The War over Image

This was going to be the Monday Mash-Up… but it suddenly evolved into a thematic post

On war as information, read Jonathan Winer’s post at Counter Terrorism Blog titled “Battle of the Brands“.

Still thinking about perceptions? Considering a few posts on the reactions to torture policy. Read the Armchair Generalist who quotes from an article on retired Generals Charles “Not like Yesterday” Krulak and Joseph Hoar. And read Abu Muquwama’s post on the same.

Last bit on perceptions, a little something called “wave tactics” from Lt. Gen. Mattis.

As he met recently with U.S. Marines at several locations across the sprawling Al Anbar province, Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis explained what he termed “wave tactics” to combat the Sunni Arab insurgency in its longtime stronghold. Mattis…is urging his troops to show respect to ordinary Iraqis and exercise restraint in the use of deadly force to prevent civilian deaths and injury…”Mad Dog” ordered his troops to be aggressive in fighting Iraqi forces but to show “soldierly compassion” toward civilians and prisoners. And last week, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, sent a message to troops not to let their frustration or anger override their training and judgment. His message followed a Pentagon survey that showed only 55% of soldiers and 40% of Marines would report a colleague for abusing civilians.

Abuse by our soldiers is counterproductive and simply unacceptable. Consider Sun Tzu and Mao’s admonition against it (and their statements for the opposite behavior) and even the the basis of our Third Amendment (among others).

On a related note, Michael Tanji notes the US Army is training gangsters. From the article he quotes:

The gang’s initials and main symbol, the six-pointed star, have been tagged on concrete blast barriers, armored vehicles, and even remote firebase guard shacks. In an astonishing study of just three Army bases over the past four years, a Department of Defense detective identified more than 300 active gang members. Some experts estimate that up to 2 percent of the soldiers on active duty–perhaps as many as 20,000–have sworn allegiance to one gang or another.

Unfortunately, the gang issue isn’t new and largely, if not entirely, the result of lowered standards for entry. Are these the guys we want fighting our information war?

3 thoughts on “The War over Image

  1. Definitely a problem in the Navy and Air Force too, gangs (both inspired by and the authentic brand) had become a big deal in the forward deployed arenas like Japan and South Korea. The murder of the 56 year old Japanese woman by a young sailor (who incidentally was a known consort and suspected member of the Crips, who numbered around at least 30 on the Kitty Hawk and surrounding ships) was gang-related, as were several drug busts by US personnel in Australia and Thailand.Certainly the warfare training they receive from the Army and Marine Corps makes for a highly disconcerting topic. Recruiters who process known gang members should face time in Leavenworth, as should officials and generals who continually decide to lower recruiting standards.

  2. Just wanted to post some content I’ve just published on Small Wars Journal (entitled “Plan B in Iraq”) that I think relates closely to your arguments about poorly trained/ non-COIN saavy troops doing more harm than good:”At the same time that America mobilizes its civilian talent to implement Plan B, the US military must similarly make a focused effort to send its best and brightest to Iraq. Having served a decade in the military and gone on multiple deployments, I can personally affirm that the US military is comprised of some of the most skilled and dedicated people that have ever filled its ranks. The resolve of these young patriots facing adversity in Iraq has been amazing. But like any organization, the military has within it a smaller, scattered group of extraordinarily talented individuals that continue to distinguish themselves. These individuals must be the foundation upon which a “Plan B”—or any strategy for success in Iraq—must be constructed. More than any other type of military endeavor, the forces charged with counterinsurgency and nation-building rely heavily on the individual talent of those working at the lowest levels. The effort requires soldiers that are comfortable working with only minimal guidance, through many cultural barriers, and surrounded by their Iraqi allies. These individuals—using their unique ability to assess the complex cultural landscape, build relationships, and develop trust—become invaluable over time as they gain a deep understanding of how to improve their surroundings. Given these realities, the current military manning strategy in Iraq makes little sense. In many ways the military is still conducting personnel management in ways that resemble peacetime. The majority of the military’s best officers and NCO’s regularly rotate through stateside academic tours or other non-combat related assignments. In a similar fashion, the troop rotation schedule in theater reflects the philosophy that the deployment burden should be shared as equally as possible across all units. A wide range of military units of all types, proficiencies, and experiences take turns serving in theater. While both these practices were designed with good intentions—they attempt to maximize quality of life—there are many unfortunate side effects: There is little continuity, and rarely do any of the constantly cycling units ever return to the same area for a second tour. As a result, the newly arrived units must spend months learning the intricacies of their individual areas. The former commandant of the Marine Corps, General Charles Krulak, commented about the same phenomenon in Vietnam when he quipped “We didn’t fight a 9 year war… we fought a one year war 9 times.” Additionally, current manning strategies can lead to a mismatch in abilities, with poorly prepared units relieving highly proficient ones—sometimes in extremely sensitive areas where a weak plan can totally unravel stability. An ill-trained, culturally ignorant, or otherwise mediocre unit makes poor decisions, offends the locals, and undermines a year of development efforts.”
    Please feel free to check out the whole article at:
    I’d love to hear some feedback.. I spent a long time developing some of these concepts (by spending time in the field, trial and error, and just having intense conversations with the guys at the “tip of the spear.”

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