Human terrains, all-too-human flaws

When I was in graduate school, I attended a guest lecture* on the the US military’s ‘Human Terrain System’ (HTS) that was being pioneered in Afghanistan from the second half of the 2000s. I found the concept and reality mildly interesting, and I thought it had some potential.

But in light of the US invasion of Iraq, I knew they still had a very long way to go, and I suspected that there were more problems than not. Somehow that feeling proved correct.

Ted Callahan, a United States Army Human Terrain Team social scientist, talking to local residents to investigate a tribal dispute in the village of Wum Kalay, Paktia Province, Afghanistan on Aug. 12, 2009. Credit Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

This article published by the New York Times last month, ‘The quiet demise of the Army’s plan to understand Afghanistan and Iraq‘, is a worth a read.

The author has written a book about it, titled The Tender Soldier.

The trope about Afghanistan being the “graveyard of empires” seems to hold true of ideas as well, including well-intentioned but ill-conceived ones.

*guest lecture: in my grad school, translated as “a talk within a compulsory conference that we had to attend in order to fulfil credits so that we could actually graduate.”

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Re-blogged: Critical pedagogies?

Image from and h/t The Disorder of Things

Re-blogged from The Disorder of Things.

Here’s something interesting:

“It would be strange for anyone to graduate from an IR programme not knowing what ‘Realism’ is (or not knowing the difference between a Carr and a Waltz, or a neo-conservative and a neo-classical). But understanding the state of the discipline isn’t the same thing as foregrounding its self-mythologies. We know, for example, that our current teaching doesn’t reflect the actual distribution of perspectives (recall that 16% of IR scholars call themselves Realists, but 37% of survey respondents use more than a quarter of their introductory courses teaching it). Let us have compulsory courses in the intellectual history of IR, but not a iterated call-and-response in which the critical always comes second. Perhaps this is a generational difference, perhaps one founded on the privilege of never being made to always progress through the ‘American Science’ in any any given argument. Either way, I want to suggest that we stop thinking of teaching as the job of conveying the same sense of embattlement against a Mainstream that frames critical IR’s story of itself. And, in the process, move from unapologetic to militant. To haunt the corridors and panels of that same Mainstream and demand explanations of why there is no empire in their course outlines.”

From Iraq to Iraq: Political violence, recently

Protestors in Malaysia: The ‘969’ anti-Muslim movement in Burma has been identified as the main instigator of violence against Muslims in that country. Photo courtesy of ForeignPolicy.com

Some links related to and around news about political violence over the past few weeks:

AMERICA’S FALLUJAH LEGACY: WHITE PHOSPHOROUS, DEPLETED URANIUM: THE FATE OF IRAQ’S CHILDREN

FALLUJAH, Iraq, Apr 13, 2012 (IPS) – At Fallujah hospital they cannot offer any statistics on children born with birth defects – there are just too many. Parents don’t want to talk. “Families bury their newborn babies after they die without telling anyone,” says hospital spokesman Nadim al-Hadidi. “It’s all too shameful for them.”

“We recorded 672 cases in January but we know there were many more,” says Hadidi. He projects pictures on to a wall at his office: children born with no brain, no eyes, or with the intestines out of their body.


Contextualizing Media Claims in Boston – Registan.net

In attempting to place Tamerlan and Dzhohar Tsarnaev into the mould of the stereotypical “Islamic fundamentalist bomber,” the media used several facts and claims about the brothers that, in my opinion, don’t ring true or were taken out of the Chechen and post-Soviet context and, thus, were misunderstood. I would like to draw attention to several such facts (certainly not all) and clarify them. While these details may seem small, they helped to form an image of the Tsarnaev brothers in the public’s mind, simplifying complex motivations that may exist behind this attack. Words have connotations beyond their direct meanings, and so the choice of something as small as the wrong word can change how we perceive the facts: …


The wrong kind of Caucasian – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

Ethnicity is often used to justify violent behaviour. But no ethnicity is inherently violent. Even if the Tsarnaevs aligned themselves with violent Chechen movements – and as of now, there is no evidence they did – treating Chechen ethnicity as the cause of the Boston violence is irresponsible.

One hundred years ago, the violent act of one Polish-American caused a country to treat all Polish-Americans with suspicion. Now, the Poles have become “white” – which is to say they are largely safe from the accusations of treason and murderous intent that ethnic groups deemed non-white routinely face. When a Polish-American commits a crime, his ethnicity does not go on trial with him.

But this change is not a triumph for America. It is a tragedy that it happened to Poles then, and a greater tragedy that we have not learned our lesson and it happens still – to Hispanics, to Arabs, to Chechens, to any immigrant who comes here seeking refuge and finds prejudice instead.

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2003 Invasion of Iraq – The ‘commemorative’ round-up (UPDATED)

Last month marked the 10th year (on 19 March 2003 to be exact) since the US-led invasion of Iraq, also known as the Iraq War. This is a war that has cost (for the United States at least) up to three trillion dollars and at least 190,000 deaths – military, ‘contractor’, and civilian(*).

Here is a selection of articles giving a broad overview of reflections.

Leading up to it, James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine ruminates on his initial and consistent opposition (good man!) to the George W. Bush administration’s and neo-conservatives’ folly. Fallows gives a seven-point commentary.

American academic and foreign policy wonk Daniel Drezner does some (perhaps necessary) navel-gazing about how US foreign policy has been affected since 19 March 2003. He has backed off from his initial support of the invasion, but still not repentant regarding the use of force – to achieve security, democracy, or whatever else. Does this then not make him a ‘chickenhawk‘?

And for the love of the gods, Dan, please stop using the phrase ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. Oh look here, a ‘spade’! I call it what it really was – an INVASION. Of another sovereign state.

Where the neo-conservatives are not mentioned…
Former Ronald Reagan staffer, Republican, and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan does even more navel-gazing about how the invasion has affected the US Republican Party. (Why do I say ‘navel-gazing’? Hint: No mention of the neo-conservative ‘wing’ – any one of them – and their role, anywhere. Yes, exactly.)

…And where they are
International relations scholar Robert Kelly posits a neo-con ‘theory’ (of international relations or otherwise) behind their justification of the war. Bear in mind that he’s not trying to justify it from their point of view, but rather to come up with a plausible explanation why they pushed so hard for war – and got it.

Personally, I think any such theories are hogwash, flawed to the point of ridiculousness. There are theories and ideologies that are appropriate for certain times, and others that are not. The ‘justifications’ for invading Iraq – including from the so-called liberal imperialists interventionists – belong to the latter category.

In the meantime, from author and former US State Department employee Peter Van Buren: the World’s. Largest. Embassy. Ever. will soon stand largely empty.

Taylor Marvin ruminates about learning The Wrong Lessons from Iraq.

Daniel Nexon goes more ‘macro’ into IR theory to discuss the over-arching cause of war between as a form of classic ‘interstate rivalry‘ and explores its specific dynamics.

John B. Judis reflects on what it was like to oppose the Iraq invasion in 2003, giving emphasis on the media and perceived credibility of political figures (hint: NOT George W. Bush).

There is also the US failure in Afghanistan, as seen by Stephen Walt. David Rothkopf contemplates the lessons learnt there and in Iraq, while Paul Rogers observes more broadly the ‘war on terror’ and the West’s inability to eliminate violent conflict [The US seems to be able to eliminate lots of human beings, though. I guess that’s why they think they’re ‘an exceptional nation’. – Ed.] (I’m kidding! There’s no ‘Editor’ for this blog.)

And a little blast from the past: Ghassan Michel Rubeiz wrote this in the run-up to the 2008 US presidential elections (Remember that one? Where’s the Hope and Change now?):

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Archaeology and UAVs

From “Archaeology and UAVs“:

The drones used in archaeology are not the large and frightening remote killing machines that make the news for their questionable use in air strikes by the United States Military. Instead, archaeological drones have their roots in the world of radio controlled hobbyist models and are frequently built from off-the-shelf components marketed primarily to radio control model enthusiasts.

H/t Duck of Minerva

Also: “The Error in the War on Terror“:

…From a military point of view it is better to lose a drone priced at about 37 million dollars than a pilot or crew.  I do not dispute this rationale, but what about the value of those who die in the drone’s wake? Drone strikes inevitably kill civilians from time to time, either due to faulty targeting or the fact that innocent people may be nearby suspected terrorists.  Every time a family mourns the loss of a victim, there is a recruiting tool for yet more terrorists.  Then there are the flight mishaps, especially when drones crash in or near civilian airports, as has been documented. Is it reasonable to expect that every identifiable terrorist can be taken out by a no-end-in-sight drone strategy?

“The Pentagon’s grip on Hollywood” (updated 10 July)

 From Al Jazeera‘s ‘Listening Post’ programme, hosted by Richard Gizbert:

The military entertainment complex is an old phenomenon that binds Hollywood with the US military. Known as militainment, it serves both parties well. Filmmakers get access to high tech weaponry – helicopters, jet planes and air craft carriers while the Pentagon gets free and positive publicity.

The latest offering to come from this relationship is Act of Valor and it takes the collaboration one step further. The producers get more than just equipment — they have cast active-duty military personnel in the lead roles, prompting critics to say the lines have become so blurred that it is hard to see where Hollywood ends and Pentagon propaganda begins. In this week’s feature, the Listening Post’s Nic Muirhead looks at the ties between the US military and Hollywood.

 

This is not just a step “going a little bit beyond propaganda”, as one of the commentators said in the video, but one that reveals a symbiotic relationship between Hollywood and the U.S. regime. One that is about active collaboration between a state’s military establishment and civilian film industry – a collaboration that has been advanced far beyond the days of the Cold War, which had its fair share of propaganda films emanating from Hollywood-Pentagon collaboration.

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Roads to Tahrir Square (1)

The intent and direction of this post initially started out as something quite different from what I’m intending it to be now. Originally drafted with the title ‘The Top Five: A quick list…or not quite’ (yes, what an uninspiring, anti-climatic title), I’ve now changed it to the title you see here to better reflect the thrust of the piece.

Some events have superseded the ones I’ve described below, but this does not mean that the essence of the news or information is dated in any way.

This post also ‘launches’ two new tags-cum-categories: Regime Watch and PAP regime watch, for reasons that will be self-explanatory further here and as I post more pieces.

Even as Egyptians ask where their revolution went, and return to Tahrir Square after the acquittals of key Mubarak-era officials and a look at the “real power struggles in Egypt”, I give an overview of the key events of 2011.

Coming across a few blogs that have given their ‘best of’, ‘worst of’, or ‘most memorable’ …etc. lists, I’m inspired but less ambitious.  I don’t think I have any lists in my mind that can be strictly categorised as best things, worst things, or anything else.

But taking a (very belated) look back at 2011, it’s clear that momentous events have occurred. I attempt here to present broad themes that reflect the significant issues of the year just past – some with my particular take on them when I’m able to.

This is not a neat listing of my Top Five for 2011, but rather a compilation of reports, analyses, books, blog posts, web articles and video summaries,  grouped variously by subject or theme into five sections, with some overlap. Perhaps readers can identify common threads.

  • One. The American Empire (Project) With the Obama administration more than halfway through its first term, the troubles in the Middle East still brewing, and international security issues at a high (some would say inflation of threats, e.g. Iran’s nuclear programme), I first draw attention to Tom Engelhardt’s American Empire Project. It investigates the notion or reality of the US ’empire’ through a series of books and its website.

Of these, I’ve only read Blowback by Chalmers Johnson, but I already have The Complex: How The Military Invades Our Everyday Lives by Nick Turse on my to-read list (and in my possession).

‘Empire’ by Al Jazeera was a televised discussion featuring both Engelhardt and Walt. It’s a pretty good one, but I felt that the host was too eager to press his points about American ’empire’ and ‘business’, and didn’t let Walt and his colleague a fair-enough airing of their views. Watch it here:

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