Democrats & Liberals Archives

Those Who Serve

We citizens often regard those who serve in wartime with respect and sometimes even reverence. Now we are faced with the moral ambiguity of war and particularly a war that was accepted by us based on lies and effective PR work by our government. The truth is that Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are the most vulnerable of all of us to being misled by leadership into believing that wrong is right.

It is clear that those who serve in our military in Iraq are now being systematically treated as if their misconceived belief that abuse constitutes softening up and not war crimes was wrong, only now that their actions are public. Today is clearly different from yesterday when they were being treated as if their abuses were “required” parts of their care of prisoners. Lots of people who will never become particularly moral beings, ethicists, or even principled citizens have served in our military throughout our history.

The military is supposed to take raw material in and reject the really dysfunctional people. It is then expected to turn the rest of us into members of a disciplined force. This must be a force that obeys orders and functions according to plans developed by officer corps personnel. Nowhere in this process is there room for either chain of command ambiguity, or failure to comprehend what is the individual mission that you will perform. It is in accepting that essential discipline that every individual in our military force becomes a member of an effective larger group with a mission defined from above. No individual in that force can be free to act on their own as even civilians who work for their employer under contract usually are; the mission denies them that right. In the military the mission is everything, the lives of individuals are willingly sacrificed to that mission as a matter of course.

This is why Iraq is in such a mess today, the missions were ill defined prior to our entering this war. Since then the mission of our military in Iraq has become less well defined and now most of our troops are more concerned with survival than anything else that they are doing. When that happened in Vietnam we left that nation in disarray. Then we called it “mission creep”. It is the use of our guards in a creepy softening up process that may even have saved a life or two, but has cost us infinitely more, that Bush, Rumsfield and their local commanders have failed these troops. The mission at Abu Gharib clearly became one of interrogation of prisoners rather than one of incarceration under well controlled conditions as is required by law. Our law, military law, requires that interrogation is secondary and treatment of prisoners is primary in defining regimens of treatment. It is those laws that will be used to prosecute the known abusers at that prison. It was the flawed missions that came from the highest levels of our government that made their abuses possible and even inevitable.

The military and civilian leaders of our forces have been failing our troops from the beginning of this war when they substituted devotion to doctrine for vital mission plans. By doing so they sacrificed our initial victory to a welter of illegal activity that destroyed our prospects for a peaceful period just after combat. When combat with organized Iraqi forces ended the new mission was not well defined enough nor well enough supported for a necessary transition to take place. It is the Rumsfield doctrine of wars fought by small effective forces that was to blame for that failure. The war went fine, the peace has not. Without adequate troops to police a civilian population the mission was not able to include control of looting and other lawless acts in the immediate aftermath of combat. The consequences of Rumsfield’s continuing failure to define missions clearly, and to support them adequately, are now becoming obvious to those of us who have served in the past.

One consequence is that the separation of our military guards from civilians working in roles that contravene the troop’s mission required by law, to protect our prisoners, was not adequate. It is clear in some cases that our troops believed that they were under the command of the civilians who conducted interrogations. With a failure to educate the troops in regard to their legally defined mission and to control the troop’s behaviors while they carried out that mission the mission had to fail. With that failure has come the worst damage that the new overall mission, holding the peace while democracy is established, has suffered. Nothing done by opposition forces has compromised that essential mission more than our own actions.

The actions in Abu Gharib were enabled and even aided by “mission creep” a well studied phenomenon that occurs only when leadership at the top fails to define or support missions adequately. Even if Rumsfield did not approve the use of our guards for these systemic softening up sessions, his primary failure lies in that lack of clarity and definition in the missions he expected our troops to execute. His secondary failure has been the level of support that those fighting this war have received. The overall mission planning structure for this war was abysmally weak. That is why he should go now; he is a bad military planner. Aside from his arrogance and his noted lack of respect for military professionals, he is bad at his job. Clearly so is his commander in chief. The cost in Iraq has been major damage to our troops, our military power, and our image in the world. That positive image, which we have now lost, has done more to protect us from attack than our military could have in our recent past. It is gone because of ill defined and weak leadership emanating directly from this Administration. God bless and keep you safe in this increasingly dangerous world where “mission creep” has once again entered our lexicon of reasons for failure.
©Henri Reynard/GoldenBrush

Posted by Henri Reynard at May 13, 2004 1:34 PM