John Stuart Blackton: A Lesson from Haditha

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We need a professional constabulary force to sustain stabilization operations in Iraq.
The terrible events at Haditha have us all wishing that our forces were doing a better job in relating to the non-combatant majority in Iraq.

While the full details of what really happened at Haditha await future Article 32 decisions and (ultimately, I suspect) court martial findings, we are all wondering why the Marines did not show more respect for the code of conduct they had been taught.
Increasingly we cans see that the long Iraq stabilization process calls for constabulary and policing skills, and we can see that those skills are almost completely absent amongst US forces in Iraq.
Can we wave a wand and fix this lacuna? Will a bit of training do it? Can we fix it by seeing that the next waves of marine deployments are preceded by more constructive indoctrination in the arts of policing and stabilization?


The United States needs a national, deployable conflict constabulary capability, but the Marine Corps isn’t where we will build it.
Marines are light, fast, high-impact; assault-capable troops with great close-in kinetic capacity and short-distance maneuver capacity but low sustainment capacity.
Marines do well when they are deployed in situations that play to their strengths. They do far less well when they are mis-deployed.
I spent four long years in our military adventures in Indochina. One of the great exercises in mis-deployment was General Westmoreland’s decision to use the Marines in a static, siege situation in Khe Sanh.
Locked-down in static warfare with nothing to assault and no objectives to take, the Marines fared badly. Most military historians score Khe Sanh as one of our larger tactical defeats in that war.
Ground troops are trained to “kill people and break things” — the phrase has been a standby in official doctrine and training manuals for decades. Useful in one stage of warfare, but not the ideal skill set for long-term stabilization.
Constabularies protect. Conventional soldiers kill.
If one were to place an experienced Marine and an experienced New York City cop on the same street corner in Fallujah and both heard a burst of small arms fire, the instant reactions of the two would differ sharply.
The Marine would drop, orient his weapon in the direction of the gunfire, and focus on eliminating the threat.
The cop’s first instincts would be to scan the scene, see who was at risk, and focus on getting apparently innocent folks out of harm’s way.
Kill vs Protect: Basic Instincts. Basic skill sets.
The US military, especially the US Army, has a very long history of rejecting the constabulary/gendarmerie mission. They don’t like it. They are suspicious of it. They don’t want it to contaminate their core culture.
Yet our interventionist, pre-emptionist foreign policy will continue to require a substantial capacity for conflict-zone policing.
America needs a national, deployable, internationally capable constabulary/gendarme force for conflict stabilization missions. It needs to be well trained, ready to go, and able to remain deployed for long periods.
Stabilization takes much longer than combat in most of the wars we are likely to initiate in the next decade or two. To create this constabulary capacity would require serious civilian political leadership.
The services will resist the mission bitterly. We will either have to force the Army to build and maintain another, distinct element, or we will have to create one from scratch.
The latter is probably more feasible. But I am not holding my breath for the emergence of that strong civilian leadership that will force the creation of this desperately-needed conflict/stabilization policing capability.
As a former professor of strategy I prefer teaching to preaching, and in that spirit I will end by proposing two recommended books for interested readers of this post.
You might start with Robert Perito’s Where Is the Lone Ranger When We Need Him? Followed in close succession by David H. Bayley’s recent Changing the Guard: Developing Democratic Police Abroad. Bayley, probably the world’s top specialist in democratic policing and conflict policing, is advisor to the police commission in Northern Ireland. He discusses in detail how training and doctrine can instill a “protect” ethic amongst men who face danger and threat. Perito, now at the US Institute for Peace, is the numero uno on constabulary functions in stabilization operations.
John Stuart Blackton is a retired Senior Foreign Officer and (further) retired professor of Security Policy at the National War College. He currently undertakes consulting assignments in security and governance in conflict and post-conflict settings for clients in Washington and abroad with a particular focus on Afghanistan and Iraq.

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15 comments on “John Stuart Blackton: A Lesson from Haditha

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  8. Pissed Off American says:

    “Now, lets stop pretending there is a ‘reset’ switch, there’s no ‘do over’ there’s no ‘time out.'”
    Uh oh. Too bad, I suspect that Bush and that sick fucker Cheney are still looking for it. Considering niether one of them admit to mistakes, it looks like we are going to be there for a while.
    (They just gotta figure out a way to kill Muslims faster, and in greater quantity. THAT’LL speed up the process. Perhaps Israel can help us there. Hey, I got it!!!! Lets start a civil war there, and they will kill THEMSELVES!!!!)

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  9. bakho says:

    Basically he is saying that we need to train our military in imperial occupation, instead of do a job and go home. Certainly, troops with more appropriate training might do a better job.
    There is a political discussion that needs to occur over how, when where and why our troops should be used. Congress was given the Constitutional power to declare war precisely to prevent situations like Iraq.

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  10. bakho says:

    The best pacifier of any population is full employment.
    The US missed the boat by handing the treasury over to crony contractors rather than paying Iraqis to rebuild their own country.
    Bush promised that if he were president, we would not “do nation building.” We can look at Iraq and note that Bush has kept that promise.

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  11. Den Valdron says:

    Almost forgot this little gem from John *Stuart* Blackton:
    “Yet our interventionist, pre-emptionist foreign policy will continue to require a substantial capacity for conflict-zone policing…. Stabilization takes much longer than combat in most of the wars we are likely to initiate in the next decade or two.”
    Oh my, I almost overlooked this part. America Uber Alles? Thousand year rule? Or just the New Century?
    Blackton is really talking about new invasions, new wars. Wars *initiated* by America. Wars of occupation. Intervention. Pre-emption.
    Sorry, we heard it all before, and it wasn’t appealing in the 1940’s with the last bunch.

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  12. Den Valdron says:

    Oh how charming. Well, I’ll say this much, John *Stuart* Blackton is slightly more articulate than your average specimen of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders. Possibly because he’s able to restrain himself from masturbating while typing.
    Having said that, there isn’t much here worthy of discussion. At best, there is a mild amusement. John *Stuart* Blackton has swallowed the mistake of his younger compatriots and assumes that Iraq comes with a reset button. Or perhaps its a ‘do over’? Or perhaps he’s going to call it a bogie, take his penalty, and swing again?
    Well, good luck with that boyo. There are some basic impediments to John *Stuart* Blackton’s proposal to ‘do over’ Iraq and get it right with community based policing.
    First and foremost is Fallujah. Also Abu Ghraib. Ramadi. Basra. Two attacks against Sadr. A wedding party blown to smithereens. About a hundred other things. And ten thousand or a hundred thousand incidents of doors being kicked down, guns pointed at childrens heads, homes ransacked, etc.
    Y’see, in economics, there’s a notional concept of goodwill, which is the difference between a companies value and the aggregate value of its assets. It lies in the fact that peoplel will choose Pepsi or Coke over Scrotum Cola.
    Well, down in Iraq, the United States has managed to accumulate a vast amount of something opposite to ‘goodwill.’ Call it hatred. Hatred is the difference between the aggregate power of the United States, and the actual degree of success. America has earned huge hatred.
    Why? Where to start. An economy systematically demolished and destroyed by dickheaded neocon economic theories. 40% unemployment. Gas lines miles long. An hour of electricity a day in Bagdad. Massive child malnutrition. Wholesale corruption. The fact that every single quality of life indicator in Iraq has plummetted from Saddam’s days. Do people see the occupation as having improved their lives? No. You’ve brought them degradation, humiliation and a living hell.
    Then of course, there’s 150,000 dead Iraqi’s. The fact that the Americans are so oblivious they won’t even keep toll on the native casualties. There’s those aforementioned atrocities.
    But John *Stuart* Blackton figures just train the next rounds in policing, and everything will just work out fine.
    Because, I suppose, obviously the ‘sand niggers’ won’t remember that last week you lit up a car with a pregnant woman in it.
    No, I’m sorry, while some subliminal or overt racism may form a part of the ideology of many fighting Keyboarders, I don’t see any such in Blackton.
    He just assumes that the Iraqi’s won’t remember. He’s adapted to the 24 hour, all outrage all the time, lifestyle of America in the Bush/Limbaugh/O’Reilly era.
    News flash: These people aren’t like Americans. The strange American capacity for Amnesia is pretty much an American thing. These people have those long tribal and historical memories. They remember the British invading and setting up shop in the 1920’s. They remember the British lying their way into hegemony. They remember revolting. They remember Winston Churchill dropping poison gas on civilian villages.
    So its not likely that they’re just going to ignore that last three years. No matter how kind and gentle your ‘constabulary’ corps is, they’re all going to remember Abu Ghraib and Haditha and Fallujah. They’re going to remember that your soldiers shot their pregnant sister last week.
    I note that J. *Stuart* B notes that there will be huge resistance to the constabulary role from the armed forces. This from an armed forces that is ever used to getting its way in American politics. Yeah, there’s another battle you ain’t going to win.
    Besides which, in this situation, switching over to a constabulary mode will be damned near suicidal. These people hate you and want you dead or out of their country. Trying to act like policemen will only make American troops easy to kill.
    Now, lets stop pretending there is a ‘reset’ switch, there’s no ‘do over’ there’s no ‘time out.’
    Let’s get real here.

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  13. Glen Tomkins says:

    That cure would be a worse disease
    The Marines in Haditha didn’t go on a murderous rampage because they did not understand the locals. They understood perfectly well that the inhabitants of the houses they “cleansed” had done nothing to keep insurgents from planting the IED outside their homes that killed one of their buddies. The problem was not that these civilians couldn’t come forward to warn the authorities that insurgents had planted the device because of some lack of police protection from retaliation by the insurgents. The problem was that these civilians agreed with the insurgents in the common sense position that American Marines have no business policing Iraq. The Marines killed these civilians as a warning to others, that passive cooperation would, sometimes, when the troops on the ground were pushed to ad lib policy on their own, rather than stick to the muddle emanating from higher headquarters, be treated as as much a shooting offence as active insurgent activity. These Marines in Haditha were only doing retail what national policy had already done wholesale to Fallujah, where we massacred the civilan population of that city to make an example of what would happen to other cities which tolerated the murder of US contractors.
    A more lighlty armed, but more culturally aware and linguistically capable, constabulary, would only do better than the Marines if the Iraqis, for some reason, actually wanted Americans policing their country. But if this were the case, the Marines, seconded by Iraqi “sepoys”, would do just fine at keeping public order without any need for murderous rampages. This is not the case. Iraqis (Aside, maybe, from some of the Kurds, but even most of them do not seem so unrealistic as to imagine that the US will ever long have the heart to play the part of imperial ruler with anything like the consistency and endurance of the British.) do not want to be sepoys in a country that becomes a latter-day colony of the US. So they will continue to resist, some actively, most passively, until the rich but foolish foreigners lose interest and leave.
    Of course, if we were planning on staying in Iraq indefinitely, it would make sense to come up with something similar to the old British Army of India to police and defend Iraq. There would be a certain level of shared personnel, weaponry, and training with our regular military, but this separate constabulary would have a distinct organization and culture, appropriate to what is indeed a different mission than the regular armed forces. No doubt being organized specifically to accomplish this other mission would make this notional constabulary better at that mission than our regular military. But what would that separate mission be? Our regular armed forces exist to be ever ready to defeat the armed forces of other powers. This constabulary would exist to keep the peoples of other countries in subjugation to our nation. The former is an honorable mission. The latter is infamous. It is the difference between the Wehrmacht and the SS. If our Wehrmacht is no good at SS missions, God be thanked, and let’s stop asking them to be an SS. But the last thing we should do is form an SS to take over these missions. Instead, let’s just stop invading and occupying foreign countries. Let’s get out of Iraq immediately before our military is indeed transformed by its current mission into a competent SS.

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  14. liesbeth says:

    The lessons from this senseless war are manifold, but here’s just one which hasn’t gotten through in the public debate: the use of uranium depleted shells. During the Vietnam war Agent Orange was hardly debated in the main stream press, let alone discussed at the dinner tables of average Americans. The long term effects of Agent Orange have been devastating resulting in birth defects until today. The use of Agent Orange can now be considered as a war crime against the people of Vietnam.
    The use of uranium depleted ammunition is hardly discussed today. The standing army of the United States relies heavily on the use of uranium depleted ammunition, resulting in birth defects on children in the Gulf region.
    The use of uranium depleted ammunition is a war crime. Period. It affects children who had nothing to do with the grandiose visions of and American empire

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  15. vaughan says:

    This makes a huge amount of sense to me, but then so does the idea of “peace-keeping forces”. Seems to me that the Australians and New Zealanders have worked hard at this–or maybe we just hear about that lately because of East Timor.
    Thanks for minding the Washington Note store.

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