Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Iraq: My Pet Goat Rope

"Accustomed only to nails, they had made one effort to pull out the screw by main force, and now that it had failed they were devising methods of applying more force still, of obtaining more efficient pincers, of using levers and fulcrum so that more men could bring their strength to bear."
-- C.S Forester, The General

If you're sick of hearing all the liberal hand-wringing over security guards with Blackwater killing a bunch of Iraqi civilians "in cold blood," here's some of the good news from Iraq you haven't been hearing enough of. Walter Pincus of the Washington Post tells us about one Marine general who's determined to show young Iraqi extremists the error of their ways.
The U.S. military has introduced "religious enlightenment" and other education programs for Iraqi detainees, some of whom are as young as 11, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, the commander of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, said yesterday.

And if you thought a Marine Corps general was the exact wrong kind guy to be in charge of "enlightening" 11 year old Iraqis, you were absolutely, uh… You were absolutely right about that.

Boys' Town

The religious aspect of General Stone's program helps him separate the truly rehabilitated ex-terrorists from the hard-core extremists. "I want to know who they are," he told Pincus. "They're like rotten eggs, you know, hiding in the Easter basket."

"Rotten eggs hiding in the Easter basket" sounds uncomfortably like the "bad apple" U.S. soldiers former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to blame for the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. There's also something entirely awkward about an American jailer using a Christian-centric simile to describe his Muslim Iraqi prisoners, awkward enough to make you wonder is this glorified camp counselor really knows what he's doing.

General Stone describes his rehabilitation program as an effort to "bend them back to our will," a key objective in what he calls the "the battlefield of the mind." As to the core tenet of his methods, Stone says, "We're busting them down, we're making whole moderate compounds that didn't exist before."

As you might suspect, General Stone has interesting ideas about what it means to be a "moderate" in Iraq. He told Pincus the story of "a sort of religious insurgency" that occurred at one detention facility in early September.

"We had a compound of moderates for the first time overtake . . . extremists. It's never happened before," Stone said. "Found them, identified them, threw them up against the fence and shaved their frickin' beards off of them. . . . I mean, that is historic."

Threw a bunch of Muslims against a fence and shaved their frickin' beards off? Yeah, General, that's historic all right. In fact, it's downright Old Testament. What do you call that sort of thing? Shave the other cheek? If we assigned somebody like Major General Stone to teach Iraqi radicals how to behave moderately, is it any wonder that our diplomats can't teach the Iraqi Parliament to compromise on legislation?

Like general officers placed in charge of detention facilities in Iraq generally are, General Stone is a reservist. Don't let the "R" in USMCR fool you, though; Stone is anything but a standard issue feather merchant. His list of credentials, experience and advanced education stretches from the main gate to the sea wall. But none of his eye-popping experiences or accomplishments or graduate level training had anything to do with preparing terrorists for productive lives outside the walls of a prison. The military wouldn't hire a social worker to run a division of Marines, so why did it put a major general in charge of a social program?

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Here's another question: why does the nation that spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined have to hire civilians to do soldiers' jobs?

According to a 20 September Associated Press story, the United States has assembled an "army" in Iraq of over 180,000 contracted civilians, a number that exceeds the 169,000 American service members deployed there. Granted, the lion's share of these "mercenaries" consists of cooks, carpenters, truck drivers, docs, dentists, and other combat support specialists. But these support jobs are the kinds of things that once upon a time were performed by G.I. Janes and Josephs. In World War II and other more conventional looking conflicts, the support forces operated in the rear areas, protected by distance from the action at the front lines.

There are no front lines in Iraq, and hence no rear areas, so all the supporting civilians--as well as State Department officers, the press, politicians and other strap hangers--need dedicated security forces, and that role is being filled by honest to goodness Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner types. By and large the hired guns operate outside the official military chain of command, and the Blackwater characters who snuffed the Hadjis in Baghdad the other day aren’t even held to regulations the Department of Defense imposes on all the other security firms operating in Iraq.

You'd think that four years into this fiasco we'd have figured out how to apply the right tools to the right job, but no. A Marine general runs a head start program while civilians stand point guard for diplomats who might as well be trying to sell the Iraqis Bibles for all the good they're doing.

Yet our commander in chief and his "main man" General David Petraeus insist on squandering yet more force, pincers, levers, fulcrums and men to bear in an effort to unscrew a situation that's developed into a knot that only My Pet Goat could have tied.

And it's looking more every day like there's nothing Congress can do to stop them.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.


  1. CatsMeow9:22 AM

    ...there's nothing Congress WILL do to stop them.

  2. Holy crap... Pun intended...

  3. Anonymous4:38 PM

    Thanks for the update, Jeff.

    It is not that Congress can't control, it is that they will not. Lack of courage has a tremendous amount to do with this situation, in the government, the military, and the general US population.

  4. I clicked on "comments" to write the very words that CatsMeow beat me to. That's exactly right.

  5. Anonymous12:42 PM

    Well written. Thank you SO MUCH for your blog. Continue your journey. There are those of us out here that cannot articulate what we think, but you are doing that for us.

    As an aside, I just came back from Afghanistan. I am a reservist. I don't think I am a "standard issue feather merchant," though. Just a thought.

  6. Anon. Regarding your reserve status: I have known a lot of reservists, mainly naval reserve types, who definitely earned the title of "feather merchant, " but not too many of them. On the other hand, I served with a lot of active duty types who might as well have been showing up one weekend a month for all the good they were doing. ;-)

    Thanks for your service in Afghanistan.


  7. Anonymous6:51 AM

    The U.S. military has introduced "religious enlightenment" and other education programs for Iraqi detainees, some of whom are as young as 11

    Jeff, go and read this:
    To the question, "Why are you here?" They all answered "I don't know."

    Your Gen. Talks not more than daily rubbish come from their mouth.

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