Why the US still dont understand how to win

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by One_of_the_strange, Mar 31, 2006.

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  1. It's not often I start shouting at my monitor but today it happened as I read the article below.


    Some quotes:

    "With his platoon's lone interpreter elsewhere, he is effectively rendered speechless."

    US soldier: "I don't hate all Arabs just because a few of them blew up the World Trade Center, so why should they hate all US soldiers just because one shot their father?"

    Iraqi who's had his house taken over for an OP: "What can I do?" he wonders. "We adapt and we survive and we give tea to our guests. But I would like an option beside the murderer Saddam Hussein or the lawlessness and humiliation of foreign occupation."

    The battle for Iraq will be won or lost within the minds of the locals and their neighbours. The kinetic arena is secondary. This requires that we be able to both understand the locals and talk to them. It also mean that kinetic operations should not be undertaken unless they have positive effects in the information battlespace - regardless of how many insurgents get killed.

    I cannot understand why the US - a country that put men on the moon - cannot teach it's soldiers to talk Arabic. It is perhaps the single most powerful thing they could do to win the locals over. It does not require expensive technology - although maybe that's the problem (I note that money is being spent on electronic translators). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it is sheer bloody-minded arrogance that stands in the way.

    And that arrogance spills over into an inability to understand what makes the locals tick. Any viewpoint that differs from middle America is ignored or dismissed as incorrect - I would single out the fact that most Iraqi's primary loyalty is not directed towards the Iraqi state as perhaps the most problematic area.

    So, what do we do ? However satisfying it might appear telling the US to get bent and leaving them to clear up their own mess is not in our interests, so how do we get them to get a clue ?
  2. One point: I'm a reasonably intelligent bloke, educated to degree standard and well-versed in study techniques. I took an Arabic course and found it to be extremely difficult. After three terms of evening classes I was just about reaching the point where I might be remotely useful in a very basic social scenario.

    It's a difficult language to speak (although not, ironically, to read and write in my experience). The idea that the US Army/ USMC could easily build in decent Arabic language training to sub high-school diploma equivalent infantry recruits just like that is pretty unrealistic. Look at how long it takes us to teach linguists.

    Of course, their force protection model doesn't give much opportunity for meaningful immersion with locals to hone it I suppose.
  3. They don't have to speak it even to a basic level

    Just a few pointers like "good morning", "good evening" and a few little helps to understand the culture will help them integrate and gain the locals trust and respect a little. It is something I try to pick up whereever I go, business or pleasure, for that very reason. You'd be amazed how locals are if you can speak a little of their language, I have managed to get all sorts of favours and purchases out of the locals in this way. You show you are willing to try, and they will try back. And often have a good giggle at each others charades and pre-school language skills.
  4. Given the questions we tended to have for the locals, simple 'Sobah al Khairs' and 'shukhrans' don't exactly cut it. The interpreters are pretty much mandatory, be they locally recruited, or DoD linguists.

    The comment about the kinetic operations is spot on, I don't understand why (if you did) you posted it as an example of silliness.

    Most line troops have it figured out, don't sell the soldiers short. A lot of the problems are at a much higher level, and unfortunately won't be fixed by simply waving a magic want.

  5. chocolate_frog is bang on the money here!
    It's a question of being sensitive to the local culture and traditions and respecting them as far as operational exingencies allow. It's what the Brits do!

    Unfortunately, many Septic squaddies are "blessed" with the corrosive mindset that "Hadjis" are somehow inferior and as such can be disregarded as humans. They only entertain the "Septic way of life" as being the way forward for the world, albeit grudgingly accepting that some "Yoorapeyans" might be able to come to their way of thinking, given time and a little encouragement.

    You can be totally fluent in the language, but if you go around booting in peoples' doors in the dead of night, manhandling the womenfolk and generally being a complete, ignorant barbarian, it does tend to upset the locals a tad. In that case, your linguistic skills will count for nothing.

    And then the Septics really do wonder why "the Hadjis" don't appreciate them! The mind boggles!

  6. spike7451

    spike7451 RIP

    I heard a snippet on the car radio today (Jeremy Vine show Radio2) where the guest basically said that the USA have lost any respect that they had in world circles. (I was working so I missed the majority of the piece)
  7. I can't help feeling that there's a lot of bandwagon jumping going on, especially in the media, which has led to the septics being like the Tories - no-one dares admit to liking them, but somehow a lot of people seem to.

    I'll go on record. I spent a lot of time with the US Army and Marines while I was in and I've spent a lot of time in the USA since I got out. I liked the US armed forces immensely, even if they were very, very, very different from us in many ways and I always enjoy being in the US - however, despite what we all think we know and understand about the USA from being immersed in the culture through movies, TV, music, all that, it is a foreign country and some of the underlying assumptions are really strange to Brits.

    They're our closest allies (and vice versa) and we have occasionally had sharp words across the Atlantic - and arguably there are probably some being exchanged while I type, Joint Strike Fighter, anyone? - but the relationship is too close and too mutually respectful for any bunch of media commentators or strategic imbeciles to screw completely.

    Add to that the fact that the US has the single most powerful military machine, by at least an order of magnitude, on the planet and entire languages have disappeared from human history when the septics get annoyed enough and it's probably a good idea to stay friendly with them :D
  8. Boll*cks! The server ate my post!
  9. Again and again, I see postings that transcend the thread and deserve some sort of wider publicity. Sticky does not cover it. Glad its writing above is just such a reply. Maybe because it almost exactly mirrors my experience in terms of service and employment. Additionally, I worked as a civdiv for major US company based in London. The guy who said divided by a common language is right. I felt one problem was that, in percentage terms, so few Americans had ever experienced life outside their own state or region.
    During the period that I served, soldiers had the opportunity/requirement to learn enough collequially to get by. I still have smatterings of Japanese, Korean, Malay, Arabic, Swahili and some French - problem now is they get all intermixed. There was the Minden Poison Dwarf period when the Army went into panic mode to get us to speak German. Language labs were set up all over the place and attendence was required if one wanted a passable CR. These achieved a very good grip of the language and customs in a fortnight. I don't know what the benefit was or what happened about plat-Deutsch but they showed what can be done if the will is really there.
    Only one note of warning. In my old regtl museum was a wheelbarrow and spade. Exhibits of a murder trial in Germany where three Displaced Persons had been arrested for black marketing by a CMP NCO who spoke perfect and very fluent German. The three planned their attack on him whilst walking along - in plat-Deutsch. So, language on i t's own is not everything.
  10. I spent a couple of decades watching the British Army with its centuries of constabulary experience bungling in Belfast. I'd cut the Yanks who apart from the USMC have little small wars experience a little slack here. Basra does not look like a British military triumph either. Iraq is just a damned hard assignment for an army.

    I think there may be a basic cultural problem at the back of this, the Yanks are deeply uncomfortable with long colonial operations.

    The 3rd Armored Cavlary seems to be doing a soldierly job out in Tall Afar:
    and the La Times complains:
    It's not that the Yanks don't realize they have problems in this are. Leavenworth published this hefty PDF last year from Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster
  11. "The idea that the US Army/ USMC could easily build in decent Arabic language training to sub high-school diploma equivalent infantry recruits just like that is pretty unrealistic."

    But it hasn't been "just like that"...it has been 4 yrs since the invasion of Afghanistan, and 3 yrs + since the invasion of Iraq. Easily enough time to have some US military language skills on the ground from about now.
  12. Tis funny...I have no problem with any language.
    "You jigajig ??How much ?? You speak...It works everytime. :p
  13. Things like this don't help:


    But, not to worry, the US armed forces can get all the translators they need from the over-achieving high-fliers with tattoos on their necks and hands that they're now letting in. :wink:

    Fair & balanced reporting from you, as per usual, T6. "My boss says it's true, so it must be right." :wink:

    If you're talking about the hearts and minds of Bechtel, Halliburton and Lockheed Martin stockholders, you might be right.


  14. crabtastic wrote

    I find it difficult to believe that in a country of 300 million, the loss of 322 people, some of whom speak Arabic can't be replaced and the don't ask , don't tell program will be the the cause of our ultimate demise.

    No doubt other militaries have far more enlightened policies regarding gays in the military which has added to their success on the battlefield.

    The US military is learning how to fight a counter insurgency far faster than it did in Vietnam and is learning lessons from Vietnam and other counter insurgencies. It took the British 12 years to win in Malaysia.

    The big question is whether civilians and politicians will give the military enough time to learn what is necessary to accomplish its mission. I hope the public can be as wise as the military in learning the lessons of Vietnam