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January 13, 2012


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I don't know of anyone shocked that this occurred, insomuch as there are assholes and our military cultivates them. The shock comes that there are others who think this is perfectly good behavior, or that it is excusable in some way. It isn't.

It's perfectly understandable that I might put my foot through a rubbermaid box I am assembling if I don't know how it goes together and my frustration with lack of clear instructions. It's still not appropriate behavior.

I'm sick to death of comments telling me that I should expect this behavior. As if I approved this venture or that I should just shrug my shoulders and not want those Marines discharged for violating the trust they were given.

Sir Charles


Understand that I am not justifying the behavior, but simply stating what to me is an obvious truth -- that when you give people a mission that involves killing a certain subset of human beings -- and that subset is also quite keen on killing them -- the niceties of life are frequently not observed. When the group in question doing this mission are young men, filled with fear, testosterone, and bravado, bad things frequently ensue.

My point is that a style of war -- counterinsurgency -- that theoretically requires a fair degree of sensitivity to the sensibilities of the people from whose ranks those you are killing are drawn is doomed to failure.

In other words you -- and those who put these young men in this position -- probably should expect this behavior, even though it is highly detrimental to their mission and offends our sensibilities. And if that is the case, our national policy should be to try and avoid these sorts of missions.

low-tech cyclist

SC, I'd summarize your words like this: even if we don't condone this sort of behavior, it's gonna happen anyway. That's why we should expect it, even though we don't excuse it.

And as you say, this is why we can't do counterinsurgency. It's a nice idea in theory, but in an environment where a soldier can't tell friend from foe, his options are limited to killing a lot of the people we're theoretically trying to help, or taking too much of a risk that his inability to tell friend from foe is going to get him killed if he doesn't kill both indiscriminately.

Our military is great at taking on opposing troops that are visible and identifiable as such. But in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, we can't tell friend from foe. We don't speak the language, the faces all look alike to us, we don't know who's on whose side, and who's just pretending. And so we make a hash of it.

Thank goodness the Iraqis told us it was time to leave, and that any deal to stay that would have been acceptable to us - immunity for our troops in such a war would have been a necessary condition - wouldn't have been reasonable to them, given what's already transpired.

Hopefully Karzai and the Taliban can reach some sort of deal and give us our walking papers too. We've been fighting there for almost 3 times as long as it took us to win WWII, from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day. And every year, the intelligence estimates say the same thing: we're not succeeding, nor are we on a road to ultimate success. Time to admit it. Maybe after he's re-elected (let's hope and pray), Obama will no longer see a cost to leaving.

I'm no pacifist either, and I'm glad we've got a President who's not one. But I'm also glad we've got a President who's at least somewhat more attuned to the limits of the use of force than his predecessor. Working within an understanding of those limits, his Libya strategy has been a success, as has been his war against al-Qaeda.

Once we get out of Afghanistan, maybe we can reach a new normal in our approach to security issues that doesn't involve large numbers of troops on the ground in countries we understand poorly at best.

Joe S

I think the teason why Greenwald and Sirota (and related crew) are viewed so gently by progressives in boosting Ron Paul these days is related to issues like this story. Sir C, most of the commenters here myself included, and many daily kos type bloggers condemn Greenwald in his foreign policy indictments of Obama. However, as far as I can tell, most of us really disapprove of the foreign policy decisions of this Administration. Does anybody here really think the Libyan intervention was a good idea (as opposed to a justifiable one)? Does anybody here think that the escalation in Afghanistan was the right policy move (as opposed to calling Obama evil for doing it) ? Wouldn't most progressives want to return to an "offshore balancing" stance in the Middle East and Indian Ocean ? On a strategic level, I don't think most progressives think that this Administration is pursuing a very good foreign policy.

Sir Charles


I actually think Obama has been quite good on foreign policy. Here are my thoughts:

I would not have escalated in Afghanistan, although I understand why he did -- he campaigned on it and he then faced tremendous pressure from the military to follow through. By the time he got in office I think it was evident that the Bush people had sold us a bill of goods in terms of the conditions of the ground there. I sided with Biden, who saw this and felt it was a good excuse to start getting out.

Having said that, though, it seems to me that the Administration is still fairly clear-headed about the limits of force in Afghanistan and remains committed to some sort of political solution -- I am confident that Obama will get the U.S. out of there by 2014.

On Libya, although I was an intervention skeptic, it seems to me that Obama was right and I was wrong on this score. The intervention was skillfully handled on a multilateral basis and it seems to me -- although only time will tell -- the result was a pretty favorable one. (Do you feel otherwise?)

On Iraq, I think the president gets big points. He kept to his word, he got the troops out, and he did not let the DC hawks push him around.

With respect to al Qaeda, he seems to me to have been both tough and effective. Killing bin Laden was a BFD. And so is the relentless degradation of their cadre in the field.

With Iran I think he had been both restrained and effective -- really ratcheting up the pressure -- again in multilateral fashion -- while resisting the cries of the war hawks here.

I thought he was good in terms of dealing with the Arab Spring -- showing, as he has throughout his term -- a mix of flexibility and pragmatism that has been his hallmark in foreign policy.

Obviously the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been disappointing, but I just can't blame him for that. I think it has pretty much been hopeless from day one.

Now longer term I agree with what you envision -- a far less hands on presence in the Islamic world. I am not convinced though that Obama doesn't share that view. He sort of has to get through playing the various cards he was dealt to get to that spot. (I view the moving of troops to Australia and the focus on the Pacific as indicative of this future move.)


I can't really improve on what Crissa said and think a post whose major thrust was that we should expect this (without clarifying that it's appalling and inexcusable) skirts dangerously close to saying that this is "normal." No, it's not. If you want to justify getting out of AfPak, I'm with you, but do it on the merits - don't do it by making the argument that if we don't we should just shrug and expect that our guys will in the normal course of things wind up pissing on corpses or committing other war atrocities. Let's not define deviancy down, thanks.

Sir Charles


Sorry. I can't pretend to be shocked. And I tend to think that once you've gotten to the point where killing people is routine, pissing on their dead bodies is just a little bit of R&R.

I think this sign gives a little bit more historic sense of the edifying quality that war has on people's moral sensibilities:


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