Wednesday, October 24

On the perversion of nonviolence and religious tolerance in service of politics and war

Let my people go or I'll pour kerosene on myself and light a match

Two recently published essays, one by Belmont Club's Richard Fernandez, one by Zenpundit's Mark Safranski, when taken together reveal a portrait of human evil so horrific that young people and the severely depressed should not be allowed to see it. The rest of us need to contemplate what we have wrought by looking the other way as NATO military commands ordered soldiers in Afghanistan to act like saints in the face of ruthless armed militias and democratic governments promoted the lie that nonviolent resistance could topple dictators. 

In The Limits of Myth, Richard Fernandez amplifies on the theme I presented in On the Taliban shooting of Malala Yousafza: Pakistani human rights activists need to step believing in American fairy tales:
Pundita argues the notion of bloodless resistance has been oversold by the advocates of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It was a convenient alternative narrative to that perennial problem-solving algorithm, war.  By skipping over the War of Independence and the Civil War and emphasizing the Salt March and Selma, Alabama they gave the mistaken impression that resistance was all about speeches and heroic poses.
But nonviolence is a useful myth she argues, because it gives diplomats an excuse not to act. It makes a virtue of doing nothing by characterizing it as actively breaking the cycle of violence and counseling that eventually the tyrant will die of shame. But not before you die of a bullet.
The truth is that every resistance movement — even largely nonviolent ones — carries with it the implicit threat of force. The police and army of the regime often switch sides when they see that the cost of dealing with impending storm of popular violence exceeds the cost of turning on the tyrant. They fear force and therefore decline to exercise it.

The idea of consequences was once deeply rooted in the public consciousness. Yahweh thundered. And even Christ came to save us from the fires of hell. But hell there was. The opportunity for nonviolent change was always understood to be the ‘last chance’ prelude to violent consequences.  ...  This kind of reasoning is now out of fashion.

I agree with Richard. The reasoning is so out of fashion that the implicit threat of force in mass nonviolent resistance is often missing from modern nonviolent protest movements, as witness Burma's 2008 Saffron Revolution and Iran's 2009 Green Revolution -- both of which resulted in mass arrests and the torture and summary execution of citizens who'd been lulled into believing that dictators will share power when confronted with martyrs and sufficient international media attention.

In A Light at the End of the Tunnell Mark Safranski writes about a memorandum (PDF) composed by Army Colonel Harry Tunnell, IV (now retired) and sent to the Secretary of the Army, and which veteran war reporter Michael Yon brought to public light at his blog on October 10 with the opening words:

"This is the most stunning and forceful letter I have read from the Afghanistan war. It was written in 2010 from Afghanistan by Colonel Harry Tunnell, the Brigade Commander of 5/2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

"After this letter, Colonel Tunnell was investigated and the normal smear campaign unfolded. Having been embedded with his Brigade in 2010, it became obvious [to me] that they were put into a no-win situation, with troops spread over several provinces in Afghanistan."

Badly deployed troops was only the tip of the iceberg, as Tunnell's memo conveys.

In the second paragraph he summarizes his reason for taking the extraordinary step of writing the Secretary:
"We have developed a cadre of senior leaders so informed by the historically inaccurate idea that population can be a center of gravity that we are unwilling to conduct operations that reflect sound military art and science. Consequently, American troops are needlessly exposed to increased enemy attack, suffer unnecessary casualties, cannot secure or control the indigenous population, and are not allowed to deny freedom of movement or maneuver to the Taliban. ..."
Then, in 21 closely reasoned and eloquently written paragraphs he provides detail that backs up and expands on his opening observations. Yet for an outsider to the U.S. military -- and for a reader who isn't steeped in theories of counterinsurgency and counterguerrilla warfare and isn't well informed on how these theories impact military operations in Afghanistan -- some of the colonel's points, or at least their full import, aren't easy to follow. So to make things perfectly clear for the lay reader, I turn to the colonel's words during an interview he gave to the Army Times in December 2009:
When the brigade deployed to Afghanistan, Tunnell announced his intention to pursue a “counterguerrilla” [CG] campaign. Most observers perceived a conflict between Tunnell’s approach and [then-ISAF/U.S. commander Stanley McChrystal's] population-centric counterinsurgency campaign [POPCOIN].

But Tunnell said that his approach was drawn straight from Army Field Manual 90-8, Counterguerrilla Operations (last updated in 1986), and that it was complementary to, not competitive with counterinsurgency [COIN]. However, he added, the “counterguerrilla” concept “is misunderstood. ... That’s why we don’t use the term anymore.”

Brenda Donnell, spokeswoman for the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., said FM 90-8 had been superseded by FM 3-24.2, Tactics in Counterinsurgency. “It’s not supposed to be used anymore,” she said of the counterguerrilla manual.

Tunnell, who was badly wounded as a battalion commander in Iraq in 2003, was adamant that the situation in the Arghandab lent itself to the counterguerrilla approach.

“Here in the green zone ... they’re hard-core guerrillas,” Tunnell said. “They form and they operate in teams and squads, and they mass into platoons very quickly. So I think you can’t ignore that. We haven’t seen any $10-a-day Taliban here.”
The term "$10-day Taliban" gained coin, if you'll pardon the expression, at the time the British government was leaning hard on Washington to negotiate a settlement to the war with the Taliban. This on the argument that many Afghan Taliban were not committed fighters for any cause; they simply fought for a few bucks a day because they had no other employment available. They didn't want war, so the argument went; they just wanted reintegration in Afghan society, job training, jobs, a little money to tide them over, understanding, and a small say in Afghan politics.

As to who was paying these misunderstood Talibs the ten bucks a day to blow up and shoot at NATO troops was a question that at the time nobody making the argument for settling with the Taliban liked to address in any depth -- at least, not in public.  But the point is that the entire POPCOIN approach, as conceived by General David Petraeus and his advisers and implemented by Gen. McChrystal, was geared toward winning the hearts and minds of these miscreants, as the Pakistani military termed them.

However, the miscreants Col. Tunnell was dealing with were highly-trained guerrilla warriors who showed no sign of wanting crumbs from the NATO table.

Keep in mind the year this debate arose. Britain's Ministry of Defense had announced their view as early as 2006 that the miscreants were actually being directed by Pakistan's military/ISI -- a view that Tony Blair's government immediately forced them to backpedal on ('Whoops, sorry, it was just our research notes!'). Yet it wasn't until June 2010 that Matt Waldman's ice-breaking research paper fingering the ISI as the orchestrator of the Afghan Taliban insurgency was published.

And it wasn't until late 2010, after a flood of reports followed Waldman's paper (with U.S. military leaders denying everything at every juncture) that the American public began to feel its way toward the realization that the insurgency in Afghanistan was a kind of optical illusion. There was no insurgency to speak of in Afghanistan; there was a hard-core proxy war being fought against ISAF by Pakistan's military with the help of the ISI. It was an illusion that had been carefully fostered by NATO governments with the complicity of NATO military leaders, including American ones.

A fly in the ointment was the pesky Colonel Tunnell, who kept acting on the uncooperative notion that he was fighting an actual war against real soldiers, not misguided civilians who moonlighted as miscreants.

But if the colonel thought Taliban guerrillas and the junior officers who complained vociferously that he wasn't following McChrystal's POPCOIN playbook were making his life miserable, he didn't know what misery was until British Major General Nick Carter took over command of RC-South.  Which brings me to Mark Safranski's observations, which he made initially in an email to Michael Yon and which were subsequently published at Yon's blog and at Zenpundit:
Interesting, this part in particular:

"'A gross lack of concern for subordinates,” Tunnell wrote, “manifests itself in guidance that ‘zero’ civilian casualties are acceptable and coalition soldiers may have to be killed rather than defend themselves against a potential threat and risk being wrong and possibly resulting in injury or death of a civilian.”

Tunnell’s memo exhibits particular disdain for British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, commander of NATO forces in Regional Command South, which includes the Arghandab District where Sitton was killed.

It was Carter, Tunnell wrote, whose verbal order led commanders to risk their own troops rather than Afghan civilians –- something Sitton complained about two years later in an email to his wife.”

Very helpful. I finally get it now.

I was always curious, reading threads [on private listserv] here on Afghanistan, how Colonel Tunnell was able to openly pursue counterguerrilla operations in Afghanistan when pop-centric COIN was the heavy-handed, top-down and rigidly enforced tactical paradigm.

Harry [Tunnell], IMHO, could do this because the verbal orders being issued went far beyond FM 3-24 theory into an unauthorized and unofficial but politically desired British policing model used in Northern Ireland. A kind of tactical guidance that could not be put in writing and enforced through the UCMJ because the American people would have found that guidance to be politically intolerable and morally outrageous -– and rightly so.

Unlike Catholics in Ulster who are subjects of the Crown, Afghans are not American citizens and American soldiers and Marines are not cops in a bad neighborhood. Nor is the Taliban the IRA. Minimizing civilian casualties is a good and worthy goal; valuing political atmospherics over American lives is a sign of gross incompetence, at best.

Hence the anonymous leaks and smears about Harry to politically connected Beltway scribes instead. Tunnell’s superiors were afraid to air their real dispute…"
Paragraph 22 of Col. Tunnell's memorandum reads in part:
The willingness to fight an enemy cannot be turned on and off like a light switch. Leaders are willing to conduct operations at the tactical and operational levels of war to decisively defeat the enemy or not.
The moral of the story is that it's playing with fire to fashion religious tolerance and nonviolent means of conflict resolution into political and military stratagems. As to where this kind of perversion leads -- it leads to the idiocy of Buddhist monks and nuns immolating themselves to protest injustice. It leads to the idea that religious ideals and the spiritual life can be politicized and weaponized. That's not a path to enlightenment. That's a ticket to Hell.

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