Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Intelligence Warriors

In a recent report commissioned by the US Army, a British Army officer, Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, recently outlined everything America is doing wrong.

His critiques are familiar to anyone who's worked on defense in Europe. They emphasize the lack of cultural sophistication in the US Army versus other armed forces; a structure which even compared to other armies thwart dissent and informed feedback where strategies aren't working; a "warrior ethos" that instructs troops to "destroy" their enemy (the Brigadier is shocked -- destroy, not merely defeat? a good way to create more enemies).

The problems are most directly expressed in America's dependence on remote-imaging technology like satellites rather than HUMINT -- human intelligence or knowledge of cultural terrain and appropriate ways of dealing with angry rebels.

I say that this is familiar, because I've heard Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster's critique articulated by members of the British defense, political, and academic communities for at least four years.

In private rooms in Cambridge, they would entertain visiting American dignitaries and try to convince them that these structural failures amounted to a good reason that no American effort in Iraq or elsewhere would sow anything other than discord in the long run.

The Americans drank their tea and sniffed. They returned to DC. Nothing changed.


It is a sweet relief, then, to note that someone in Washington is now concerned enough to invite one of the British to Washington to share their critique America.

There is a sea-change, indeed. My own articles on the use and abuse of imaging technology versus social/cultural knowledge are getting an unlooked for spurt of attention in the last month. It seems that everyone is looking for where to go next.

As Lewis Lapham notes in Harper's, a spate of amnesia cases among high-ranking soldiers in the last few months suggests more than the normal hardship -- new cases of amnesia coincide with a moment when officers and leadership and soldiers alike realize that their strategy is crumbling and wonder what to do next.

All of this makes it all the more fascinating to glance at the spontaneous criticism of American forces from abroad that Nigel Aylwin-Foster's critique has generated.

Seizing on his report, the Australians, Chinese, and Arabs have rushed to confirm that they too have noticed problems with the US Armed Forces which must be repaired.

It is not surprising that everyone has an opinion, nor that the pundits ooze when the lion is down. More interesting is the direction taken by different cultures as they report on the Brigadier's report.

The different spins on the report amount to a cultural study in what each culture fears most about the United States.

Who would have guessed, for instance, that the Chinese would be most urgently critical that American armed forces are racist?

The Quebecois dwell on America's "stifling bureaucracy".

Australians find the Americans to be too offensive and overeager in their assaults on the ground.

Al-Jazeera and Qatar's Gulf Times direct their readers to hopes that the British-American alliance may be fragmenting.

Much more could be said here about how studying the nations' reactions to this report could improve America's understanding of how its policies (military and diplomatic) will be received elsewhere.

But perhaps most instructive is how America itself reacts. "Who are the British to Talk?" sneers TIME, furthering every stereotype of the headstrong, road-warrior American, never looking where he's going.

Who are the British to talk? Brigadier Nigel was invited.


Post a Comment

<< Home