I met in Iraq seemed to believe -- but of getting them to accept that supporting your side is in their interest, which requires an element of coercion.  Kilcullen met senior European officers with the NATO force in Afghanistan who seemed to be applying " a developmental model to counterinsurgency," hoping that gratitude for good work would bring the Afghans over to their side.  He told me, "In a counterinsurgency, the gratitude effect will last until the sun goes down and the insurgents show up and say, 'You're on our side, aren't you?  Otherwise, we're going to kill you.'  If one side is willing to apply lethal force to bring the population to its side and the other isn't, ultimately you're going to find yourself losing."

Again, they talk like it's all persuasion but when they get down to it, they're supporters of using force as they attempt to colonize.

As with Vietnam, the wars of this era -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- have found the US military using -- among others -- anthropologists.   Antonius C.G.M. Robben and Jeffrey A. Sluka address this in Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader and this is from a piece Sluka wrote for The Reader:

Even more controversially, in 2006 the US Army initiated a new $60 million experimental counterinsurgency program called Human Terrain System (HTS) which began to "embed" anthropologists and other social scientists with combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan to help them gather ethnographic intelligence (referred to as "conducting research") and understand local cultures better.  The goal is to provide soldiers in the field with knowledge of the population and its culture in order to enhance operational effectiveness and reduce conflict between the military and the civilian population.  The HTS program has generated great controversy among anthropologists, most of whom view it as fundamentally unethical, inherently harmful to those studied, and an attempt to "weaponize" the discipline (Price 2006).  Many have criticized it as "mercenary anthropology" that exploits social science for political gain, warned that it will exacerbate the already considerable danger of anthropologists being viewed as intelligence agents or spies which nearly all anthropologists face in their fieldwork, and drawn a direct comparison with the infamous Phoenix Program and Project Camelot during the Vietnam War.
In October 2007, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) formally opposed the program and denounced it as "an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise" which could lead to serious, ethical problems, disgrace to anthropology as an academic discipline, restriction of future research opportunities, and increased risk of harm to both researchers and research participants.  At the same time, "in response to concerns that such developments threaten the integrity of anthropology, " the Network of Concerned Anthropologists (NCA) was formed and launched a "pledge of nonparticipation in counterinsurgency" campaign, which more than 1,000 anthropologists signed in the first few months (NCA 2007).  Both the AAA and the NCA  assert that counterinsurgency work in general, but in this case especially the HTS program, violates several core elements of the AAA ethics code, and in 2009 the code was revised directly in response to these developments.

In the July 1, 1976 issue of The New Scientist, on page 3, "Repressive technology" appeared.  The author is Duncan Campbell (now with the Guardian newspaper).

Last week, about 350 military and diplomatic big-wigs were invited by the British Army to witness a mobility display of army equipment, including a variety of counterinsurgency vehicles suitable for troops equipped with CS gas launchers, batons and rubbert bullet guns.  Almost one quarter of the delegation invited represented countries where free elections, in the Western sense, are abnormal.  Only one of those, Yugoslavia, was not governed by some form of right wing junta.
"Riot control", as the Soweto incidents have shown, can often mean the brutal suppression of claims for human rights.  Yet the Royal Ordnance Factories of the Ministry of Defence, among many others at the Aldershot show, are actively promoting sales of CS gas an other items "to deal with riots expeditiously." 
Ethical standards are naturally noticeably absent among arms dealers.  But no-one who has developed the modern weapons of mass destruction would happily see them sold to support the aims of assorted tin-pot dictatorships.  The weapons of mass repression, though simpler and less dramatic, should not be bartered with less gravity.

In 1976, so well debated had counter-insurgency been that the three paragraphs could move briskly, could make the natural association of counter-insurgency with bullying and despotic regimes.  Duncan Campbell didn't have to do a set-up- or much at all.  Because the issue had been addressed.  It had been so well addressed and this unethical practice so universally loathed that we shared a common language on the topic at that time.  The hold-overs waited, knowing that a time would come when they could return and pimp these unethical and illegal practices.  1976, Sluka reminds us, is the year CUNY Professor June Nash explained that this relationship turned anthropologists into "the handmaiden of colonialism and imperialism."

How far backwards we've slid as we're now in an environment where we can only argue whether or not counter-insurgency is 'successful' and not whether it's unethical and criminal.   It is so criminal that its use in Iraq had a strong impact on one American:

I felt we were risking so much for people who seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and hatred on both sides. I began to become depressed at the situation we found ourselves mired in year after year. In attempting counterinsurgency operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists.  I wanted the public to know that not everyone living in Iraq were targets to be neutralized.

That's Bradley Manning speaking last Thursday to the military court.

Who?   Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. adds, "A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor."  Last Thursday, Bradley admitted he leaked to WikiLeaks.  And why. 

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