Monday, May 11, 2009

Counter-insurgency is not ethical, it's that basic rolls in touting Col. Gian Gentile as an unrecognized savior and slams CNAS for being having several people (Nagl, Kilcullen, Exum, me) being focussed on counterinsurgency. Note to bloggers: This is what happens when someone writes about an area about which they know absolutely freaking nothing. This is one reason, for example, I try to avoid writing about, among other things, basketball, golf, cats, oboes, scuba diving, physics, Maxwell's demon, electric cars, farming, abstract sculpture, the works of Anthony Powell, South America, or Buddhism.
What's Antiwar's point here? Bad on CNAS, I guess, for being interested in issues like protecting the population. I mean, does understand what it is advocating here? I've seen how the U.S. military operated in Iraq in 2003-06, and I really think we don't want to go back to that approach.

The above is from Thomas E. Ricks' "Why knowing something is important" (Foreign Policy). Ricks is the author of The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq 2006-2008 -- a book I strongly recommend. I don't know what Antiwar's point is (they're a libertarian site so we generally don't link to them) but if Ricks' wants to be a blogger, he's written the perfect post. If he wants to be considered a journalist, he needs to dial it down about a thousand.

After he does, he might ask himself, "Center for a New American Security?" American? Then get trashy David Kilcullen the hell out of your organization. You never should have let him in to begin with. Non-Americans in a organization entitled "Center for a New American Security" and you don't see a problem?

How about non-Americans who appear before Congress trashing our laws -- Smith-Mundt Act most recently on Thursday, see that day's snapshot -- you really think that looks good for your organization?

Counter-insurgency is something Ricks doesn't understand. He thinks he does because he's part of the new wave that met with the modern day equivalent of the Nazis -- that's all they are, Sarah Sewer, Sammy Power, all of them. (Added "all of them" refers to the 'creative trust' Power, Sewer, McFate, et al. I was not calling Thomas a Nazi.)

Thomas E. Ricks is the one who doesn't know what he's talking about in this regard.

He throws out what he saw in Iraq (with a link to his previous book) but he didn't report some of the important events in that book. If he's going to hop a high horse about what he knows then he damn well better of told all he knows. It is laughable for someone asking twenty or so dollars for a book -- a lengthy one -- to turn around and claim that someone else doesn't know everything he or she does.

And it is insane to offer that there is only A (which he kind-of witnessed and sort-of wrote about in Fiasco) or B and that A was awful so B must be done.

Life is rarely so simplistic that there are only two choices.

I don't know Gian Gentile or of him. We're not interested. Antiwar is and that goes to the political differences between this community and that site. But this "the military will save us!" thread is one that Antiwar and Thomas E. Ricks share, though neither would easily cop to it.

Here's reality that Ricks needs to face: He doesn't know what's he's talking about.

The criticism of his book was that it focused on the US military and ignored Iraqis. That was a point he allowed was valid. I didn't and I don't. He's a military reporter and that was the focus of his book. I don't think he should have attempted to suddenly become an expert on Iraqis in a month or two to add a chapter or pad out the book. That wasn't his focus and I did not and do not fault him for that. But he needs to grasp that his focus has never been the Iraqis and, therefore, he needs to grasp that his cheerleading of counter-insurgency is based on the US needs.

That is the heart of the long and historical objection to counter-insurgency and for him to try to act as though he's smarter or more informed than Anti.war while failing to grasp his obvious blind spot is really something.

Some people, not Ricks, were defending the use of psychologists and psychiatrists in the 'questioning' of prisoners not all that long ago. Earlier in the decade, look it up, a number of 'respectable' people were justifying that. There were a number of us refusing to go along with that because there is such a thing as ethics. And that's what Ricks fails to grasp. He knows his military, he got a degree in journalism (so he's as informed academically as a general studies major) but he doesn't know the first damn thing about a real field with real ethics.

Please, let's not pretend journalism ever had any ethics. PR created 'ethics' for journalism when it moved from a craft to a profession. As a general rule, any profession that depends upon exposing the personal lives of people in pain to the public can't qualify as highly ethical. "Kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down" as Don Henley so aptly described the 'ethics' of journalism. In fact, Don's probably captured journalism better than anyone:

Dirty little secrets
Dirty little lies
We got our dirty little fingers in everybody's pie
We love to cut you down to size
We love dirty laundry

We can do the innuendo
We can dance and sing
When it's said and done we haven't told you a thing
We all know that crap is king
Give us dirty laundry!

(I've known Don for years for anyone who needs a disclosure. Many summers ago, I drank him under the table in a drinking contest involving straight vodka.)

Ricks holds no degree in the social sciences and he can't speak to or write of the ethical boundaries for any field without doing considerable research so he needs to get off the high horse with regards to These little screeds are great for driving his traffic but every time they take place, it hurts his book sales. Intentionally or not, he is defining himself by who he is raging against and that's well and good until you're trying to sell a product. When you're trying to sell a product, a book on Iraq, to a nation that believes the Iraq War was wrong (and even more believes the illegal war is over), you don't need to be ripping apart every outlet known as being against the war because you are defining yourself -- intentionally or not -- as for the war. That is how you will be seen and it's not going to help book sales.

That's a problem for a friend of mine who's busted their ass on Ricks' book and it's a problem for the book itself which is wonderful and one of the year's finest books -- a book that needs to be read by as many people as possible.

David Price does know the ethics of a social science field and he is a member of Network of Concerned Anthropologists. This is from his "Pilfered Scholarship Devastates General Petraeus's Counterinsurgency Manual" (CounterPunch)

Last year, the anthropologist Roberto Gonzalez determined that anthropologists Montgomery McFate and David Kilcullen authored sections of the Manual and contributed to new Iraq counterinsurgency programs, relying on embedded military ethnographers in "Human Terrain System" teams, using anthropologists to assist troops making judgments in the field, employing cultural knowledge as a weapon of "pacification." Drs. McFate and Kilcullen have become media darlings. Kilcullen took on warrior-anthropologist status in last year's uncritical New Yorker profile by George Packer; profiles of McFate in the New Yorker, the S.F. Chronicle Magazine, and More (a glossy women's magazine "celebrating women 40+") sculpt images of Kilcullen and McFate as heroic soldier-thinkers, uncompromisingly harnessing knowledge for the state's agenda. This media campaign provides McFate with frequent opportunities to characterize her critics publicly (as she recently did in the Wall Street Journal) as having no ideas about the military beyond "waving a big sign outside the Pentagon saying, 'you suck.'" While such outbursts make Dr. McFate seem like a character right out of Team America, the military and intelligence community takes her and her work very seriously.
Montgomery McFate holds a Harvard law degree and a Yale anthropology Ph.D. and has worked for various organizations linked to U.S. military and intelligence agencies, including RAND, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Institute for Defense Analysis' Joint Advanced Warfighting Program. She is currently the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System's Senior Social Science Adviser. McFate's current role as Senior Social Science Adviser for the Human Terrain program demonstrates how the military is implementing the Manual's approach to the use of culture as a battlefield weapon. Human Terrain Teams are now embedding anthropologists with troops operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some Human Terrain anthropologists have publicly identified themselves (the anthropologist Marcus Griffin even writes a blog on limited elements of Human Terrain work while working in Iraq), while others do not disclose their identity. Human Terrain anthropologists use ethnographic knowledge to advise and inform troops in the field while traveling with armed escorts and are, in some instances, themselves armed and wearing uniforms, yet McFate maintains that these anthropologists are in compliance with basic anthropological ethical standards, mandating that participants in research projects participate under conditions of voluntary informed consent.
In a recent exchange with Dr. McFate, Col. John Agoglia and Lt. Col. Edward Villacres on the Diane Rehm Show, I pressed McFate for an explanation of how voluntary ethical informed consent was produced in environments dominated by weapons. In response, McFate assured me that was not a problem because "indigenous local people out in rural Afghanistan are smart, and they can draw a distinction between a lethal unit of the U.S. military and a non-lethal unit." It also remains unclear how Human Terrain Teams comply with basic ethical standards, mandating that their research does not result in harm coming to the individuals they study as a result of their work.
Human Terrain research gathers data that help inform what Assistant Undersecretary of Defense John Wilcox recently described as the military's "need to map Human Terrain across the Kill Chain". The disclosure that anthropologists are producing knowledge for those directing the "kill chain" raises serious questions about the state of anthropology.

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thomas e. ricks