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Americans in foreign lands, putting our knowledge of their cultures to work in war

28 April 2009

Do Americans have the insight and sensitivity to successfully manipulate foreign peoples?  This question is central to our wars in the Middle East.  Even our best friends might question this assumption.  Evidence to date suggests that the answer is “no.”  Not just our fumbling attempts to find a coherent strategy.  Or our more spectacular failures, such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse incidents (see Wikipedia for the details, or the photos here and here).

Here we have another example:  “Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military“, By Jeff Sharlet, Harper’s Magazine, May 2009 — Subscription only.  This is just the opening of this fascinating article, which I recommend reading in full.  The punch-line is at the end.

Update:  Some folks believe this is a rare exception, atypical.  Another example is given at the end.

Excerpt:

When Sergeant Jeffery Humphrey and his squad of nine men, part of the 1/26 Infantry of the 1st Infantry Division, were assigned to a Special Forces compound in Samarra, he thought they had drawn a dream duty. “Guarding Special Forces, it was like Christmas,” he says. In fact, it was spring, 2004; and although Humphrey was a combat veteran of Kosovo and Iraq, the men to whom he was detailed, the 10th Special Forces Group, were not interested in grunts like him. They would not say what they were doing, and they used code names. They called themselves “the Faith element.” But they did not talk religion, which was fine with Humphrey.

An evenhanded Indianan with a precise turn of mind, Humphrey considered himself a no-nonsense soldier. His first duty that Easter Sunday was to make sure the roof watch was in place: a machine gunner, a man in a mortar pit, a soldier with a SAW (an automatic rifle on a bipod), and another with a submachine gun on loan from Special Forces. Together with two Bradley Fighting Vehicles on the ground and snipers on another roof, the watch covered the perimeter of the compound, a former elementary school overlooking the Tigris River.

Early that morning, a unit from the 109th National Guard Infantry dropped off their morning chow. With it came a holiday special–a video of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and a chaplain to sing the film’s praises, a gory cinematic sermon for an Easter at war. Humphrey ducked into the chow room to check it out. “It was the part where they’re killing Jesus, which is, I guess, pretty much the whole movie. Kind of turned my stomach.” He decided he’d rather burn trash.

He was returning from his first run to the garbage pit when the 109th came barreling back. Their five-ton–a supersized armored pickup–was rolling on rims, its tires flapping and spewing greasy black flames. “Came in on two wheels,” remembers one of Humphrey’s men, a machine gunner. On the ground behind it and in retreat before a furious crowd were more men from the 109th, laying down fire with their M-4s. Humphrey raced toward the five-ton as his roof shooters opened up, their big guns thumping above him. Later, when he climbed into the vehicle, the stink was overwhelming: of iron and gunpowder, blood and bullet casings. He reached down to grab a rifle, and his hand came up wet with brain.

Humphrey had been in Samarra for a month, and until that day his stay had been a quiet respite in one of the world’s oldest cities. Not long before, though, there had been a hint of trouble: a briefing in which his squad was warned that any soldier caught desecrating Islamic sites–Samarra is considered a holy city–would fall under “extreme penalty,” a category that can include a general court-martial and prison time. “I heard some guys were vandalizing mosques,” Humphrey says. “Spray-painting ’em with crosses.”

The rest of that Easter was spent under siege. Insurgents held off Bravo Company, which was called in to rescue the men in the compound. Ammunition ran low. A helicopter tried to drop more but missed. As dusk fell, the men prepared four Bradley Fighting Vehicles for a “run and gun” to draw fire away from the compound. Humphrey headed down from the roof to get a briefing. He found his lieutenant, John D. DeGiulio, with a couple of sergeants. They were snickering like schoolboys. They had commissioned the Special Forces interpreter, an Iraqi from Texas, to paint a legend across their Bradley’s armor, in giant red Arabic script.

“What’s it mean?” asked Humphrey.

“Jesus killed Mohammed,” one of the men told him. The soldiers guffawed. JESUS KILLED MOHAMMED was about to cruise into the Iraqi night.

The Bradley, a tracked “tank killer” armed with a cannon and missiles–to most eyes, indistinguishable from a tank itself–rolled out. The Iraqi interpreter took to the roof, bullhorn in hand. The sun was setting. Humphrey heard the keen of the call to prayer, then the crackle of the bullhorn with the interpreter answering–in Arabic, then in English for the troops, insulting the prophet. Humphrey’s men loved it. “They were young guys, you know?” says Humphrey . “They were scared.” A Special Forces officer stood next to the interpreter–“a big, tall, blond, grinning type,” says Humphrey.

“Jesus kill Mohammed!” chanted the interpreter. “Jesus kill Mohammed!”

A head emerged from a window to answer, somebody fired on the roof, and the Special Forces man directed a response from an MK-19 grenade launcher. “Boom,” remembers Humphrey. The head and the window and the wall around it disappeared.

“Jesus kill Mohammed!” Another head, another shot. Boom. “Jesus kill Mohammed!” Boom. In the distance, Humphrey heard the static of AK fire and the thud of RPGs. He saw a rolling rattle of light that looked like a firefight on wheels. “Each time I go into combat I get closer to God,” DeGiulio would later say.

The Bradley seemed to draw fire from every doorway . There couldn’t be that many insurgents in Samarra, Humphrey thought. Was this a city of terrorists? Humphrey heard Lieutenant DeGiulio reporting in from the Bradley’s cabin, opening up on all doorways that popped off a round, responding to rifle fire–each Iraqi household is allowed one gun–with 25mm shells powerful enough to smash straight through the front of a house and out the back wall.

Humphrey was stunned. He’d been blown off a tower in Kosovo and seen action in the drug war, but he’d never witnessed a maneuver so fundamentally stupid.

The men on the roof thought otherwise. They thought the lieutenant was a hero, a kamikaze on a suicide mission to bring Iraqis the American news:

عيسى قتل محمدا

JESUS KILLED MOHAMMED.

They must not have had a “strategic corporal”

“Fourth Generation war demands not only the strategic corporal, but the moral corporal as well, enlisted Marines who think about every action they take in terms of its moral effects.” (FMFM 1-A,  Fourth Generation Warfare Seminar at the Marine Corps Base – Quantico, page 8).

This seems implausible given the age, experience, and training of the average US Marine corporal, now or in any likely future. The courts martial of NCOs for mistreatment of Iraq prisoners suggest that we need more hands-on lieutenants and less freedom of action for corporals. 

We’ll be lucky to get an adequate number of First Lieutenants with such cross-cultural knowledge, capable of acting with such sophisticated strategic and moral reasoning.

This illustrates a difficulty of recommendations given in FMFM 1-A. All wargame scenarios have easy solutions if one can conjure up sufficient resources. FMFM 1-A aspires to a US Marine Corps with the training and attributes of our elite Special Ops units.  With an army of such men we could pacify Iraq. Equally so, with the Battlestar Galactica or Starship Enterprise the Germans could have won WWII.

It’s not enough to dream of ways we can win. How can we evolve our current military apparatus to get there from here?  Or should we work it the other way, focus on a defensive strategy — fighting wars we can win with the forces we actually have?

Update:  this kind of thing is SOP

From McClatchy Newspapers, 15 March 2009 — Excerpt:

As the Pentagon eyes a bigger role in Mexico’s drug war, the military’s efforts to open the door to a new relationship with its southern neighbor risk alienating the Mexican military, which has long had a strained relationship with its counterpart, experts said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called for improved relations with the Mexican military in response to escalating drug violence along the Mexican border and in Mexico. On “Meet the Press” earlier this month, the secretary said: “I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past. Some of the old biases against cooperation between our militaries and so on, I think, are being set aside.”

Comment by Fred Reed, “A User’s Guide to Thoroughly Stupid Foreign Policy“, 19 April 2009 — Excerpt:

Book me a ticket to Mars. The Pentagon is eyeing something, a sure recipe for disaster. Previously it has eyed Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and made a horrendous mess of each. Now the Five-Sided Sand Box is eyeing Mexico. Oh good. Let’s get involved in another third-world catastrophe by meddling in what we don’t understand.

… How stupid can you get? (The question is rhetorical. Pentagonal stupidity does not converge, but increases without limit.) To improve relations with the Mexican army, we rub its nose in having defeated them. “Haha, Pedro, you got a few of our guys, but we kicked your hindparts good, didn’t we?” The unspoken subtext to any Mexican being, “And we can do it again.”

Let me explain something. To Mexicans, the US is not a friendly nation. The reasons are countless, some valid and some not, but Mexicans do not see America as benign. They fear the US military, which they regard as out of control, invading country after country in pursuit of oil.

Mexico has oil. America lost control of it in 1938 when Lazaro Cardenas nationalized it. Mexicans believe, in dead seriousness, that the US would love a pretext for invading to get it back. A pretext such as coming in to help Mexico fight drugs, and just not leaving. Iraq comes instantly to their minds.

And so the good admiral and the SecDef come to pay homage to the American soldiers who conquered Mexico. What diplomatic genius. While they are at it, why not lay a wreath in Hiroshima to the brave American airmen who died over Japan? Or maybe erect a statue to Sherman in Atlanta? What if the Mexican army chief went to New York to commemorate the courageous freedom fighters who took down the towers?

Afterword

If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Some posts on the FM site about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

  1. The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, 13 March 2007
  2. Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq, 27 September 2007
  3. Kilcullen explains all you need to know about the Iraq War, 6 October 2007
  4. Surrender in Al Anbar province, 14 February 2008
  5. Iraq, after the war, 20 May 2008
  6. Winning hearts and mind with artillery fire, 26 May 2008
  7. A NY Times reporter proves that we still do not understand Iraq, 31 May 2008
  8. About those expert-sounding discussions of Iraq politics by Americans…, 9 June 2008
  9. Slowly the new Iraq becomes visible, 18 July 2008
  10. Another example of winning hearts & minds with artillery, 29 May 2008
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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve permalink
    28 April 2009 1:53 am

    Wow, just wow…

    Insulting people’s faith will make people fight back, insurgents or not. So by this tank raid, the Army just about shoot everyone who has the guts to defend their faith, regardless whether they are terrorists or civilians…this just boggles the minds.

    Like

  2. zivbnd permalink
    28 April 2009 2:43 am

    Incredible. Literally. Does anyone think that a senior NCO would allow this? Or any officer? This is so stupid, so lame. I really think that I have fallen for a trolls post, or that FM is posting Idiotarian idiocy to prove a point. Even an E3 knows you don’t ask for an attack, because if you anger them enough, they will die to make you pay. I think Harper’s is playing a liars game, because the people I know from the Army and the Marines are a hell of a lot smarter than the Harper’s author. In point of fact, most of the senior NCO’s probably have more common sense than the idiots that thrive on Wall Street. This article smells like trash.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Remember the articles in The New Republic by Scott Thomas Beauchamp? Discredited by, among other things, criticism by his superior — Master Sgt. John E. Hatley. Who himself made the news recently: “American Soldier Is Found Guilty in Iraqi Killings”, New York Times, 17 April 2009 — Excerpt:

    A military jury in Germany, where his unit is deployed, found the soldier, Master Sgt. John E. Hatley, guilty of premeditated murder in the deaths of the men, whom he and several other members of his unit had detained after a firefight with insurgents in Baghdad in spring 2007, according to testimony in the case.

    Sergeant Hatley, 40, who was a first sergeant at the time — the senior noncommissioned officer in his company — is the highest-ranking American service member to be convicted of murder in the war. He faces a minimum sentence of life in prison.

    Two other senior members of his unit — Company A, First Battalion, First Infantry Division — were also convicted of killing some of the men. In February, another military jury convicted the unit’s medic, Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr., 28, of premeditated murder and sentenced him to life in prison. On March 30, Sgt. First Class Joseph P. Mayo, 27, pleaded guilty to murder and received a 35-year sentence.

    “Does anyone think that a senior NCO would allow this? Or any officer?”

    Yes, these things do happen. That you find this impossible to believe says much about you, nothing about this issue.

    Like

  3. Robert Petersen permalink
    28 April 2009 3:55 am

    To zivbnd: Oh really? Well, I guess the idea that soldiers should write “Jesus killed Mohammed” must be an urban legend like that funny idea that the President of the United States should order CIA and army personal to torture detainees. That can never ever happen! It must be the French surrender monkeys who came up with that notion.

    Like

  4. Pete permalink
    28 April 2009 6:09 am

    If this is true, it is sheer stupidity on an awesome scale. In WWII, which was mostly an attritional 2nd generation conflict (with exceptions), frank race hatred was quite common in the Pacific theater, as were some nasty slogans by the Anglo-Americans and the Axis powers. Bigotry and race hatred were very much in evidence on the Eastern Front also. However, 4GW requires whle different mindset, and if the NCOs and officers in this GB unit were allowing their men to paint inflammatory slogans on their Bradleys, then all I can say is that they’d better be prepared to kill everyone they meet, and have a lot of ammo, because they’ll need it. I’m just a humble civilian here, so correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t Green Berets supposed the be the best the army has to offer? The smartest, most sophisticated soldiers, the ones with cultural awareness? If so, what happened here?

    At one level this is understandable, and to be expected. Testosterone-fueled young men fight wars, and sometimes say and/or do ill-advised things. However, we’ve been at war in Iraq for nearly a decade (more if you count enforcement of the no-fly zone in the 1990s), and best-practices for soldiers should be well-established by now. What gives? Petraeus and company have published the new COIN field manual. By now, all hands should be aware that this sort of things loses the fight at the moral level.

    I’m reserving judgment until I see this incident independently verified, but if it is true, it is very disturbing. We could keep our forces in Iraq for the next 25 years, and if they commit errors of this nature, we’ll find ourselves no better off then than we are now, and perhaps in considerably worse shape.

    Perhaps this is diagnostic of the degree to which we are not doing a good enough job teaching the tenets of 4GW to our troops, or training them in the many ways necessary to function in an alien culture. Perhaps less time should be devoted to the traditonal “Hoorah” stuff and more to culutral knowledge, langauges, local history and customs, influence and power relationships locally, and the like.

    This is also a failure of leadership. Good officers and NCOs wouldn’t have stood for this; if the ones in charge signed off on this, they should be relieved.

    This incident, if it is true, bears striking similarities with the actions of some of our soldiers in Vietnam, who after years of fighting with the South Vietnamese, came to resent and then loathe them, because it was perceived that too many were corrupt, didn’t care enough about the outcome of the war, or were too content to let Americans do their dirty work. The official line from the LBJ Administration was that the South Vietnamese were the finest allies possible, worthy of our every sacrifice; the grunts – some of them anyway – came to believe differently.

    One comment in defense of the Green Berets: Our forces in the Middle East are fighting in nations which – in some cases – do not even recognize Christianity as a legitimate religion, and in which mere possession of a Bible is a severe crime. Is it possible that this incident was in some way a reaction to this state of affairs? Speaking personally and only for myself, I would not shed a drop of my own blood in a nation (such as Saudi Arabia) that wouldn’t let me worship my own God in the manner of my own choosing, if I should be wounded or perhaps dying, or simply in need of comfort.

    It seems our cultural ignorance is yet another reason that a defensive strategy is indicated for US military forces, thereby minimizing our forces stationed overseas.

    Like

  5. senor tomas permalink
    28 April 2009 7:24 am

    “Our forces in the Middle East are fighting in nations which – in some cases – do not even recognize Christianity as a legitimate religion, and in which mere possession of a Bible is a severe crime.”

    Under Saddam Iraq had a thriving Christian minority. Since the overthrow of Saddam, Iraq’s once-thriving Christian community has been largely destroyed.

    Like

  6. Patrick Cummins permalink
    28 April 2009 7:27 am

    Think of the hundreds of billions of dollars and the years of effort that the US has poured into ‘reconstruction’ in Iraq, particular, in the city of Baghdad. Now Mercer has just released its annual ‘quality of living’ survey of some 215 major cities worldwide. So, given the huge American investment, how did Baghdad rank? Same as last year: dead last. Baghdad had the worst score in the world, well below the second worst city, Bangui in the Central African Republic

    This, I would suggest, stands as a true testament of US competence in foreign lands in our time.

    Links:
    * Mercer’s 2009 Quality of Living survey highlights – Middle East and Africa
    ** “Vancouver, Vienna top quality of life list“, Globe and Mail, 27 April 2009

    Like

  7. Major Scarlet permalink
    28 April 2009 10:40 am

    Quick. Someone send Major Ben Connable to fix this mess.

    This article does fly in the face of Major Connable’s theory that the military can do all the COIN/HTS/HTT duties internally. However, there are some questions we should ask. Is this an isolated incident for this unit or is it a widespread problem (same for the military)? What net effect does it have for the mission of the unit and overall for the military? What, if any, training can the military do to prevent pinheads like this from making mistakes?

    At the end of the day, I think we do a mediocre job at cultural analysis. The US government and the military have too many issues with mirror imaging to make effective strategy or execute COIN properly. We fail to take in to account what truly motivates other cultures (their fears and not our fears). Instead we substitute what motivates us and scratch our heads when our plans don’t work. Why would a country vote for a fundamental Islamist party after we liberate them? Why don’t they accept women’s rights? Etc. It’s mind numbing that at this stage in the game most of the folks in the military don’t get it.

    Like

  8. 28 April 2009 3:35 pm

    Mohamed is by no means the only prophet in Islam; rather he was the last of them. Jesus, according to the Koran, was another – and very great – prophet.

    This reminds me of a program about Chinese Gordon vs. the Mahdi I saw on the History Channel some time ago. According to that program, the evangelical Gordon revered the Old Testament Isaiah while the Mahdi of course revered Mohamed. The program went on for some time about the two men’s rival prophets. Somebody should have told the producers that Islam celebrates Isaiah as a great prophet. Who knows. Maybe somebody should have told that to Gordon. If he had known that, maybe he could have formed an understanding with the Mahdi and even somehow survived.

    Like

  9. Steve permalink
    28 April 2009 5:00 pm

    IMO, the discussion about religion in this topic is irrelevant…what is relevant is that the arm forces and the government can’t assume that everyone in the world acts likes citizens in the liberal culture of the United States.

    “Jesus kill Mohammed” remark might not cause civilians to respond in arms in the US, because US is a relativly secular society with a robust justice system. But the same is not true in Iraq or other Middle Eastern countries.

    The soldiers are just doing their jobs – to piss off the enemy and draw fires away from the base, and because their experience in the States, their might assume that only religion extremist would fight back to the “Jesus kill Mohammed” remark, while everybody else would just avoid them. But since Iraq is a deeply religious country, that assumption just can’t hold.

    Off topic a bit, I believe those kind of cultural insensitivity issues are not just in the arm forces or the government, but within the US society itself. I remember that few years ago, Nike made a commerical for China about some NBA stars beat up Chinese Dragons to show how cool it is to wear Nike shoes. But given that all the Chinese people is the “Descendant of the Dragon” in their myths, the ad could never pass censor in China…and US media then accused that all Chinese are racist because it was a black guy that beat up a Chinese Dragon, without realizing that Dragon is the Chinese verison of Jesus.

    To solve the cultural insensitivity issue requires more than just hiring experts that understand cultures, it also requires reforms in the education and immigration system as well. Education and commuincation is the best defence against cultural ignorance.

    Like

  10. Reynardine permalink
    28 April 2009 6:34 pm

    “Does anyone think that a senior NCO would allow this? Or any officer?

    One can only wish that your idealized vision of the U.S. military reflected actuality. Your disbelief of the Harper’s account reminds me of another gentleman whom I once debated, who refused to believe that there had been any incidents of U.S. soldiers shooting German prisoners out of hand during WWII. “American soldiers don’t do things like that”, he said. (I was able to adduce evidence to the contrary from no less a source than a one-time head of the U.S. Army Historical unit.)

    All that’s required for the Harper’s story to be credible is the assumption that the lieutenant and non-coms involved were more or less normal products of our educational institutions and popular culture. That doesn’t make the account true, of course…but it’s certainly not prima facie non-credible.

    Like

  11. Joseph Somsel permalink
    28 April 2009 7:45 pm

    Perhaps the official government line is wrong and Huntington’s clash of cultures is correct. The men on the front lines seem to think Huntington is the more realistic observer. Remember Sherman’s observation – “War is cruelty; there is no refining it.”

    Like

  12. 28 April 2009 9:48 pm

    If you’re going to place articles from some magazine showing the negative side to our troops (whether correct or not??? how do you know?)and open the door for all the bad American “I told you so” folks, how about one reported from someone putting his ass on the line to be there and report – Michael Yon: “Values Message“, Michael Yon’s online magazine, 12 May 2007.

    Here is a story of leaders taking much care so that the stress resulting from the death of friends by IED in a village (we didn’t see em bury that big bomb, no sir)didn’t lead to wrong action.

    This post is completely disengenious. Under “insight and sensitivity” you’re talking about American kids under the most severe threat.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximsus replies: It appears you are not clear how this site works (of course, as a reader there is no reason you should know this).

    (1) The FM site has 8 posts featuring Michael Yon’s work, much of whom I find valuable — all of which is worth reading.

    (2) The Internet — and American media in general — are filled with people writing to support their unique view. This site attempts to pursue the truth. Hence it has material from many points of view. Most — but not all — agree with my own. Many represent perspectives about which I have no opinion and/or insufficient information or expertise to evaluate, or which I find interesting but have not a clue.

    (3) “This post is completely disengenious.” (aka not straightforward or candid; giving a false appearance of frankness)

    On what basis do you say this?

    (4) “Under “insight and sensitivity” you’re talking about American kids under the most severe threat.”

    You appear to miss my point. The cultural manipulation required of our troops by current counter-insurgency theory requires insight and sensitivity by our troops. As in the requirement for “strategic corporals” (I assume it’s not necessary to cite for you the many articles about this; others can use Google). This is a vital point, critical for the success of our Middle Eastern wars. You appear to find the discussion unpleasant. So it is. As are our wars.

    Like

  13. rfjk permalink
    28 April 2009 10:48 pm

    “How can we evolve our current military apparatus to get there from here?”

    Its what cultural change in the US military looks like. It’s going to be a long, bumpy process that will span a decade at least, if not a generation.

    Like

  14. 29 April 2009 5:19 am

    Some folks believe this is a exception, atypical of our usual sophistication. Not so.

    From McClatchy Newspapers, 15 March 2009 — Excerpt:

    As the Pentagon eyes a bigger role in Mexico’s drug war, the military’s efforts to open the door to a new relationship with its southern neighbor risk alienating the Mexican military, which has long had a strained relationship with its counterpart, experts said.

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called for improved relations with the Mexican military in response to escalating drug violence along the Mexican border and in Mexico. On “Meet the Press” earlier this month, the secretary said: “I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past. Some of the old biases against cooperation between our militaries and so on, I think, are being set aside.”

    Comment by Fred Reed, “A User’s Guide to Thoroughly Stupid Foreign Policy“, 19 April 2009 — Excerpt:

    Book me a ticket to Mars. The Pentagon is eyeing something, a sure recipe for disaster. Previously it has eyed Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and made a horrendous mess of each. Now the Five-Sided Sand Box is eyeing Mexico. Oh good. Let’s get involved in another third-world catastrophe by meddling in what we don’t understand.

    … How stupid can you get? (The question is rhetorical. Pentagonal stupidity does not converge, but increases without limit.) To improve relations with the Mexican army, we rub its nose in having defeated them. “Haha, Pedro, you got a few of our guys, but we kicked your hindparts good, didn’t we?” The unspoken subtext to any Mexican being, “And we can do it again.”

    Let me explain something. To Mexicans, the US is not a friendly nation. The reasons are countless, some valid and some not, but Mexicans do not see America as benign. They fear the US military, which they regard as out of control, invading country after country in pursuit of oil.

    Mexico has oil. America lost control of it in 1938 when Lazaro Cardenas nationalized it. Mexicans believe, in dead seriousness, that the US would love a pretext for invading to get it back. A pretext such as coming in to help Mexico fight drugs, and just not leaving. Iraq comes instantly to their minds.

    And so the good admiral and the SecDef come to pay homage to the American soldiers who conquered Mexico. What diplomatic genius. While they are at it, why not lay a wreath in Hiroshima to the brave American airmen who died over Japan? Or maybe erect a statue to Sherman in Atlanta? What if the Mexican army chief went to New York to commemorate the courageous freedom fighters who took down the towers?

    Like

  15. Erasmus permalink
    1 May 2009 4:15 pm

    Review of book providing thirty years and more of background viz. Afghanistan and more especially US role therein: “Behind the Afghan propaganda — Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story” by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, Reviewed by Anthony Fenton at Asia Times. Excerpt:

    … As alluded to above, one of the strengths of Invisible History is its overview of the role of propaganda during this period: “Media coverage of the events leading up to the Soviet invasion had been carefully managed to avoid any hint of the plan at work. Vital to maintaining the illusion that the Soviet action was purely the result of Soviet aggression and not in reaction to American subversion, a ring of silence had been prophylactically applied.” (p 177)

    To this end, Fitzgerald and Gould discuss a revealing if self-congratulatory book about US propaganda methods of the period by former US Information Agency operative Alvin A Snyder, Warriors of Disinformation: American Propaganda, Soviet Lies, and the Winning of the Cold War (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1995). Snyder’s book is “a cynical account of why the US people never gained an accurate picture of the deluded mind-set driving the decade-long Afghan conflict”. (p 206)

    As reported by US News and World Report in 1984, during the covert war against the Soviets, the USIA was “transformed from a government backwater into the key weapon in the battle of information and ideas that the Reagan administration [was] waging with Russia”. During the period, an unprecedented amount of money was spent on propaganda with the intention of bringing down the Soviets. A significant amount of this propaganda was, in spite of laws prohibiting it, directed at the US public. As Gould told AToI, “The truth was the disinformation actually did end up on American television.”

    Providing criticism of propaganda’s role where Snyder omits it, Fitzgerald and Gould describe how, following the departure of the Soviets, “left unsaid was the overall effect of the Afghan propaganda campaign on the American media, which had allowed themselves to miss the real war and been snowed under by the make-believe struggle of good versus evil … and an unholy alliance of liberal democrats, neo-conservatives and right-wing Washington insiders”. (p 207)

    Among other effects of the propaganda of the period following the withdrawal of the Soviets, most people were rendered incapable of understanding the ensuing civil war and the rise of the Taliban, a period which resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths. A chapter covering the fundamental role of Pakistan in the creation and rise of the Taliban, “part of a grand plan” carried out by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and CIA, closes out the second section of Invisible History. Fitzgerald and Gould write:

    In addition to securing trade routes to and from Central Asia, Pakistan’s generals … saw the Taliban as a means of re-establishing Pashtun dominance in the region, hoping the force would act to permanently neutralize the Durand line issue. (p 223)

    On this basis, the authors argue that it is futile to negotiate with the Taliban as though they are an independent, Afghan entity. “Never the indigenous force that they claimed to be, by 2001, they had metamorphasized into a well-financed, agenda-driven vanguard of the Pakistani military. Never just ‘recruits’ from the madrassas … from the beginning the Taliban were on the payroll of the ISI.” (p 308)

    Like

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