No, Really: Is the US Military Cut Out For Courageous Restraint?

No, Really: Is the US Military Cut

Out For Courageous Restraint?

by Jason Lemieux

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Really: Is the US Military Cut Out For Courageous Restraint?

General (GEN) Stanley McChrystal's recent dismissal has spurred a host of articles

that quote US troops complaining about his controversial rules of engagement (ROEs)

directives in Afghanistan. The reasoning underlying these complaints usually shows

a lack of understanding of counterinsurgency doctrine, an unwillingness to accept

its logic, or both.  The stubborn refusal of many servicemembers to accept

McChrystal's "courageous restraint" directive calls into question our military's

suitability for population-centric counterinsurgency.

By now, the reasoning behind the restrictive ROEs is well known: Insurgents depend

on support from the civilian inhabitants (whether the distinction between insurgents

and "civilian inhabitants" is always meaningful is another question) of their theater

of operations. GEN McChrystal termed it "Insurgent

Math": Every time you kill an innocent person, you create ten new insurgents.

GEN McChrystal further elaborated that, "Destroying a home or property jeopardizes

the livelihood of an entire family and creates more insurgents."

In a June 23, 2010 radio bit titled, "Troops Surprised About Gen. McChrystal's

Ouster," NPR correspondent Tom Bowman

told his

colleague that, "Now, clearly, you know, [the troops] don't want to kill innocent

civilians, but they believe their hands are tied in going after the Taliban." 

It's certainly true that a portion of the troops, perhaps the majority, have no

desire to kill innocent civilians.  What America is not being honest with itself

about, however, is that a significant minority don't really care how many civilians

are killed as long as they are allowed to do what they imagine to be their jobs:

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Really: Is the US Military Cut Out For Courageous Restraint?

Jason Lemieux served in the US Marine Corps infantry from 2001-2006. After

serving his third tour in Iraq under a voluntary ten-month contract extension, Lemieux

was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant. In December 2010, Lemieux will

receive his B.A. in Political Science from Columbia University. He is currently

a research intern for the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and

International Studies in Washington, D.C. The views expressed here are his own.

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In the old days we used to call it "fire control" and "discipline." No medals were given for either - it was simply expected.

Patrick R Jennings

Valid question -- and he's arrived at the correct answer. We are not cut out for restraint. We can be courageous enough but we do not do restraint.

All those Psychologists who contend there's no such thing as a national psyche aren't paying attention. We are a nation of mostly impatient people. I watched the same basic reactions the author cites in two earlier wars while watching soldiers from other nations exercise far more patience and restraint. It is us -- and it is not just the youth of today...

While I firmly believe our training is better now than it has ever been, I'm equally convinced it is still inadequate at properly inculcating the basics of the trade on new entrants, Officer and Enlisted. I am just as convinced that our lack of patience cannot be trained away to a point of adequacy for proper engagement in FID by the bulk of our Armed Forces. SF can do it, if properly selected, trained and allowed but the GPF will never do it very well -- and they should not.

That lack of patience permeates all levels from policy makers to Squad members and it all too often leads to rash efforts and literal overkill.

We do not have the patience for counterinsurgency and we do ourselves no favors by attempting to engage in the process. There are alternatives and they should be pursued.