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Monday, May 14

The Moral High Ground

One of the greatest generals in history, a fellow named Napoleon Bonaparte, once said that "The moral is to the physical as three to one," meaning that the moral foundation of your army - its ethics, values and principles - is more important than its fighting prowess or the weight of arms it can bring to bear.

When we fought in the Second World War our generals understood this, having been educated in Bonaparte, Clausewitz and other military thinkers. Every effort was made to succor the civilian population as the armies rolled in (of course, due to the indiscriminate nature of aerial bombing at the time, civilians did die in droves).

Back about five days ago, General David Petraeus, the US commander of 'coalition' forces in the Iraq area, issued a statement in response to a survey of the Army and the Marines. That survey brought up some rather disquieting points:

1. Only about 47 percent of Army soldiers and 38 percent of Marines agreed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect.

2. More than a third of soldiers and Marines reported that torture should be allowed to save the life of a comrade.

3. Fewer than half of soldiers and Marines would report a team member for unethical behavior.

Concentrate on points #1 and #2 for a moment. Less than half of our soldiers believe that ordinary Iraqi civilians should be treated with any dignity or respect. I draw two conclusions from this - that we have not learned anything about handling an occupied civil population since Vietnam; and that the Bush Administration's attempts to demonize and dehumanize people from that area has worked entirely too well.

Point #2 is just plain stupid. Even Napoleon knew that torture doesn't work, and to his credit General Petraeus repeated that, saying "Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful or necessary."

(I guess no one told Jack Bauer.)

Point #3 points out the camaraderie in the ranks. You look out for the people who are looking out for you in battle. In many ways, they become closer than family, so you try to protect them just as they'll try to protect you.

Now, General Petraeus made his remarks in a letter to the troops dated Thursday May 10, 2007. Unfortunately, the horse has already left the barn on this one, General.

It left in 2004, three years ago when the Abu Ghraib scandal started to rear its ugly head.

It ran off even faster after Haditha.

Any moral high ground the United States had when entering this ill-advised and foolish adventure has been squandered, and once lost it takes a long time to get it back. Mere apologies will not be sufficient to atone for what we've done in Iraq (and in Afghanistan, where we've admitted accidentally bombing families rather than terrorists).

A couple interesting tidbits in the news last week struck me as odd, and I managed to connect the two. Those two points are: The fact that the GOP leadership is intimating that September of this year is the decision point in our troop escalation, where General Petraeus will give a status report to Congress; and the fact that the Department of Defense has advised another 30,000 soldiers that they may deploy "this fall."

Here's what I see coming.

Petraeus comes to Congress in September, and (assuming he's as forthright as they say) admits that the escalation was a dunderheaded idea that has cost us dearly in terms of American lives (42 dead by May 13 - that's 4 per day). Congress frowns and begins arranging a timetable, which Bush blows off and commands - since he is the Commander Guy(tm) - the Pentagon to send 30,000 more troops into Iraq.

This post is cross-linked to my blog, My Two Cents - drop in sometime!

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