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Operations Other Than War

Two good Belgravia Dispatch posts (one two) discuss somewhat fitful efforts to deploy the US military -- and in particular its Special Operations Forces -- in creative and useful ways in the less-heralded theaters of the war on terrorism. We're looking at missions that involve few forces and combine efforts at humanitarian work, building the capacities of local states, perhaps hunting down some bad actors, and generally trying to make American power be seen as a force for good rather than foreign domination. I don't agree with everything said in either piece, but the general spirit I'll happily endorse. Not to refight the election, but I note that John Kerry's campaign proposed an expansion in the quantity of special operations forces and Army civil affairs units. This is a decent, basically non-ideological proposal, that I think members of either political party would do well to embrace. Transforming the military into something better-suited to 21st century needs is going to take some time under the best of circumstances, but there's no time like the present.

January 17, 2005 | Permalink

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We should also keep talking about what effect our torture policies have on the morale and efficacy of our more elite special force, some of whom operate without uniforms in their most vital missions.

I don't really understand why the Republican, and upper echelon Pentagon establishment doesn't champion the use of the special forces more. You think that's one thing we'd get out of them. That was one of the most striking things about Against All Enemies--the willingness of Clintonites to field special forces missions and the unwillingness of the upper command to go along with it. Again, striking in Bush's approach to Afghanistan. . .if there was ever a mission calling for a hell of a lot more of the best soldiers in the world, that would have been it. You think it would go with his Texas swagger.

Culturally, it makes little sense. If conservative means traditional/old-fashioned/wanting to keep things the way they were, then the traditions and cultural values that seem the least controversial and most all-American are the values of elite, heroic, dedicated fighters serving democracy. I would think the one thing I'd be able to agree with Republicans on, and get their full support, would be pouring money and training and every kind of incentive and award on the special forces. I mean shit, they're the closest thing we have to Spiderman and Batman and Superman, right? They're like Macho, grown up Boy-Scouts, prepared for everything. How does military get any uncontoversially cooler than that? Yet they just don't seem like a funding priority. I don't get it.

Posted by: Saheli | Jan 17, 2005 2:44:47 AM

Splinter Cell seems to argue for this and does it pretty successfully too I might add.

But I wonder, it's easy to call for the increase in special forces, but presumably if we wanted any more the programs would have to lower standards thus reducing effectiveness.

Also, it seems that the army "green berets" are the best of the special forces. Whether their training teaches them, or the kind of people that go out for it are just more naturally inclined, it seems that army special forces handle stress better than the other branches of the military. I.E. it doesn't debilitate them it sharpens their skills and allows them to operate in the field for a longer time.

Posted by: MNPundit | Jan 17, 2005 5:48:58 AM

I'd prefer to see these sorts of operations brought outside the conventional military altogether. The incresed willingness of Americans to see the US armed forces, which belong to the Department of Defense, as an all-purpose tool for the advancement of of US national interests is, to my mind, very dangerous.

The obscene growth of our military in the 20th century, turning us from a republic into to a heavily militarized imperial and national security state, and turning the President from a public servant charged with administering the executive branch of government, into a venerated and monarchical national military chieftain, is a terrible development for our country which should be turned back. The Pentagon continues to use the current crisis to grab even more power - diplomatic, intelligence, internal security, even humanitarian relief - and increase its share of the the operational budget of the federal government.

If we are serious about humaitarian and state-building operations, where force plays a subsidiary, supporting role of providing security for the logistics of aid and construction, rather than the other way around as it is in a genuine defense operation, then we should have a stand alone Humanitarian Operations administration outside the Pentagon chain of command, reporting directly to the President and with strict Congressional oversight, and full transparency, as a separate arm of the executive branch of government.

The mere fact force is involved in some operation is not in itself an argument that the people charged with carrying out that operation should be located in the Pentagon. There are other non-defense branches of the government that are permitted to use force in various circumstances - the FBI and the National Park Service for example. The Pentagon houses the Department of Defense, not a generic Department of Force. I would like to see the national defense mission, which is the proper responsibility of the Pentagon, kept separate from other missions which may involve some force, and may be seen as advancing the national interest, but which are not strictly related to defense.

Ideally, of course, humanitarian and state-building operations in foreign countries should not be left to the discretion of any one country, but should be coordinated international efforts with international oversight and direction. People have been impressed with the use of the US military in the tsunami relief efforts, and indeed they have done a great deal of good. But I find it somewhat embarrassing and unseemly that at this late date in human history, in an era of advanced globalization, such an operation must be carried out by any country's military. Getting warm and fuzzy about the use of the military for humanitarian relief is like admiring the Capone organization for repairing a crumbling school in Chicago. We may be glad Capone is able to bring in the cement mixers and do something that the legitimate government has failed to do, but the fact that he does it at all is a symptom of a deficiency in civil order. We don't want violent, rogue enforcers buying love by taking charge of imporatant social functions.

It would surely be preferable for an international humanitarian relief organization to have the capabilities necessary to engineering such a mission, with its own fleet of aircraft carriers and transports, and its direction in international hands to prevent the operations from being manipulated to advance the interests of any one particular nation. If just a fraction of the world's military budgets were spent on such an organization we could have it.

Many young people would be willing to join such an organization and participate in its work, if they were convinced it wasn't simply part of the structure for administering the US colonial shakedown. The people involved in such an organization would understand, and be committed to, its overall mission, rather than being asked to make sharp psychological shifts from "greasing Hajis" on Wednesday to providing charitable aid on Thursday.

I think it is extremely dangerous to dream of fashioning the military into a "force for good". The armed services in the Defense Department should be a force for defense of the United States. If some general good happens along the way as a by-product, fine. But to confuse the mission of defense with other missions is to invite a dangerous slide into the further militarization of American society and government.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Jan 17, 2005 9:31:53 AM

If we had an organisation whose members were generally doing humanitarian work but who occasionally needed to defend themselves or even attack, that might be ideal for women who want the possibility fo combat. They wouldn't need to join the military for that. They could get military training, and not have to be soldiers exactly.

Something like that might resonate with americans. Really tough women who do humanitarian aid and kick butt, who sometimes tell the US Marines to get out of their way. And the Marines do it.

That might fit american fantasies well enough to actually happen.

Posted by: J Thomas | Jan 17, 2005 11:20:12 AM

This is a decent, basically non-ideological proposal, that I think members of either political party would do well to embrace.

One of those parties just demonstrated that killing, or promising to kill, swarthy people who worship the wrong god without let or hindrance is the secret to winning elections. It now controls all three branches of government. Why in God's name would they cut their own political throats by embracing a scheme like this?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Jan 17, 2005 11:28:03 AM

If we want to talk about humanitarian involvement of miltary, we have to realize that not every case is in need of such security. Take a look a Tsunami operations or even ones that we could be doing in Africa (presumably warload situations. Read: non-Muslim, and we SHOULD,) I don't think we need the that sort of military supporting force. The ones that do require the supporting force are ones with internal strife. Iraq, Israel/Palestine. For example, what would happen in a war in N. Korea? (Besides the obvious bloodyness of the intial battle.) Once "we won," would there be the same sort of resistance to humanitarian aid as there is in Iraq? Would there be Korea nationals who just can't get over the fact of non-dictatorship rule? I just don't think so.

This might seem infantile, but I was playing SOCOMII yesterday (yes, I still play video games) and thought if there are American citizens that carry out actual missions like this (taking out a slavic weapon-smuggling cell for example,) I am pretty damn proud. But you'll never hear of those successes.

Posted by: Adrock | Jan 17, 2005 1:23:35 PM

If we had an organisation whose members were generally doing humanitarian work but who occasionally needed to defend themselves or even attack, that might be ideal for women who want the possibility fo combat. They wouldn't need to join the military for that. They could get military training, and not have to be soldiers exactly.
I don't really see why only women would want to be in this, nor why we're ignoring some of the immense feats of bravery and endurance our women fighting in Iraq have managed to execute. But yeah, I think an organization of humanitarian workers capable of defending themselves would be pretty awesome. It seems increasingly necessary. It would require a reworking of international law, however, lots of transparency, and strict discipline about the use of force. One person's AID guard contingent is another person's mercenary, and there are terrorists who love hiding behind humanitarian causes.
But negativity and doomsaying aside, do-gooders who can't be bullied or taken advantage of would really really rock. I mean, hell, that just about defines superhero, right? What happened to that ideal?

Posted by: Saheli | Jan 17, 2005 3:10:33 PM

I don't think we need the that sort of military supporting force. I disagree. The Helicopter experience of the military was invaluable with the Tsunami aid. Few other kinds of organizations can afford to invest in that kind of equipment and skillset.

Posted by: Saheli | Jan 17, 2005 3:11:52 PM

This is just action-movie bullshit. Why the fuck can't you people, and Robert Kaplan, and all the rest of you militaristic fantasists, JUST GROW UP?

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Jan 17, 2005 4:36:39 PM

"We should also keep talking about what effect our torture policies have on the morale and efficacy of our more elite special force, some of whom operate without uniforms in their most vital missions."

Actually, all the special forces members that I know (which is to say four) believed that if captured they would be tortured, long before any of our torture policies were in the news.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Jan 17, 2005 4:49:37 PM

Well, Sebastian, now they deserve to be tortured.

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Jan 17, 2005 5:27:38 PM

SqueakyRat - No one deserves to be tortured, not even torrorist. I think they should take you mother, sister, wife, girlfriend, grandmother, lock her up and fuck the shit out of her every other hour by some dude with a dick like John Holmes.

Posted by: jim | Jan 17, 2005 6:02:45 PM

Jim --
Because that wouldn't be "torture," right? Just "pressure," "highjinks," "letting of steam," or whatever.

Listen up, fuckhead: these special-ops "heroes" who you worship are way down in bed with the people who are carrying out our All-USA Pro-Democracy Torture Program! They want the "intelligence," they want the money, and they want the admiration of moral cretins like you. If they get captured by the other side, they're on their own.

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Jan 17, 2005 6:34:19 PM

Jim --
Because that wouldn't be "torture," right? Just "pressure," "highjinks," "letting of steam," or whatever.

Listen up, fuckhead: these special-ops "heroes" who you worship are way down in bed with the people who are carrying out our All-USA Pro-Democracy Torture Program! They want the "intelligence," they want the money, and they want the admiration of moral cretins like you. If they get captured by the other side, they're on their own.

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Jan 17, 2005 6:50:15 PM

SqueakyRat -

I can read it the first time, no need to double post. Do you have any FACTUAL information that these "heroes" are committing acts of torture???

Posted by: Jim | Jan 18, 2005 1:08:00 AM

"This is just action-movie bullshit. Why the fuck can't you people, [...] JUST GROW UP?"

SqueakyRat, I hope that was just rhetoric.

If we hope to make intentional changes, the changes have to be in what *we* do. We can't expect to change other people.

We've established that a whole lot of americans will just boggle up action-movie bullshit and lick the plate and ask for more. What can you hope to accomplish by asking them to grow up? What we have to do is take that into account and use it.

This armed-humanitarian-aid thing looks like the best opportunity I've seen for some time. We can send these people in and build on the Peace Corps stuff but it's got all the action-movie stuff too. They get trained to at least defend themselves and hold a firebase long enough to get reinforced, and make small-scale counter-attacks and so on. Men and women. Everybody can see they aren't combat soldiers because they're say 50% to 60% women. But they aren't helpless aid workers either. Since they'd have mobility they can rinforce each other if there's trouble. And every now and then we'll get to send in special forces to rescue them. The story just gets better and better. It's golden.

All we need is a good story why it's vital to US interests to do it. Get that and we can get it funded, and then expanded year by year. The training could be a combination of Peace Corps and special forces, without needing all of either one. They could do real counterinsurgency, or aid, or insurgency, depending on which looked most appropriate given the realities on the ground.

Posted by: J Thomas | Jan 18, 2005 4:36:19 PM

By all accounts, the Clinton White House was full of freshly-minted Seven Sisters B.A.'s with Kervick/SqueakyRat worldviews who thought being rude to uniforms constituted a defense policy. We all remember how well that worked out.

"Nation-building" ain't beanbag, chilluns.

For Peace Corps-type stuff, you're wanting Habitat for Humanity types. They work well in a basically peaceful setting, but they're worthless in Injun Country. In today's sub-Saharan Africa, there aren't too many places left where church camp types can do their thing unmolested.

For the tougher spots, you need Jim Bridger/Kit Carson/Jeremiah Johnson types - people who can live off the country, know the local "Injuns" and can handle themselves in a fight. That's what the Green Berets are.

Not a good idea to get the two types mixed up. It'd waste the time of the latter and just get the former wasted, period.

Posted by: Dick Eagleson | Jan 18, 2005 6:11:29 PM

Dick, you seem to believe there's no overlap there.

But originally our special forces were designed to do this sort of thing. They were supposed to be guerrilla fighters. They would train local people to do insurgency. The trouble was, we didn't have any locals who had a compatible philosophy who were fighting an oppressive government. And we *did* have vietnam, where the need was to fight a counter-insurgency. So after our Green Berets were trained to help peasants against landlords etc, they found themselves camping out on french-style plantations helping the absentee landlords against the peasants.

And also we found that once we had a whole lot of expensive training tied up in special forces we didn't want to leave them sitting in one village etc for a long time. They were too few and too expensive. So they've tended to get turned into something more like regular commandos with some extra skills.

But there is a place for something closer to the original idea. It would further a large collection of american goals.

Posted by: J Thomas | Jan 20, 2005 3:49:55 AM

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