As I mentioned last column, I’ve had about enough of gassed and shot and blown up kids for a while. This one will be depressing, too, in a number of different ways, but, at least, it will be different.
I’m not a fan of using the military for humanitarian operations, disaster relief, or peacekeeping. The reasons for my lack of enthusiasm are multifold, where lack of enthusiasm is defined as: “The general who doesn’t resign when his force is prostituted for politically correct, multiculturally sensitive, horse manure like peacekeeping or disaster relief, ought be stood against a wall and shot.” Multifold means that training for it and doing it are distractions from what is important, training to fight and win on the battlefield. It means that the wrong sort of leadership is advanced and the right kind gotten rid of. (Much the same is true of counter-insurgency, too.) It means that money for parts, for ammunition, for fuel, for new equipment is, instead, spent on passing out vegan rations wherever there’s seen to be a need for free vegan rations. It means that someday, our soldiers – who ought be a lot more important to us than any number of Somalis or Indonesians – will die, or will fail in their missions, or both, because they and their organizations are improperly trained, less well-equipped, with leadership that was selected for the wrong attributes. Indeed, I would be very surprised if that day didn’t happen 13 years ago, when we went to war after a decade or so of multicult-ing it up around the globe, largely in the interests of producing votes and graft for Bill Clinton, or so I suspect.
I have, by the way, an unusual amount of training and experience for this crap, having been a team commander in the old 96th Civil Affairs, operating in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, southern Iraq, Kurdestan, and then Cuba, as Adjutant, plus a stint with the 352nd Civil Affairs Command (I didn’t do much with them actually, a bad heart intervened), plus being for a couple of years Director, Rule of Law, at the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute at the War College at Carlisle Barracks. So my lack of enthusiasm – see definition, above – is, at least, a reasonably well informed lack of enthusiasm.
So, once again, why us? Why does the military – not just ours, everyone’s, or everyone’s that matters – get tapped for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance over and over and over again?
I think there are two broad classes of reasons. One is political, usually arising from a desire by liberal politicians to placate the liberal base that funds their political campaigns. Occasionally, I suppose, compassionate conservatives get in on the act, too. All of that is abetted and encouraged by the ICOTESCAS, the International Community of the Ever So Caring and Sensitive, from the approval of which said liberal and “compassionate conservative” pols tend to derive much of their sense of self-worth.
It’s especially effective for ICOTESCAS because, once American troops are committed, a whole range of domestic memetic buttons get pushed – “Support the Troops! – that help ensure we’ll stay committed to whatever humanitarian operation it is, no matter how spurious.
The other set of reasons is that, quite without wanting to be involved, without a bit of sensitivity training, without any noticeable degree of caring, the military is better as it than any conglomeration of civilian disaster relief agencies you may imagine. For the reasons why, here’s a non-exhaustive but still fairly complete list:
1. We have vast and redundant (for peacetime purposes) logistic, administrative and medical infrastructure, equipage, and expertise. None of the civilian humanitarian assistance and relief agencies have anything remotely comparable. All of them combined still wouldn’t. Indeed, all of them combined would lock up in terminal meeting Hell and probably never get past that.
2. When things get dangerous, most HA and disaster relief agencies simply don’t go there. I really don’t think it’s a cowardice issue, tempting as it might be to say so. After all, these folks, enough of them, are risking a crappy death to Ebola or a short-term guest starring slot in an ISIS beheading/recruiting video. Rather, I suspect there’s something else going on, something having to do with funding, or the insult the violence represents to their excessively optimistic worldview.
Conversely, solders are trained and fully expect to go into harm’s way. An uncertain security situation doesn’t mean, “Oh, my, we can’t risk…” It means, “Pass out the ammunition and here are your ROE.” Hell, the chance of a firefight is the only thing that makes this sort of thing even remotely tolerable.
3. I mentioned terminal meeting Hell, above. You almost have to see to believe how many words are wasted for so little progress. My impression – and, no, it’s not just mine – is that, for the people doing this sort of thing, it’s largely about feeling good about themselves. Everybody, therefore, has to be listened to, no matter how little expertise and material support they bring to the effort. They’ve got to be made to feel important.
The military, on the other hand, is not about feelings and especially not about feeling good about ourselves because we’re just so caring and sensitive. We need not waste time, dithering, in endless meetings the purpose of which is to make everyone present feel important and good and caring and sensitive. We have a chain of command, backed up by customs, regulations, and laws. We analyze, give orders, and act.
Even though for the most part we really don’t care, we can still move faster and do more, better. I think that must really grate.
4. We are pretty fair at intelligence analysis, which is not that different, really, in disaster relief than in a movement to contact. We also have the assets to gather intel, from remotely piloted aircraft to satellites, from scout platoons in armor and infantry battalions, to LRSD, to SF, to Rangers, to the group formerly known as “Delta.” Civilian agencies have none of this.
5. We are, legitimately and justifiably, field sanitation freaks. We have little problem saying, “If we catch you shitting someplace but where we’ve told you to, it will be hard on you.” Civilian agency workers are usually too soft for that.
6. We are much less inclined to do for the refugees than to help and make them do for themselves. This attitude is tacit anathema among most civilian agencies because, after all, how can they feel good and kind and caring and sensitive unless they’re doing for. This particular one came home to me over the question of rice issue in Kurdestan, in 1991. The civilians were insisting we pass out rice that was several times the UNHCR requirement. It took me a while to realize that they were judging the amount based on cooked rice while we were passing out dry rice. The people of the area, Kurds and Assyrians, were perfectly capable of cooking for themselves. A few questions, here and there, and I came to the conclusion that they simply couldn’t imagine refugees cooking their own food. After all, how do you feel good and kind and caring and sensitive if you make people cook for themselves?
7. Some of us, at least, are perfectly capable of saying, “If I have any trouble out of you lot, or you fail to do the work I assign you, I will cut off your food in a heartbeat.” Civilian agencies? That would be almost unthinkable. (Note though, that at least one UNHCR type did back me up on that when the Kurds got uppity.)
8. We have no vested financial interest in dragging disasters out indefinitely. They do.
That’s a fairly complete list, but I make no claim that it’s exhaustive. It should give you some idea of why, when disaster strikes, civilian agencies, NGOs, and QUANGOs, hold their noses and ask for military help.
Don’t miss last week’s column: Terrorism: Genocidal or Civilicidal Terror.
Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.