Should a human rights center at the nation’s most prestigious university be collaborating with the top US general in Iraq in designing the counter-insurgency doctrine behind the current military surge?
Led by Gen. David Petraeus, the so-called surge–an escalation of over 25,000 American troops–is resulting in hundreds of killings, mass roundups, door-to-door break-ins, and military offensives in Baghdad, Al-Anbar and Diyala provinces, on the side of a deeply-sectarian Baghdad regime which, according to the White House benchmarks report, still compiles official lists of Sunni Arabs targeted for detention or death. The counter-insurgency campaign is explained as a military way to create “space” for Iraqis to reach a political solution without violent interference.
The new doctrine was jointly developed with academics at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard. The Carr Center’s Sarah Sewell, a former Pentagon official, co-sponsored with Petraeus the official “doctrine revision workshop” that produced the new Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual [US Army Field Manual No. 3-24, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication No. 3-33.5, 2007]. The workshop was held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on Feb. 23-24, 2006, and can be accessed here.
This is not an academic text but, in the Marine Corps’ title, a “warfighting doctrine,” complete with hundreds of recommendations ranging from how to “clear, hold and build,” how to use secret agents in calling in air strikes, even advice on public speaking (“avoid pacing, writing on the blackboard, teetering on the lectern, drinking beverages, or doing any other distracting activity while the interpreter is translating.”)
The new counter-insurgency approach purports to be more civilized and humane than conventional kinetic war. It seeks to save the population (“winning hearts and minds”) from the insurgents. It attempts to minimize civilian casualties and avoid torture of detainees. It promotes social programs. These no doubt were the attractions of the collaboration for Harvard’s “humanitarian hawks.” The introduction to the manual is thoughtful and balanced, even raising questions whether the effort can work at all. Sewall tastefully avoids any references to the brutal though targeted suppression necessary for the mission to succeed, but states in Ivy League language why she stands in coalition with the Marines:
“Humanitarians often avoid wading into the conduct of war for fear of becoming complicit in its purpose. The field manual requires engagement precisely from those who fear that its words will lack meaning…”
She goes on make an ambiguous comment about the dirty war supported by US Special Forces in El Salvador, now known as the “El Salvador option”:
“Military annals today tally that effort as a success, but others cannot get past the shame of America’s indirect role in fostering death squads.”