Imperial viceroys in Iraq
Strategic corporals are a fantasy, but strategic Captains are a reality, as described in “Sovereigns of All They’re Assigned, Captains Have Many Missions to Oversee“, New York Times, (21 March 2008). No matter how splendid a job our Captains do in Iraq, this is an ominous development.
During the war in Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become American viceroys, officers with large sectors to run and near-autonomy to do it. In military parlance, they are the “ground-owners.” In practice, they are power brokers. “They give us a chunk of land and say, ‘Fix it,’ ” said Capt. Rich Thompson, 36, who controls an area east of Baghdad.
The Iraqis have learned that these captains, many still in their 20s, can call down devastating American firepower one day and approve multimillion-dollar projects the next. Some have become celebrities in their sectors, men whose names are known even to children.
Like so much in our long war, this is a tribute to the skills of our men and women in the services. On another level it is nuts.
Giving Captains such missions is irrational, reflecting desperate acts by senior officers. Most Captains have little training or experience relevant to the job of viceroy in Iraq. Whatever the short-term success, the odds of bad long-term results must be high. Equally important, the last half is another indication of the serious damage the Long War is doing to the Army and Marine Corps.
Comment by Matthew Yglesias:
One is never to speak ill of The Troops, but I don’t think you need to be a hard-bitten anti-American to have some doubts about the soundness of this kind of set-up. Suppose we replaced the mayor of your town with a twentysomething foreigner who didn’t speak English but did have a ton of firepower at his disposal and no real checks on his power. You’d probably feel that was a step in the wrong direction.
And conversely, it’s not genuinely reasonable to expect relatively junior Army officers to do this sort of job well. I find there’s often an element of fantastical thinking in counterinsurgency doctrine, where if we establish that it would be desirable for things to work in such and such a way, then it also becomes possible for them to work like that.
Note on the title “viceroy”
These officers operate as governors, another step in the America’s gradual “colonization” of Iraq. They do so informally, without appointment, approval, or policy direction from Congress. Hence the title viceroy, as appointed by the King. A Roman proconsul was an expressly political appointment given a consul after his term to rule a province.
Giving such power with so little supervision or direction results from flawed planning — after five years of war! — and the almost total abdication of Congress of its role in setting policy for our Long War. Like our massive bases, this shows that our governing elites intend to stay in Iraq.
Like Rome, our government radically increases it range of influence while operating with an apparatus designed for a small republic. As we take the fateful step of installing long-term governments in foreign lands — note the size of our “embassy” in Iraq — we guarantee that something in the structure must break. Let us hope that it is nothing that we will miss when it is gone.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
The comments indicate that many readers are not aware that before the war the State Deparment gathered a team of relevant experts and did much of the necessary preparation: the “Future of Iraq Project.” All of that work was deliberately trashed by DoD Secretary Rumsfeld in order to have DoD retain control.
For more on this see “Blind Into Baghdad“, James Fallows, The Atlantic (January/February 2004). Let’s not our pride in the accomplishments of these Captains blind ourselves to the underlying truth.
There are people in America far better suited to be administrators in Iraq.
That our Army and Marine officers must act in this capacity after five years of war represents incompetence in both planning and execution of the occupation.
For information on this topic
An Army near the Breaking Point — an archive of links — This includes several Army studies.