HTS Hostage Issa Salomi Lived Off Base: SOS From the Island of Misfit Toys
by John Stanton
Monday, 15 February, 2010
“As a taxpayer I find repugnant the gross negligence and criminal activity that takes place at HTS. People’s lives are at stake!”
“Sad part is, this is not news,” said Human Terrain System observers. There are three known cases involving Americans living outside the wire in Iraq with girlfriends or family. Such was the case with US Army hostage Issa Salomi who was “definitely” living outside the wire (OTW) with his brother’s family. Salomi’s brother is/was a police officer in the local community, said a number of observers. Salomi has been in Iraq since 2008 and felt right at home roaming around OTW with the locals on his own. Salomi’s Human Terrain System Team Leader (HTS, TL) knew he routinely went OTW without permission and escort.
This “should have been reported from day one,” said all observers.
Reports indicate that other HTS personnel leave their forward operating base (FOB) without approval and relocate themselves with other Human Terrain Teams (HTT’s). This of course, is in “total violation of the rules” said all observers. “Nothing is being done about it.” The problem appears to be with the HTS TL’s who are not properly trained and frequently clash with HTT Social Scientists (SS) who think they are equivalent to the HTS TL’s (they both hold the government pay-grade of GS-15}.
Many HTS TL’s fail to counsel their charges or report issues to HTS senior management until the matter is out of control. Observers state that an SS recently returned from a truncated tour overseas because she was violating rules and refused to adhere to the HTS TL’s instructions. The situation became so disruptive that the cognizant US military commander had to intervene to get her removed from country. Such behavior in most organizations would result in being fired, but, according to observers, she will likely get a teaching position since HTS is short on SS types and the person of interest happens to hold a PhD from Harvard.
Hostile Environment, Sexual Harassment: Pattern is Established
Another US Army HTS employee was allegedly living outside the wire too and for that transgression he was removed from Iraq. But he was somehow promoted to the position of instructor. This individual was allegedly embroiled in the controversial firing of a female employee, said observers.
Observers state again and again that gender discrimination and sexual harassment is commonplace throughout HTS from HQ to FOB. This is specifically true for the HTS staff. The Director of the Exercise Division has had numerous reports about his behavior with the female students and staff. Complaints by female staff have been routinely ignored by HTS personnel in charge of training to include the new director. These personnel, usually retired colonels, bring great discredit to their former service branches. Those who would excuse/defend this behavior chalk it up to good natured, loose humor typical of the male military culture. One wonders if these “senior” personnel have daughters, grand daughters, or nieces of their own.
The lack of diversity and the premeditated maintenance of a hostile working environment for females has been brought to the attention of HTS senior management many times. And, of course, the allegations have been ignored each time.
Culture Clash Between Americans
Observers note that few of the HTS SS personnel are actually trained for the type of work they will conduct overseas nor are they accustomed to working with US military personnel. This has been a critical flaw in the HTS program. They also note that there are few qualified SS types on the program and even fewer anthropologists which is why the American Anthropological Association is routinely ignored by HTS senior management. Observers note that the philosophy of HTS management w/retired officers one spot shy of Flag Officer status is this, “If you are a male and retired colonel you’re qualified and more credible even if you have no background in the social sciences.”
Apparently, this is an actual quote from one of the retired bird-colonels. It needs to be said that the bulk of retired servicemen and women who have worked for the country are not braggarts nor do they hold themselves to some higher divine standard because they opted to work in a military uniform. The good ones, the confident ones recognize that one not need wear a military uniform to protect and defend the American way of life. They know they performed above and beyond and now they are civilians and content. Are firefighters, police officers, FBI agents, foreign service officers, et al, any less deserving?
SOS, SOS to Congress and IG’s
“Much of what is wrong with the program is in its lack of management. Many actions skirt the edge of ethics, some are blatantly illegal. Others, with proper smoke and mirrors, can be easily hidden or covered up before anyone with any authority finds out.”
“Our hands are tied. Each time someone tries to point out the illegal activities that are going on, someone within HTS hamstrings the investigation or appoints someone internal to check out the allegations. And and you know what happens when you investigate yourself. Worse still, people who try to improve processes is either fired or moved to a lesser position or pushed out. However, it is being hampered by lack of leadership, mis-management and cronyism. Attempts to hide problems (instead of fixing them) hamper progress. Too many are worried about selling the program verses putting in the time to make it functional. If you are on the road all the time, how can you establish a functional program? It can be a good program. The problem is our hands are tied and we need help, but don’t know how to get it.”
John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in political and national security matters. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book is General David Petraeus’ Favorite Mushroom available at Amazon.com.
20 thoughts on “HTS Hostage Issa Salomi Lived Off Base: John Stanton”
Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores
I’m sorry for getting to this late. I am once again abroad, working in a developing setting with another organization, and commo is spotty from this locale. After reading a number of ZeroAnthropology essays and follow on blog-mentary over intermittent Internet connections, I have reflected on John Stanton’s report above and other of his essays, on Dr. David Price’s essay that mentioned Dr. John Allison’s experiences in HTS training (https://zeroanthropology.net/2010/02/16/david-price-human-terrain-systems-dissenter-resigns-tells-inside-story-of-trainings-heart-of-darkness/), and on Max’s essay on the shaping variants of the Army’s Human Terrain System (https://zeroanthropology.net/2010/03/04/multiplying-human-terrain-dreams-of-victory-and-fortune/). John’s informants in particular have brought up the topic of the Team Leader-Social Scientist divide, one of HTS’ many issues. One wonders why this is such an issue.
When I was in training during Sixth Cycle, the “double helix” model of team co-leadership of Team Leader and Social Scientist was presented in a serious manner. But, “downrange,” as Social Scientists discover, it comes off as fiction. The poser Social Scientist Milan Sturgis had subverted the double helix model by subsuming the two roles of Social Scientist and Team Leader within himself, and fought with another poser Social Scientist on the team who wanted him to give up one of his “genetic strands.” This particular situation gives teeth to Team Leader complaints elsewhere among the 27 or so teams that their Social Scientists are no good. If two phony Social Scientists got on one team, how many other HTS Social Scientists crept into the program without credentials and professional reputations? Other dysfunctional profiles are available for our inspection. Army Reservist Erik Egland’s team at Camp Victory in Iraq were confused about his leadership role as he repeatedly engineered opportunities to jump in front of CNN cameras and ingratiate himself with high-level Iraqi leaders. The back story on that was that Republican Egland had been preening himself for a run for a Congressional seat in California’s District 4. However, the California Republican party supported candidate Tom McClintock to narrowly beat retired Air Force LTC Charlie Brown, a Democrat vying for Congressman John Doolittle’s vacated seat. Yet, another dysfunctional Team Leader-Social Scientist profile owed its fuel to the competition between “little army” and “big army.” That may be typified by ex-Special Forces NCO Timothy Vandersommen’s struggle to lead his team at Camp Liberty, Iraq against the machinations of a female Army major on his team with a social sciences degree (in a December 2008 post of John Stanton’s in these pages). On the last day of my cycle’s classes at Fort Leavenworth in October 2008, HTS managers admitted that they could detect a Team Leader-Social Scientist divisiveness problem. But, they did not seem to be able to enunciate any themes that would typify the divisiveness. They appeared to put it down to people gossiping behind each other’s backs. One wonders what dysfunctionality profile the recently ousted female Harvard PhD and her Team Leader fits? Or, if new divided terrain has been mapped out in their story?
As I said, the “double helix” co-leadership of Team Leader and Social Scientist got more than lip service in training. During our capstone exercise, my team prepared a nicely packaged briefing of our fieldwork in the American midwestern town of Weston. We had operationally relevant material that we did not initially present in the interest of impression management. The “box checkers” on our team insisted on this approach for the sake of fitting in with the mentored military venue. However, when a Major General started to comment that we didn’t find out everything we could have, I interjected quickly that we did indeed find out more operationally relevant material for his inspection. We had slides of this material on hand just in case such a “command performance” situation occurred and briefed them accordingly. We were given numerous accolades for our performance from the Major General and retired Colonels on the scene. However, one of the senior NCO mentors on the exercise preached to my exercise Team Leader during one of their frequent smoking and grab-assing breaks, out of my earshot and that of the officer mentors, that if I interjected on a general during a briefing in the field that I would be run out on a rail. This was counter to my own military experience from the Viet Nam Era and to what we were being taught in HTS training. It so happened that a short time later that I saw the Major General and another mentor-Colonel at lunch and began to apologize if I had caused offense. Both men were emphatic on the point that I had done my job with a high gloss and would “tune up the clown” who had said otherwise. Following lunch, the NCO apparently had not liked being tuned up so did some more negative talking to susceptible members of my exercise team to try and create a “return of favor” to me. One or more teammates complained to our seminar leaders in behalf of their smoking buddy, which led to my being asked privately to explain the complaint. Since I also kept a running log of the team on the exercise, I was able to give the querants a point-by-point explanation. No more was said about it. However, I suspect some of the negative blog-mentary towards me over this and other sites since February 2009 derive from the self-selecting “clown” and those on my exercise team whom he subverted. This incident illustrates how someone’s mashed feelings in HTS training can translate into actualized enmity in downrange environments and beyond.
A number of other issues are exemplified by this of my training experiences besides Team Leader-Social Scientist divisiveness (which, in the case above, was facilitated by a “divider,” someone who was supposed to be mentoring us). Another issue is the HTS training insistence of fitting in with the military. Yet, obviously, there are multiple conceptions among military mentors what that fit entails. For the senior NCO “clown,” he modeled frequent smoking and grab-assing to my teammates at the expense of their working as a team on their assignment that was supposed to be a test run of working on a team of counterinsurgent operative-analysts downrange. Later, he was more interested in modeling to us the caveat of never interjecting on a major general and, for all intents and purposes, leaving out operationally relevant data for the mission for the sake of impression management. This kind of “box checking” impression management can get carried too far. It can get people killed.
Fairly soon after entering HTS training, hearing day in, day out the necessity to fit in with the military and receiving instruction toward that end, I began to wonder how military commanders were being trained to fit in with teams that hosted one or more civilian Social Scientists. The military commanders of the brigades wargaming at Fort Polk and Fort Irwin who trained with HTS teams were certainly getting some exposure to us, and my own experiences with my military training unit were positive, but what about the military commanders downrange with whom we Social Scientists and other HTS specialists would be expected to interact? Clearly, the burden-of-fit must not fall entirely on the shoulders of Social Scientists who are trying to tease out operationally relevant data for military commanders from fleeting ethnographic encounters and a hodge-podge of sources and methods. Part of engaging in counterinsurgency a la HTS requires that military leaders need training to fit in with Social Scientists. And, that will require an “out of the box” approach.
That being said, a related issue to all of that is Red Teaming where members of the military think of adversarial opportunities to challenge military units through “out of the box” approaches. But, as I have said elsewhere, Red Teaming is still Green Teaming. To “think outside the box” in relation to any military thing, one has to get outside of the military mindset as far as possible. RYP has argued in these webpages that we should just give our troops flip-flops, turbans, AK-47s, and Afghan wives so they can “out-Taliban” the Taliban. But, you can dress the soldier up and accessorize him accordingly, and it still won’t change his mindset and top him off with a social science knowledge base to be an efficient counterinsurgent operative-analyst.
This is why homegrown “Social Scientists” from half-day, short-course, three-week, three-month, etc. military postsecondary training programs won’t provide a substitute for civilian Social Scientists. This will create something that apes social science, but that will taint the counterinsurgent social scientific lens with a view through regulation Army goggles. The solution is to get military commanders into a civilian social science training setting – not to develop a social scientific knowledge base – but to understand how social scientists see the world, what it is that they do, and to bond with them, relating to them as users of social science expertise. It is beyond the scope of my comments at present to detail such a curriculum and dictate the length of the training, but military commanders must be “social science-rated” at the end of that training. It is ironic that the same military commanders who told the Pentagon “We have to get people in who can understand the people (in Iraq, in Afghanistan)” have no means of understanding the people who understand the people.
If that notion is not controversial enough, then this one will be. But, I am just thinking aloud outside of the box here. Civilian academically-trained Social Scientists with PhDs and depth of professional experience (or the equivalent) should lead their counterinsurgency teams. (Ideally, such a team leading Social Scientist would be a Social Scientist of solid background and reputation who had been an officer or senior NCO for a part of his/her professional life. But, such ideal-types are difficult to find.) When ex-Green Beret James Castillo and I structured a social science team to go into Kuwait following its liberation from Iraq, the senior Social Scientist was to be the leader in the role of an overall manager of research performed by lower-echelon Social Scientists. Castillo’s role was not to lead the team, but to act as a type of operations and logistics partner in service to the research and at the right hand of the Senior Social Scientist. HTS has turned such a design on its head. Men more able to enact operations and logistics duties are assigned leadership of a research team and men and women (who often do not really know how to do research or even what it is) are entitled “Research Managers.” HTS Research Managers often wind up doing operations and logistics jobs. The key functional part of the team, the Social Scientist, has quite often wound up bent to the whims of those on the team and/or external to it and the HTS.
If you create the conditions where military commanders are social science-rated and that accord counterinsurgency leadership to the senior Social Scientist on the HTS team, then a notion like the Army’s HTS might become an efficient warfighting system. Of course, even that won’t accomplish the desired ends until HTS’s snake oil managers are changed out and half of the management cadre are filled by real Social Scientists.
Counterinsurgency is both a global security strategy and a developing discipline – a slowly developing discipline. Perhaps too arithmetically slow for the geometrically proliferated phenomena it is intended to study. I had the occasion to speak to a core nation ambassador to a peripheral nation several days ago. He and I both saw eye-to-eye on what I call “the rising tide scenario.” In our increasingly advanced industrializing world, as societies become increasingly stressed from global warming and its higher order effects, we may expect to see a pandemic of insurgency and terrorism. We could see this pandemic occurring well within the next 20 years, probably sooner. My thought is that at some level this phenomenon has been gamed out. To ultimately “cure” the pandemic will require resolving the competing grievances of many millions of non-state and other actors. Because of the sheer scale of the problems, this “vaccine” will likely not be possible. So — continuing the disease metaphor — what counterinsurgent operative-analysts will try to do is to determine susceptible populations, the carriers and vectors, and to try partial preventatives and palliatives. What has not been gamed out is how to assemble the “medical research teams,” what gear they will use, and their delivery systems. Obviously, the Army HTS got launched without any of this being thought out very well. The best “doctors” are being cashiered or driven off from disgust. These dispossessed professionals form an alternate reserve army of former counterinsurgent Social Scientists and other specialists. Among these are some very fine counterinsurgency operative-analysts. Perhaps as counterinsurgency develops as a discipline, many of these professionals can be lured back to the field.
I am laying these issues out from the HTS angle. But, HTS is part of a larger disconnect in the intelligence community. In early January, Major General Michael Flynn, deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan for the U.S. military and its NATO allies, commented that there is no counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. (Really, what is HTS doing in Afghanistan if not counterinsurgency work?) Rather, Flynn said, there was a military-driven anti-insurgency campaign, the purpose of which was to kill Taliban and Al Qaeda militants.” (I find that assertion consistent with sentiments from Afghanistan.) Flynn made another powerful statement. He said that intelligence officials were “disengaged from people in the best position to find answers.” And, that U.S. intelligence had focused too much on gathering information on insurgent groups and was “unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.” He pointed out that there were too many intelligence analysts in Afghanistan “simply in the wrong places and assigned to the wrong jobs.”
Another issue that keeps coming up in these reports and essays over ZeroAnthropology is the briefness of interval that social scientists and other HTS specialists have on the ground to do ethnographic research. It is true that it takes a lot of time to complete masterful ethnographies acceptable to the disciplines of anthropology and sociology. However, in HTS field research as it has been enacted thus far, that is not possible. Which means, all the more reason to have bona fide, experienced personnel in those places during those short periods of time. On one end of the HTS personnel spectrum there are the occasional multidisciplinarians who can multiply perceive the briefly visited setting in holographic detail, as it were, vs. the other end of the spectrum where one has the window slit and one blind eye vision of a formerly deployed reservist, who might be a K-Mart general manager in her civilian job, who held down an IT job in an office in the Green Zone, and who next had a few weeks’ worth of trivial HTS class work on how anthropologists work and how some social scientific research methods operate. Such persons get titled within the HTS as “cultural analyst,” and sometimes even “research manager.”
David Price says that he hopes John Allison can testify before the House Armed Services Committee. I hope so. In fact, I hope the large reserve army of quit and axed HTS counterinsurgent operative-analysts will be able flood both the floors of the HASC and the SASC to tell their stories. I think it will take a multitude of voices to get the wrongs of the Army’s HTS righted.
Or, to summarize your post: “The politics of failure have failed. It’s time to make them work again.”
We disagree quite fundamentally. You are concerned about developing the right strategies to counter a “pandemic” (i.e., resistance to aggressive U.S. imperialism), without recognizing yourself as the cause, finding all the right little tools, modalities, and tweaking adjustments, losing oneself in details of organization, doctrine, training, and just like RYP continuing to miss the big point:
Your way of life is unsustainable and demands ever increasing expansion and access to resources, which generates conflict. RYP thinks he’s clever with his idea of U.S. occupiers trying to live and act like the Taliban. Too bad he’s not clever enough to think of a solution for America that involves living within its means, and within its borders.
That HTS is mismanaged, sure. And that is the least of the problems.
Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores
It is a fact that we disagree on some things that we each say, but, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “I will defend to the death your right to say them.” From my point-of-view, there are many pressing problems in the world — too many, in fact, to be subsumed under reductionist slogans like “down with American imperialism” and “the politics of failure have failed.” This may sound contradictory to you coming from a child of the Sixties and a Progressive Democrat. But, above all, I am a scientist, foremostly, a social scientist. I also have a broad pragmatic streak. (Not unlike, the American Founding Fathers who had a broad pragmatic streak and experience in politics that distinguished them from the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution, who were largely ideological, with no practical experience in government.) I mention the American Founding Fathers because they also had to deal with contradictions, whilst dealing with their own self contradictions – Thomas Jefferson, for an example.
All that being said, I doubt very much that if we got rid of every ounce of American imperialism, it would solve in one fell swoop the pressing root challenges of our times. I am talking about climate change, the decline side of oil, the advanced industrialization of societies leapfrogging to that subsistence modality, and all the second, third, and higher-order effects as these three challenges interdigitate and present new problems for human and other species. I stated my hypothesis before: as these challenges interact, insurgencies will proliferate. Do you really think that if America took an anti-imperialist stance or just went home and died, that stressed populations from all the challenges I mentioned would stop having grievances, would not generate insurgency, everyone would be struck by the peace stick and hold hands and sing “Kum Bah Yah?”
It doesn’t even matter that the U.S. doesn’t hold a patent on imperialism. It doesn’t even matter that Americans don’t hold a patent on “politics of failure.” Mother Nature is the great leveler. I simply don’t have faith that magic will prevail and a pat solution will be found for the rising tide of insurgency if the U.S. butts out of anything but a simpering, isolationist foreign policy. I personally do not want “American imperialism,” and I certainly don’t want more “politics of failure.” But, I am stating my view of the grand geopolitical train wreck coming at us living on this planet. Environmental realities and human ecological realities dictate geopolitical realities. One of those geopolitical realities is the rising tide of insurgency.
In the meantime, HTS looks like it is dying on the vine from its inability to surmount its own internal contradictions. And, let it die, if that is its managers’ self-selected fate and the result of the self-evident dulled palate of the generals and federal executives eating the bullshit fed to them by that rah-rah squad. However, a global counterinsurgency strategy and a discipline to inform it are needed. These were needed yesterday, but tomorrow will have to do. And, that need has less to do with American imperialism or the politics of failure, but with the challenges of our times. I for one would rather go down fighting, adapting, and trying to live against the elements, than blithely singing woe, assigning blame, and praying to gods who could care less.
You write as if “insurgency” were a bad thing, even while writing in positive terms of America’s founding fathers, i.e., insurgents. My starting point in this discussion is not that insurgency is something I need to fight against, quite the contrary. Guerrilla warfare is resistance against something that is deadly, oppressive, and intolerable.
No, I don’t — but we are speaking about American imperialism here, and the resistance movements that battle against it, rather than all conflicts, everywhere, past, present, and future. If the U.S. packed up and left Afghanistan, would the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan still be fighting U.S. forces? Obviously not.
“Insurgency,” as you call it, is not a “problem” nor can it be lumped together with AIDS or the environmental effects of industrialization. The question here is not about who is a scientist, and who is ideological, it was always a false and rather sinister distinction especially when drawn in the social sciences and humanities, and it has primarily Eurocentric and capitalist origins, reinvigorated by the Cold War. I do not defend such an order — it might be my ideology that helps me to see that, and it would be your ideology that hinders you from seeing that.
I am wondering, Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores, whether would include in the category of “insurgency” the following social actions, and if you would consider that those actions should then subjected by a “global counterinsurgency strategy” :
– The demonstrations and direct actions against WTO politics in 1999 in Seattle ?
– The strikes and riots in Greece these weeks ?
– The so-called “hunger riots” in 2008 in countries like Haïti, Egypt, Burkina Faso ?
(-The french revolution ?)
If not, where do you draw the line between the insurgency that is Ok, and the insurgency that should be crushed ? How do you think political and military leaders draw the line ? Do you think that the leaders of huge military and political powers can righteously define the legitimacy of an insurgency ?
I believe that some obscure group of leftists, with some experience in politics, once wrote something like :
Despite the juridical wording, it seems, to me, quite a pragmatic statement (if “pragmatic” means “concerned with making decisions and actions that are useful in practice, not just theory” )
Hum. My comment above is not really at the right place, as it is not a reply to Max. Can you fix this Max and putting my comment as a reply to Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores , or at the end of the comments’ queue ?
Unfortunately I have no ability to move the comments around, and this same misplacement has happened to me lots of times. It is weird. Anyway, let me see what I can do. Many thanks for the very much needed critical questions here.
Marilyn, please see the additional reply to you here:
Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores
Max and French Guy…. My apologies for not getting back quickly. It is still hurricane season where I am. Any hard rain and gusty wind affects the Internet apparatus here.
We were not talking about American imperialism until Max injected that note. John Stanton’s essay was on the American Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS). I responded in kind, with some specific examples from training and some rumination about counterinsurgency as both a discipline and as a global security strategy.
Max does point out that I wrote “as if” insurgency were a bad thing. That is a good point. I did use a disease metaphor in talking about insurgency. And, diseases are bad, right? I think why I did that was that I remembered an effort by a group of epidemiologists in the early 1990s who applied a disease spread model to incidents of fissioning violence over some geographic area populated by humans. I did not mean to give the impression that I thought insurgency was either a good or bad thing. I think it depends on the situation. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Max points that out very well in throwing the American Founding Fathers back at me. I think French Guy is trying to say the same thing in his list of social actions that he asked me about.
By the same token, if we subtracted from the term “American imperialism” the value-added adjective “American,” we would be left with “imperialism.” Let us think about imperialism for a moment without the American “spin” on it. What is an imperialist? One man’s imperialist is another man’s interventionist. Is intervention good or bad? Again, it depends on the situation.
I think what I hear Max saying is that American intervention in Afghanistan is bad. And, clearly who can dispute this when one reads Major General Michael Flynn’s assessment that counterinsurgency is not being done in Afghanistan, but rather an “anti-insurgency” strategy of hunting down and killing Taliban leaders? Who can dispute this when one reads how General McChrystal has seized authority over most special forces units operating in Afghanistan? When civilian and mistaken identity deaths were investigated, it always seemed to tie back to relatively autonomous groups of special forces units barking up different stove pipes roaming the countryside in hunter-killer mode (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/16/world/asia/16afghan.html?th=&emc=th&pagewanted=print). Poor strategies and atrocities can suck all the goodness out of a good-intentioned intervention. But, say, what was the purpose of intervening on Afghanistan in the first place? Didn’t that have something to do with capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and unstringing his support network?
On one hand, I find it very difficult to believe that bin Laden’s address is still unknown. As MG Flynn pointed out, the United States (and its allies) have very good operatives and analysts. On the other hand, when those of us with the smarts are taken off the case from being put to work on the wrong things, by fending off criminal distractions, and even by getting fired and stripped of our clearances on cover-up excuses — well I can well see how it is that bin Laden and his network have not been neutralized and how they continue to flourish. Is this poor result a consequence of the force multiplication in missteps, personal empire building, and bullshit artistry among those in the military-industrial complex of the United States and its allies from the lowest individual on the totem pole to the topmost – everybody in Klondike Goldrush mode? Or, is it by design to craft a “Long War” to replace the Cold War? An Osama bin Laden still at large makes for a very effective boogeyman.
All that being said, is intervention good for Afghanistan? Yes, if it raises the Afghan standard of living, if it stops the wholesale abuse and slavery of girls and women, if jobs can be created for its citizens, if ethnic and factional warfare can be stopped, if Afghanistan can contribute positively to the world system of societies. Is intervention in Afghanistan good for the United States, its allies, and global security in general? Not if that intervention does not result in the capture of Osama bin Laden and the unstringing of his network, not if Afghans are worse off for a failed intervention, not if collateral problems of the region are exacerbated, and not if new problems are created. At this juncture, permit me to interrupt myself and answer Max’s rhetorical comment regarding if the United States got out of Afghanistan, then the Taliban and other militant groups would obviously not be fighting Americans. That is true. If that were to occur before intervention had a positive outcome, then the Taliban and other militant groups would likely soon fall to fighting amongst themselves. What is the value of their insurgencies then? Good because they exhausted the American will to stay in Afghanistan? Bad because the insurgents reverted to a typical pattern of infighting?
In manipulating social fabrics, it is a fact that when one intends to pull a thread expecting a certain result, that unintended consequences can occur and the whole bolt of cloth unravels. In confronting insurgency on the world stage, the United States has created insurgencies where none existed before. I am not merely talking about examples in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latest version of the military-industrial complex of the United States and its allies includes in its ranks a host of military contractor companies that previously did not exist. They have been founded by former high-level military officers as well as retired special forces NCOs who might have been running businesses like paintball ranges if not for the “Goldrush” created by the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. What happens when the Goldrush is over? It may be that we can expect a good deal of discontent when companies like Xi (the company formerly known as Blackwater) have nothing to do.
Here is where I am reminded of the fall of the Fourth French republic. A critical mass of French Resistance fighters from World War II, French Foreign Legionnaires, and the Black Feet French colonists of Algeria became discontented. Why? Well, the French Resistance fighters didn’t much like subjecting themselves to anyone’s authority. And, the Legionnaires and the Black Feet were unhappy with France having granted Algeria independence. And, so, DeGaulle had to be called forth and the Fifth Republic began. I have to ask myself, “Are we Americans creating an insurgency among Americans — those Americans who lived high on the hog, who enjoyed the permeability of boundaries between former and current military service men and women, and who wrote their own tickets working for and running these “Goldrush” companies? Who will be the American De Gaulle — if this scenario comes to pass?
Max and French Guy, is such a potential insurgency good or bad? Max will likely say it is a good thing because it may serve to curb American imperialism if the United States is wrapped up with putting down a homegrown insurgency. On the other hand, how good will it be if these Goldrushers attempt to ensure that the Goldrush never ends? Wouldn’t that be an insurgency that was a problem? You would be looking at American imperialism on a scale not yet seen.
Without loading the term insurgency with good or bad values, I do view it as a global security problem. Let us use the term “challenge” if “problem” implies a value. And, it most assuredly can be lumped together with other phenomena. Let us look at French Guy’s example of the French Revolution. I think that archaeologist Brian Fagan has argued quite convincingly that an attendant player on the scene back then was climate change. The grievances that mount and evolve into insurgency may be driven or exacerbated by a host of other phenomena. Social action does not occur in a vacuum. It occurs within a human ecology. I think the term “human terrain” attempts to put a face on that concept, though, in practice to date, the human terrain system likely has not examined in the field regarding any issue all the diagnostic variables on the human terrain that it preaches about in training.
As to Max’s comment about the dichotomy of science and ideology, I, too, have read Wallerstein and others, as well as the comments that touch on the dichotomy elsewhere in these pages. Yes, the dichotomy is Eurocentric. And, yes, your particular ideology vs. my looking at any issue as a scientist may put you onto solutions that I might not see. I personally try to get around the either-or of the matter by having skilled up as both a quantitative and qualitative methodologist and having become conversant in a wide variety of perspectives. I also know that I can look at any issue from the theoretical pole or the empirical one and switch back and forth as needed. You may not defend such an order (the dichotomy), Max, but you are part and parcel of the thing, embedded in it being a university professor in a highly industrialized society. Perhaps you are the insurgent anthropologist who will lead the way to a new order. For, after all, the dichotomy had an evolution and I don’t think it is quite done playing out. I think you can take advantage of that.
I would like to turn to French Guy’s great questions about certain social actions (i.e., demonstrations, strikes, riots, etc.). Those who study insurgency would argue that for an insurgency to be an insurgency that various evolutionary phases or stages have to play out, or at least show some signs of playing out. They would also argue that there are different types of insurgencies. Also, successful insurgent leaders have written about how various stages of their insurgencies played out. Key to a successful insurgency is gaining legitimacy through popular support and being able to carry off successful operations against opposing forces. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Israeli war for independence were insurgencies. I don’t know enough about these other examples that French Guy has named to place these events in a staging scheme for insurgency. Perhaps we can talk about that as we go.
French Guy has essentially asked how would global counterinsurgency strategists decide which insurgencies should be crushed and which should be allowed to proceed? If it were truly a “global” strategy, then there would be strategist-authors from the bulk of the world system of societies. It would ideally be all-inclusive. They would have to set down the conditions by which they would advocate crushing an insurgency or letting one proceed. In a globally warming world on the decline side of oil with an increasing number of societies leapfrogging to advanced industrialization, we can use our imaginations to get a grip on which insurgencies would be opposed or allowed to run their course. Opposed: those which impede the resources to fuel and feed advanced industrial societies; those which jeopardize air and sea traffic; those which threaten to destabilize a society that has several key partners in the world system of societies, etc. Supported (if just by a blind eye): those which address the grievances of millions of refugees from areas impacted by sea level rise and its various order of effects who are blocked by neighboring societies from entering their territories; those which liberate or produce resources to fuel and feed advanced industrial societies; those which enhance air and sea traffic; and those that would hold the promise of stabilizing a society with several key and/or “wannabe” partners in the world system of societies, etc.
All that being said, despite how “legitimate” our imagined global counterinsurgency strategists think an insurgency is or isn’t, an insurgency holds the capacity of establishing its own legitimacy. In fact, insurgent leaders have the responsibility of doing their level best to establish the legitimacy of their insurgency. It is not enough to tote a gun and shoot well. Such a leader has to be able to communicate his/her views and move in the right circles. Counterinsurgents have the same responsibility. Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan has not worked very well yet because those MG Flynn labeled “anti-insurgents” have mostly been toting guns and shooting. And, as General McChrystal would tell you, they have been killing the wrong people on top of that. Largely absent has been a synchronization of effort to move in the right circles and communicate in word and deed the party line that certain militant groups are illegitimate and do not have the best interests of the people at heart.
I want to make sure to keep my comment brief: like has sometimes happened, luckily, on this blog, this is one of those commentaries that really deserved to be a post unto itself. The questions are great. Others can respond if they wish, of course, I just wanted to say thanks.
Hello Dr. Dudley-Flores,
I am with Max on a lot of issues here, except when it comes to peacekeeping since it seems that Max is even against that in the conversation we had in Montreal. I agree that these are great questions:
“By the same token, if we subtracted from the term “American imperialism” the value-added adjective “American,” we would be left with “imperialism.” Let
us think about imperialism for a moment without the American “spin” on it. What is an imperialist? One man’s imperialist is another man’s interventionist. Is intervention good or bad? Again, it depends on the situation.”
Yes and no. Yes, “imperialism” is to be attacked if you are anti-imperialist, and that includes Chinese imperialism, Russian imperialism,
European imperialism, imperialism anywhere by anyone. I don’t think Chinese imperialism is “better” than American imperialism, especially if you
are Burmese or Tibetan, just different. And no: imperialism is about a lot more than just interventionism, I think, even if I’m not clear on how you distinguish the two. Most don’t.
Maybe this is off topic, but what is the problem with the peacekeeping?
PS – any chance you can open up discussion on https://openanthropology.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/multiplying-human-terrain-dreams-of-victory-and-fortune/ ? Why is it closed?????
No, sorry. For over a week that page, like “The Bloggers” page before it, is getting targeted with over 500 spam posts per day. I don’t have the time or patience to sift through it looking for the authentic messages, and even doing “bulk delete” became time consuming when I had 20+ consecutive pages of spam to delete. Mike was lucky his first message was at the top of the spam queue the very first time he posted, and I spotted it, or else his subsequent messages would have been lost for good. (I have had, at last count, a total of 160,260 spam comments.)
With reference to the “peace keeping” issue: I was pretty disappointed to see Mike take what was a conversation that lasted almost two hours, and reduce it to one sentence. When it comes to complex topics, that kind of reduction is not acceptable even in Twitter. I raised a series of critical questions, and numerous doubts, skeptical about both his hypothetical scenarios, the looseness of the concepts, and the actual cases to which he referred. While I prefer Canadian involvement in past peace keeping efforts to the current counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, the concept itself has become abundantly polluted now with R2P notions that I reject in their entirety. Simply put, I don’t write blank cheques with my sympathies.
And Mike, nice of you to mention “Tibet” — as you know, like “Darfur”, these two are trigger words on this blog and it’s better to never mention them lest I feel the urge to shout HEY KOOL-AID !!!
BTE, feel free to ask your questions here for now, until this page starts getting spammed too.
I think you missed two of my messages and too bad I didn’t save them before hitting submit because one was pretty long. Now I save everything in a notepad file.
I hit the submit
button and the posts just vanished. I can’t remember what I was writing about in the shorter one, but the longer one had some good links to share.
I probably never gave you my email but you can send me a message at email@example.com from your address of choice. I’d like to continue some of the discussion off the board, if that’s ok with you.
Thanks Mike. Maybe we can go through that whole peace keeping discussion all over again ;-) (just kidding). Sorry I missed those messages, it would have been like finding needles in a haystack. I just finished clearing over 300 spam comments, and it’s only midday. I may be wrong about only one page being targeted. I am also writing to WordPress support to get their assistance.
OK understood about the spam issue so I’ll ask my questions here. They are sort of related to the peacekeeping topic too. In your “Multiplying Human Terrain Dreams of Victory and Fortune” piece you focus on groups producing information and analysis for sale to the military. From what I have read about anthropologists and their criticisms of HTS, this is obviously a very big issue for anthropologists. From what I infer “your” implied charge is that they are selling out. So two points come up right there – one, is it just selling out to the military that concerns you? Second, is this a bone of contention specifically for anthropologists and if so why? I am an economist and as you probably already know there are likely no more “sold out” people than us in the academy, some more than others obviously, think of the Chicago School of Economics. Looking at anthropological outrage is almost a rare and exotic thing for me, not that I don’t welcome it, and respect it. I am just looking at what might be transferable and translatable across disciplinary boundaries as opposed to what is very specific to anthropology. My first point pivots on the question as to whether anthropologists object most to HTS because of concern for lethal objectives, because otherwise in some ways it resembles consultancy for development projects. So why not broaden the scope to include development work, foreign aid, humanitarian missions, NGOs, or is it just the guns and uniforms that exercise your imaginations the most? That’s sort of how I got to this from my first question about peacekeeping. Anyway, if you have time I would like to get your views on these points.
“one, is it just selling out to the military that concerns you?”
No, and all of the other institutions and engagements concern me just as much, if not more. However, in this instance, we are speaking about supporting militarization and the national security state, during a particularly violent and particularly expansionist phase of American imperialism. Thus, focusing on the one does not obviate a concern with the others.
“Second, is this a bone of contention specifically for anthropologists and if so why?”
Interestingly, it is not just a bone of contention with anthropologists, and certainly not with all anthropologists, but of the few identifiable sectors in academia that have spoken out anthropology has become prominent. One can take the approach that this needs explaining, but the attitude of other areas of academia is in no less need of explanation. Some anthropologists are acutely aware of the discipline’s history as a tool of imperialism and colonialism (and no, not just in Africa, or 1960s southeast Asia, but in Native North America as well). That anthropology has been used as a tool of counterinsurgency is already established, so it was not as much of a leap for anthropologists (both old and new) to tackle this once again.
“I am just looking at what might be transferable and translatable across disciplinary boundaries”
Good question. One way we can look at this is whether other disciplines contain enough critical elements within them to challenge both imperialism and the recruitment of academics to support the national security state — and this comes down to both ethics and politics. Another is whether they have sufficient engagements abroad, or contacts with communities at home, that they should worry about jeopardizing the lives or reputations of colleagues. Some disciplines are not publicly immersed at all, especially when at most they advise government on policy (don’t conflate state with civil society).
“So why not broaden the scope to include development work, foreign aid, humanitarian missions, NGOs, or is it just the guns and uniforms that exercise your imaginations the most?”
In part I answered this already. If one were to critique developmentalism, and we do on this blog, then someone else might say “yeah but what about HTS?” So no, it is not just “guns and uniforms” that aggravate us the most, but I must say, the proponents of guns and uniforms have been some of the most nefarious, unthinking, morally bankrupt and intellectually cowardly individuals with whom I have personally ever had the displeasure of interacting.
Probably more relevant to this post is that the contractor has been released:
Militant Iraqi group releases American hostage
Sunday, March 28, 2010; A10
BAGHDAD — An American contractor held hostage by a Shiite militant group in Iraq was returned to U.S. custody this week, the Defense Department said in a statement Saturday.
The Pentagon said the circumstances surrounding the disappearance in January of Issa T. Salomi, 60, of El Cajon, Calif., were under investigation. But the militant group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or the League of the Righteous, suggested on a Web site the group uses that Salomi was released in exchange for four detainees in U.S. custody.
The U.S. military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Salomi’s kidnapping followed the breakdown of talks between the Iraqi government and the group that U.S. and Iraqi officials had hoped would lead to reconciliation. The U.S. military has released hundreds of the group’s members in a failed attempt to neutralize it.
Last month, Salomi appeared in a video posted on the Web site used by the militant group demanding the release of detainees in U.S. custody and calling for the punishment of the guards employed by Blackwater Worldwide — now known as Xe Services — who were involved in a 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad in which 14 Iraqis died.
— Leila Fadel
Many thanks Robert. I had in fact come to the computer right now to read news about this, having read a very brief clip scrolled at the bottom of the screen on CNN. Thanks again very much, and yes, finally, relevant to the post.
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